It’s a long ride to hear Andrea Marcovicci, the Maria Calks of cabaret, in concert after I missed her in Billings a couple of years ago. At Katonah, New York, I checked into the first motel I saw, snubbing the horse between a Lexus and a VW bus covered with flower decals, left over from the 60’s. I showered, and changed into the double-breasted pinstriped suit, snowy white Brooks Brothers linen, and dark-patterned tie I’d brought along in the saddlebags (the Virginian always dressed suitably when he went East), then dialed the number of a florist in Mt. Kisco. I’d never sent flowers backstage before, but the occasion, I felt, called for it; the florist, too, seemed properly impressed. At Peppino’s in Katonah, the barman and several of his customers discussed Andrea, who has sung annually at Caramoor for the past four years, as if she were a personal friend. I drank a double Tanqueray martini, and a glass of red wine with a plate of pasta. It was eight o’clock, half an hour until show time, when we reached the Caramoor estate, whose carriage house Norma and I nearly rented 20 years ago. I dismounted, tied up to the rear bumper of a Mercedes 400SL convertible, and went on to the box office where my ticket was being held. The Venetian Theater is a permanent tent, shining white and open on three sides with an enclosed stage. Near center in row W, I found my seat among 1,599 others and sat listening to Caramoor’s Orchestra of St. Luke’s tuning up. In a sold-out house, the only vacant seats were a few added folding chairs. At 8:30 precisely Glenn Mehr-bach lifted his baton and led the orchestra in John Philip Sousa’s Hail to the Spirit of Liberty. Before the applause finished, Andrea Marcovicci—the Utterly Devine Miss M.—in a long wine-colored dress, made a sweeping stage-right entry and launched into Bud Green, Lester Brown, and Ben Homer’s Sentimental Journey.

Critics have suggested that Marcovicci, to be fully appreciated, needs to be seen in performance. I found it striking how much of her on-stage artistry she manages to convey in recording, by her immense vocal resources alone. A few of the songs included in “Millennium” (alternately billed as “The Great American Songbook: Songs of a Century”) were unfamiliar to me, at least as sung by the artist; the majority I was familiar with from her CDs. Even so, watching the long fingers plow backward through the dark short hair, the slender figure turned into the crook of the piano to shake that hair out passionateK side-to-side, the feathering left hand, and the hand raised, Callas-like, beside the high cheekbone, I found every movement and gesture familiar, though I had imagined none of it. A more valid criticism may be that Marcovicci should be viewed (and heard) at close quarters, in the intimate cabaret setting of Los Angeles’s Gardenia Lounge or the Oak Room of the Algonquin in New- York, where she performs for a mere 90 people or so, able to make personal contact with her audience —the way she likes it. At the conclusion of the evening, Miss Marcovicci thanked Caramoor for contributing its orchestra for the performance (“Most girls would choose a diamond ring; I took the orchestra”). Finally she called her mother, Helen Marcovicci Carroll, onstage for a sort of alternative encore —”Hit it. Mother!” —and Mrs. Carroll, who in her youth performed at the St. Regis Hotel’s Maisonette, sang the Maurice Chevalier favorite from Gigi. “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” in a Wagnerian mezzo the Sage of Bayreuth would have adored to write music for. Obviously a favorite at Caramoor, she received a huge hand from the audience, and both ladies vanished from the stage. Miss Marcovicci, when she reappeared, was carrying flowers. My flowers. I’d wanted to give her an orchestra instead, but Caramoor beat me to it.

