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Toumanova speaks!

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#1 Ed Waffle

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Posted 04 May 2001 - 09:29 PM

Toumanova speaks!

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Chicago was a significant stop for many touring ballet companies—-many of which were presented by Sol Hurok. Hurok and his organization was important in bringing emblems of high culture to the hinterlands.

His biography is entitled “Impresario” and the movie based on it was called “Tonight We Sing”. We happened to stumble across it on a Fox movie channel-—it is an entrancing movie, most particularly due to the extended ballet, opera and chamber music performances embedded in it.

In addition to David Wayne as Hurok and Anne Bancroft as his long-suffering wife, it stars Tamara Toumanova as Anna Pavlova, Ezio Pinza as Boris Chaliapin, Isaac Stern as Eugene Ysaye and Roberta Peters as-—well essentially as Roberta Peters, since she plays a singer who specializes in Verdi. It was made in 1953 and has many of the images beloved from that time-—headlines spinning into view announce World War I, a train roaring across the screen superimposed over a dancer represents a tour, etc.

Toumanova needs no introduction to readers of this board, of course, nor would Stern. Pinza was one of the noblest basso cantanti of the past century with breathtaking performances of the Italian, French, German and Russian standards. Peters was a leading coloratura soprano of the 1950s.

The strong point of “Tonight We Sing” are the staged performances of Toumanova, Pinza, Stern and Peters. Toumanova does a long except from the Adagio of “Swan Lake” and a shorter piece from “Don “Quixote”. Additionally she is an important plot point—Hurok forgets his wife’s birthday but remembers Pavlova’s anniversary of her first performance under his management. For purposes of the movie, they happen on the same date and provide one of the few dramatic moments it has, when Emma Hurok leaves him (only to return).

Toumanova, when not dancing, is made up very dramatically, with deep red lipstick, dark eye treatment with the rest of her face very light, almost white. She is has a striking looking face which the camera loves. Her speaking voice may have been dubbed, or she may have looped it herself. It is soft, strongly accented but easily understood and comfortable with idiomatic phrases. I don’t know how her speaking voice sounded or if her command of English was adequate for a movie in 1953—there are some obvious differences between her lips moving and what is on the soundtrack.

In the scene in which she first encounters Hurok, she is in her dressing room after a performance—one in which she shared the stage of the Hippodrome with dancing elephants, a minstrel show and jugglers. She is wearing a beautifully cut dressing gown and what must be a significantly padded bra.

When performing she is the personification of grace and legato—her sense of line seems impeccable. Her arms are magnificent and she can stay on pointe forever. She looks quite slender but strong—very different from the more emaciated look now. She must have had great genes.

So there is perfect casting—a dancer plays a dancer, a violinist impersonates a violinist and singers are singers. Pinza is a good if hammy actor—he starred in “South Pacific” on Broadway and made a lot of movies. He recreates his Mephistopheles from “Faust”, one of the legendary portrayals of the lyric stage. Stern plays Sarasrte and (I think) Chopin—-the close ups of his left hand flying over the fingerboard of his violin while the bow digs into the strings a few inches away are remarkable. Peters sings a shortened version of the big act one aria from "Traviata" a duet from "Madame Butterfly" with a tenor just demobilized from the Army and still in uniform. Corny but it works.

I don’t think this is available on video tape, but it is worth looking for.

#2 atm711


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Posted 05 May 2001 - 10:40 AM

Toumanova's first movie was in 1943 with a script written by her husband, Casey Robinson. Her co-star was Gregory Peck in his film debut. I know the movie you speak of, I saw it recently on TV. Toumanova was my first "Giselle" (with Anton Dolin), but one night during the season expectations and excitement reached a crescendo when she performed the Black Swan PDD.

[ 05-05-2001: Message edited by: atm711 ]

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 05 May 2001 - 10:46 AM

She was also featured in Gene Kelly's dancetravaganza Invitation to the Dance, and had a bit part in Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain.

#4 ralphsf



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Posted 05 May 2001 - 04:03 PM

She also had a part in Billy Wilder's "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes", where she is also very white skinned with intense red lipstick.

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