Archive for the ‘theatre’ Category

Apollo’s Girl

March 11, 2016

Film

apollo and lyre

 

Let’s Meet Again…

Filmmakers are like architects: whatever the time and costs involved, they’re always ahead of the game; cresting the wave of the future, anticipating the next Zeitgeist. And so it is at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Gone are most of the ruling Gallic rom-coms, the brilliant historical pageants and adaptations of classic plays (though there is a lot of sex…). rendezvous 2016In only three years, this always-provocative festival has become a reflection of France now and in the foreseeable future, its cultural, racial and linguistic issues front and center in 2016.

Well, there are two exceptions: on opening night, The Valley of Love, starring the iconic Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert, filmed in Death Valley (largely in English), reaffirmed the French connection to world cinema that began with the New Wave.

thethreesistersAnd although (strictly speaking) by Chekov, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi has turned The Three Sisters into a gorgeous souffle of a tragicomedy that while quintessentially French, is, somehow, more Russian than Russian in its mercurial shifts and failed trajectories. The cast (from the Comédie Française) is superb in every part. But the décor, the costumes, the shorthand translation carry us to the Russia-that-was and will-never-be-again faster than the speed Chekov imagined in 1900, yet with no less power, and with tender attention to spirit and detail that marry the best of Now and Then. (The opening scene is absolutely Now!)

That said, Rendez-Vous’ focus on the present offers a wide-ranging slate from new and seasoned directors (more than one-third of them women) with original ideas about the human condition.

fatimaFatima (Philippe Faucon) is a real honey; one of many entries about Muslims adjusting to (and changing) French culture. In its quiet way, the lives of a divorced mother and her two daughters make a great impact because of the film’s modestyits whisper is stronger than any shout. While one daughter is a rebellious teenager who turns her back on her first culture, the other struggles to become a doctor. The mother (Soria Zeroual) supports the family with cleaning jobs as she navigates the rigidity of the Muslim community she remains part of, yet determined to give her children a future. She keeps a diary (in Arabic) that reveals the keenness of her sensibilities, and studies French to be able to live more fully in her new home. The film’s last image (devoid of any show, any effects) is simplicity itself; yet carries a soaring emotional charge that simply explodes in joy.

While The Story of Judas (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche)
judascould be described as an historical film, it’s definitely not an historical pageant, but rather a fresh re-imagining of the Biblical story that could never have been part of Hollywood’s overblown Biblical canon. Like Zaïmeche’s earlier Smugglers’ Songs https://apollosgirl.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/apollos-girls-12/, it reminds us that legends are always based on elements of reality; in this case, Judas’ part in Christ’s death, as well as the roles of Pontius Pilate, Carabas, and others we think we know reduced to their essence in vivid snapshots among the mountains and deserts of Judea. The air shimmers with heat and dust, the clothes are ragged and begrimed. You are left to connect the dots on your own, based on what you see and what you remember. It’s a challenge worth taking, hard to resist, and definitely original.

The Great Game (Nicolas Pariser) is a politicapoupaudl thriller in the tradition of the British The Ghostwriter, but with an even twistier plot and more populous cast starring Melvil Poupaud, who proves once again (as in last year’s Fidelio: Carol’s Journeyhttps://apollosgirl.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/apollos-girl-52/ ) that he has aged remarkably well. The politics here are still being played out in France between the police and a group of idealists trying to live in communal peace; it’s a dark (and accurate) view of limited choices.

Alice Winocour’s Disorder combines the PTSD of a disorderveteran of the war in Afghanistan (Matthias Schoenaerts) with the desperation of a wealthy weapons dealer’s wife (Diane Kruger) and some really terrifying thugs seeking revenge into a fast action movie that had a critics’ audience gasping more than once. Schoenaerts is believable, scary and sympathetic in every scene, and Kruger torn between her sense of entitlement and intense attraction to him (equally believable).

La Tête Haute (Emmanuelle Bercot) reflects a French juvenile justice system reminiscent of the elementary school lunchroom in Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next. The phalanx of judges, therapists, teachers and counselors deployed for a decade in the tete hautultimate salvation of a recidivist punk is in stark contrast to our own tradition: Reflect on our teens unlucky enough to be sentenced to serve time and unlikely to receive either sympathy or support, or to be able to rejoin society as functioning adults. (Just as the students in Moore’s film can look forward to a leisurely gourmet feast every day, while lunch here is fast, brutal, and largely about starch, fat, sugar and salt.) Definitely food for thought…

 

chant d'hiverWinter Song (Otar Iosseliani) As complex as Georgian culture and language, Iosseliani’s brilliant jigsaw puzzle of a film is a real pleasure at every level. His ability to deploy crowds of unforgettable characters defined in seconds like Japanese brush-strokes is equaled by his genius for keeping them moving through brief scenes as they skitter in and out of each other’s lives. His gift for connections is both visual and narrative; his tongue forever in his cheek. Worth seeing twice just to join the game going on in his artful and prodigiously humane imagination.

my kingMy King(Maïwenn) stars Emmanuelle Bercot as a lawyer with a broken leg and a persistent memory for her affair with and marriage to Vincent Cassell. As for Cassell? He’s trouble with a three-day stubble (uh-oh), dancing in the street, sweeping her away on a motorcycle when they first meet, laughing her into bed shortly thereafter. Complications ensue. They love each other, but drive each other crazy for a long time. (One suspects that there may be a great deal of autobiography lurking about in Maïwenn’s script, and a brief survey of its watersheds would heighten that conclusion.)

Dark Inclusion(Arthur Harari) is set against a fascinating and uncommon backdrop: the diamond business in Belgium, where gems mined in Southdark inclusion Africa go to Antwerp to be cut and polished. It has been dominated by close-knit families (many of them Jewish) for generations and remains cool to outsiders. While diamonds are at the center of the plot, it is spun by family ties unraveled and ultimately spun again; blood proves thicker than water. As one trick after another unfolds and alliances shift, the multi-cultural nature of the gem trade now includes Arabs, Indians, Jews, Africans and the Belgians who cut the stones and each others’ profits. What goes on behind the closed doors of offices and workshops leaves you wanting to know more.

