Baz Luhrmann, Preparing Bohème , Gets a Little Advice from Duchin

Society orchestra leader

Peter Duchin had not planned to speak at the dinner he co-hosted in Le Cirque’s

upstairs library for Moulin Rouge

director Baz Luhrmann and his costume designer wife, Catherine Martin.

But, after the dinner plates

had been cleared, Peg Siegal, who had organized the event with her

brand-new partner in publicity, Harriet Weintraub, had come over to Mr.

Duchin’s table and told him: “Say something!”

The dinner had ostensibly been to celebrate Moulin Rouge ‘s six Golden Globe nominations, its National Board of

Review award for Best Picture of 2002 and to welcome Mr. Luhrmann and Ms.

Martin to New York, where, later this year, they will begin work on a Broadway

production of Puccini’s opera, La Bohème .

But its unspoken purpose was to raise the visibility of Mr. Luhrmann, Ms.

Martin and Moulin Rouge while voting

members of the National Academy of Motion Pictures contemplate who should be

nominated for the Oscar sweepstakes.

So, after two of the evening’s other three hosts, and Whitney

Museum director Maxwell Anderson and theatrical producer Daryl Roth raised

glasses in Mr. Luhrmann’s honor, Mr. Duchin gave him an unreconstructed New

York welcome that said, in effect: “Don’t get too cocky, kid.”

“I want to welcome you, Baz,”

Mr. Duchin said as he stared out at the crowd that included socialite Nan

Kempner, Vogue editor Anna Wintour

and her beau Shelby Bryan, talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell and her spiky-haired

friend, Kelli Carpenter, designers Carolina Herrera and Lars Nilsson, who has

taken over creative duties at the Bill Blass label, socialite Barbara Bancroft

and New York Times reporter and

author Judith Miller. Mr. Duchin added that Mr. Luhrmann had made a “truly

beautiful film,” even if, he added, Moulin

Rouge didn’t remind him of the movie musicals of “my past,” but rather the

kind of entertainment that “my kids really love.”

Then Mr. Duchin gave Mr. Luhrmann what amounted to some friendly

advice in somewhat the same sense that another opera-lover, the late Al Capone,

might have given him some friendly advice. ” La

Bohème is a rather important piece of music,” he said. “So treat it

carefully.”

In that moment of candor, Mr. Duchin-who doesn’t quite qualify as

one of the gatekeepers of opera in this city-nonetheless revealed the eternal

rub that exists between New York’s establishment and its maverick newcomers.

Change is a given in this town, but the plush luxury of acceptance is not. And

though Mr. Luhrmann had won over Ms. Wintour and the pimply youth of America,

he still had a way to go before getting his own key to the city-just ask Mr.

Bryan, or the unlikely duo of Gotham

magazine publisher Jason Binn and Talk

magazine editor Tina Brown, who walked into the Le Cirque dinner together,

raising serious speculation that God was indeed dead (see “What Fresh Hell”

below).

Mr. Luhrmann didn’t seem to know how to respond and struck a line

between being gracious and subtly condescending. After saying rather

cryptically, “Peter, you are part of the story I’m going to tell,” Mr. Luhrmann

reminded Mr. Duchin that his orchestra had been hired to play at the New York

premiere party for Mr. Luhrmann’s first movie, Strictly Ballroom .

Mr. Duchin’s comments were interpreted differently by the guests

at the party. Ms. Roth told The Transom that she found the remarks “interesting

because they were coming from a musician. I think what he was saying in a very

playful and loving way, was that I, a musician, am entrusting you, a director

of theater and film, with this magnificent work. And I trust you’ll handle it

well.”

Another dinner guest, who requested anonymity, found Mr. Duchin’s

comments “pretentious,” especially given that on April 4 he’s being honored by

the Glimmerglass Opera, for which he serves as president of their board of

trustees.

But a few days after the party, Mr. Duchin explained what was on

his mind when he made the comments. “I think

La Bohème is a great classic; I think

Aida is too,” he said. “And I suppose people can mess with great classics,

if they want, in any way they want.” (Mr. Luhrmann’s update of Moulin Rouge used songs by Nirvana and

Elton John, and his movie adaptation, William

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet , with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes,

made similar cultural leaps.)

“It’s called public domain.

But I was simply being cautionary and saying that, to mess with something such

as La Bohème one needs an awful lot

of taste. And taste would come from a knowledge of the material and sort of

comparisons with things that other people have done with the same material.