Backstage, I encountered a woman in pearly gray, dark-eyed and dark-haired with a high color, somewhat shorter than I’d imagined her—and yes, she is a beauty. Andrea invited me to the post-performance reception, entrusting me to Mrs. Carroll and Shelly Markham (her accompanist and a talented composer in his own right) while she changed into sensible shoes. She joined us shortly afterward at the reception where we spied her, still in costume and with her makeup on, holding a glass of white wine and surrounded by well-wishers. Andrea astonished me by saying she’d rehearsed for the first time with the orchestra that afternoon, the entire program from start to finish. Her singing voice is a direct extension of her speaking one; as she talked, she kept breaking into small dance patterns to illustrate her points. Bidding a departing couple goodnight, she sang sotto voce “‘And I’ll see you when I see you . . .'” Was it my imagination, or had she given me a prompting look sideways? “‘ . . . fine, okay,'” I finished for her (Stephen Sondheim’s “Goodbye For Now”). Andrea gave me her mother’s number and requested that I phone the next day: “Not before twelve, please.” I promised to call at 45 seconds past the hour and went stumbling away across the darkened Caramoor grounds, trampling the flower beds and shrubbery before I came upon the horse at last, wandering with a magnolia branch in his mouth and trailing the chrome bumper of the Mercedes behind him at the end of the lead.

Two days later I rode through the town of Carmel, turned left at the courthouse, and continued out the Gypsy Trail Road. Gypsy Trail itself founded in 1911 in the first big push by the upper-middle classes out of New York City, centers on an enormous log lodge set against the treeline below the top of a wooded hill. Following Andrea’s carefully exact instructions, I found Mrs. Carroll’s handsome house overlooking the reservoir and tied the horse to a flowering bush beside her blue Cadillac. In the saddle bags were a bottle of Pinot Grigio and another of Australian Flat Red. With the wine in a paper bag in one arm and carrying a briefcase in my other hand, I felt like a traveling salesman or a poor fifth cousin twice removed wanting to move in. Andrea, lovely in a wraparound skirt and sleeveless black top with a loose-knit white shawl over it, met me on the enclosed porch. She carried the wine to the kitchen, and Mrs. Carroll gave me a tour of the house, graciously calling my attention to what she called “your lovely flowers” ensconced in a vase in one of the public rooms. From the kitchen, Andrea could be heard gaily singing.

“You’re just like the song,” I said when I rejoined her, referring to Jerome Kern’s “Don’t Ask Me Not to Sing.” “‘On my bike I ride and musicalize—or is it ‘hike’?”

“It’s ‘hike,'” she confirmed. ‘”On my bike I hike and musicalize / In my planes refrains keep rending the skies!’ I sing all the time, it keeps my voice in shape.” I asked her if she practiced every day, and she said no. “Though as a performance approaches, I become more disciplined in my preparation.”

We drank a glass of Perrier together before switching to spritzers—”Shpritzers,” Andrea, who I noticed is a stickler with foreign words, privately as in performance, pronounced it. They remind her of her father, who died at the age of 83 in 1968. “The sort of thing you expect for years and then it happens, but it doesn’t make the trauma any less. The real grief didn’t strike until two years later.” Eugene Ernst Marcovicci was an internist who met his wife while she was still singing at the Maisonette: a gallant romantic of the old school, who flirted with every woman within a hundred feet of him. Helen, so far from being jealous, regarded this behavior as simply another display of her husband’s manifold social graces. “He was always paying her compliments: compliments, compliments . . .” When Andrea was 11, her father brought home a red coat lined with nutria —appropriate, his wife explained to him, for a girl of 20. As a child, she used to watch her parents dance together; at 35, she decided to make the songs of their generation hers. A photographic portrait on the piano showed Mrs. Carroll as a beautiful young woman. Andrea pointed it out for me, demurring when I observed a certain family resemblance. “Anyway, you’re recognizably your mother’s daughter,” I assured her.

We settled on the porch, Andrea with her feet drawn up on the sofa cushions. My battered old leather accountant’s briefcase caught her fancy; she took it on her knees to examine the oilpatch stickers from 20 years ago, and the shiny NRA decal. Andrea placed the end other finger on it. “My brother would approve of that,” she remarked, and I recalled a story she’d told me in our telephone conversation four months earlier, how she walked by accident into a gun store in Billings where the clerk, recognizing “the singer,” seemed at a loss to understand what she was doing in his shop. “Buying a gun?” Andrea had thought sheepishly.

