Who’s Here: Anna Bergman, Singer

Anna Bergman live at Feinsteins in 2015
Anna Bergman live at Feinsteins in 2015, Photo: Stephen Sorokoff

Anna Bergman travels the world singing American classics such as those created by George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter, as well as other styles of music. These are concert and cabaret performances. She’s performed at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and even had a PBS special called A Salon with Anna Bergman. She has a golden voice. She’s beautiful. She can bring an audience to tears and she can get from them a standing ovation. She performed at the White House during the administration of George H. W. Bush for a birthday party thrown by his wife, Barbara, and she has even sung for Prince Edward and a crowd of high officials at the British Consul General’s Home in Manhattan on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee year. She also often appears in performance in the Hamptons, sometimes in public venues and sometimes at private homes for special occasions.

This summer she will appear on Saturday July 25 at the Southampton Arts Center in a performance of the music of Richard Rodgers presented by Guild Hall and Patricia Watt. She will also perform on September 4 at Guild Hall in a one-night-only performance of George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell, along with Dick Cavett, Steven Lang and Harris Yulin, who is also directing.

“I love what I do,” she told me at lunch the other day. “Because of my international upbringing, I try to represent America’s musical heritage. I’ve been called the Ambassador for the American songbook.”

But because of her upbringing, she also loves to sing in different foreign languages, particularly Italian, German, French and English, and in musical styles ranging from popular song and Broadway to chanson, lieder, operetta and opera.

Anna Bergman was the youngest of three children born to Paul and Arlene Bergman. She was born in Paris, subsequently spent several years in Washington and then, from the age of 7 to 12, grew up in a fine mansion in Vienna. She lived her teenage years in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, London, Ottawa, and Kinshasa, Congo. The reason for all this moving around was that Paul Bergman, her father, was a high-level State Department career diplomat, posted to various foreign embassies at a time when the Cold War was at its peak, when the Soviet Union was our enemy and Germany was divided into East and West with a wall between them in Berlin. She was educated in the American International School abroad and in private and public schools in Canada and the U.S.

Without a doubt, however, her father’s posting to Vienna for five years was what set her on the course of her life.

“Our home in those years was a great mansion in Vienna facing Türkenschantzpark. Vienna had been filled with archdukes and duchesses and other manner of royalty during its heyday. And much of that was still in evidence. People would go to other people’s homes to listen or watch performances by talented people in music, dance or literature. We were no exception. We actually had a stage at one end of our living room where we hosted such events. And I performed there, singing, and also doing ballet.”

Interestingly, her mother, an actress and playwright, worked as a broadcast journalist when they were living in Vienna. But because the wives of American diplomats were forbidden to work (especially as a journalist, which could compromise U.S. diplomatic information) she worked under an assumed name—Bettina Blair—interviewing icons and celebrities for Voice of America and NBC Radio so no one could identify her by her face.

“My father risked his job letting my mother do this,” Bergman says.

When Anna came of college age, she was accepted to and went to Vassar on a scholarship for voice. When the time came to choose a major, however, she chose theater. After graduation, she was awarded a fellowship in opera. But that’s not where she saw her future. She saw her future in the concert world, performing live. And when she graduated, she began her career in D.C., performing in operas, musicals and plays. More such appearances followed, and soon thereafter, she chose to move to New York City to make that her home base.

Some home base!

“During my first two years in Manhattan, I had 12 sublets. I was constantly on the go, traveling elsewhere to perform. I couldn’t be signing a lease.”

Her first big break was to perform at Carnegie Hall as part of the Ira Gershwin Centennial. She sang Ira Gershwin’s songs that he composed with Kurt Weil, Jerome Kern and others.

During the next five years, between 2000 and 2005, she did concerts with symphonies, cabaret, operas, plays and events, singing in Chicago, New Orleans, Barcelona, Palm Beach, Seattle, London, India, Brazil (at the Opera House there), in Nassau, the Bahamas, and then back again to Paris. She also went on Theatre Guild outings, which included cruises in the Mediterranean, where she came to meet Patricia Neal and Kitty Carlyle Hart, with whom she became close friends. Her traveling around, continuing how she had been brought up, became a way of life for her. And she just loved it. Who wouldn’t love singing at a private birthday party at the St. Regis in Manhattan that an Arab Prince was throwing for his 30-year-old girlfriend?