“I don’t mean this in an elitist or particularly traditionalist

way,” Mr. Duchin continued. “I think La

Bohème could be very interesting on Broadway, but not with Broadway

singers. And I also don’t really believe in changing the material particularly

…. If Puccini, in this case, wrote this opera this way, there are many ways of

staging it, sure, but I don’t really believe in cutting things out or adding

things. In that sense I am a traditionalist. And I was just sort of poking him

in the ribs about that.

“If you’re dealing with an icon, which La Bohème is, if you mess with it too much, you can certainly

attract certain people who would not have known the original, but you certainly

won’t attract those who know and love the original,” Mr. Duchin said.

By the way, Mr. Duchin said he found Mr. Luhrmann a “very, very

talented and also a damn nice guy.” As for

Moulin Rouge , he said, “I thought the last part was more interesting than

the first,” which seemed to be the consensus in Le Cirque’s library. “I don’t

happened to have liked the modern songs that he chose, but that doesn’t matter.

That’s just my own taste,” Mr. Duchin said. “But, I thought it got much better

towards the middle and certainly, I thought the photography and the production

is amazing.”

As for Mr. Luhrmann’s comments at the dinner, Mr. Duchin said:

“He had a lot of fun with that. I don’t think he necessarily thought it was a

forum for discussion.”

After the dinner, Mr. Duchin introduced Mr. Luhrmann to his

friend Paul Kellogg, the general and artistic director of the New York City

Opera, which staged La Bohème last

spring. Mr. Kellogg might have reason to be leery of Mr. Luhrmann’s plans for La Bohème , but he said that he’d seen a

videotape of the production that Mr. Luhrmann staged 10 years ago in Australia

and he found it “a fresh approach to a very great opera.” Said Mr. Kellogg: “As

long as something is dramatically true, audiences are going to respond to it,

unless they are so encrusted with prejudices.”

But it’s clear that once Mr. Luhrmann sets to work on La Bohème , Mr. Duchin and his wife,

Brooke Hayward, will be watching.

At one point during the evening, Ms. Hayward approached Mr.

Luhrmann and said, with a schoolmarm’s tone, “How are you going to do La Bohème ?”

“In Italian, of course,” Mr. Luhrmann replied.

But Ms. Hayward brushed off

the punch line. “Don’t give me that nonsense,” she said.

What Fresh Hell

People just had to stop and stare at Spa on Wednesday, Jan. 9,

when, around 10 p.m., beleaguered Talk editor

Tina Brown entered the after-party for Sean Penn’s new flick I Am Sam with Gotham magazine publisher Jason Binn. The two had come from a Talk shindig at Suite 16, where Ms.

Brown had fêted Talk contributor Andy

Behrman and made a pit stop at a dinner for Baz Luhrmann at Le Cirque. Both Talk and Gotham are backed in part by Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein.

Using Ms. Brown’s left elbow as a rudder, he gallantly steered her past model

Alek Wek, artist Damien Loeb and socialite Nicky Hilton. Ms. Brown was dressed

in a prim black suit and large earrings, with a gold-chained purse hanging from

one shoulder. A look of faint panic crossed her face when Mr. Binn briefly left

her with the bald, bespectacled musician Moby, but she gamely attempted

conversation over the thumping bass. After she had crouched down to be

photographed with the diminutive vegan, Mr. Binn returned and led Ms. Brown to

Spa’s dance floor, where she stood, legs slightly splayed, listening to

Chocolate Genius’ set with an nose-twitching expression that made her look as

if she were smelling a particularly ripe piece of Stilton. Mr. Binn touched her

shoulder reassuringly, and then surveyed the room with a wide grin, pretty

proud of the girl on his arm.

– Rebecca Traister

Royal Scam

Kids hoping to get the cyber-scoop on all their favorite

Tenenbaums will get a neat surprise at TheRoyalTenenbaums.com!  Instead of information about Margot, Richie

or Eli Cash, Web surfers will find the latest on everything from Amateurs to

Wet Sex.

For reasons still unclear, the innocent URL abducts surfers to

XXXNetSearch, a portal to “the Web’s Top Rated XXX sites.” The film’s official

site is RoyalTenenbaums.com.