Summertime (Catherine Corsini) With its theme of intense love between two womenespecially since one of them is named Caroleit’s hard to avoid comparing Summertime to this season’s Carol, a mainstream feature on the summertimesame topic. Yet Carol, despite its outstanding performances and really stunning production, remained, for me, a tale worthy of respect for its achievements, but always a bit chilly under its high-gloss surface. Summertime, on the other hand, while certainly beautiful to behold, was on fire with emotion and the caprices of real-life women with deep conflicts (for different reasons) over the connection that brings them together. It’s definitely not because of the external differences in their lives when they meet, or that they regret their surrender to one another as often as they are torn by it, but the gritty reality (with its constant shifts and contradictions) that frames their every move into, and away from, the flame. Its evocation of city and countryside in the France of the 1970s is immersive. And both Izia Higelin and Cėcile de France capture your attention and your sympathy full-time.

Dheepan (Jacques Audiard) Ever since seeing Read My Lips, I’ve had a thing about Jacques Audiard. No one does light and dark quite the way he does, shooting and cutting at high speed while always digging deep into his characters. dheepanMore often than not, they are flawed, yet give hints of redemption on closer look. Dheepan shifts the balance in the other direction: its hero (Antonythasan Jesusthasan) rejects the violence of his military service in Sri Lanka and emigrates to France to start over again. He is a man of conscience who works hard, sees everything, says nothing and earns the respect of those who share his life in a grim housing project on the outskirts of Paris. Until he’s forced to take a stand. Then he, and Audiard, deliver the kind of electric finale you’ve been waiting for.

http://www.filmlinc.org/festivals/rendez-vous-with-french-cinema/

Cooper’s London

March 1, 2016

Theatre/Music

Mel snapshot 19

 

 

Coming Up, In and Out of London…

For imminent highlights, don quixotemy instincts tell me that first and foremost I must get tickets to see the new adaptation of Don Quixote appearing soon at the RSC. It plays 25 February until 21 May in The Swan at Stratford-upon-Avon and has definitely raised my hopes. The novel’s adaptation will be by James Fenton, whose The Orphan of Zhao in 2012 is still one of the best and most memorable shows that the RSC has commissioned. The director is Angus Jackson, whose imaginative staging of Oppenheimer I saw in 2015 was one of the most original, intelligent and dazzling realizations of a script imaginable. Its sheer theatricality is still with me; as are several of the spot-on performances that Jackson got from his actors. Actor david threlfallDavid Threlfall is playing the mad, appealing Knight of the Woeful Countenance, the original quixotic hero. Have you seen him on TV in the UK version of Shameless? He’s a reliable and dedicated character actor whose popularity goes back to playing Smyke in the eight-hour-long RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby in the early 1980s—a performance that is still available on DVD. Add to that the fact that the novel of Don Quixote is a wonderful but ridiculously long and varied text; it will be fascinating to see which bits Fenton chooses to include. Not long ago the RSC did a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s lost play based on Don Quixote, Cardenio. I am very excited about this project, which is in rehearsal already.

Looking further ahead, I am particularly keen on two of the many major opera and music festivals that arrive every summer. Gaining repute as the new Glyndebourne, this year’s just-released programme at the Longborough Festival in rural Gloucestershire is its most ambitious yet. Several audience favorites are returning among four operas: Handel’s baroque opera Alcina will be jeremy silverconducted by the adept and youthful Jeremy Silver who is working for the third consecutive year with the same production team and with young professionals early in their careers to give them a springboard. They have already shown that they can be both cheeky and moving in this repertory; and there will even be a performance at the Greenwood Theatre near London Bridge on 4 August.

https://lfo.org.uk/young-people/young-artist-programme

As with Glyndebourne, you want to get to the original venue if you can to experience the full pleasure of the place; they provide a show that includes time to wander around lovely grounds and have a long interval for dinner after an early start.

https://lfo.org.uk/

longboroughTannhauser should be powerful in such an intimate venue. John Treleavan and Neal Cooper are sharing the title role; the rest of the cast looks interesting, and the music director of the festival, Anthony Negus, is conducting. He has already been highly praised by the press and audiences for his previous Wagner performances at Longborough and has a solid reputation. Conductor Robert Houssard leads another established production team for a Marriage of Figaro that will star baritone Benjamin Bevan as the Count and the Australian baritone Grant Doyle (formerly a Young Artist at the Royal Opera House) in his role debut as the impertinent valet. The wonderful Norwegian soprano Beate Mordall and England’s Lucy Hall are sharing the role of Susanna. Finally, lee bissettLee Bissett, who is a huge favourite with the audiences at Longborough after taking on Isolde last year, will return to sing Janacek’s Jenufa.

The Glyndebourne Festival, that mother of all summer al fresco festivals in the UK, runs this year from 21 May to 28 August and needs very little introduction from me. Whatever you find still availableeven if you think you do not like that opera—just buy the damned tickets and go for the experience. Established in his stately home by glyndebourneJohn Christie in the 1930s to do Mozart in its original scale (in every sense of the word), many of its productions have been mythical from the very start; much of its work has been broadly influential, and many young artists have gone on from there to important international careers: Janet Baker, who started in the chorus and ended up as Orfeo in Gluck’s opera, among them. (According to legend, they nearly fired Montserrat Caballe, and Roberto Alagna scored an early success as Rodolfo.) Today’s casts are just as riveting and, in a purpose-built theatre, the productions are almost invariably innovative and thought-provoking, while maintaining the highest musical and production standards. Probably all this is due to several factors, two of which must be the long rehearsal periods and being able to work in a rural setting away from the ususal stresses of major opera houses.

For me a highlight of this summer will be more Wagner in a more intimate venue: the revival of the famous David McVicar Meistersinger von Nurnberg with Gerald Finlay as a youthful, sonorous and exceptionally moving Hans Sachs and Michael Schade as Walter. The new production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville draws me like a magnet to see danielle de nieseDaniele de Niese undertake the role of Rosina with the veteran Alessandro Corbelli as her venal guardian, Dr Bartolo. In the past, Glyndebourne has had Victoria de los Angeles and Maria Ewing as memorable Rosinas and I am confident that de Niese will be added to that list. And among the other treats I am particularly delighted to see there is to be a revival of
midsummer night's dreamPeter Hall’s magical interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare set to music by Benjamin Britten) from the 1981 festival.

