Singing Bach in a Coffee Shop

Singing Bach in a Coffee Shop

Good morning. It’s Friday. Today we’ll find out about a Bach cantata with a protagonist who loves her coffee, newly staged by people who love theirs. We’ll also get details on why F.B.I. agents searched the homes of two senior fire chiefs.

The piece was also a caffeinated departure from Bach’s famous liturgical compositions. “This was not Bach’s M.O., generally, to write a secular cantata,” On Site Opera’s music director, Geoffrey McDonald, told me.

Audience members will be served coffee chosen to complement the action onstage: A single-origin variety from Nicaragua, another variety from Kenya and a drink combining coffee from Ethiopia with Ceylon tea. The company’s artistic director, Sarah Meyers, said that when she heard about that mixture, “my first thought was, ‘That shouldn’t happen,’ but then I tried it. It’s quite nice.”

McDonald reworked the libretto for a “reimagining of the cantata,” translating the German into English and updating some of the wording “to make it more contemporary and, hopefully, more funny than a direct translation would be.” Meyers added that the changes “make it sound as if someone might actually say these things” because, as McDonald explained, the original German idioms “would mean zero to a contemporary audience.”

Such as?

At one point, Lieschen, the daughter in the piece, says, “If I don’t get my coffee, I turn into a dried-out slab of goat meat.”

McDonald said he had first changed the ending of that sentence to “turn into a beast from hell.” But that did not work, he said, “because the syllables don’t fall in the same place as Bach’s music.”

So he decided to underline the idea that she cannot function without coffee, and have her sing, “If I’m deprived, it’s not a pretty picture.”

He also reworked a line sung by Schlendrian, the father. “The original German translates directly to ‘Has one not with their children 100,000 bits of sloppiness?’” McDonald said. “I thought, ‘What’s an English word that really lands well there?’”

He came up with this: “Raising daughters is no picnic. They don’t listen, though you try.”

He was drawing on his own experience, not as a parent — he has two sons — but as someone with older sisters. He talked over the line with Meyers, who has two boys and two girls. “None of us can control our children,” she said. “That I know from being a parent.”

“Parents always think they know so much more than their children, and this is the story of a child outsmarting her father,” Meyers said. “That’s really all there is to it. The dynamic Schlendrian sets up is that you have to choose one thing over another — you have to choose love or coffee, and ultimately, she says: ‘No, I can have both. I can have my coffee, and I’ll live my love life as I see fit.’”

But neither Meyers, McDonald nor the performers could have their coffee during rehearsals last week. Their rehearsal room had a strict no-beverages rule.

“We’re all coffee drinkers, pretty universally,” Meyers said.

She looked longingly at a table near the front of the room.

“All of those cups are props,” she said. “They’re empty. When we get to the coffee shop, it will be such a relief.”


Weather

Expect a sunny, breezy day in the mid-40s. At night, snow is likely. Temperatures will remain steady in the low 30s.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until Monday (Washington’s Birthday).


The homes and offices of two senior Fire Department chiefs were searched early Thursday in a corruption investigation that is apparently separate from one examining Mayor Eric Adams’s 2021 campaign fund-raising.

The searches, by the F.B.I. and city investigators, were carried out as part of an investigation that initially focused on whether the two chiefs had been paid nearly $100,000 each in a scheme to help expedite or arrange building inspections, according to reporting by my colleagues William K. Rashbaum and Michael Rothfeld. The investigation began last summer and is being conducted by the F.B.I., the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York and the New York City Department of Investigation.

Neither of the chiefs, Brian Cordasco and Anthony Saccavino, has been accused of wrongdoing. But the Fire Department said that Commissioner Laura Kavanagh had placed both men on modified duty “proactively.”

A spokesman for the mayor said City Hall had learned of the searches on Thursday from Fire Department officials. “There is no indication of any direct connection to anyone at City Hall,” the spokesman, Charles Lutvak, said.

There was no immediate indication that the searches were part of the federal corruption investigation into Adams’s campaign, although spokesmen for the F.B.I. and the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the city’s investigations agency.

The inquiry into the mayor’s fund-raising has focused at least in part on whether officials of the Turkish government conspired with Adams’s campaign to send illegal foreign donations its way. At issue is whether Adams pressured fire officials to sign off on the Turkish government’s new consulate in Manhattan. The New York Times reported last fall that Adams had contacted Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro in late summer 2021, after Adams had won the Democratic primary, which all but guaranteed that he would be elected mayor in November. Adams urged Nigro to allow the Turkish government to occupy the building, at least on a temporary basis, despite safety concerns.

Adams has said that he did nothing improper, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Saccavino and Cordasco were promoted a year ago to run the Bureau of Fire Prevention, the same unit at the center of the episode involving the Turkish consulate.


METROPOLITAN diary

Dear Diary:

I was walking down the street on a Sunday afternoon with my headphones in. It was the end of what had been a rough weekend.

I was caught up in a song that was soothing my recently broken and rejected heart. I was wondering if I would ever meet someone new who would love me or if I should prepare to live a solitary life.

A beautiful young woman walked past me. She seemed to be saying something to me, so I took out my headphones.

“You are so beautiful,” she said. “I just had to tell you.”

“Wow!” I said, “And here I am having a rough day.”

“Well, if you want one,” she said, “I’d give you a hug.”

And we hugged.

— Sarah Hanssen

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.