Archive for the ‘fearless predictions’ Category

Cooper’s London

May 29, 2017



Stop, Read, Listen:

Glenn Frankel, High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, 379 pp, Bloomsbury.

This book is a fascinating companion to Victor Navasky’s Naming Names, which was a fairly comprehensive general history of that era of scoundrels and evil opportunists thought of as McCarthyism. But, at its centre, there remained the appallingly blinkered and self-righteous House Un-American Activities Committee (affectionately known as HUAC)a Senate tribunal that rode roughshod over the US Constitution much longer than McCarthy managed to. Glenn Frankel’s compelling book, nicely produced and published by Bloomsbury, focuses mesmerizingly on the relationship of HUAC to Hollywood, and also on the impact this had on the making of the classic Western movie High Noon and its gripping subtexts. Frankel sees the script of High Noon as a clear reflection of the climate of the Red Scare in Hollywood at the time. The hero of the book is Carl Foreman, who conceived the story and then adapted it as he came under increasing pressure from HUAC to testify and to name names. Indeed, in the end Foreman had to flee to England to work.

Featured players include Gary Cooper, the ailing star of the film, who took on the project at a time when he felt a strong need to resurrect his reputation as an actor; director Fred Zinnemann, whose commitment to the project was in itself bold; and the producer, Stanley Kramer. You get the full background story of each of these men, and many more involved in High Noon and in the persecution of Hollywood’s left wing.

Frankel’s work is well-written and a real page-turner, probing the background of the Hollywood film industry itself to show why Hollywood was so vulnerable to the pressures of HUAC in the late 1940s. This book is also a superb companion piece to the recently filmed Trumbo; certainly all the people who figure in that tale turn up as major or minor characters in this one, too, So you get to revisit the self-serving bigotry or narrow-minded pusillanimity of people like Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Adolph Menjou, Richard Nixon, and all the senators who contributed to the insanity that was the Blacklist. High Noon clearly delineates how the Blacklist happened and its fallout—yet some people still insist it wasn’t as bad as all that, or even that it never really existed at all. And High Noon mounts an attack on the Blacklist Deniers and takes a significant stand based on the actual facts, not the alternative ones. You also get sound and thought-provoking insights into how much people thought they were acting for the good of the country, fighting to save America from being overthrown by the Red Menace. The paranoia, at times, seems almost to leap off the page but so does some strong sympathy for the gulled and a great deal of understanding for both sides.

By the end of the book, you have the complete story of the making of High Noon, seen very much through the prism of the HUAC investigations of Hollywood. The book serves its double interest fully and convincingly throughout. There isn’t a dull or unnecessary page; the tale is told tautly, like a thriller.

Informative, well-written and still relevant, this is an excellent study of the impact on Hollywood and the arts of the mentality that drove HUAC and overcame the protests of people who could see through it, but had little hope of doing anything substantial about it. Those who tried to combat HUAC and the Blacklist include some pretty bold-face and surprising names: Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, and Gregory Peck, among others. And then there are the tragedies of people like John Garfield. You are made both to understand and to feel their frustration.

I learned a lot from High Noon. I ended up, to my surprise, developing more comprehension of and of and even sympathy for Gary Cooper, who is usually labelled as an arch-Conservative; even greater admiration for Fred Zinnemann and Carl Foreman in particular than I had had before; and some disappointment about Stanley Kramer and how he behaved during the worst years of the crisis.

This is a book that manages to be informative, infuriating, educational, dramatic and entertaining all at the same time. It also gives you a wonderful journey through the background of Hollywood from the silent era onward. I recommend it highly to anyone who relishes being surprised by how much richer the subjects at hand were than they might have suspected.

Fearless Prediction:
MAKI SEKIYA, Future Perfect

What can you do to promote a completely unknown musician who, you think, is world class and ready for a world-conquering career? At the insistent invitation of a friend, I went to a piano recital in Oxford in an out-of-the way church, to hear some of the most astonishingly wonderful playing in every way that I’ve ever heard in my life. It was like hearing Emil Gilels or Sviatislav Richter or Artur Rubinstein for the first time; an artistry that went beyond the instrument and its limitations. Maki Sekiya is surely the Clara Schumann of our era! Yet this artist is a tiny woman, very self-effacing, able to charm the audience with little spoken introductions. And absolutely a giant at the piano.

Sekiya deserves to be heard by everyone, everywhere. She played music from William Byrd through Beethoven, contemporary Japanese music, Debussy, and Guido Agosti’s transcriptions of Stravinsky’s Firebird, and in every case she seemed to be channelling the composernot in any way getting between the audience and the music—while creating unique interpretations that were totally fresh and gripping. In every case she had a sure sense of the style, of the idiom of the individual creator. She has her own voice as a musician that is recognizable and remarkable without, somehow, in any way imposing herself on the music. She simply is the music when she is playing it.