Her eyes are a deep blue-green with golden lights in them. We discussed our common background growing up in New York City in the 1950’s and 60’s: Andrea went to Marymount, I attended the Trinity School, where her first great love, Christopher Born, was a year behind me (“Wasn’t he adorable?”—the spoken intonation exactly matching that of the sung word in her recording of Coleman and McCarthy’s “Isn’t He Adorable?”); I suffered at Miss Harris’s dancing classes while she was obviously learning something at DeRham’s. She never came out, and wore a red dress to debutante parties given for other girls (“I’m surprised they let me in!”). When I asked her how she likes living in California after so many years in New York, “I LOVE it!” she answered decidedly. (How many New Yorkers had asked her that question before?) I had to tell her that in this instance I was surprised, since New York in general and the Algonquin in particular are so integrally connected to her art. “My musical ear is offended by the cacophony,” Andrea explained, adding that lately she has considered moving back in order to put her five-year-old daughter Alice in Marymount.

A prima donna in the best sense of the word, Marcovicci has, in place of side and affectation, the most utter self-possession. Talking with her this summer afternoon, I had the reassuring impression of picking up where we’d left off in that hour-long phone talk back in February. (“I’ve just finished reading your letter, and I feel red all over,” Andrea had begun.) An offhand remark she’d made onstage two evenings before about being Catholic had struck me at the time as unusual behavior for a performing artist; I brought it up to her now, adding that I am a convert myself “Oh,” Andrea said, “I was very devout as a girl, going to Mass ever)’ day with my missal.”

“The Novus Ordo can be irritating, can’t it? Little things like guitar Masses, for instance.”

“LITTLE things?” Andrea flared her nostrils. “I liked the ritual . . . the MYSTERY!”

We discussed the narrowing of knowledge and experience in contemporary culture, where allusions formerly recognizable by all educated people today fly over the heads of the young (as well as the not-so-young); a culture that congratulates itself on its sophistication and cosmopolitanism because it has the Internet. No intellectual snob, this woman whose career is “taking light music seriously” enjoys Dean Koontz’s novels (False Memory especially): “Anything that can get me through the agony of six hours in the air! Going to work isn’t so bad, but the impatience of the return trip makes it almost unbearable. I ought to keep a diary on the road, but I don’t have time until I’m on the plane, and then I’m too exhausted to discipline myself to use the time for writing.”

Andrea’s shows are “months and months” in preparation, partly owing to her conscientious refusal to cheat by cannibalizing one for the sake of another. “When in doubt, bring in Jerome Kern; or second, Fred Astaire.” Her voice is in the process of changing-going up, not down, as it matures, confounding the experience of her vocal teacher (though some operatic tenors, notably Lauritz Melchior and Carlo Bergonzi, have begun their careers as baritones). “I’ve lost my chest voice, and I can’t get it back no matter how hard I try; I can’t belt. You can’t expect to hear me stay long on a high note, forte.” When I complimented her on keeping above the orchestra the other night, she explained that Glenn Mehrbach’s arrangements are designed to prevent some overly excited instrumentalist from covering her at critical moments.

After an hour or so, Mrs. Carroll joined us on the porch; also Shelly Markham, who wrote the lovely music for “The Sweetest of Nights and the Finest of Days” (lyrics by Judith Viorst), incorporated in “Millennium.” Andrea brought more ice and poured more wine, while I teased Mrs. Carroll (who had placed third in a Sunfish race on the lake the day before) about singing Wagner at the Met next season and her daughter took up the running gig between them, constructed around Mrs. Carroll’s perennial turn-off-the-lights campaign. “Mother grew up in the Depression. No wonder people were depressed in those days —they lived in the dark!” Once a year Mrs. Carroll closes the windows and the outer doors tight, then opens the cellar door. The cold air from below rises to cool the entire house. “And it doesn’t cost her a cent!” Andrea finished admiringly.

