The Opera-Musical Theatre Special Interest Group
of



Leonard Lehrman, Director
Helene Williams, Asst. Director
33 Court St., Valley Stream NY 11580
Email: ljlehrman@gmail.com


"a whale of a show!"
--Bob Sherman
, 6/7/07


For the latest, fullest article on the group, by Joel Simpson,
scroll down to the bottom of the page.

our newest CD:
Songs for Naturists:
Live from the Naked Front


performed by

Helene Williams & Leonard Lehrman

with Cary Bair

produced with the kind assistance of
The Naturist Education Foundation

"inventive, funny, engaging, and absurd, sometimes all at once...
compiles material recorded in several places, including
The Naturist Society's Eastern Gathering and Northeast Festival....
Some of the fun lies in Lehrman's explanations to the crowd.
He is a born raconteur as well as composer, pianist, conductor, stage director, producer, and critic.
Did you know he has written over 175 compositions, from one-minute songs to over a dozen operas and musicals?
Among those is a Requiem for Hiroshima, with words by Lee Baxandall, the founder of The Naturist Society!

The music offered here, by many composers, moves amongst three themes:
nudity, Judaism, and politics. Sometimes naturism shows up in unexpected guises,
like songs to words by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats
and the American actor Marlon Brando.
It may even be mixed with politics, as in a song about the possibilities of
peace through nudity. That one [by Mark Levy] offers such immortal lines as
'Take off your clothes to those you oppose' and
'Here's the surest way to end a running feud:
simply approach your adversary in the nude.'

How's that for subversive!

Further impishness inhabits Tom Lehrer's 'Chanukkah in Santa Monica,'
with uproarious rhymes for quirky places to hold Jewish holidays.
Noticing that Lehrer omitted many, Leonard wrote his own
addendum, globally dislocating a bunch more holidays....
The highlight is three songs from The Booby Trap, an extended,
in-progress musical with words by Sydney Ross Singer (author of
Dressed to Kill, an extended argument against wearing bras) and
music by Leonard Lehrman. In these songs we get an extended invitation
into a fine musical mind--of a composer of songs in the tradition
of Kurt Weill, Marc Blitzstein, and Leonard Bernstein,
all of whose music Leonard Lehrman knows well.

The star performer is Helene Williams.
A fine singer, she masters a variety of styles with colour, finesse, and substantial theatricality....
Naturist Cary Bair sings a few numbers too, clearly and valiantly....
Where else will you hear 'The Little Jewish Ladies for Buchanan' or 'The Naturist Anthem'?
The latter uses the tune 'Simple Gifts.'
That melody became well known in Aaron Copland's music for the ballet
Appalachian Spring. Leonard's own superb text deserves equal fame:
he's as talented a wordsmith as he is a composer."

--Paul Rapoport, Going Natural


===========================================================================================================================

History of the SIG

Performances thru 2012


1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th International Naturist Opera Workshops 7/89, '90, '92, '94, '96
Domaine Naturiste de Bélézy - Bédoin, France [7/89 with Judy Morris & Bill Reynolds;
first four with chorale & instrumentalists; first three with water ballet]
incl. Mermaid Operas of Dvorak, Dargomyzhsky (Eng. tr. Lehrman),
and Elie Siegmeister (adaptation L.Lehrman) (French premiere)

Sydney Naturally (Sydney, Australia) 1/19/02 An Australian Odyssey (excerpts) (+ Naked Verses)
(partially broadcast on Australian National Radio, 2/02)

Concerts, Plays & Operas at Eastern (U.S.) Naturist Gatherings, Festivals & Resorts

6/20/92 Tom Cushing's Barely Proper (adaptation L.Lehrman), Camp Barrett, The Poconos (PA)
[with Barry Plaxen, Diane Reese, Peter Kacalanos,
Cary Bair, Lois Horowitz, Tracy Philipps, John Cobb]
& 7/6/92 WBAI-FM (NY) [w/Plaxen, Philipps, Kacalanos, Bair, Horowitz, Cobb, Don Bensen]