Technically, it was an outstanding performance in every way. In Beethoven’s Piano Sonata 21 in C Major, Op 53 (the Waldstein), Sekiya started at speeds that were faster than I’ve ever heard but still with a and energy that demanded attention. Though the Adagio was a spiritual dream, in the Prestissimo she somehow tied the whole thing together, referred back to the beginning, and put the final polish on a flawless jewel. Her touch is defined by the complexity or simplicity of what she is playing, and she deploys both the sustaining and loud pedals to burnish her interpretation; she is a mistress of nuance. This artist has a rare sense of the architecture of every piece she plays and enables you to hear it as a coherent, complex whole. In the quiet passages she can take the huge risk of playing so delicately that you almost fear the notes will not sound; yet she is able to play louder and more forcefully than seems possible when the music requires it. Also, I have rarely been in an audience that was seduced into paying such rapt attention to every note, every pause, throughout the evening. Without flamboyance, without showing off for a moment, this was absorbing and completely compelling music-making. We were in the presence of someone very special, and we all knew it.

Sekiya has studied at the Purcell School in the UK and also in Russia, and she has managed to blend perfectly Japanese delicacy and attention to detail, Western urgency and Russian energy. The playing was both emotionally affective and brilliantly intellectual all at once. The lapidary sheen of her pianism is astonishing; the wit and intelligence breathtaking.

The concert was at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, which was turned into an arts centre not long ago, with fine acoustics,worthy of the evening’s program. But Sekiya’s talent demands a world stage – Carnegie Hall, the Wigmore Hall in London, the Bunkamura in Tokyo. For the moment she is living the life of a wife and mother in Oxford and teaching piano there, and we are very fortunate to be able to share such astonishing and inspiring musicianship. She is developing a local reputation. The church was packed out; and of course, she got a standing ovation at the end of her recital and again after playing a breathtaking, magical Debussy Claire de Lune for an encore. Again, it sounded totally fresh, almost as if I was hearing it for the first time, familiar yet original.

So make note of the name Maki Sekiya, pianist extraordinaire. I am going to see if I can find a few samples of her playing to put up on this web site from the concert I heard (because it was recorded), and possibly also do an interview to discover Maki’s plans for the future. Keep watching this space! Meantime, here’s a preview of things to come:

Cooper’s London

May 1, 2016





Fearless Prediction:
The Night Manager



This TV series based on the John Le Carre novel hasnight manager been a huge success in the UK and is something not to be missed now that it’s hit small screens in the US. Apart from the contemporary resonances given to the story by an update to the original novel, this is simply one of the best-photographed, best-acted and most stunningly engaging series to come out of the BBC, ever. It is bound to be as legendary as the old Smiley’s People and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy series with Alec Guiness. Both Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie give immensely nuanced performances in their roles as a double agent and illegal arms dealer; night manager 2Olivia Colman is superb as the heavily pregnant, obsessively moral spy mistress after the Hugh Laurie character and running Tom Hiddleston; Tom Hollander is suitably camp and sinister as Corcoran; and Elizabeth Debicki is in the same class as Tilda Swinton playing the romantic, troubled Jed. The writing by John le Carre and David Farr is classy, witty and dark.ster. The directing by Susanne Bier deserves unstinting praise. Shot as if it were a high-quality film, The Night Manager doesn’t dawdle; and all of its six hours are needed to work out the complex and exciting tale. At no point does the tension disperse; at no point is any aspect of the writing, direction, acting or photography anything but superbly realized. Quite simply, it grabs you from the opening moments of the first episode and speeds forward, always provocative, worrying, and morally challenging. I dare you not to be completely engrossed. I certainly advise you not to miss it. This is one class act!

Joyce & Tony: Live at Wigmore Hall
Erato 0825646 107896

Verdi, Aida, Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Ludovic Tezier, Erwin Schrott/ Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, conducted by Antonio Pappano Warners 3 CDs 0825646 106639


wigmore hallAntonio Pappano
has recently conducted two recordings that are highly recommended additions to any library. 
The concert he did at the Wigmore Hall in September 2014 with Joyce di Donato has actually won a Grammy award, and take my word for it, it’s deserved! The program consists of mezzo material from Haydn and Rossini that di Donato has made her own over the years; she sings the first half of the concert with impeccable taste and understanding.

