Friday, November 25, 2005

Sam Waterston to Co-Host Opera Awards

By VERENA DOBNIK, Associated Press Writer Sat Nov 19, 8:17 PM ET
NEW YORK - Emotionally, opera is "a direct whammy," "Law & Order" star Sam Waterston says as he prepares to co-host the first Opera News magazine awards. The awards, to be presented Sunday, go to three Americans — mezzo-sopranos Susan Graham and Dolora Zajick, and conductor James Conlon — plus Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and French soprano Regine Crespin. Waterston saw his first as a high school student in Boston — the Metropolitan Opera performing Richard Strauss's "Rosenkavalier." He was seduced, and now the 65-year-old actor who plays the intense prosecutor Jack McCoy on TV's "Law & Order" wants to lure others to the art form he loves. "For an opera idiot like myself, the first impression is that it expresses the size of the feelings in people's hearts. That can't be adequately done, except for these big guns of voices and a vast orchestra. When it comes to feelings, opera is a direct whammy," he said. Co-hosting the evening — a fundraiser to benefit music education — is rising star Isabel Bayrakdarian, a Canadian soprano of Armenian descent. Already at the peak is Graham, who won a Grammy earlier this year for an album of American songs by composer Charles Ives and starred in the opera "Dead Man Walking," playing Sister Helen Prejean. She is the musical darling of Paris, with perfect French diction, but the 6-foot-tall singer who loves tooling around on roller blades is proud of her down-to-earth American image. Graham, 45, was born in Roswell, N.M., known for the legend of a UFO crash in the 1940s. She spent her teenage years in an oil field town in West Texas, Midland, and never saw an opera until she was 18. Next week, Graham has a lead role in "An American Tragedy," a new opera by New York composer Tobias Picker that premieres at the Metropolitan Opera. Based on Theodore Dreiser's novel about a social-climbing man who murders his pregnant girlfriend, "it could be the story of Scott Peterson ," says Graham. "It's a really American story — of a man trying to make it, to succeed, who loses his values along the way." Graham finds her way in the New Mexico wilderness, with its vast landscape and sky. "You can't grow up with all of this around you and not have it impact you — not grow up with the feeling that the possibilities are as endless as the sky on the horizon."

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