8/21/93 Potpourri, The Phoenix, Greenwich NY
[w/Kacalanos, Bair, Reynolds, Amy Vail, et al]

1/9/94 Naturist Cabaret, Cypress Cove, Kissimmee FL

8/20/94 John Bramhall's Stark (adaptation L.Lehrman), Empire Haven, Moravia NY
[w/Bair, Vail, Reynolds, Lenora Eve]

6/24/95 Stark and Adam & Lilith & Eve by L.Lehrman, after Manya Pruzhanskaya Lackow & Jacques Drouet,
Bucksteep Manor, Washington MA
[w/Kacalanos, Bair, Jill Salazar, Eve, Reynolds, Vail, Reese, Pacer & Perkins Families]

7/5/97 The Creation & Other Pieces, Camp Ramblewood, Darlington, MD
[w/Kacalanos + Rosanna Prothro]

6/24/98 A Faun in the Forest by Gerald Cockschott, Eastover, Lenox MA
[w/Kacalanos, John Holly]

6/24/99 Potpourri, Eastover, Lenox MA [w/Kacalanos, Bair, Carla Tarantola]
excpts, 12/98 Golden Fleece Square One [w/Kacalanos, Bair]

6/21/00 Tom Lehrer Song Festival, Eastover, Lenox MA [w/Kacalanos, Bair, Sarvamangala]

8/23/01 The Booby Trap of Off Our Chests by Leonard Lehrman & Sydney Ross Singer + Naked Verses
(on poems by Lois Ann Horowitz, Stephen Van Eck, Gene Peacock, Jr., and Melissa Pinol)
Eastover, Lenox MA;
--excerpts from The Booby Trap also performed
5/13/01 Golden Fleece Square One* [w/Kacalanos, Bair, Sarva] and telecast
2/02 Manhattan Neighborhood Network Ch. 34 2/22/02 2:10-2:30pm, 2/26/02 7:40-8pm
8/11/05 Northeast Naturist Festival, Empire Haven, Moravia NY [w/Susan Blake]

and as part of "Prevention Is the Cure" Week:
5/19/06 PeaceSmiths Forum, Amityville NY [w/Susan Blake & Cary Bair]
5/19/06 First United Methodist Church, Islip NY [also w/Blake & Bair, complete!]

additional performances
8/10/07 7pm Northeast Naturist Festival, Empire Haven, Moravia NY
8/25/07 8pm Custer Institute, Southold (Long Island) NY

and, with KathrynWieckhorst, in memory of Susan Blake (1953-2007):
5/17/08 2:00PM
Womanspace, at Great Neck Senior Center
80 Grace Ave., Great Neck NY
Info: Gladys Thompson Roth 516-466-3916
Suggested Donation: $5-8
as part of "Prevention Is the Cure" Week
featured speaker: LIU Prof. Scott Carlin

and as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month:

10/19/08 4:00PM
Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 E. Oakdene Ave., Teaneck NJ
Info: 201-836-8923 Suggested Donation: $5
featured speaker: Dr. Jeff Kopelson of the Schachter Institute




8/22/02 Naked Klezmer, incl. Jewish Haiku, Eastover, Lenox MA
[w/Bair, Kathleen Rooney, Bob Salzman]

12/31/02 Happy Nude Year Cabaret, Sunsport, Loxahatchee FL

8/8/03 Songs for Naturists, Empire Haven, Moravia NY [w/Sarva, Ed Thibault, Bob Salzman]

1/9/04 Songs for Naturists, incl. "A Coat," Sunsport, Loxahatchee FL

8/7/04 More Songs for Naturists, incl. "Brando Credo," Empire Haven, Moravia NY

1/21/05 Naturist Cabaret, Sunsport, Loxahatchee FL

Naturist Songs "en franglais"
8/11/06 Northeast Naturist Festival, Empire Haven, Moravia NY
8/18/06 Canadian Naturist Festival, La Pommerie, Québec
8/17/07 Canadian Naturist Festival, (with the Chorale of) La Pommerie, Québec
8/6/09 Canadian Naturist Festival, Bare Oaks, Ontario