Though I have indelible memories of Janet Baker’s performance of Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos that even Joyce di Donato cannot drive into second place, I would put assumption of this cantata up there with Baker’s. And I certainly was just as won over by her Rossini songs. She’s a dazzling interpreter of this kind of material with her richly lyrical, controlled and warm voice, as well as a real relationship to the words she’s singing. Listen to her performance of “La Danza” by Rossini. It won’t replace the interpretation by Mario Lanza; but it’s certainly good enough to be mentioned in the same breath and returned to regularly.

joyce and tonyPappano is an impeccable partner for di Donato throughout this live recital. In the second half of the concert, they reflect their American backgrounds with some wonderful material from what is now called The American Songbook. Some people have claimed that di Donato sounds too fruity in this repertoire, but I find her approach utterly pleasing. Hearing this music sung in her unique way—especially the songs by Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen– is definitive as far as I’m concerned. Thank goodness this recital was recorded so we can hear and enjoy it forever and remember what all the fuss was about.

Another Pappano recording that caught my attention even more forcefully is the new and much-anticipated Aida. Right from the start you know this is going to be a major collectable: first, from the way Pappano conducts the contemplative, sad, soft overture, and then from the way he supports the declamation of the High Priest; and finally from Jonas Kaufmann’s inward, intense singing of “Celeste, Aida”. Under Pappano’s direction the orchestra and the soloists consistnetly follow all the dynamics in the score; Kaufmann actually takes the final note of his first aria piano with a lovely diminuendo as suggested by Verdi.

This recording puts you in the presence of artists who take their commitment to the work very seriously. Several critics have claimed that this interpretation does not quite match the great recordings made by Solti and Karajan in the early stereo era, or supercede the famous Toscanini broadcast of the opera. How silly! This recording is its own thing.

I found it consistently considered, spacious, and remarkably true to Verdi’s intentions musically; it’s also always convincingly sung and acted. The comparisons seem to me beside the point. You can hear them all and make up your own mind; they’re not mutually exclusive, but each illuminates aspects of the score in different ways. You need them all!Aida-Rome

Also there’s something compelling about being able to hear the best contemporary artists and their interpretations of this work. Listen to the classic assumptions by all means; but don’t dismiss the performance that is brought before you now.

Anna Harteros has the right kind of dramatic heft in her voice for the role of Aida. Her singing of “Ritorna, Vincitor”, for example, has a clean vocal approach that I found captivating. She’s sublime in “O patria mia”. Jonas Kaufman sounds both heroic and sensitive as Radames; and Ekaterina Semchuk steals every scene she’s in as Amneris; while the superb French baritone Ludovic Tézier as aida2Amonosro is wonderful not only in his singing but also in characterizing a cold, tyrannical father–a sort of Stalin of ancient Ethiopia. Bonus: Semchuck is particularly fine at the shadings of her role, but knows just when to chew the scenery. When she curses the priests for condemning Radames, you know they will remain cursed for a good long time. Erwin Schrott is luxury casting for the smallish role of Ramfis.

For me, after listening to it repeatedly, the recording pretty much lives up to the hype that preceded it and is certainly one of the best all-round performances of this opera in years. But I do have one quibble with this set that may just be personal; I found that the recording’s dynamic range is so wide that at times the quiet passages nearly disappeared and the big moments were liable to make me jump in my seat. But you can hang onto your volume controls, and maybe it’s just a matter of my now somewhat ageing stereo equipment not being up to contemporary sound engineering.

The presentation and booklet for this set are top-class. This is an essential performance where Pappano and the Orchestra of Santa Cecilia in Rome have brought out so many nuances, so much refreshing and well-considered detail, that it reminds one why Aida was, once upon a time, one of the most beloved and performed operas in the repertoire, always placed somewhere in the top five.aida3

Aida has slipped from grace rather in the past couple of decades, possibly because that much spectacle is very expensive to mount these days of Draconian budget cuts; but this recording seems to me to go a good deal of the way towards restoring it to a peak position on the Best Operas list. It’s a great drama about the conflict between private desire and public duty; a nearly perfect score; and a performance entirely worthy of such a masterpiece, for its casting, and particularly for its conductor Antonio Pappano, whose baton controls the soloists, chorus and orchestra with a mastery of Verdian style. And perhaps because it is so good, it also provokes a strong desire to go back and listen, once again, to Maria Callas, Leontyne Price and Renata Tebaldi in their legendary performances as Aida; to Jussi Björling as Radames; sophia lorenor even to see once again the old 1950s Italian movie where the angelic voice of Renata Tebaldi emerges from the mouth of a very young and sumptuously gorgeous Sophia Loren.

