, Salem, MA


March 21, 2013

'Bon Appetit'

Opera celebrates Julia Child's culinary expertise and spirit


The event will also feature a silent auction.

Fortunato first performed “Bon Appetit” 10 years ago at the Smithsonian Institution, when Child’s Cambridge kitchen was installed there as an exhibit.

The opera, which lasts about 25 minutes, closely follows the action of one episode of Child’s show, as well as her recipe for Le Gateau au Chocolat L’eminence Brune.

“This is completely unique, in that everything is done according to the libretto,” Fortunato said. “It’s ‘running music,’ it sounds like somebody doing some physical activity. It replicates stirring egg whites.”

“Bon Appetit” was composed in 1989 by Lee Hoiby, whom Fortunato remembers as “a recluse living on a farm in Pennsylvania.”

“He wrote mostly beautiful, lyrical songs and operas,” she said. “This is a stretch for him, but there are some really pretty places.”

Where the opera succeeds brilliantly is in capturing the unique character of Julia Child.

“The spirit of Julia is there,” Fortunato said. “Julia herself had a joyous personality. I was a big fan of hers, from beginning to end.”

Part of what made Child so spirited was her sense of humor, which librettist Mark Shulgasser emphasized by sprinkling “bon mots” from her shows throughout the opera.

Host John Archer enjoyed that humor firsthand as Child’s student, when the chef was giving classes at Boston University that were open to the public.

“I think she will go down as one of America’s greatest wits,” Archer said. “She’s up there with Carol and Lucy, with that wry wit I find so funny.”

Archer remembers once asking Child for advice, when a dinner he was cooking hadn’t turned out so well.

“I’m a good cook. I cooked this huge pot of clam chowder,” he said. “When I came downstairs, my big pot had curdled, separated, boiled over. It doesn’t affect the taste, but it looks awful.”

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