2 Nudecades of Great Performances - with Cary Bair
8/8/08 Northeast Naturist Festival, Empire Haven, Moravia NY

Carried Away ~ In the Nude (Celebrating Anne Fisher's Birthday)
2/28/09 Sunsport, Loxahatchee FL

"Free Your Voice" workshop
and 20th Anniversary Naturist Concert Extravaganza
honoring the Elie Siegmeister Centennial and the memory of Lee Baxandall

8/8/09 Northeast Naturist Festival, Empire Haven, Moravia NY

3/20/10 First Day of Spring Cabaret
Sunsport, Loxahatchee FL

6/19/10 Return to Eastern Naturist Gathering, Camp Westmont, Poyntelle PA

8/6/10 Northeast Naturist Festival, Empire Haven, Moravia NY

3/11/11 The Broadway You Know & Don't Know, Sunsport, Loxahatchee FL

6/15/11 The Broadway You Know & Don't Know, Eastern Naturist Gathering,
Camp Westmont, Poyntelle, PA

8/4/11 Leonard & Helene play leads in, and Leonard directs,
radio play production of his adaptation of the Naturist classic
Barely Proper by Tom Cushing
at the Eastern Canadian Naturist Festival, Bare Oaks, Ontario
Hear the podcast by clicking here.

8/5/11 Songs of Broadway, Naturism & Protest
Northeast Naturist Festival, Empire Haven, Moravia NY

8/1/12 A Naturist CaBAREt,
Eastern Canadian Naturist Festival, La Pommerie, Quebec

8/3/12 A Naturist CaBAREt,
Northeast Naturist Festival, Empire Haven, Moravia NY
3/8/13 A Naturist CaBAREt,
Sunsport, Loxahatchee FL

8/1/13 A Naturist CaBAREt,
Northeast Naturist Festival, Empire Haven, Moravia NY

3/7/14 A Naturist CaBAREt,
Sunsport, Loxahatchee FL

7/31/14 A Naturist CaBAREt,
Northeast Naturist Festival, Empire Haven, Moravia NY


*reviewed in New Music Connoisseur 9:2 p16 "Dicks, Bras, Bars, and Other 'Disordered' Subjects"
by Barry L. Cohen, Linda Pehrson & Mark Greenfest:
"a musical which, for the first time in the history of medicine and theater,
deals with bras as the major cause of breast cancer....
We heard the earnest cast of Helene Williams, Peter Kacalanos, Sarvamangala, and Cary Bair
(with Lehrman at the keyboard) sing eight of the songs, all cleverly ironic little gems, entitled
'Barbie Blues,' 'Baby Breasts,' 'Boobs Blues,' 'Silicone Sal,'
'Breast Play,' 'The Test,' 'Working It Out,' 'Stuffed Bras.'"

+letter from Leonard Lehrman to Aufbau, 8/8/02 68:16 p18 "Clothing Optionality"
- on FKK, TNS, NAC, etc. http://ljlehrman.artists-in-residence.com/articles/aufbau110.html


Documentation in N Magazine

6/14/89 9:1 p49 "REVIEWS OPERA: RASPUTIN... NY City Opera" 9/88 by Leonard Lehrman;
blurb: "LEONARD LEHRMAN is a naturist and well-known younger composer and conductor of operas."

10/5/89 9:2 p69-73 "UPDATES FRANCE Opera & Belezy" by George McCormick & Lee Baxandall

Judy Morris, Helene Williams, Bill Reynolds; Leonard Lehrman, pno/cond.
with water ballet dir. by Olivier, in MERMAID OPERAS:
Rusalka excerpts by Dvorak (in Fr.) and Dargomyzhsky (in Eng.) + The Mermaid in Lock No. 7
music by Elie Siegmeister, text by Edward Mabley, adapted by L. Lehrman
4-pg. 17-(color)photo spread by Lee Baxandall & Johanna Moore;
interviews with Siegmeister & Opera News Editor Marylis Gonzaga

[articles also in Tillsammans by Erik Holm on "BELEZY 1-7 juli 1990" with cartoon, and in
Opera Monthly 2:12 4/90 p33-35 "OPERA TRENDS: Mermaid Operas Au Naturel" by Leonard Lehrman:
"Apparently the first instance in history of 'mermaid operas' being presented with appropriate costuming...
or lack thereof, at the First International Naturist Opera Workshop."]