The conversation turned briefly to show business, for me a well-timed reminder that Andrea Marcovicci, whom I know almost entirely so far as a singer and musician, is in addition a distinguished actress whose life and career remain deeply embedded in the theatrical and film worlds. (Bringing together the threads of previous careers — on Broadway and off, Shakespeare in the Park, Woody Allen films, and made-for-television movies — to effect something marvelously original and strikingly unique may well be her greatest achievement.) When the wine was gone and no one had anything left to contribute on the subjects of Henry Jaglom and John Simon, Andrea proposed a swim in the lake, and she, Shelly, and I went to change.

The presence of Andrea Marcovicci does not conduce to an acute awareness of one’s further surroundings. Having glimpsed water through the screen of trees, I’d imagined a secluded path of a hundred feet or so, descending from Mrs. Carroll’s back door to the waterside. In the guest bathroom, I removed shirt and summer slacks, hung them from a hook on the inside of the door, and drew on my bathing suit. A pile of neatly folded towels was at hand, but I remember what my mother had to say about taking bath towels to the beach. And it was only a hundred feet down there, anyway. I left the bathroom and padded on bare feet through the house to the kitchen, where Shelly, Andrea, and her mother awaited me in street clothes —and I stood appalled in virtual nudity, wearing only a Speedo swimsuit at the center of Mrs. Carroll’s elegant house! Of course, they’d put their clothes back on over their suits for the walk of several hundred yards downhill, past neighboring houses to the lakeside. Playfully, Andrea tossed mc a beach towel to catch. I snatched at it like a pug dog catching a bonbon in midair and draped the thing around my neck in a desperate effort to achieve what I hoped was the debonair look.

The beach was private, a strand of white sand further improved by a bathhouse, snack bar, floating dock, and markers. Lush green hills surrounding the glinting brown lake respired the humid, clinging atmosphere. We ordered from the snack bar and stood chatting on the sand with a couple about to swim to the far shore, while waiting for the order to come up. When Andrea admired the fins they were using, the woman brought her the Zoom box-end so she could order a pair off the Internet to take with her on vacation in Hawaii in August. We sat at a table under an umbrella to eat lunch; afterward, Andrea said we must swim now, as she had to drive into town on errands for her mother. The danger of swimming after eating was, she insisted, a myth. Slightly encumbered by half a turkey sandwich I joined the Spains on their swim across the lake. The trip over took under ten minutes, allowing me to estimate the distance at about a quarter mile. The water, spotted by raindrops, had a soft feel, and the stony yellow bottom was visible most of the way. On the return voyage, I suffered a stitch in my side and rolled onto my back to relieve it, while praying Andrea knew whereof she spoke. (I hadn’t ridden all the way from Wyoming to drown at her feet.) When the stitch passed, I rolled onto my belly again, finished the trip freestyle, and emerged to find Andrea Marcovicci standing to her knees in water and smiling at me —a vision nearly as beatific as that of St. Peter beaming through parting clouds of rose and gold.

At the house Andrea, after studying Mrs. Carroll’s shopping list, announced she’d been given her marching orders. Next Friday and Saturday evenings, July 7 and 8, she and Shelly were booked to perform “Our Songs” at the Guildhall in East Hampton, On the way out through the kitchen Andrea paused to discard two moldy peaches left out on the end of the countertop. “There’s some clinging peaches / you can help yourself,” I could not resist offering, at further risk of becoming a serious nuisance. She blew mc a parting kiss across the Landau top of her mother’s elderly Cadillac: “Until we meet again!” I might call after her return to California between July 19th and the 31st. “After that I want to be left alone, like Garbo.” I assured her, as I untied the horse from the bush and stepped up to the saddle, I expected to be in the mountains for the month of August, grilling trout over a campfire and drinking Jim Beam from the bottle—no time or opportunity to intrude on anybody’s privacy. Come to think, it was going to take from now until September 1 just to get home.

Andrea blew me a final kiss as, with a song in my heart, I turned the horse’s head toward the setting sun and put him forward at a trot. Andrea Marcovicci: Every cowboy’s living dream . . .