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Composition Learned

Citizen Staff Writer
Cover story



Michael Learned is most famous for her portrayal of Olivia Walton in the popular 1970s TV series “The Waltons,” but she has also had a long career as a stage actress appearing in a number of Broadway shows.

Just in the new millennium, she has had roles in Brian Friel’s “Dancing at Lughnasa” in San Diego, a national tour in “On Golden Pond,” a production of “Driving Miss Daisy” by the Innovation Theatre Works in Oregon and a Los Angeles showcase of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.”

“I was supposed to do ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ in Orlando, but then it was announced the whole season was canceled,” says Learned, talking from her Los Angeles home. “So now, I’m available,” she chuckles.

A conversation with Learned is casual and easygoing. Totally unpretentious, she has an open way that feels very natural.

This weekend, she will be in Tucson as part of the Chamber Music PLUS Southwest world-première presentation of “Love Letters: From Beethoven to Bernstein.” Not to be confused with the other play “Love Letters” about a decades-long correspondence between two people, this play presents real letters from famous musicians to special people in their lives.

Learned will portray a fictional character, Ms. Harris the Curator of Musical Letters at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. She will discuss and reminisce over these letters while reading them to the audience.

The piece was written by Harry Clark, cellist and co-founder of Chamber Music PLUS Southwest with pianist Sanda Schuldmann. He wrote it specifically for Michael Learned.

“He said that? Well, bless his soul,” Learned adds. “We did discuss it. He had these seven exceptional letters and right away I told him I’m too old to do seven different characters,” she laughs. “So Harry created the character of the librarian.

“In the script, it says ‘She has a slight Southern accent.’ He emphasizes ‘slight’ so maybe my German accent was too strong when I played Mozart’s Sister for Harry and Sanda,” Learned wonders in a teasing tone.

“Initially, I suggested being like an emcee, introducing each letter, but Harry’s concept was for a more theatrical evening.

“And they aren’t all romantic letters,” Learned adds. “One was quite profound. I had to wake up my husband and read it to him.

“It was a letter from Schubert to Josef Spaun. Listen to this.”

Learned tracks down her script, finds the passage and reads it over the phone. It feels like having a personal private preview. And the letter is profound.

As always, Clark and Schuldmann will play the appropriate classical music selections for each letter. The composers represented are Beethoven, Mozart, Clara and Robert Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Copland, Virgil Thompson and Bernstein.

Soprano Jennifer Nagy will join Learned, Clark and Schuldmann onstage. The director is Troy Hollar.


What: Chamber Music Plus Southwest presents “Love Letters: From Beethoven to Bernstein” by Harry Clark

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd.

Price: $35 general admission, discounts to subscribers

Info: 400-5439, chambermusicplus.org

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