There will, of course, also be the Proms in London throughout July and August and early September; and there are the interesting productions coming up at Shakespeare’s Globe and Regent’s Park, as well as opera in Holland Park. More of all that anon. But meantime, a reminder to start booking if you fancy a trip around the countryside with a little bit of culture as well. The Brits really do this kind of thing brilliantly.

Coopers London

January 13, 2016

Theatre

Mel snapshot 19

 

Queen and Country;
Sisterhood and Betrayal

I was out of the country when Helen Edmunson’s new play Queen Anne, commissioned and produced by the
queen anne 2Royal Shakespeare Company
opened and so I finally caught up with it only at the very end of December. It has had much praise by critics and audiences and, for me, this praise is largely deserved. Edmdunson’s scriptlike last year’s Oppenheimer, also a commission of the RSCis an historic recreation. In this case, I felt it came across less as a piece of innovative theatre like Oppenheimer and more like a strong BBC costume drama. But it is none the worse for that!

The play is not simply workmanlike, though it’s certainly that too. It tells with both feeling and understanding the personally interesting and historically important story of the friendship between the initially shy and insecure Princess Anne Stuart and the ambitious, glamorous Sarah Churchill. It also covers the complicated, sometimes vicious, politics of the period in ways that make this era come alive. The historic characters (including Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift) are convincingly drawn, and the moments of send-up that reflect the growth of the satiric pamphlets, newspapers and cartoons of the period add welcome wit and theatricality. There are moments of satiric musical interludes as well that are worthy of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and very much in that vein.queen anne 3The design by Hannah Clark enhances the play’s context. Natalie Abrahami deserves praise for her directing of the ensemble. She keeps the action moving; her pacing of the quieter scenes and of the development of the breach between Anne and Sarah strikes all the right emotional notes, indicating the feelings and motivations of both women. Above all, there is not a dud performance anywhere in the evening. jonathan broadbentJonathan Broadbent’s Robert Harley and Beth Park in the role of the favourite who replaces Sarah, the beth parkredoubtable Mrs. Masham, are memorable and the characterizations have a vividness that both explains the background history and also creates a thirst for that fine book about this reign, Queen Anne, by Anne Somerset.

Above all, both Emma Cunniffe as the perpetually sickly, gout-ridden Anne (who experienced 17 pregnancies but left no heir) and Natascha McElhone as the beautiful, supremely confident, ambitious and ultimately thwarted (and increasingly self-destructive) Sarah Churchill, embody their characters and make one feel yes, this is what they must have been like, this is how it must have developed between them. queen anne 4The play does not shy away from the erotic possibilities between the women but, like the film Carol, their implied lesbianism is not really the point. At its heart, the play is about the clash between the expediencies of politics or public responsibilites and personal desires; the fine line between healthy ambition and self-serving corrupt determination; and also about friendship and betrayal.

One of the finest aspects of the play is the way the women and their relationship grow, develop and shift until Anne becomes not only her own woman but a real, intelligent and morally centred Queen, while Sarah is engulfed by her own ego, her venal goals and her self-aggrandizing view of her role and her powers.

john and sarahThere was certainly a power-couple relationship between Sarah and John Churchill (well-played by Robert Cavanah), the first Duke of Marlborough who was a military genius in British history as important as the Duke of Wellington. Nevertheless, advancement in the early days depended on patronage. How Sarah’s relationship with Anne helped John in the early days of his career is beautifully played, and the role that eroticism plays for that couple is mirrored strongly by Anne’s quasi-erotic fascination with Sarah, something the knowing and sometimes smug Duchess uses with real guile to manipulate her friend.

The play makes one reconsider the reign of the last of the Stuarts who presided over a difficult period when the throne was often unstable, the wars were costly but seen as necessary, the Parliament was consolidating its constitutional rights and the succession was very much in question. The story pretty clearly delineates the struggle between the Whigs and the Tories
and their machinations to win Anne’s support. If you become interested in the actual history behind this play, you could start background reading not only with Anne Somerset’s book but also by reading William Makepeace thackerayThackeray’s neglected but masterful and totally fascinating novel, The History of Henry Esmond. It is a brilliant book unfairly overshadowed these days by another of his great novels, Vanity Fair.

As entertaining and informative in its own more circumscribed way as the Thackeray novel (a three-hour play cannot quite do the work of a novel of several hundred pages but it still sketches out a great deal of the background material), Queen Anne is a good start for contemplating not only the politics and difficulties of this era in English history but also the complex friendship of two women that began as mutually beneficial and supportive but ended as bitter and destructive because of the way the two developed and played off one another.

Above all, it is captivating theatre. Watching the growth of Anne’s character as she responds to the necessities of being Queen and observing the over-reaching of Sarah as she becomes too self-confident and too convinced that she is the real power in the land remains fulfilling drama. I hope a proposed transfer to the West End in London comes off. If for no other reason, it’s worth seeing for the superb performances of Cunniffe, McElhone, and Park as the three central figures in the triangle Queen_Anneof female relationships. It’s also worth noting that Anne’s great ambitions as Queen were to end the wars with France and to have Scotland join the United Kingdom; both hopes were achieved before her death. She also wanted a Protestant succession and, with her death, the throne passed to the Hanovers. I think that the RSC-commissioned plays promise to become a welcome tradition, both theatrically and educationally.

Queen Anne will run in repertoire until 23 January 2016 at the Swan Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon, and probably transfer to the West End in London after that.