6/28/90 10.1 p97 1st publication of photo of Kurt Weill skinnydipping

1/16/92 11.2 p8-9 "Deja Vu Barely Proper" rehearsals, performance & broadcast announced -
with Barry Plaxen, Diane Reese, Helene Williams, Peter Kacalanos; Leonard Lehrman, dir.

5/1/92 11.3 p37-39 "NUDE IN TV AD LAND" "HELENE WILLIAMS AND LEONARD LEHRMAN
are the musicians you saw featured in an opera production in France in N 9.2.
Here they lend themselves to a TV spot ad for insurance 'coverage.'
This is how they looked on Boston television."
"Couple's Feelings Are Mixed On How They Fared In TV Commercial"

12/26/92 12.2 p104 photo includes SIG members

3/29/93 12.3 p7 & 24 repeat of above photo;
p24 "EASTERN NATURIST GATHERING '92 : CAMP BARRETT, THE POCONOS, JUNE 19-21, 1992":
"Leonard Lehrman produced a splendid performance of 'Barely Proper,' the classic Naturist comedy.
The first-time cast was sparked by long-time 'Barely Proper' performer and producer Barry Plaxen
and experienced ingenue Diane Reese [photo p25] A knowing audience responded with cheers and bravos."
photos after p72:
"Leonard Lehrman, American composer, conducts a song from his opera
about Christopher Columbus's men in armor and the naked natives."
"Leonard Lehrman and Belezy owner Gerard Leclerc."

6/10/93 12.4 p49-53 "NUDITY IN OPERA" by Leonard Lehrman - incl. photos [of]
Moses und Aron, Susannah, Fiery Angel, New World (previewed, Belezy 1990)

9/20/93 13.1 p101 "A Great Gathering" by Marilyn R. Lovell on Northeastern Naturist Gathering at The Phoenix: "
Leonard Lehrman's talented group of professionals gave us a grand evening of good music and great fun."

5/23/94 13.4 p93 "How Good It Was" by Marilyn Lovell, Syracuse Naturist Gazette:
"Leonard Lehrman and The Opera-Musical Theatre Special Interest Group of the Naturist Society
outdid themselves Saturday evening with a potpourri of light opera and musical theater.
Not only was the audience nude, the singers were, too! Such fun, such talent!"
p91 photo: Cary Bair, Leonard Lehrman, Helene Williams, Bill Reynolds, Amy Vail, et al

2/8/96 15.3 p31 "EASTERN GATHERING '95 BUCKSTEEP MANOR
IN THE BERKSHIRE MOUNTAINS, MASSACHUSETTS, JUNE 21-25, 1995"
by Camilla Van Sickle & Bill Pennington: "
The TNS Opera-Musical Theater SIG led by Leonard Lehrman offered 'Adam & Lilith & Eve',
an entertainment based in part on Genesis. This was hugely popular, standing room only."
1-page 7-(color)photo spread after p.32.
p27 captions: "Leonard Lehrman conducts his musical comedy as
Serpent (Bill Reynolds) induces Eve (Lenora Eve) to offer the apple to Adam (Cary Bair);
Reynolds and Diane Reese;
Lilith (Jill Salazar) dismisses angels Charlie, Gregory and Philip Perkins ([photo by Mark] Orpen);
Finale with Amy Vail seated (Orpen);
Finale with adults Salazar, Helene Williams, Bill Pacer, Peter Kacalanos (God), Eve
and one Perkins and two Pacer kids;
the angels are harsh with a figged Adam (Orpen)."

5/20/97 16.4 p10 A Naturist Anthem, Words: Leonard Lehrman, Copyright 1993 Music: "Simple Gifts"

9/3/97 17.1 p17 Barcelona nude statue photos by Helene Williams

11/20/97 17.2 p1 "The Eastern Naturist Fair 1998 At Eastover Resort, Lenox, Massachusetts June 22-29, 1998:"
"The Naturist Society's traditional Gathering program begins on Wednesday, June 24 with a day trip to Vermont's Ledges
and an evening performance by the Naturist Opera-Musical Theater...."