So if you have no Aida at all, this is as good a place to start as any; it is a fine reading of the work, and if it stimulates you to listen to Karajan with Tebaldi and Bergonzi, or Solti with the astonishingly perfect Leontyne Price and Jon Vickers, that would be a good thing too. But pappanoremember that Pappano can absolutely hold his own, and don’t dismiss this version just because a few old fogeys are nostalgic for some of the great performances of the past. Be grateful, rather, that they’re all available for our delight and that these contemporary performers have created another very fine interpretation of the work to add to the list of un-missable Aida recordings.

Apollo’s Girl

October 28, 2015

apollo and lyreA View From the Bridge: 
From Across the Pond

Our UK editor, Mel Cooper, saw Ivo van Hove’s production, (now in previews on Broadway) earlier this year in London’s West End. It’s a seamless transfer. His advice (and mine): don’t miss it!

view from the bridge

Cooper’s London

July 20, 2014



Coming Up in London:
Summer 2014

A friend of mine just said, “There are so many many things I want to see in London right now,” and that’s likely to be true right through the summer and beyond, though many of them won’t be in the dead center of the West End, where the “same old, same old” shows continue to draw in the tourists.

lansburyThere’s nothing wrong with seeing Mama Mia or Les Mis for the first time or even yet again, and there are revivals one would expect, like Blithe Spirit to show off the undoubted and wonderful talents of Angela Lansburythe most iconic performer in London at the moment. However, there are some very interesting brave arrivals which I want to see, starting especially with a new regents-park-open-air-theatre-logo-1397058250production of the Gershwin opera, Porgy and Bess, at the Regent’s Park Theatre (17 July to 23 August). Timothy Sheader, Regent Park’s Artistic Director will direct, and that surely bodes well. His recent take on Arthur Miller’s All My Sons was a hit, and he’s also done some terrific new productions of major musicals in the past few years that benefited from his great eye and ear for casting. This time, he’s drawing porgy and besson talent from both sides of the Atlantic; Rufus Bonds, Jr. and Nicola Hughes take the title roles. I’ve been deeply impressed by Nicola Hughes in shows ranging from Lola in Damn Yankees (with Jerry Lewis), to Velma Kelly in Chicago, through one of the company in Fosse, and I expect her to be a definitive Bess. During her last time around in the role (2006-07) she was nominated for an Olivier Award.

And if you ‘re a Miller fan, there is a new production of The Crucible on at the Old Vic (24 June to 13 September).
yaelYaël Farber
is the director. I’ve been following her work for about ten years and she’s emerged as one of the most innovative, sensitive and totally reliable directors of our time. She’s always had a strong political interest and The Crucible, with its implications of and parallels to political witch hunting in our own times, is a perfect vehicle for her considerable talents. How many remember her play Amajuba (2007 Drama Desk award)? Or her recent Edinburgh Festival Awards winner Miss Julie (2012)? Farber is, for me, the draw for this one. electraAnother heads-up: Kristin  Scott Thomas will be following The Crucible into that theatre with Electra in a new version by Frank McGuinness (20 September to 20 December). I would go see Kristin Scott Thomas reading the proverbial phone book!

Director Nadia Fall, who is beginning to make a name for herself at the National Theatre, was in charge of the Harold Brighouse play Hobson’s Choice, rarely seen these days (played in Regent’s Park from 12 June to 12 July). With Mark Benton as Hobson, this was a real treat too. Let’s hope the weather holds for this summer’s open air eventsthe operas in Holland Park, but most especially Shakespeares’s Globe Theatre which has a very interesting season this year. The highlight for me so far was Antony and Cleopatra with the ever-wonderful Eve Best as Egypt’s fascinating queen and Clive Wood, who is one of the most memorable, powerful and intelligent Shakespeare actors in the UK, as Antony.

The highly recommendable National Theatre Production of The Curious Incident of curous incident the Dog in the Night Time is reopening July 21 at the Gielgud Theatre. Hugely successful and award-winning, this is the play where the roof literally fell in on its audience at the Apollo in Shaftesbury Avenue not so long ago. It’s a very strong translation of the Mark Haddon novel to the stage with a uniformly praiseworthy cast and a thought-provoking and emotionally moving story.

The new and stunning production of Julian Mitchell’s 1981 play Another Country at Trafalgar Studios 1 had an impressive cast and an equally impressive director (Jeremy Herrin). Richard III moved in with Martin Freeman and Gina McGee when Country moved on, and has been totally selling out. But you can try for August…

An old musical being given a new look is Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’s The Pajama Game. Already critically acclaimed during its run in Chichester, it’s directed by Richard Eyre, known for doing a fine line in musical comedy (his was the famous Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre and beyond!). pajama-game-2-05-14-shaftesbury-theatre-222
In an age of austerity and various financial problems, this musical about a strike in a pajama factory (from a novel by Richard Bissell, Seven and a Half Cents) as well as the nefarious dealings of a corrupt management is topical again. With a brilliant score that makes it one of the best musicals of the golden era of the 1950s on Broadway, I’m excited about it because it also stars Joanna Riding, one of the most consistently brilliant West End musicals performers (she was a superb Julie in Carousel and a totally convincing Eliza in My Fair Lady).

pajama gameIn the role of Babe, made famous first by Janis Paige on stage and then by Doris Day in the film, I’m betting she’ll live up to that standard with no trouble at all. The role of Sid is played by the very talented Michael Xavier. Both these performers would most likely have been huge stars in an age when musicals were written for the likes of Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, or Howard Keel. Indeed, I hope that seeing them on stage in a classic setting will inspire some young composer to do something original for them now. (The show runs until 13 September at the Shaftesbury Theatre.)

Weirdly, as one who usually cannot stand stage adaptations of movies, I am looking forward to seeing what they will do with Shakespeare in Love. I like the look of the cast, the director and the fact that the writer is Lee Hall of Billy Elliot fame. Now in previews at the Noel Coward Theatre. How will it stack up compared to the film? Stay tuned…

With things like The Scottsboro Boys transferring to the Garrick Theatre in the West End in October and a full, interesting season for the ROH and the ENO plus the usual range of world class concerts, there’s plenty of culture coming up on offer in London. And then there’s all the amazing stuff in Edinburgh for the Festival, and all around the UK. So go online, but don’t get a horse – get a car!

Fearless Predictions

September 22, 2013




Theater, Music

With today’s autumn equinox already drowning in a tsunami of must-see, must-hear, must-taste sensations, it’s time to get out your calendar and your credit card and get down to business.

Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) opens its newtfana house in Brooklyn the Polonsky Shakespeare Centerwith a Very Big Gun: A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Julie Taymor, with an original score by Eliot Goldenthal. It’s been 29 years since Taymor and Goldenthal created a 60-minute taymorversion of the play for TFANA at the Public Theater ; now they have time, space, and a budget for a full-length version with a cast of 36. It will be fascinating to see what Taymor makes of Shakespeare’s forest and addled lovers! Tickets are likely to go quickly, so speed is of the essence. Dream’s previews begin on October 19 for a November 2 through January 12 run.  Tina Benko and David Harewood star as Titania and Oberon. And don’t forget to check out the rest of TFANA’s inaugural season:

r-JOYCE-DIDONATO-large570One of last season’s greatest pleasures were master classes by world-class singers: Joyce Di Donato (at Juilliard) and Thomas Hampson (at the hampsonManhattan School of Music). Working with graduate students who had previously learned how to produce their best sounds, both singers dispensed with the details of vocal technique to concentrate on interpretation of text: Di Donato (opera) Di Donato Hampson (lieder) Hampson

They zeroed in not only on the meaning of the words, but of the story being told and of the character doing the telling.  For those of you who know only the bright lights and bling of our television talent shows, these classes are a revelation. Having a good well-trained voice is only the beginning; knowing what to do with it is as complicated (and as rewarding) as advanced Dungeons and Dragons. There are so many choices…

To give you a heads-up on this season’s riches, a few hints: MSMNY has expanded its vocal master classes to include some personal faves: Lauren Flanigan, Martin Katz (one of the world’s best coaches), Stephanie Blythe, and the Met’s Dwayne Croft (the best Sharpless in living memory).  Hampson will return and, as has been his practice, enable his class to be streamed live.  See for schedules. A precious bonus: master classes at both institutions are free. 

And while we’re singing the praises of singing, here’s one juliabullock_hiresvery long-lead tip: Juilliard’s luminous Julia Bullock (currently in Perm starring in Purcell’s Indian Queen) will return to New York in 2014 to present a recital in Merkin Hall on March 11, and to light a fire in Massenet’s Cendrillon at Juilliard in April. I know it’s early. But get your tickets any way you can. Trust me on this one…..

Cogito: John Branch

March 11, 2013

JB photo-painting by RC 2


Fearless Predictions
Bedlam at the Access and More

Hamlet and Saint Joan (in alternation through April 7, Bedlam, Manhattan): Last spring, one of New York theater’s nifty little trick questions was to ask friends if they’d heard about the small-cast Saint Joan running on Broadway. The explanation lay in bedlam theatrethe location of the Access Theater, where the Bedlam company performs—it’s on lower Broadway. The production was no gimmick: it vivified Shaw’s historical drama in an unconventional staging that used only four actors and placed scenes on the stage, in the seats, and even in the lobby. (See my review at St. Joan.) Now Bedlam is reviving that show and also tackling Hamlet with the same four actors. Though I haven’t attended yet, it’s a good bet that the same bedlam hamletcommitted and imaginative rethinking that burnishedShaw has been applied to Shakespeare.!tickets

Hamlet (March 15–April 13, Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven): yale hamletPaul Giamatti, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, returns to New Haven to play the melancholy Dane. The American film complex turns many actors of broad ability into narrowly defined commodities—“pigeonholing” is the term—but it hasn’t done that with Giamatti. He’s virtually a chameleon, so there’s no telling what he’ll do with this role. Giamatti, now in his mid-40s, probably won’t be the youngest Hamlet you’ve seen, which may make the prince’s recent studies in Wittenberg problematic, but different editors and even different editions differ on how old the character is. As with Juliet and others, anyone who’s the right age may be too immature for the role. Sarah Bernhardt, who ignored gender as well as age when she took the part, may have overreached, but at least she knew that playing Hamlet didn’t depend on externalia.

Pierrot Lunaire(March 28–30, Yale Cabaret, New Haven): Yale Cabaret shows are single-weekend productions created by Yale School of Drama grad students, not to be confused with the longer runs and mixed student/professional creative teams used in other shows at the school or at Yale Rep. This event will present a theatrical staging of Arnold Schönberg’s song cycle, which is currently enjoying a handful of performances in honor of its centenary year. It can be argued that the entire 19th century was decisively killed off during the second decade of the 20th by events as varied as the Great War, the sinking of the Titanic, and the immense cultural ferment in Vienna, which produced Pierrot Lunaire. It’s a groundbreaking piece for solo voice and small ensemble that employs Sprechstimme (a cross between speech and song) and abandons traditional Western tonality, though without adopting the full rigors of serialism, which Schönberg developed later. Bonus: the Yale Cabaret, true to its name, always offers food and drink.

Silkwood (March 20, Signature Theatre, Manhattan): One of three films written, in part or in full, by the late Nora Ephron that are being presented in the Signature Cinema series this spring. Silkwood dramatizes the story of Karen Silkwood, a factory worker who met a mysterious death after trying to call attention to problems at a Kerr-McGee plutonium-processing plant. Superficially akin to Norma Rae and The Insider, it differs from both in taking a more ambiguous viewSilkwood3--www-bfi-org-uk-photo-credit of its central character, which makes it more admirable in my book. It was mostly shot near Dallas, Texas, rather under the radar, to keep Kerr-McGee from catching wind of it and trying to shut it down; surprisingly for anything that involved director Mike Nichols (not to nicholsmention Cher, or Meryl Streep, though she wasn’t then the monument she has become), the tactic seems to have worked. Personal note: I worked on the shoot as an extra and appeared in a short but crucial moment. Signature Theatre tickets

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Fearless Predictions

September 11, 2012

Eye On the Arts, September 19—23
A 30th Anniversary Tribute to FIFA,
The Montreal International Festival of Films on Art

We all knew that when the Film Society of Lincoln Center added three screens, things would really heat up on 65th Street. And now, finally, for those who love the best films on the arts, there is a new partnership to give thanks for coming to the Elinor Bunin Munroe Center.

A glance at the ten films on view will whet your appetite. Be on the lookout for Revolutions of the Night: The Enigma of Henry Darger (a portrait of the ultimate outsider); The Stein Family: the Making of Modern Art (a portrait of the ultimate insiders who defined the 20th century); Produced by George Martin (the legendary mastermind who recorded Flanders and Swann; Beyond the Fringe, and put the Beatles on record and permanently on the world stage); for dance fanatics, a double bill: Jiří Kylián: Forgotten Memories, and At the Edge of the Scene. And for those who missed last month’s LatinBeat, there are two extra chances to catch the brilliant Unfinished Spaces on a big screen. And much more. Many of the filmmakers will attend, so check for updates, and get your tickets now at film societythe theatres are intimate.


Gotham Chamber Opera

This season promises to offer an outstanding—and particularly gutsy—trio of old and new works. It begins with Gotham @ LPR: Orientale, a mixture of Monteverdi, Rameau, Lully,Szymanowski, Delibes, Schumann, Bizet, Hadfield and traditional Armenian music. Hear a baroque instrumental ensemble; MAYA (flute-harp-percussion); a fluid mix of theorbo, guitar, chalumeau and recorder; the Gotham Chamber Opera; the kind of singers Gotham is famous for, and—as an extra treat—see the dancers of Company XIV. October 1 and 2 at Le Poisson Rouge. Doors open at 7pm. For tickets (again, purchase online as soon as you can):, or call (22) 505-3474.

In the spring you can look forward to Francesco Cavalli’s 1668 Eliogabalo, based on the life ofthe Roman emperor notorious for his sexual appetites, his appointment of an all-female senate, and his assassination. The cast includes Susannah Biller (so fetching as Fortuna in last season’s Il Sogno di Scipione), and will be staged by James Marvel in what has been described as an unrated production.” The opening night Gala (March 15 at 7:30) will be followed by five performances, all at The Box, 189 Chrystie Street. Tickets on sale as of October 1 at, (212) 279-4200.

Finally, you can enjoy the ravishing La Hija De Rappaccini (Rappaccini’s Daughter),by composer Daniel Catàn and librettist Octavio Paz. directed by Rebecca Taichman, whose work on Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters was a highlight of Gotham’s 2011 season. We are promised a site-specific performance “under the stars in a New York garden.” I can’t think of a better setting for Catàn’s lush and dreamy score. Information: gotham                   —AG

Fearless (Re)Discovery

August 8, 2012


People who have been going to the Gate Theatre in London regularly know about Carrie Cracknell the director. But attending her production of A Doll’s House at the Young Vic has made me put her in the category of directors whose work I want to follow.

There were many exciting things about this interpretation — not least the very intelligent and dramatic adaptation by Simon Stephens, who was doing Ibsen’s play for the fourth time. This time he has certainly cracked it, and the set and costumes by Ian MacNeill and Gabrielle Dalton completely enhance his concept. This is a reading that makes you think about how revolutionary the play must have been to its first audiences. Cracknel places it in its original period (it was first produced in 1879), but the set itself is a kind of overgrown late-Victorian early-modernist doll’s house inhabited by the characters, a house that turns when people move from room to room so that the action is always near the audience. The performances of Hattie Morahan as Nora, Dominic Rowan as Torvald and Susannah Wise as Kristine, in particular, are astonishing in their detail and how well they convey the various emotions—or lack of same. And the sense of the family and its situation is very comprehensively and intensely conveyed.

But the real discovery is clearly Carrie Cracknell, who has made of this play something fresh, astonishing and strong. The night I went the audience actually gasped at times, it was so involved and somehow so surprised, and even laughed in many places, reminding one of the elements of black comedy in Ibsen that often get overlooked. The sense of ensemble, of everyone on that stage not only inhabiting his or her role but working with and off the others, is very potent. With its swirling and twirling set, it was a brilliantly choreographed production. Nobody tripped and it was only afterwards that I wondered at the sheer audacity of the technique. It was utterly absorbing. I can hardly wait to see what Carrie Cracknell takes on next and how she handles it; and I will keep you informed in good time.

A Doll’s House played at the Young Vic in London until 4 August,
but I would not be surprised if there is a subsequent transfer
to a suitable West End  theatre.                                   —MC

Fearless Predictions

July 10, 2012

Codebreaker—Alan Turing’s Life and Legacy (through July 31, Science Museum, London): Mathematician Alan Turing was long neglected, even unknown, except among computer-science students and other digerati (novelist William Gibson included a Turing police force in his 1984 novel, Neuromancer). Turing is no longer unknown. His World War II contributions to cracking Axis codes at Bletchley Park became celebrated as details were declassified. The test that bears his name, a way of judging whether a machine displays human-like intelligence, is now familiar, and even his more abstract work is better recognized, as in the recent book Turing’s Cathedral.To observe the 100th anniversary of his birth, London’s Science Museum has assembled an exhibition combining personal notes with artifacts from his career. museum

Far from Heaven (July 19–29, Williamstown Theatre Festival): Musical adaptations may be the riskiest of artistic endeavors (ditto as financial investments). With an original show, no one can say it compares badly to its source, whereas an adaptation has to measure up to it,as well as to provide fresh depth or perspective. Yet hope springs eternal. In this new show, the 2002 film, written and directed by Todd Haynes (as a smart and lovely rejuvenation of 50s melodramas à la Douglas Sirk), is being adapted by Richard Greenberg (book), Scott Frankel (music), and Michael Korie (lyrics). All three have done good work before: Greenberg in a number of plays, Frankel and Korie in the songs for Grey Gardens. But reputation counts for nothing once the curtain rises—what will matter is whether this show works. schedule

Dido and Aeneas (August 22–25, Mark Morris Dance Group, Mostly Mozart Festival): Choreographer Mark Morris is not only highly musical and very inventive in his movement choices but also one of the greatest classicists since George Balanchine, frequently employing the genre’s virtues of balance, proportion, and symmetry. In Dido and Aeneas (1989), he crafted a stylized, moving dance-drama set to Purcell’s opera, with the singers and musicians in the pit. The vocalists include Stephanie Blythe; Morris himself, once unmatched in the dance role of Dido, has now retreated to the pit to conduct. Tickets are limited, so act fast.    —JEB

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Fearless Predictions

June 4, 2012

We Loves You, Porgy!

I firmly believe that there will be standing ovations for the Porgy and Bess at the Coliseum in London between 11 and 21 July this summer – and elsewhere.

Where New York’s current production has taken a controversial Broadway Musical approach and some liberties, the Cape Town Opera, which is touring the UK at the moment, is committed to the opera, using the 1935 score and orchestrations. The action, however, has been moved from Charleston, South Carolina, to Soweto in the 1980s during Apartheid. The dramatic parallels and reasoning are clear.

Michael Williams, the managing director of the company, said in an interview for South African radio before leaving for the UK: “Porgy and Bess was George Gershwin’s attempt to write an opera that showcased the true depth and range of African-American voices. Despite the beauty of his music, the concept challenged both white and black audiences alike, and for many years the opera was presented in a watered-down ‘musical’ format. Even by Gershwin! He wrote the piece to give black singers an opportunity but when it turned out that it wasn’t cutting it with the opera glitterati – the mink and pearls brigade – Ira Gershwin tried to make it into a Broadway show.” Happily, insists Williams, Porgy and Bess is now such a stalwart of the operatic canon that “people know they shouldn’t tamper with it.” At least not with the music. Transferring the setting is another matter, says Williams, insisting that the South African relocation is faithful to the themes and spirit of the opera.“If you pick up any newspaper in South Africa, you’ll see the issues we deal with.”

Tsakane Maswangany, who played the title role in last year’s Winnie the Opera (about Winnie Mandela) , and who sings Bess in this tour, agrees. “However, we are a nation of singers,” proclaims the 32-year-old soprano, based in Italy but back on home turf for Porgy and Bess rehearsals before heading for the UK. “There is something very familiar about singing this music,” she says. “I heard my own African music from when I was a tiny baby and here I am singing with my people and my nation again. It reminds me of where and who I am. It takes me back to being young and the reasons why I’m a singer.”

CTO is South Africa’s only full-time opera company – and its nearest competitor is almost a continent away in Cairo – but it works hard to spread the gospel of opera as widely as possible. “We do a national tour every year to 10 different cities and the kids who do our workshops are the same kids who say, ‘We want to come and sing and audition for you’,” reports Williams. “We did La Bohème and every one of the soloists came through our programme. The average age on stage was 23.”

The company aims to present at least one new African work each season as well as a classic of the repertoire. Recent successes include Poet and Prophetess, a NorrlandsOperan co-production with a libretto by Williams, and the Mandela Trilogy, which will be performed twice at the Wales Millennium Centre before Porgy’s Cardiff dates.

“What we strive to do is not only the European classics,” says Williams. “Do foreign audiences really want to see our version of La Bohème, or is that taking coals to Newcastle? We want to represent the miracle that is South Africa: look at what we can do here, look at the art we can produce.”

And people are taking notice. This September, the CTO Opera Voice of the Nation Ensemble will travel to Berlin at the personal invitation of Sir Simon Rattle for three concert performances of the complete Porgy and Bess with the Berlin Philharmonic. To learn more about the CTO and its mission: CTO site. Meantime, you can see it for yourself in the UK:                                             —MC

Wednesday 6 – Saturday 9 June 2012
Birmingham Hippodrome
web site Box Office 0844 338 5000

Friday 15 – Saturday 16 June
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
web site  Box Office (0)131 529 6000

Saturday 23 – Sunday 24 June
Wales Millennium Centre
web site Box Office 029 2063 6464

Wednesday 27 – Saturday 30 June
Canterbury Marlowe Theatre
web site Box Office 01227 787787

Wednesday 4 – Saturday 7 July
Southampton Mayflower
web site Box Office 02380 711811

Wednesday 11 July – Saturday 21 July
London Coliseum
web site Box Office 0871 911 0200

Mandela Trilogy

Wednesday 20 June – Thursday 21 June
Wales Millennium Centre
web site Box Office 029 2063 6464

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