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

https://apollosgirl.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/coopers-london-50/

Cooper’s London

October 5, 2015

Opera

Mel snapshot 19

In London (and On the Road)

The Royal Opera House starated its new season with its first production of Gluck’s seminal Orphée et Eurydice in a long time – that is, the French version for a tenor Orpheus – not the original in Italian written for a castrato and reworked for a mezzo by Berlioz. ORPHEEetEURYDICE- bill cooper-opera-danceJuan Diego Florez was simply an ideal choice for the mellifluous hero, with Lucy Crowe as his beloved. The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists were led by John Eliot Gardiner in what promised to be an “authentic” performance of the work.

luke-stylesFrom 9 September the company will be presenting a new commission in the Linbury Studios, a one-act chamber opera version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by the promising Australian composer Luke Styles. This is followed on 9 October by a new opera by Enda Walsh and composer Donnacha Dennehy. last hotelThe Last Hotel, that I am very curious about because I have enjoyed Enda Walsh’s plays so much in the past.

Back in the main house with the Covent Garden orchestra, there is a revival of David McVicar’s truly gripping and imaginative production of The Marriage of Figaro with a fine cast conducted by Ivor Bolton; I would also wish mattilato attend the revival of Ariadne auf Naxos if only to hear Karita Mattila sing “Es gibt ein reich”. She has the perfect voice for Strauss and is a consummate actress in every role she undertakes. She also has a superb sense of humour and can act irony! For me, the star attractions of the revival of the fine Carmen production by Francesca Zambello playing from 19 October are the conductor, Bertrand de Billy, and the heroic and tormented Don Jose of Jonas Kaufmann (okay, okay, here’s a few choice clips):

and not just the well-sung interpretation of Carmen herself by Russian mezzo Elena Maximova. This is coming in December.

Antonio Pappano is conducting a new Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci directed by Damiano Michieletto, whose Guillaume Tell last season caused a major rumpus because of its graphic rape scene. Many critics and some operagoers hated it; there were boos; there was newspaper hysteria; but it came across well on cinema screens when it was broadcast and many people actually found it very exciting, innovative and a really strong and interesting interpretation of the opera. It remains to be seen what he can do to Leoncavallo and Mascagni who were, of course, in their day, quite revolutionary and controversial themselves as they developed the verismo approach. I bet Michieletto tries to up the ante! romeo and julietteMeanwhile the Royal Ballet will be reviving Macmillan’s classic version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (built originally on Nureyev and Fonteyn) with loads of performances throughout the autumn; and I am particularly looking forward to catching up with Martha Clarke’s ballet Chéri, based on cherithe Colette novels, with Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo returning to dance the roles they created. http://www.roh.org.uk/seasons/2015-16/autumn

Meantime, over at the financially beleaguered English National Opera, which has also just lost its long term artistic director, John Berry, there are three new interesting productions for the autumn. The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Shostakovich has been a huge hit for them in past years, with Josephine Barstow becoming a notable international star by playing the title role. Directed and designed by Sergei Tcherniakov, racette at ENOPatricia Racette looks likely to be as stunning a Katerina as was Barstow; and the estimable Mark Wigglesworth, the new music director of the company, should be able to conduct up a wigglesworthstorm. The musical forces for Verdi’s The Force of Destiny are impeccable; but the betting is that Calixto Bieito’s production will be even more controversial than his Masked Ball with the male chorus sitting on toilets reading newspapers and commenting on current politics or his Don Giovanni that starts out set in a garbage dump in Seville. This one has been updated to the Spanish Civil War; and for my taste Bieito’s approach has become more and more insular and self-referential since his rather convincing and powerful Carmen. That said, I live in hope; know that Wigglesworth is a terrific Verdian; and look forward to hearing this strong cast. All the other autumn shows – Jonathan Miller’s Barber of Seville and his inventive Mikado; the lovely La Bohème directed by Benedict Andrew; and a winning Magic Flute directed by reliably brilliant Simon McBurney – were all hits when they first appeared and go on being eminently revivable and well-cast. The Barber is particularly famous for the stellar turn by Andrew Shore as Dr Bartolo who is, thankfully, returning to the role.

http://www.eno.org/?gclid=CjwKEAjwiZitBRCy0pb3rIbG9XwSJACmuvvzj4Pc-WIw6mTiDr_fi9NlMpHp5wMgdMTBaW4zjD4AahoCtJvw_wcB

Finally, if you are willing to travel out of London, my top recommendation would
welsh national operabe the
Welsh National Opera; it has a particularly interesting season coming up focusing on madness in opera, specifically in Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece, I Puritani; Handel’s Orlando; and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. At one of the most consistent companies for fielding imaginative productions that actually illuminate the works themselves, and for its high-level musical interpretations, these works are definitely all worth considering in Cardiff or on tour. https://www.wno.org.uk/whats-on

Apollo’s Girl

October 4, 2015

Music, Video

apollo and lyre

 

 

It’s World Animal Day; just click on the links to celebrate.

JACK Quartet (Miller Theatre)/
Internet Cat Video Festival (MAD);

On September 17, Miller Theatre at Columbia University jackopened its 2014/15 calendar with a take-no-prisoners premiere of Simon Steen-Andersen’s Run Time Error, performed by the composer and the JACK Quartet. It was definitely a trip! I’ve never heard anything quite like it, and am taking the easy way out by pointing you to the NY Times‘ review of the concert by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim.

Times’ review

Miller has become known for the adventurous programs devised by its director, Melissa Smey whose interests traverse the entire range of human history, whose choices require the use of the word “fearless” for every performance, and who appears to know just about everything. The real thrill is in seeing and hearing how she puts it all together.

jl adamsComing up: A triple exposure of John Luther Adams’ compositions (he won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2014) on October 7, 9, and 10. But it’s not only what’s new but, sometimes, what’s old: a screening of Carl Dreyer’s iconic silent, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), starring the equally iconic Falconetti, with 15th-passion-of-joan-of-arc-480x270century music by the Orlando Consort (October 14 and 16). There’s jazz, too. And, earlier this year (on April 1), even the launch of the Canine Composers series; surely a first, but likely to become an audience favorite:

It’s exhilarating to experience Smey’s seasons, which appear to become more innovative and appealing every year. Just get on board and stretch: http://www.millertheatre.com/.
_____________________________________________________________________________

It was a triumph! The Pope had just left the pope
West Side and was on his way to Madison Square Garden. As the faithful streamed out of Central Park, another crowd surged into the Museum of Art and Design; the Internet Cat Video Festival (from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis) was about to begin, and it was standing room only. cat vidThere were very few old ladies in sneakers, but hordes of millennials wearing them mad_exteriorinstead, and applause and laughter rose from the committed like a much-needed benediction. 