2/27/98 Spring 1998 17.3 p91 "EASTERN GATHERING 1997
July 3-6, 1997 at Camp Ramblewood, Darlington, Maryland" by Judi Ditzler:
"A terrific performance was given by Leonard Lehrman and the TNS Opera-Musical Theater Saturday evening,
featuring Lehrman's satirical take on the Genesis story in a piece called 'The Creation And Other Stories.'
This talented group is well-loved by Naturists, and its shows are always a highlight of Gathering weekends."
p94 photo of Peter Kacalanos juggling

11/16/98 Winter 1998 18.2 p96 "EASTERN NATURIST GATHERING 1998 -
International Perspectives - A British View" by Roger and Vena Wright:
"...a most entertaining night at the nude opera performed by the TNS Opera-Musical Theatre SIG..."
(color) photo by Mark Orpen after p. 104 [of John Holly & Helene Williams in A Faun in the Forest]

8/31/99 Autumn 1999 19.1 p78-80 "TNS SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS" by Mark Storey with Nicky Hoffman:
"Opera-Musical Theatre SIG : Raw Performance With A Smile"
"...the Opera-Musical Theatre SIG has been staging productions at TNS Eastern Naturist Gatherings and abroad.
They have only missed one Eastern Gathering (1996), and have also staged 10 productions in France....
Anyone who has seen one of the O-MT SIG's Naturist performances knows that these folks are definitely having fun."
Captions to photos by Lee Baxandall and Ron Marsh:
"NATURIST GATHERINGS often set the stage for Opera-Musical Theatre SIG performances.
Top: 'The Mermaid Operas' were directed by Leonard Lehrman
and sung by the Naturist Opera Workshop singers at Bélézy Resort, France, 1989.
Middle: The O-MT SIG takes a bow after its rendition of Adam & Lilith & Eve at the 1995 Eastern Gathering.
Bottom: Lehrman and Helene Williams perform at Eastover during the 1999 ENG [in 'Anything You Can Do']."

11/15/99 Winter 1999 19.2 p31
"1999 EASTERN NATURIST GATHERING WAS TERRIFIC!" by Mark Storey:
"Leonard Lehrman and the Opera-Musical Theatre SIG presented an evening of song and humorous skits."
p121 "Opera-Musical Theatre SIG" letter by Leonard Lehrman, correcting "a few minor errors" in 19.1.

11/3/00 Winter 2000 20.2 p20 "A Jewish Take on Eden" letter by Leonard Lehrman
"concerning interpretations of the Genesis story (N 20.1, pp. 49-54, and others).
What you're missing is a Jewish perspective...."
p27 & 30 photos by Ron Marsh of Leonard Lehrman, Peter Kacalanos, Carla Tarantola

Winter 2001 21.2 p63 & 65
"Naked in the Berkshires: The 2001 Eastern Naturist Gathering" by Christopher Rowland:
"A world premiere graced the Tally Ho stage the next night, when
The Opera/Musical Theatre Special Interest Group presented
The Booby Trap by Leonard Lehrman and Sydney Ross Singer.
This short play is based on a book by Singer and his wife Soma Grismaijer titled
Get It Off!, which discusses the theoretical link between bra wearing and breast cancer.
A large, appreciative audience laughed and cheered,
as the talented performers carried us through the humorous, touching, poignant material."

Spring 2002 21.3 p82-89 "NATURIST HISTORY 'Nudism with a Social Conscience':
Circle H Ranch helped set the stage for modern naturism in America" by Carl Hild [on Barely Proper]

Summer 2002 21.4
p44 "Naturist Opera Down Under:
Naturist Special Interest Group Performs First Concert At Sydney Naturally"
by Bob Reed, incl. photo of Jeff & Karolyn Dunlop, Leonard Lehrman & Helene Williams
p99 "REVIEWS BOOKS Nude Poets Society" review of Naked Verses, ed., Bern Loibl,
by Leonard Lehrman, with references to Lois Ann Horowitz, Stephen Van Eck, Syd Singer,
Gene Peacock, Jr., G. Elton Warrick, Don Bensen, Rebecca S. Terrible, L.K. Twaddle, Janet L. Tawalkana.

