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Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock’s ‘Marnie,’ Loves the Met’s Opera

Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock’s ‘Marnie,’ Loves the Met’s Opera


When she showed up at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday for the opening of the new opera “Marnie,” Tippi Hedren wore an elegant, glittering floor-length gown. In bright red.

“I thought, I’m going to wear it,” Ms. Hedren, 88, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 film version of “Marnie,” said with a mischievous smile, “and see if anybody gets it.”

Plenty did, to her delight. In the film, the color red — seen in a bunch of gladioli, or an ink stain on a white blouse, or a jockey’s silks — sends Marnie into paroxysms of terror, triggering memories of the childhood trauma that turned her into a deeply troubled kleptomaniac.

The Met has been careful to note that its “Marnie” opera, with a score by Nico Muhly, is based on the 1961 novel by Winston Graham, not Hitchcock’s adaptation. But the film — and Ms. Hedren — define “Marnie” for most people. So the original Marnie turned heads all night on Friday, from a precurtain dinner to the cast party, where she stayed past midnight.

She gave a fist bump (which she prefers to a handshake) to the artist and performer Justin Vivian Bond when they met on the staircase. She shared a moment with the diva Anna Netrebko at the cast party. And she brought down the house with a surprise curtain call, stirring murmurs of “Who?” that soon became exclamations of “Tippi Hedren!”

[Read the review of the Met Opera’s “Marnie.”]

It was Ms. Hedren’s first trip to the Met. As she settled into a chair at its Grand Tier Restaurant for dinner — at her table was another chic 1960s icon, Barbara Feldon, who played Agent 99 on the TV show “Get Smart” — Ms. Hedren said that her “heart just started to pound” when she learned that “Marnie” was being turned into an opera.

“‘Marnie’ was taken as such a dark film,” she said, adding that it was very different from “The Birds,” her first Hitchcock movie. “It wasn’t a grand Hitchcock suspense thriller. It was a totally different kind of piece. I think it was difficult for the public to grasp that. I don’t think they knew how to look at it.”

The film, in which she starred opposite a young Sean Connery, may be Hitchcock’s most debated. It explores unusually painful subjects, including rape, and has divided critics for more than half a century.

And in recent decades it has taken on dark significance for another reason: Ms. Hedren has spoken and written of the ways that Hitchcock became obsessed with her during its shooting, terrorizing her and later trying to sabotage her career when she rebuffed him.

But she said on Friday that she was not worried that the opera would bring back painful memories.

“I’m totally at peace with it,” she said, noting that she had said what she wanted to in “Tippi: A Memoir,” published in 2016. “Once you put it on paper, it’s there. You’re free.”

After dinner she went down to her parterre box, running into Mr. Muhly, the composer. “I hope you enjoy it!” he said.

At intermission, Ms. Hedren said that she was liking it very much, but found it difficult to understand the singing, even though the libretto is in English. It turned out no one had told her about Met Titles, which display the text on the seat backs. She used the system for Act II, and enjoyed herself more.

Then it was time for her surprise curtain call. As she made her way backstage, her friend Karen Cadle asked Met officials if one of the singers could use her microphone to introduce Ms. Hedren to the audience. She was told that opera singers don’t need microphones to fill the vast 3,800-seat theater.

“Amazing,” Ms. Hedren said.

They watched the end of the opera — the traumatic childhood memory that sets the plot in motion is different from the one in the film — from the wings. At the end, Isabel Leonard, the mezzo-soprano who sang the role of Marnie, made her exit as roars of applause filtered backstage. In the wings, one Marnie met another.

“I’m going to cry now,” Ms. Leonard exclaimed. “Please don’t make me cry!”

Then they went out for a bow together.

After the curtain fell, Ms. Hedren was thronged on stage by the cast and crew. Many took photos of her and Ms. Leonard, the two prima donnas. As Ms. Hedren navigated the steeply raked stage with care, Mr. Muhly made her laugh with a story about a tumble he once took while bowing in Paris. She chatted with Arianne Phillips, the costume designer whose bright, mid-century-chic clothes are practically a character in the opera, about another legend, Edith Head, who designed the costumes in the film “Marnie.”

Then it was off to the cast party, near the Met at Lincoln Ristorante. On the way a young woman stopped Ms. Hedren, gushing, and took out her smartphone.

“I never do this,” the woman said apologetically.

Ms. Hedren said, “But you’re going to do this now,” posing for a picture and urging the young woman to visit the website of her preserve, which rescues what she calls “big cats,” including lions and tigers. “It’s shambala.org,” she told the woman.

Ms. Hedren sat at a table at the party and nursed a glass of red wine.

She was the guest of Andrew J. Martin-Weber, a member of the Met’s board who was the lead donor for the opera.

“I thought: Who would be the coolest date to have at the opening of ‘Marnie?’” said Mr. Martin-Weber, a supporter of new works. So he called her up and Ms. Hedren agreed to fly from her home in California for the premiere.

She was still there after midnight. But she had little rest ahead.

“We’ll leave this party, go up and sleep for about four or five hours, and get on a plane, because I have an event at the preserve tomorrow with the lions and tigers,” she said. “We decided to get dressed, ready to go on the plane, and then go to sleep. So when I finish here, I’ll go and pack everything up, and put on my jeans and T-shirt.”



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