The Museum has unveiled a new season of events including cinema, performance, talks, encounters and workshops. Although I can personally recommend the upcoming 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (previously enjoyed at FSLC’s Human Rights Watch Festival); https://apollosgirl.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/apollos-girl-44/), MAAD’s season looks more than promising. The cinema, in particular, is well-curated, and free! http://madmuseum.org/calendar?t=Cinema. You know what to do….. 

Cooper’s London

September 27, 2015

Opera/Film/DVD

Mel snapshot 19

This Boat Still Floats

The San Francisco Opera production of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat (filmed live on the stage) has just been released on EuroArts DVD 2059688 and BluRay. The cast includes: Heidi Stober, Michael Todd Simpson, Bill Irwin, Patricia Racette, Morris Robinson, Angela Renee Simpson cap'n andyand Harriet Harris. The stage director is Francesca Zambello and the conductor is John DeMain.

Over two decades ago I was fortunate enough to see the Show Boat done by Opera North in collaboration with the RSC that docked at the Palladium and toured the UK.
It was impeccably cast; the pit band was amplified and was using the brilliant original orchestrations by
Robert Russell Bennet; it not only restored material that had not been heard since the 1928 Broadway version, it interpolated numbers from later revivals, including the novelty number “Ah Still Suits Me” robeson and mcdaninelwritten for Paul Robeson and Hattie MacDaniel to sing in the 1936 film. I have yet to see anything to equal it for justifying Show Boat’s reputation as the true grandfather of American music theatre—until now. Essentially, the new EuroArts DVD and BluRay from the San Francisco Opera production (also acclaimed in Chicago and Houston) is both iconic and also a vivid record of a greatly theatrical, entertaining and moving performance. Director zambelloFrancesca Zambello has achieved pretty nearly what Ian Judge and his team did in that legendary production from Leeds to enflame a new generation of theatregoers.

The cast is a mixture of operatically trained singers who can act and Broadway hoofers or comedians who can belt, with chorus and the dancers really pitching in. The acting is sometimes suitably tongue-in-cheek, early-20th-century “mellerdrammer”, at other times straightforward and moving. Every musical number carries the weight it should, advances the plot or our understanding of character, and appeals directly to our stober and simpsonemotions. When Heidi Stober as Magnolia and Michael Todd Simpson as Gaylord Ravenal sing “You Are Love”, you believe it with all your heart. When Morris Robinson sings “Ol’ Man River” and is joined by the chorus of men who tote those barges and heave those bales, you feel their pain, how limited their lives and opportunities are and cannot avoid thinking about the whole history of slavery and its aftermath old man riverin the United States. Those are big claims, perhaps; but it is a big, varied and allusive show and the music is so superb that one has to be careful not be so overwhelmed by it that Oscar Hammerstein II gets the credit he deserves for his strong book and lyrics.

By and large, Zambello avoids the sentimentality that often mars Show Boat revivals and goes for real feeling and serious engagement with a plot that involves addiction to gambling and alcohol, miscegenation in a racist and bigoted society, sexual harassment and bullying, and the abandonment of a wife and child. She also understands the humour, not least in the lovely number “Life Upon the Wicked Stage”. She also appreciates the sheer gut reactions demanded by the big moments and big numbers. Her approach is both superbly intelligent and responsive to all the nuances of the piece.

showboatThis Show Boat is big also in terms of production values, achieving the spectacle that perhaps only an opera company with enough resources to field two chorus and dance groups (one African-American, the other Caucasian)—can in these financially constrained days. The stories of the various couples balance and echo each other, and every opportunity for cheeky humour is grasped as firmly as all the opportunities for the music to engage and lift your emotions.

Heidi Stober manages to convey both Magnolia’s innocence and the ultimate inner strength that will enable her to bring up her child as a single mother and become a major star. Her voice is very beautiful; she always remains in character and builds her development into a strong, no longer innocent middle-aged woman with great skill. Michael Todd Simpson conveys both Gay’s charm and his character flaws and also has the vocal chops to do full justice to Jerome Kern’s music. Show-Boat_SFO_4PosterPatricia Racette’s Julie La Verne makes you see why the role made a star of Helen Morgan and was also one of the most appealing that Ava Gardner ever undertook. Angela Renée Simpson is outstanding as Queenie and has had restored to her character “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’” and “Hey, Fellah!”, both of which are important to the drama. The voice and demeanour of Morris Robinson as Joe have real gravitas (he’s excellent in his comic moments, too); and the roles of Ellie Mae Chipley and Frank Schultz sparkle convincingly with the talents of Kirsten Wyatt and John Bolton. It only remains to beirwinsaid that Bill Irwin is immensely
appealing as Cap’n Andy Hawks and that
Harriet Harris’s Parthy Ann Hawks is a treasure, offering real balance to the singing parts. Michele Lynch has created time-sensitive choreography that takes you from the vaudeville turns of 1887 to the jazzy Charleston of 1927 as the story traverses forty years of American history; the set design by Peter J. Davison and Costume Design by Paul Tazewell are just as apt and evocative.

kern-hammersteinIn sum, this is about as perfectly realized a version of the iconic Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II landmark as could be desired, and I am not even prepared to quibble about which other numbers should have been included. John DeMain has been a long-time champion of this and of Porgy and Bess for fully committed performances by opera companies, and his mastery of and sympathy with every nuance of the lyricism and wit of the score is a constant pleasure. The show has been beautifully filmed by Frank Zamacona for the screen.

In my opinion this is, therefore, a DVD that you need to have in your collection to enjoy again and again. If you love music theatre, it will confirm your addiction; and if you are not sure about this genre, this staging, this cast and this team of people on and off the stage will definitely convince you.