Summer 2005 24.4
p49-52 "Barely Proper: For Nudists, This Play's the Thing," by Mark Storey -
"abridged extract" from introduction to Theatre au Naturel,
Ancaster, Ontario, Canada: Heureka Productions, 2005,
mentions (on p.52) our 1992 production and broadcast.
Full text of the description in his book (p.16):
"TNS's Opera-Musical Theatre SIG continues to perform opera, musicals,
and theatrical pieces at naturist events in the first decade of the 2000s.
Lehrman is an accomplished and respected composer, performer, and director
who has moved naturist groups in the 21st century toward
an ever widening array of musical and theatrical endeavors."

Winter 2008 28.2
p41 "Northeast Naturist Festival" by Barbara Crumb -
"Evening concerts were offered by our friends Helene Williams,
Leonard Lehrman, and Cary Bair from the TNS Musical SIG"

Spring 2009 28.3
p26 "The History of The Naturist Society" by Mark Storey
mentions opera SIG and prints sidebar:
The best tribute any Naturist could
give Lee Baxandall would be to
think: "What would Lee do?"
and then act accordingly. With
his considerable theatrical back-
ground, Lee knowingly brought
the Opera/Musical Theatre SIG
to the ENG every year he could,
overcoming any obstacles, ami-
cably solving any problems.
That's what Lee did.

Leonard J. Lehrman
Founder/Director, The Opera/Musical Theatre Special Interest Group of The Naturist Society


Winter 2009 29.2
p44-45 "Northeast Festival" by Stina Sieg -
"rich performance of exuberant show tunes by musicians Leonard Lehrman and Helene Williams"

Spring 2012 31.3
p74 Leonard Lehrman, Opera-Musical Theater SIG, celebrates his birthday in style at Lighthouse Beach surrounded by friends.

