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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Avery Fisher Hall

By Mervyn Rothstein

  Barbara Cook/PH:Sara Krulwich

In a recent interview, Barbara Cook was quoted as saying that she aims for those moments when you fly. Well, at the second of her two 80th birthday celebration concerts with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, she flew, and flew, and flew. And then she flew again.

It was truly hard to believe she is 80. Her voice, except for those ultra-high notes she used to hit in Glitter and Be Gay from Candide, sounded all evening as if she was still 26 - but with an understanding way beyond those 26 years. Really. That's the song she sang in her first concert with the Philharmonic, in 1961 at Carnegie Hall, at a benefit honoring Leonard Bernstein. But as wonderful as her rendition used to be, she simply doesn't need it any more to thrill her audiences. (Full disclosure: I'm a longtime Barbara Cook fan. I have all her recordings, and listen to them often.)

In that same interview, with The New York Times, she said that she can't remember when she didn't sing - that her family loved hearing her voice, and that when she was 3 or 4, her dad, a traveling salesman, would call home and always ask me to sing on the telephone. From an early age, she recalled, it gave people pleasure when I sang. Well, it still gives people pleasure - thousands and thousands, with standing ovations and sustained applause, 77 years after those telephone concerts for her father.

Her lyric soprano is a thing of beauty. Her impeccable phrasing, the way she can capture the precise emotional moment of a word, a phrase, a line, a song, continues to astonish.

The concert began with the orchestra and its conductor for the evening, Lee Musiker, offering a rousing, marchlike version of the Candide overture. Then Cook entered, the audience stood and cheered, and she opened with the Bernstein-Comden-Green Lucky to Be Me, from On the Town. Well, it was immediately clear how lucky to be we, who were listening.

Whether it was the jaunty Rainbow Round My Shoulder, or the ebullient Rodgers and Hammerstein Wonderful Guy from South Pacific, or Irving Berlin's romantic Lost in His Arms from Annie Get Your Gun, or Cliff Edwards' comic My Dog Loves Your Dog, or Stephen Sondheim's grim declaration of More from Into the Woods, or the heartbreaking This Nearly Was Mine from South Pacific, Cook captured the tone, the mood, the moment. The maturity of her phrasing, of her expression, of her understanding of sadness and joy, and all the feelings in between, made a perfect evening. When she held and held the high notes near the end of This Nearly Was Mine, the audience seemed to hold its breath in joy, admiration and awed disbelief.

The formal concert ended, somehow appropriately,with Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's Accentuate the Positive. And then, amid the cheers, the audience sang its own spontaneous Happy Birthday, Dear Barbara. She seemed truly happy. I know I was. There will be an encore performance on January 8. If you're a Barbara Cook aficionado and couldn't get to either of the two November concerts, you've got another chance. If you don't know from Barbara Cook and want to see for yourself, go. And if you're me, you buy tickets to see her again.

For this concert's encore, she abandoned her microphone for Some Other Time from On the Town, and still her voice filled the hall.

The sad opening line is Where has the time all gone to? Eighty years. And the concert's 90 minutes. They've all gone too fast.

The concert started at 7:30 and ended about 9 p.m. It's almost two hours later now, as I sit at home writing this review. And I know I would much rather b


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