The Right District for Divas
The story was almost as impressive as the pedigree of the reporter who wrote it: Chloe Malle. She is the daughter of the late, great French director Louis Malle and Candice Bergen. Malle told her readers that the delicious duplex in question had three bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, double-height windows and a wood-burning fireplace. The whole thing sounded about as dramatic as the performances that have made Malfitano a co-star of Placido Domingo. But the former "Salome" star and her husband, fellow performer Steven Holowid, have said goodbye to their Tribeca loft.
All this made me wonder: What was such a fierce and fabulous soprano doing that far downtown anyway?I thought we kept our most delicious divas uptown. Many past opera greats have had views of Central Park and-far more importantly-speedy access to Lincoln Center (home of the Metropolitan Opera) at 66th Street. It has only made sense for many of opera's biggest stars to call the Upper West Side home.
And they have. Beverly Sills, the crossover soprano success who went on to run City Opera (the center's other opera company) and serve as chairwoman of Lincoln Center itself, died in July 2007. That was awful for music fans, but at least she had the good sense to die in the beautiful Beresford on Cental Park West in a $5 million property she left to her daughter. The lovely Marilyn Horne, who appears at fundraisers for her own foundation, also has a place with views of Central Park West. Or at least she did when she was interviewed by Jay Nordlinger back a bit more than a year ago.
Sills and Horne were hardly alone in picking the area, but the truth is that opera stars were living uptown even when the Metropolitan Opera House was down at Broadway and 39th Street. I learned that much from Steven Gaines, in his fabulous 2005 chronicle of New York real estate history, "The Sky's the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan." Gaines, in a smart-gossip style, includes tales about how the Ansonia drew artists of all stripes, but especially musical figures. "If real life at the Ansonia had operatic overtones, it was appropriate to the dramatic music that seemed to fill its every room," Gaines writes. "It has been written, apocryphally, that [William Earl Dodge] Stokes intentionally built the Ansonia for musicians, which is why the doors to each apartment were double width, so grand pianos could easily be moved in and out, or that he built the hotel to be soundproof to attract musicians." West Side historian Peter Selwen called the building a "palace for the muses." Our friend Wikipedia tells us that conductor Arturo Toscanini lived there, as did Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, musician Igor Stravinsky and two super singers, Teresa Stratas and Eleanor Steber.
Today, though, there are surely other, hipper palaces for muses of the 21st century. So the obvious choice facing a modern-day diva is clear: keep up the tradition and stay in the oh-so-convenient Lincoln Center realm or head downtown with all those crazy kids. Malfitano would not tell the Observer exactly where she and her hubby were headed, so fans who want to see her in a dramatic setting will just have to wait for her next performance.