Winter 2012 32.2 p65-67 "The Music and Naturism of Leonard Lehrman and Helene Williams" by Joel Simpson:
"The 2012 Northeast Naturist Festival at Empire Haven in New York was impressive in the range of professions and interests represented, with every night featuring an artistic performance. Meriting special note were two world-class performers in the opera/cabaret genre: the husband-and-wife team of Leonard Lehrman and Helene Williams. They have performed all over North America, Europe, Israel and Australia. Lehrman, a classical pianist/organist and cabaretist, served as Assistant Chorus Master of the Metropolitan Opera and Chief Coach/Conductor at Theater des Westens in Berlin. Williams, an opera-trained soprano, co-founded the Bronx Opera.
In 1986, after both their [first] marriages had broken up, Helene played the role of The Rabbi's Wife in Neil Diamond's "Coming to America," part of the Liberty Weekend celebration of the Statue of Liberty's Centennial on national and international TV. When Leonard advertised for an Emma Goldman in his new musical about the Russian-American Jewish Anarchist, she figured she'd have a chance at the lead, given her prior as a Jewish character in "Coming to America." On January 7, 1987, she walked into the audition and "walked off with the part, and the composer." Since then, they've done 51 productions of that show together, in 5 countries. [See http://ljlehrman.artists-in-residence.com/EG.html].
A protege of Leonard Bernstein, Lehrman was also a close friend of Lee Baxandall (1935-2009), editor of Wilhelm Reich, Marx and Engels, and founder of TNS. Lehrman had known him in the 1970s as a fellow Brecht translator. He rediscovered him as a naturist enthusiast when he bought Baxandall's World Guide to Nude Beaches and Recreation (at a PX in Germany). They reconnected over this shared passion, leading to musical collaborations, including the founding of the Opera/Musical Theatre Special Interest Group in 1989, and A Requiem for Hiroshima at Riverside Church in 1990.
Their Empire Haven program featured a thematic medley on flowers, including Lehrman's charming setting of Robert Herrick's "Gather Ye Rosebuds," Neil Diamond's classic "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," and Pete Seeger's perennial anthem, a jaunty and modulating "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," which the audience chimed in on. In tribute to Claude Debussy's sesquicentennial (1862-1918), Lehrman and Williams included a good dose of French music, including Jacques Brel's "Les Bourgeois" and one of the evening's many high points, a choreographed pas de deux by Festival attendees Arlene Delleur and Dennis Cullen to Lehrman's synthesizer rendition of Debussy's Clair de lune. (See http://youtu.be/Wfm8bFjzJ0g.)
From these ethereal realms Williams and Lehrman brought us back down to realities on the political ground, but with a parachute of rich humor, including "No Radiation without Representation" (by Susan Beckhorn), "The Man Who Controls the Drones," "Politicians Polka," and "The One Percent," the last three being Lehrman originals or collaborations. The performance concluded with Mark Levy's music hall romp "Take Off Your Clothes," followed by "The Naturist Anthem" (to the tune "Simple Gifts") which they performed gloriously in the nude. Helene Williams' voice is a[n absolute] joy in any setting. It is most at home in the classical sphere, but I couldn't help thinking of Teresa Stratas's sterling renditions of Kurt Weill when Helene delivered her popular numbers.
Two days before arriving in Empire Haven, Leonard and Helene had performed a similar concert (with appropriate language changes) at La Pommerie outside Montreal, for the Federation of Canadian Naturists. The program was their "Naturist Cabaret," where they brought out their repertoire of pop music in English, and French, as well as folk music, political satire, and naturist-themed numbers-many of which they've written themselves. They also extended the reach of selected classical pieces into nude dance productions and tableaux vivants, which look both very avant-garde and wonderfully reminiscent of the radical experimentalism of pre-World War I Europe. If you think Isadora Duncan nude (which she did), you won't be far off, especially in their choreographic staging of Debussy's "Chansons de Bilitis," available for private viewing.
Leonard first experienced political/social nudity at Harvard, 1968-71. On Election Day, 1968, at the end of a protest march, The Living Theatre staged Paradise Now, and tore off all their clothes, as did many in the audience. A year and a half later, in protest against the killing of students at Kent State, Leonard music-directed a special performance of a production of Marat/Sade at Adams House, where the swimming pool had been traditionally nude (male only),, then became clothed when women started living there (legally), and then, after protests, became "clothing optional." (2012 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was the skinnydipping Charlotte Corday in that production.) The experience of swimming nude there, in mixed company, staging a couple of operas involving nudity in Lowell House, and at the Reservoir in Ithaca, when he attended graduate school at Cornell (1972-77), he describes as "extremely liberating."
Helene's first experience skinnydipping was at Menges' Lakeside in the 1970s, during the new moon, with her mother-in-law, and a bunch of the waitstaff. (Her then-husband didn't want to go.) She went with Leonard (having met him in Jnuary 1976) to the Reservoir in Ithaca and other places in upstate New York, but "felt very self-conscious because all of those college kids there were half my age!" but was "willing to try it in more secluded areas."