“It was Valentine’s Day, and a big rush situation. I sang first at a dinner party for Patricia Neal at the Cosmopolitan Club, singing with Ron Raines. Then I had to rush over to the Presidential Suite at the St. Regis. The Prince kept going from the bedroom to the living room the whole time I was singing,” she said, “bringing his beloved one piece of gift-wrapped jewelry from Harry Winston after another and draping it on her. She’d smile and whisper ‘stop, stop’ and I’m watching this and thinking wow, lucky her, I’ll take ’em!”

Anna described her cocktail party Jubilee performance for the birthday of Queen Elizabeth at the Consul General’s home in New York City. “Everything had to be approved by Buckingham Palace,” she said. “I wore proper shoes and a dress, nothing low-cut. I was told to sing things straight, no jazz or riffs with any of it, particularly when I sang “God Save the Queen” (the British National Anthem) and “The Star Spangled Banner.” They asked to hear me sing how I would do it ahead of time.”

I asked Anna her favorite stage roles.

“Masha in Chekohv’s Three Sisters,” she says. “Kate in Kiss Me, Kate and Valencienne in The Merry Widow.”

She performs often in London, “most recently at the LSO at St. Luke’s, where we raised more than 200,000 British pounds for two major hospitals that do heart transplants. I performed with Rowan Atkinson—aka Mr. Bean—what fun.”

Before her performance this Saturday, she performed her Rodgers show in a private salon at a horse farm in Millbrook. On August 16, she will be performing a new show at Mohonk Summer Music Festival in upstate New York, she’ll be at Guild Hall for the George Bernard Shaw play on September 4, then at the Knickerbocker Club in Manhattan on September 28, then at the University Club on October 7.

It was eight years ago that she met Scott Corzine (no relation to former New Jersey Governor John Corzine.)

“I met him at the Café Luxemburg in Manhattan, first seeing him across a crowded room,” she says, inadvertently quoting a line from “Some Enchanted Evening” by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

She had decided it was time to get serious with her life. But she didn’t want to give up her creative work. She’d had boyfriends in the past, but they wanted her to abandon her performing career and conform to theirs. But she wanted to continue her lifestyle of performing and traveling all over the world, and though some might want to do that, what boyfriends could either find a life doing that or compete with it?

She met Scott on Match.com. He runs the risk management practice of FTI Consulting in Manhattan. They have offices in 26 countries. “He traveled a lot, maybe we could meet in those places. I’d travel, he’d travel with me. He could do his work just about anywhere they had an office. This might work.”

However, she wouldn’t let Scott watch her perform in public for three months after they met. She didn’t want him to see her as a “star.” Once, in Moscow, a wealthy Russian oligarch had told her that when she was onstage she seemed unattainable. She never forgot this. And she didn’t want Scott to first know her like that.

“I wanted him to get to know me as a human being, not as a sequined performer. We dated for three months. He proposed to me in London where I was performing. In May of that year, we moved in together and bought a beautiful Havanese puppy. We were married at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park on New Year’s Eve. And it’s been wonderful. I perform, and nearby he drums up new international clients….and makes golf tee times.”

I asked her what she likes about him.

“He’s a southern gentleman from North Carolina. He’s smart and charming. He’s a beautiful human being. And you can say this for me. He’s hot.”

She also used a word I had never heard before. “I appreciate Scott’s weltanschauung. It’s German for ‘world view.’ The European weltanschauung can be different from ours, for example. When first meeting someone, if you ask them ‘What do you do?’ this can be an insult. Europeans are more interested in who you are, where did you come from, what is your history and family, that’s what really matters, isn’t it?”

Anna has lots of friends out here on the East End, and when she’s out here performing she and Scott often stay with them. She’s performed at the Music Festival of the Hamptons, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, frequently at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, and she’s sung at anniversaries, benefits, charities, house warmings and gallery openings.

Let her charm you Saturday night.

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