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Juilliard Alums Revisit the Past
Renée Fleming, Susanna Phillips and More Come Out for the Juilliard School
Corinne Ramey | The Wall Street Journal | 1 May 2014

Opera singers Isabel Leonard and Susanna Phillips, who play the two sisters in the Metropolitan Opera's current production of "Così Fan Tutte," have a natural chemistry, giggling, arguing and scheming, just like real sisters might.

Turns out it's not all acting: the two women were college suitemates while studying at Juilliard. "I remember we laughed a lot and did our fingernails," Ms. Phillips recalled.

The pair was among the Juilliard alums at a gala concert and dinner on Tuesday evening, dubbed "Dreams Come True" by the Juilliard School, which raised $1.4 million for student scholarships. A certain school spirit—the kind that comes not from sports teams, but from career-long collaborations with college classmates—was on full display.

After a grab bag concert at Juilliard, guests headed to the Tent at Lincoln Center for dancing and a dinner of stacked beet salad, salmon and chocolate cinnamon torte. Long-stemmed pastel flowers sprung from vases across the tables, looking as if they might jump out and dance. "I wanted something flowey," said gala chairwoman Terry Lindsay.

Asked to reminisce about her student years, the soprano Renée Fleming told her oft-repeated story about a 1987 production of Gian Carlo Menotti's opera "Tamu-Tamu."

"This famous director came to do his piece, and he said, 'You can have the role if you're topless,'" she said. The then-new Juilliard President Joseph Polisi didn't approve of topless students, and as a compromise, Ms. Fleming wore a sheer bodysuit. "That's more lewd than the real thing," she added.

Things got better for Mr. Polisi: When asked about surprises during his 30-year tenure, he said: "I think it was a big surprise when Bruce [Kovner] gave us $60 million!"

New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert said conducting the Juilliard orchestra that evening brought him back to his student days.

"It's when I discovered what it felt like to be debilitatingly nervous, and was learning how to deal with that fear and those nerves," he said. Mr. Gilbert, who has since conquered his nerves, now teaches at his alma mater.

"He would get up there on the podium with you," said the conductor Evan Rogister, a former student of Mr. Gilbert, who was a classmate of Ms. Leonard and Ms. Phillips.

Also in attendance was early music specialist William Christie, who, in addition to being as close as anyone as historical performance royalty, is a frequent Juilliard guest artist.

Red socks peeked out from his tux pants. "I've been wearing red socks as long as I've been making music," said Mr. Christie, who buys his red socks in Rome. "I gave a wonderful performance, and thought, 'Maybe the red socks helped.'"

Among the performers at the concert was violinist and recent alum Charles Yang, who has a classical-meets-rockstar duo with pianist Peter Dugan. Asked about Juilliard secrets, he first mentioned a dungeon, with dragons, but then reconsidered.

"We actually all like each other," he said. "That's the real secret at Juilliard."