Having satisfied the autograph needs of his fans, I wave Harry Connick, Jr. off to his tour bus, cross the empty ballroom of Villa Montalvo and head up to the back balcony to have a beer. This is my winding-down spot, overlooking a back lawn framed by trellises dripping with wisteria. Past the casino, the outdoor theater is still lit up, the maintenance guys grunting and laughing as they disassemble the risers.
All the while that Roxy Cater and Michael Cunningham were pursuing my talents, I had, in my back pocket, a lottery ticket. The Montalvo Arts Center, headquartered in a 1912 Italianate mansion in the hills above Saratoga, was looking for a publicity director, and I had the audacity to think that I was the man for the job. As it turned out, the new general director had her eye out for a candidate with mad writing skills.
I interviewed two weeks after the Sneakers Fiasco, and I started two weeks later. Writing, photography, graphic design – I have never been more fully utilized in my life. I have even attained some skill at emceeing, and I enjoy the luxury of chatting backstage with some of the world’s most accomplished musicians. Branford Marsalis, Jon Hendricks, Frederica von Stade, Joshua Redman.
Connick is a little more glamorous than our usual fare, but tonight was a $300 gala, so we needed someone with a little flash. I also had to wear my tux – the same tux I used to wear in the Westfield College Choir.
I finish my beer and head inside, where the rooms are cluttered with antique furniture. I’m about to board the grand staircase when I notice the lights of the loggia.
The loggia is a long, narrow balcony that runs across the center of the Villa’s façade. It looks out over the sprawling front lawn where we hold our Midsummer Mozart performances.
Tonight, the view is a woman, wearing a dress of gray-green satin that drapes her figure in the most stunning way. She wears her brown hair in an updo, frosted with streaks of blonde. I make my entrance at the loggia’s farthest edge, allowing me the time to engage in an artful recitation.
“Thinking of the Mozart, I think of lips so smooth and strong they must be chiseled from pink marble.”
She looks at me with hazel eyes and lays upon me the kind of kiss that could wake the dead.
“Ha! Let’s see pink marble do that.”
I rub my jaw. “You make a good point.”
Amy Fine looks out on the scattered lights of old-money Saratoga and sighs.
“Michael, darling. Didn’t you tell me that this apartment directly to my left is used for the artist residence program?”
“Why yes, Amy dear.”
“Well? Is there an artist in residence?”
“Why, no, there is not.”
“And would I be right to assume that you might have some ingenious method for gaining entrance to said apartment?”
“As a matter of fact, we were employing it just this evening as Mr. Connick’s dressing room.”
I pull the key from my pocket, undo the latch and give Amy the honors. She opens the door and wags a finger in my direction.
“Follow your conductor,” she says.
The great thing about hitting bottom is that the way back up can be a long and lovely road. Listen very carefully: Tutti. Vivace.
Photo by MJV