This Show Boat also makes a powerful case for how well top-level productions filmed from the stage not only work as entertainment but also convey the sense of occasion and preserve what otherwise would be an ephemeral event. We are very fortunate these days, I think, to see fine performances from anywhere in the world that otherwise we would only know from hearsay or still photographs.


Finally, let us all be grateful to
Edna Ferber ferberfor realizing in 1927 that the story of the showboats of the Mississippi and the transformation of American culture was one that should be preserved; and to Kern and Hammerstein for honouring the novel and its background with an interpretation that looks at the whole phenomenon of entertainment and American society with real acuity, some irony and profound empathy 
for its showboat novelcomplexities. They were pioneers.

Apollo’s Girl

August 21, 2015

Theatre

apollo and lyre

Informed Consent:
A real coup de théâtre

(Primary Stages, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Alfred P. Sloane Foundation)
At the Duke on 42nd Street til September 13

When a playwright can keep several balls in the air at once without dropping any or diluting their content or emotional power, you know they’re good. 11326168_1461309530862943_942195667_nAnd Deborah Zoe Laufer is very, very good! Informed Consent offers dynamic testimony to her gifts for combining the mysteries of DNA, the cruelties imposed on Native Americans, the tension between science and cultural myth, and the searing bonds between lovers, parents, and children. What makes it all hang together is Laufer’s mastery of language and her instincts for storytelling.

As with many plays, there are “true events” that inspired the playwright’s imagination: a case that pitted the work of scientists at Arizona State University against the Havasupai people who had lived in the Grand Canyon for centuries (perhaps millennia). They considered their blood sacred but consented to have it analyzed for clues to the diabetes which had decimated the tribe. Without revealing that it would also be used for many other purposes, the scientists went well beyond their original mandate; when the tribe found out, they sued (and won) for unlawful use of their DNA.

informed consent 4Laufer uses this to launch a human drama on many levels that also revolves around DNA, but with an intensely personal focus: the lead scientist carries a gene for early-onset Alzheimer’s likely to be inherited by her daughter. Should she tell her? In a series of wrenching confrontations, she illuminates the ethics of science and the universal need for belonging, and the pain of making choices that will change lives and destinies. Yet such are the gifts of Informed Consent that its spacious ideas are always matched by its emotional impact.

The production gives the play everything it richly 11850075_524217097736346_706646665_ndeserves:  a compact cast of five (three of whom play multiple roles that are miracles of characterization); Tina Benko as a genetic anthropologist who grows in stature before your informed consent1eyes, and DeLanna Studi as a Native American who tries to bridge the abyss between the history of her people and those who would obscure it. Every scene has complex emotional layers that keep you absorbed and thinking as their balance keeps shifting. There is some searing wit, and there is no dumbing down!

There is a final set of miracles here: the brilliant direction of Liesl Tommy that serves the playwright and the cast at every turn, and Wilson Chin’s set, with stairways like double helixes and walls of boxes used for projections of DNA sequences and, at the end, to reveal essential details of the plot. However complex, everything about Informed Consent is always lucid and full of feeling, yet takes only 95 minutes to speed by. Still, it haunts long after it’s over. Thank Primary Stages, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, and the Alfed P. Sloane Foundation, and see the play. If you’re lucky, you can catch one  of  the lively post-theatre talkbacks. tickets

Cooper’s London

August 18, 2015

Mel snapshot 19

Summer Catch-up: Staying In…

It’s summertime and the livin’ is so easy that I just don’t feel like making the effort to get to much, so I’m finding that I prefer spending more time catching up with books, DVDs and CDs that have accumulated for the past months and even some that have accumulated even longerthat I never got around to. Sipping a Pimm’s No 1 (usually indoors during a rain storm) and avoiding all the impossible summer tourist traffic where I live, I’ve come across some lovely surprises. (I’ll forego telling you about the duds.)

alexander kantorowLiszt, Two Piano Concertos, Malédiction: Alexandre Kantorow, pianist;
Tapiola Sinfonietta; Jean-Jacques Kantorow, conductor BIS-2100

My fearless prediction is that Alexandre Kantorow, on the evidence of this fine recording, is a name you should notice now and always seek out. As I write this, he is still only 19 and continuing his studies with Frank Braley at the Paris Conservatoire; but he’s also being invited to make more and more appearances around Europe. His interpretations of jean-jacques kantorow2Liszt, on his first concerto recording and his first for BIS, are a stunning collaboration between the soloist and the orchestra conducted by his father. Jean-Jacques Kantorow is a solo violinist as well and has recently picked up his fiddle again to make a recording of early French violin sonatas inspired, I gather, by his son’s tastes and talents. The playing on this disc is full of unexpected appoggiaturas and tempi, and a clarity of interpretation that’s remarkable lisztfor its freshness. Every moment of the playing feels just right! The somewhat unorthodox “concerto” Malédiction is quite fascinating and comes between the two better-known concerti. The booklet has excellent notes. Kantorow’s is a remarkable performance of three revised and finalised versions of piano concerti that Liszt originally wrote to show off his own virtuosity. Alexandre Kantorow certainly has the fingers for them, as one would expect; and, more importantly, he clearly has the feeling, too. The success of this disc transcends technique. I gather from people who’ve heard him live that Kantorow’s Brahms and Gershwin are just as brilliant and fresh as his Liszt. He’s a keen chamber music performer as well. Definitely a career to follow. I haven’t been this impressed by the Liszt concertos since I heard them played by Van Cliburn, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Sviatislav Richter as a very fortunate young man.