In the summer of 1988, using Baxandall's World Guide, they found a beach in Wells, Maine, where, unbeknownst to them, parking was forbidden anywhere in the town. They got a ticket, refused to pay it, writing to the town in protest, cc-ing Baxandall. The town never followed up, but Lee did, inviting them to consider leading a nude opera workshop. That was the beginning of the Opera/Musical Theatre SIG--in 1989.
Baxandall invited them to perform that summer in France at the Domaine Naturiste de Belezy in Provence, a resort with a tradition of both naturism and serious chamber music. Along with three other U.S. naturists, they put on three concerts, [including] one program of "Mermaid Operas": Excerpts from Rusalka by Antonin Dvorak, in French, and another opera of the same name by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (based on Pushkin), which Leonard had translated into English for the Bel Canto Opera, but which has yet to be produced. The third opera was the French premiere of the complete one-act opera The Mermaid in Lock No. 7 by Leonard's teacher Elie Siegmeister, who loved the photos in N, exclaiming: "Lenushka! This is the definitive production! This is the way the opera should always be done!"
"Before we got to Belezy," Helene recalls, "we visited and performed in several other places in Europe where Leonard had lived and worked during the seven years he was employed there (1979-1986): Amsterdam, East and West Berlin, Dresden, Paris-and I had nightmares for weeks about being nude among so many other nude people. But once we got there and I took off my clothes, I felt as though I never wanted to put them on again! And unlike my experience with the college crowd at The Reservoir, there were all ages and body types (of course!)."
The next summer featured "The Nudity Chorus" from Leonard's New World: An Opera About What Columbus Did to the "Indians", and the SIG held workshops at Belezy, with their nude water ballet and nude chorale, every other year thereafter, in 1992, 1994, and 1996. "On my birthday, for my birthday, Aug. 20, 1990," Leonard remembers, "I managed to persuade Helene to accompany me to our first American naturist gathering, which proved to be a lovely experience. We were hired there to do a nude commercial at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens by a Harvard insurance company, and were thrilled by a couple from North Carolina who performed Shakespeare-excerpts from Taming of the Shrew-in the nude, to an audience that appreciated every double entendre embodied in the text and onstage. It inspired us to believe that there would be an appreciative Naturist audience for us here in our own country too."
In 1991, they had a reading, and then in 1992 a fully staged production, of the 1930s naturist classic Barely Proper by Tom Cushing. Leonard adapted it from several versions made available by Barry Plaxen, who starred in it. Helene played Aunt Minna, then also took over the role of the maid Katinka at the last minute As a radio play it was broadcast by WBAI, where she took on a third role as well, Mitzi, using different voices for each character. She finally got to play the ingenue years later, first in a reading at Empire Haven (where Leonard jumped into the lead role of Derek at the last minute) and then in a radio play (with Leonard as the Professor) outside Toronto, at Bare Oaks, which podcast the production, produced by Stephane Deschenes, still available at http://www.naturistliving.bareoaks.ca/2011/08/barely-proper.html.
In 1994-1995 they staged a delightful four-character one-act play, Stark, by John Bramhall, at Empire Haven and Bucksteep Manor, where they also produced a spectacular Adam & Lilith & Eve, complete with music and flying angels and "The Naturist Anthem" as finale, first published by the Canadian magazine Going Natural, then N. In later years, the Canadians also published a French translation by Michel Vais & Diane Archambault and a German one (by Leonard with Claudia Kellersch), which was also pulished by Der Naturist.
In 1998 came another one-act opera, Gerald Cockschott's The Faun in the Forest, at Eastover - also the site of one of their most fondly remembered programs, the 2000 Tom Lehrer Songfest, incorporating as never before the nudity contained in their songbook illustrations. When Lehrer saw the video he wrote: "Just when one thinks one has seen everything..." "The Vatican Rag" without a stitch on became their finale by popular demand for years.
In 2000-2001, they traveled to Hawaii, guests of medical researchers/writers Syd Singer and his wife Soma Grijsmaier, and wrote a musical with them: The Booby Trap or Off Our Chests, about the statistical correlation between bras and breast cancer, including 9 numbers performed in New York City and Eastover in 2001. In 2002 they performed "Naked Klezmer" there, as well as a program for Naturist Sydney in Australia. Premiered were Leonard's settings of five "Naked Verses," ten "Jewish Haiku," and Michael Cooney's poem "Why I Choose Nude Recreation" - written for Cary Bair, who premiered it - see http://youtu.be/T7yjtbg_s6k.
In 2003 they returned to Empire Haven, where they've been performing every summer since then, thanks to Morley Schloss, who also sponsors their performances at Sunsport each March. (They also performed at TNS' ENG [in Westmont] in 2010-11.) In 2005, they met the activist Susan Blake, took her to her first naturist beach and festivals, expanded The Booby Trap with her to 18 songs, and performed with her at numerous venues [See http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmhHI8m9j-XtqhrkUuMhGrWpFZ97F-3bx. Since her death from breast cancer in Oct. 2007, they continue to perform the work, in her memory.