Will Sweeney, a spokesman for the film, said a guy named Yonatan

Benyahuda at a California company called DG Distributions registered the domain

in February, 2001, two months before Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures registered

the film’s official site. “I just heard about it yesterday,” Mr. Sweeney said.

“I went to Register.com and found out about this company. It’s unfortunate, but

there’s nothing you can do.” He started. 

“Wait. Actually, it says here that the domain expires in a month. I’ll

call Disney and have them buy it.”

– Ian Blecher

Vogue Editor Down

As any city teenager will tell you, the United Artists Theater on

Broadway and 14th Street is a jungle on Friday nights. At the 7:40 p.m. showing

of Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down

last Jan. 11, all the good seats were taken 20 minutes before the film started.

That meant that Vogue editor Anna

Wintour, in a black fur jacket and jeans, her beau Shelby Bryan and a boy who

appeared to be Ms. Wintour’s son were shit out of luck when they entered the

theater five minutes into the white-knuckle war epic. After determining that

only front-row seats were available, Ms. Wintour and Mr. Bryan settled on the

grubby steps on the theater’s right aisle to watch the film. The teen who had

accompanied them settled for the front of the theater.

As the film served up some jarringly gory battle scenes, Ms.

Wintour-who is known to prefer her hamburger raw-cuddled up close to Mr. Bryan.

Soon enough, she was sitting right between his knees. Though the film’s intense

realism caused a dozen or so moviegoers to leave before the movie was over, Ms.

Wintour and Mr. Bryan remained entwined in the aisle until the credits began to

roll. 

– Elisabeth Franck

Give Us Laliberte!

The Jan. 8 party for the February issue of Seventeen magazine and its redesign was held at a new bar and

restaurant on Gansevoort Street ingeniously called Meet. Despite the newness of

the place, it was looking slightly familiar inside as things got underway.

D.J. Samantha Ronson was

spinning a medley of disco hits for a young media and “very fashion”

crowd-among them several dozen slickly dressed guys, the kind who get facials

and work out a lot, and about the same number of sexy young women who all

seemed to be keeping an eye out for a “confirmed arrival” like Josh Hartnett, SNL ‘s Jimmy Fallon, Russell Crowe or

that Aidan guy from Sex and the City .

Two women really stood out. The first was the magazine’s editor

in chief, Annemarie Iverson, a knockout with thick blond goldilocks and a

little-girl voice, she wore a Marc Jacobs tunic- cum -slip dress.

“I have little shorts underneath so I’m capable of doing

cartwheels at a moment’s notice,” Ms. Iverson chirped.

A 20-year-old model with long red hair, Nicole Laliberte, was the

other woman getting the most attention from the photographers. She was wearing

a red country-girl dress, tan fishnet thigh-highs and disco boots she had

painted gold.

“Oh man, you know, I’ve been to a lot of parties,” Ms. Laliberte

said. “This is a pretty unique gathering. It’s a lot of the behind-the-scenes

crews of these magazines. Great designers here. Nicole Miller is here. Patti

Wilson, the most amazing stylist. I guess Josh Hartnett is supposed to be

coming. I don’t really care.”

What would make the night unforgettable?

“I would like to see some large orgy scene possibly,” she said.

“I’d like to bring back the Studio 54 era. I’d like everyone to get naked and start-you

know. A great party to me is a little bit freer.”

Someone appeared and asked Ms.

Laliberte to take one more picture with Ms. Iverson.

Ms. Laliberte returned. She’s a bit of a hippie, from Saratoga

Springs, N.Y. She appears in the current issue in a photo spread based on a

Weezer video. In it, Ms. Laliberte sits in a field with a white rabbit in her

lap. “Just call me Alice in Wonderland,” the type says next to her. A few pages

later she’s looking dazed, her thick lips parted in a semi-smile. “What a long,

strange trip it’s been,” reads the caption.

So did Ms. Laliberte have a wild story from when she was 17 years

old?

“Oh, man. Why, when I was 17, Jesus, so much has happened to me. I have so many, I don’t know what to

choose from. Well, recently I was dangling from a chandelier for David

LaChapelle, naked, with a pair of white high heels.”

What about 70’s Studio 54 kind of stuff? The Transom asked Ms.

Laliberte.

“You mean those kind of drug-induced, Kerouac-ian-like roller

coaster rides?” she said. “I’ll give you one where I was 16 .”

Ms. Laliberte’s story took

place right around the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in

Atlanta, Ga. She wasn’t in Georgia, though. “I was in San Francisco, with a

group of [people] that I wanted to be friends with that I didn’t know at all. They

were so cool! I had to be there with them,” she said. “And they pulled out a

bunch of crystal methamphetamines and they said, ‘let’s try some of this!’ So I

did some. In the next 30 seconds, a couch seat opened and me and this guy, we

both wanted a seat on the couch, so we started running and he pushed me out of

the way and I flew against the door and I slid down the door and I cracked my

head open.” Ms. Laliberte recalled that she was “bleeding everywhere, but it was

beautiful.”

But that didn’t deter Ms. Laliberte from watching the Olympics

hoopla. “So I’m bleeding everywhere, tons of blood, like inconceivable amounts

of blood. So they held my head and I watched the opening ceremonies, with one

foot going in circles and the other going up and down, and I continued to take

speed and smoke pot the whole time, and I’m bleeding.

“Is that a good story?” Ms. Laliberte asked

-George Gurley

Carville and Begala

in NYC

Clintonites James Carville and Paul Begala were strolling down

Madison Avenue on the afternoon of Jan. 10, after a long lunch at Cafe des

Artistes and a walk across Central Park. That morning they had appeared on the Today Show to promote the

self-help–business–corporate strategy book they’d written together, Buck Up, Suck Up … And How to Come Back When

You Foul Up . It was a wimpy title, even if, according to Mr. Carville, the

book was number “27 on amazon.com[‘s best-seller chart] at noon” that day.

The two men turned the corner and stopped outside Le Bilboquet

restaurant on East 63rd Street just long enough to let The Transom grill them

for a few minutes.

What did they think of the

news stories about their former boss Bill Clinton’s attempts to salvage his

image and his presidential legacy, we asked. “I think his image will be fine ,” Mr. Carville kind of grumbled.

“What they want to do is keep a lot of the things they started and did in

place, that’s what they’re more concerned about.”

“If Clinton were worried about his image, he’d have been meeting

with people like James and me, Mandy Grunwald,” Mr. Begala said. “He met with

his substance advisers. It’s not a

fair rap. If he were sitting worried about his image, he’d be calling us about

it.”

So the ex-President is not frustrated?

“I talk to him with great frequency and I do not pick that up,”

Mr. Begala continued. “The distance between some of the commentary and at least

my conversations with him, and I suspect James’, is a pretty great distance.”

“I talk to him fairly frequently,” Mr. Carville admitted.

What’s he do for fun these days? we asked.

“Well he’s in Acapulco with his wife.”

The Transom thought for a second that they hadn’t heard the

question properly, but then Mr. Begala spoke up.

“He’s pretty heartbroken about his dog,” he said.

Does the current President deserve all the adulation he’s

getting?

“I think he’s done a good job on the war,” Mr. Carville said.

“He has ,” agreed Mr.

Begala, the author of Is Our Children

Learning: The Case Against George W. Bush . “He’s been very … admirably, and

I do admire [him], he’s been very flexible. He campaigned saying we had a

hollow military and that Clinton had let the military degrade. That

Clinton-trained, Clinton-led, Clinton-equipped military is pretty impressive now.

By the way, he’s using Clinton strategy from Kosovo: massive aerial bombardment

with high-tech weaponry and a proxy force on the ground. Like we did in Kosovo.

This is all the stuff he attacked in the campaign. He said he wouldn’t use

multilateral forces, he wouldn’t engage in nation-building, he would disengage

from the Middle East. So he switched on all of that and I think that’s great!

It’s growth in the job and people like me oughtta applaud it.”

Mr. Carville was staring at the Le Bilboquet’s storefront, which

does not advertise its name anywhere.

“This is the first restaurant or bar that doesn’t seem to have a

name,” he said, sounding a little annoyed.

It’s called Bilboquet, The Transom

informed him.

“How would you know it?” he said, getting impatient. “There’s no

name-how are you, how would you tell someone. The food any good? All right

let’s start walking, we’re gonna be late.”;

The two men headed for Park Avenue. Mr. Carville, who seemed to

be leading the way, noted that things were still “a little off” about Manhattan

after 9/11. Right then, a smiley Ron Perelman, in the back seat of a suburban,

a cell phone pressed to his ear, stuck his head out the window to look at the

two men.

There’s Ron Perelman, The Transom told the two men.

“That right?” Mr. Begala said, but the two men didn’t look back.

-G.G.