Brahms Violin Concerto in D major, Op 77; Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major, Op35: Leonid Kogan, violinist; Boston Symphony conducted by Pierre Monteux and the Paris Conservatory Concert Society Orchestra conducted by Constantin Silvestri, respectively. Recorded 1958 and 1959. Meloydia CD 10 02328

Speaking of Brahms, and of Russian musicians whom I was fortunate enough to hear long ago, Leonid Kogan’s koganearly-ish performances of the Brahms and Tchaikovsky violin concerti have been released on a Meloydia CD. Recorded while he was on tour in the West in 1958 and 1959 they are, of course, historic documents by now, commemorating a violinist who was somewhat overshadowed in his own day by his compatriot David Oistrakh. Kogan’s playing had a sweetness, lyricism and inward quality that are displayed in these performances with Pierre Monteux in Boston and Constantin Silvestri in Paris. Time and again there are nuances in the phrasing that startle your ears; but above all there is a focused integrity of emotional understanding and commitment that were hallmarks of Kogan’s captivating playing. The cadenzas are particularly brilliant and the slow movements are as sweetly played as I have ever heard them. Kogan was a very special performing artist on the violin and these performances are to be treasured. As Isaac Stern said, Leonid Kogan didn’t just pay the violin brilliantly, he created music on it as if it were being played for the first time. The technique is impeccable; but it’s always in the service of an emotional connection with the music that is offered with great generosity to the audience. It’s quite wonderful to have these two performances preserved on disc and available again. And Tchaikovsky’s Meditation is a real bonus. This is romantic playing of the first rank and great control in the true Russian romantic tradition.

Summer Catch-up: Going Out

Take note of the name Iqbal Khan! In khanhis last gig as a director in Stratford-upon-Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company he created a memorable production of Much Ado About Nothing set in India that was hilarious, yet exceptionally touching. His cast worked as a coherent ensemble with easy give and take and spoke the poetry . The characterizations were spot-on and all the nuances, humour and poignant dark side were strong. Now he’s done it again. He has directed one of the best versions of Othello that I’ve ever seen with his cast once more working together brilliantly; the poetry is always there, and veins of dark humour and wry social commentary lighten and enlighten the text. You will want and need to see everything that Iqbal Khan does from now on. Khan is a stalwart of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and I would travel to Birmingham to see his work.

In this new Othello, Ciaran Bagnall’s mono-set bagnall's setmanages to reference the canals of Venice, a sumptuous palace, and a war-torn Cyprus as required. It also suggests the claustrophobia of the second half of the story by dropping immense drapes to enclose the palace’s space in which most of the action now takes place. The anachronisms in the design and in the costumes by Fotini Dimou make fascinating references to today without dragging the play out of its period; and the music by Akintayo Akinbode invokes a mood of Orientalism but also, in its rhythms, something like the drums of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones as Othello is driven towards murder.

As with his Much Ado, Khan has put the text first. Everything grows from his deep engagement with Shakespeare. The press emphasized that this is an Othello with a black Iago (Lucian Msamati); and there was much fuss about how this would change some of the implications of a play usually played as the story of an outsider Black Man living in a tight White society. Certainly Jacob Fortune-Lloyd’s Eton-esque Cassio seems to confront and develop this idea; and there are moments of racist stupidity voiced by some of the characters that cause this Iago to stare in disbelief, rippling out to the audience in a thought-provoking and uncomfortable way.

quarshie an msamatiThat said, the casting is, to my mind, “blind”. Within seconds it does not matter that Iago is black. The colour of the skin is less important than the intensity and rightness of the characterizations; each actor in this production inhabits his or her character. Ultimately, the play rests on the credibility of the Othello. Hugh Quarshie, known in the UK for his leading role as a doctor in a weekly TV hospital serial, is startlingly plausible as Othello in all his aspects, loving not wisely but too well, not easily wrought but once moved wrought in the extreme. He starts as a powerful, martial yet diplomatic man, a man of seeming self-confidence aware that he is the best general of his age. The love he shares with Joanna Vanderham’s attractive Desdemona in the opening scene is strongly conveyed. But as Iago works on him, the insecurities and cracks begin to show and he is tormented into becoming a murderer.

othello3Quarshie grows in stature as he grows in paranoia and madness; Desdemona conveys growing sadness and confusion; and Emilia moves more into the center of the action. Msamati is a brilliant Iago. The conclusion of the play is so immensely moving and powerfully staged. that the audience fell silent. Highest praise to the entire company but most of all to the director, Iqbal Khan. He has clearly thought through the weight and meaning of every line of the script and presents a unique, at times surprising, interpretation. My attention did not flag, ever.

Seriously Foxy

At Stratford, Iqbal Khan may be the newer man in town to watch; but often the old- timers can be just as relevant and trevor nunnsurprising. Trevor Nunn has created a truly intelligent production of Volpone that is extremely funny indeed in its observations of the corruption of a class-ridden, greedy, wealth-hungry society and also at moments both poignant and searing. It’s a masterful balancing act, and a darker look at this play than is usual; don’t expect the non-stop hilarity and sentimental satire of the stereotypes that are the common approach. These are present, but part of an unusually complex take. Although Nunn’s Volpone is rounded, droll, multi-layered and ultimately bitter, it also takes full advantage of all the japes and vaudevilles written into the text, and is shot through with a true commedia dell’arte atmosphere while being set in a contemporary world. (Yes, the update works.)

volponeIn Henry Goodman, Nunn has found his perfect Volpone. Goodman’s physicality is astonishing; you can read Volpone’s every thought and change of mood in his mobile face. Goodman is able to be outrageously clownish; he brings out the sardonic side regularly; cheeky and appealing as required, he does all the disguises and different voices and accents to perfection. His versatility and energy keep the audience’s attention and sympathy despite his being such a scoundrel; partly because he’s so adept and partly because the characters he’s gulling are so much more awful than he is (and so much more stupidVolpone’s intelligence is pivotal in this interpretation) that you hope for his victory despite everything.

By contrast, Rhiannon Handy as Celia and Andy Apollo as Bonario are Volpone’s perfect foils: moral young things of integrity at the other end of the scale, confused innocents who are not cloying. Miles Richardson is outstanding as the prototype of the shifty and greedy lawyer, Voltore, especially when suffering his brief attack of mclaughlinconscience. Annette McLaughlin is wonderful as Lady Politic Would-Be, a modern day Kardashian clone in stilletto heels, the star of a live reality show followed everywhere by her attentive crew.

The design by Stephen Brimson Lewis is extremely attractive in a post-modernist way. The one weak link seemed to be Orion Lee’s Mosca. But then, I realized that I had come into the theatre as one often does with preconceptions: in this case, of Mosca based on earlier productions I’d seen in which he is much more a co-conspirator of Volpone’s and also on the lookout for his main chance from very early on. Here he’s very much a servant and very aware of the class differences; only spotting his chance and getting up the nerve to pursue it fairly late in the proceedings. Once he does make up his mind, however, he is dangerous and immoveable. I do have a
couple of quibbles about Lee’s performance, but in the end the interpretation ben jonsonof Mosca is consistent with the rest of this strongly individual production.

Nunn’s approach to this production seems not to be to everyone’s taste; but for me it is a brilliant tribute to the wit and serious moral purpose of Ben Jonson and a worthy presentation of an exceptional play.

Cooper’s London

July 29, 2015

Theatre, Music

!cid_A15726B8-792D-4BB3-8E63-1E1A0B6E6E5E@westell

 

 

Kenneth and Friends

Kenneth Branagh has formed a new company called – wait for it – The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company. He will be co-directing branagh theatre co(principally with Rob Ashford)  who directed Branagh in Macbeth not so long ago and worked with him on his recent film of Cinderella for Disney. Ashford himself, if you did not already know branagh and ashfordthis, is a Tony, Olivier, Emmy, Drama Desk, and Outer Circle Award-winner and multiple nominee for his directing and choreography. The creative team of this company also includes designer Christopher Oram. Branagh will clearly be employing a mixture of interesting established actors and extremely talented young emergent ones and I would advise booking tickets right now. If you’re interested, I’m tempted to say it’s worth the trip even if you’re living abroad . The program is running for a year at London’s Garrick Theatre, so there are lots of chances to see what the buzz is about.

First up in repertory is Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale denchnewly re-imagined (don’t ask me, I dunno what that’s supposed to mean! It’s what it says on the label). I have spotted the fact that Branagh and Ashford are co-directing, which is promising; and the big news is that the role of Paulina is to be played by Judi Dench – a fascinating piece of casting in a pivotal role. Branagh himself plays Leontes. The Tale runs 17 October 2015 to 16 January 2016.

jacobiAnother inspired piece of anti-ageist casting is that of Derek Jacobi as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, which also has the two stars of Branagh’s recent Cinderella film as the lovers – Lily James and Richard Madden.

Lily James and Richard Madden arrive as Disney Pictures presents the world premiere of "Cinderella" at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, California on Sunday, March 1, 2015. .(Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ ABImages)

Lily James and Richard Madden arrive as Disney Pictures presents the world premiere of “Cinderella” at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, California on Sunday, March 1, 2015. .(Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ ABImages)

Even if you haven’t seen Cinderella, it’s likely you’ve seen these actors; James is also Lady Rose in Downton Abbey, and Madden plays Robb Stark in Game of Thrones. Romeo and Juliet runs from 12 May to 13 August 2016.

In between you can also catch the now-underrated Terence Rattigan’s charming and hilarious Harlequinade, starring Branagh and directed by the multi-talented Ashford (this will be presented in rep with The Winter’s Tale from 17 October to 16 January); and an English adaptation of a classic French farce by Francis Veber called The Painkiller. In this translation, starring Branagh and the inimitable Rob Brydon, the adaptation and direction (already a hit in Belfast) are by Sean Foley. Veber also wrote Le Diner des Cons, adapted by Billy Wilder for the film Buddy Buddy. Essentially, Rob Brydon is being Jack Lemmon and Kenneth Branagh is being Walter Matthau. It runs 5 March to 30 April 2016. Finally, Branagh, who played Olivier so successfully in the film My Week with Marilyn, is undertaking one of the iconic Olivier roles Archie Rice in The Entertainer by John Osborne directed by Ashford.

garrickWhat more do you need to know? Both men have done some impressive stage work in the past; both have access to the best actors and theatre professionals in all spheres. I once attended a wonderfully memorable season of Shakespeare plays directed by Branagh back in the late 1980s; I am quite fascinated by this new company and what I take to be its philosophy. The approach seems to me to be very much that of the legendary actor-managers of past renown, harking back to the age of David Garrick himself. How fitting that the season is scheduled for the theatre named after him.

Perhaps the Kenneth Branagh Season will lead to more seasons and more legends. It may not be wildly innovative or profound, but the proof will be in the pudding and it should be wildly entertaining! For tickets: www.branaghtheatre.com

Singing the Words

The Oxford Lieder Festival, founded and run by the kynochcharismatic pianist Sholto Kynoch, has announced its 2015 programme (running 16 to 31 October). Kynoch takes a rich, full and multi-layered approach to the artistic direction of this festival; it seems to be stronger than ever this year and to have become a kind of laboratory for exploring the best ways to approach and appreciate art song, whether you’re a performer or an aficionado. It attracts the most renowned of the current crop of singers and accompanists and the programmes are immensely appealing.

Last year the festival scored a triumph with “The Schubert Project”. This year’s theme is the words themselves and how various poets inspired different composers. Starting with a symposium connollycalled Words Into Music: Poets, Composers and Song that will run at Wadham College with forays into the Holywell Music Room, the opening recital that evening has the superb mezzo Sarah Connolly working with pianist Graham Johnson to perform songs by Schubert, Brahms and Wolf. Different days will focus on Fauré, Brahms and Berlioz; others on settings of Verlaine, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Heine, Housman, Hardy and the setting of English text, with a symposium on the tradition of performing songs in English translation. There will also be master classes from people like Sarah Walker and Roger Vignoles, a strand of Sacred Music performed in various college chapels, and even classes for amateur singers. Singers include Robert Holl, Christoph Pregardien, Anna Stephany, Henk Neven and Toby Spence; cooperwhile the pianist in residence is Imogen Cooper. There will also be recitals and chamber music. There is an Oxford Lieder YouTube channel that will stream some of the performances. With the beautiful historic city and colleges of Oxford as the setting and a formidable range of exceptionally talented performers, if you love lieder and want to wallow for a day, a weekend or the full two weeks in some amazing live performances, this is an excellent wallow.

wadhamcollegeoxfordparksrdentrance11apr08oFind out more at: http://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/news/2015/05/2015-oxford-lieder-festival-highlights


%d bloggers like this: