Posts Tagged ‘Opera’

Apollo’s Girl

July 31, 2013

Art, Music, Film

 Apollo+dance+with+the+muses-1024x768-20491 (2)

Fearless Predictions (and a Surprise)

First, the surprise: I have to admit, right off the bat (pun intended) that I’ve just never been able to get excited about baseball. Spent evenings with friends who really got into the game, but remember the intervals between plays seeming endless; the action that had them screaming and rising to their feet for every hit, every run, felt (to a woman who loved tennis and hockey) like perpetual slow motion. I also remember dozing off and, when I grew up a little, remembering urgent appointments elsewhere until I was no longer asked to be part of the couch potato cheering section.

But I promised you a surprise, and there is one: cuban baseballA friend (similarly inclined) recently took me to The Eighth Floor for what was supposed to be a flyover of Stealing Base: Cuba at Bat on our way to dinner.  What a revelation! As it turns out baseball is the Cuban national passion, inspiring prose, poetry and, in the case of this exhibition, a trove of witty and fascinating paintings and sculptures, even some film, on the subject. The flyover was canceled as we loped repeatedly around the show, our delight increasing with each tour and revelation (and some welcome Cuban snacks).  Could we have been wrong all these years? You have til September 2 to discover for yourselves; take advantage of the pleasure, and see what this congenial Flatiron gallery has coming up:

Now for the Fearless Predictions…

4 x 4 Festival. If baseball is a new friend, early music goes back a long way (yes, steinanother pun). And there’s nothing cooler in the dog days than a scrum of viols, sacbuts, theorbos and portative organs to lure you into chilling out with like-minded souls. Led by Avi Stein, who can summon the best players, 4 x 4 is a loose consortium of friends and colleagues who play and sing up and down the Eastern seaboard and around the world, a live organism forever separating and reconnecting as their repertoire demands.

Of course the energy of their shared passion pervades their work, and includes forays into contemporary and pop repertoire, too. QuicksilverBehindthescenesIt’s an attitude reflected in the names of their individual groups (most have at least one of their own): Guido’s Ear, Quicksilver, Apollo’s Fire, King’s Noyseplayful and ecstatic at the same time. Nothing doleful here! Whenever it was composed, it’s music for our time. This year’s four-part feast began last night and continues through August 2. So get thee to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on time (concerts begin at 7pm; admission is free and first-come, first-served; there is a $20 suggested donationmake it it’s a bargain at the price!) Programs:

Film/Video: Opera, Dance

Emerging Pictures has scored another coup Ira_Teaching(its president, Ira Deutchman, is known for his visionary taste and quick-moving distribution skills) with a summer series of top-of- the-line live-in-HD dance and opera performances recorded live at the Bolshoi, The Hague, Covent Garden, and now — throughout August — at La Scala. To celebrate Verdi’s 200th anniversary, the menu includes performances of Aida, Don Carlo, and La Traviata, with big names and bigger-than-life drama: Alagna,  Urmano, Furlanetto, Zajick, Gheorgiu, Vargas.  The programming brings the best of global Angela-Gheorghiu-Vargas-Traviata-RomalyparaLNPara_LNCIMA20130124_0377_5performances to the United States, with options far beyond the stages of the Metropolitan Opera. It’s an exciting (and affordable) idea, with venues all around the country, and technology that permits long-distance live Q & As.  To find out what’s coming up (and where), see

And if you want to see Emerging Pictures current film lineup (some of the best of what’s playing now or coming soon), It’s all good!

Cogito: John Branch

October 8, 2012



Einstein: Beached at BAM

In the 70s and 80s, Einstein on the Beach left people feeling they were on a hypnotic drug, but by the end of its current reincarnation, it left me wanting to do drugs.

Einstein on the Beach might be called an instance of total theater (if you separate that term from the particular use to which Richard Foreman has applied it) or of Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk. It employs text, music, and theater arts, giving equal weight to all of them: minimalist music by Philip Glass, direction and design by Robert Wilson, and minimalist choreography by Lucinda Childs. (All of them worked on the present staging, which is apparently a pretty close recreation of the original; it began a world tour in March that will run into next spring.) The playbill is cagey on the origin of its words, crediting Glass with “music/lyrics” on the first page while later attributing the text to Lucinda Childs, Samuel M. Johnson, and Christopher Knowles and assigning copyright for the libretto to Robert Wilson. Wherever they came from, it does have words in the form of speeches and stories; there’s also a fair amount of the vocalise style that Glass often uses. First performed in 1976, Einstein on the Beach returns now and then to bedazzle or bedevil us, most recently at BAM in September.

The opera evokes elements of Albert Einstein’s life and work. A figure resembling him plays violin and sticks his tongue out. Glass-walled elevators relate to Einstein’s thought experiment regarding a beam of light passing through a moving elevator; one elevator appears to us to be horizontal, including its occupant, and the other appears to be vertical, which relates to Einstein’s dethroning of privileged points in space. (Only in a gravity field or in relation to a given point can one say anything is up, down, or horizontal.) Clocks and watches remind us that there is no absolute measure of time either. Much of the stage movement is slowed down—maybe another suggestion that time and motion are relative.As if it might otherwise be forgotten, which I doubt, the production also reminds us of Einstein’s connection with nuclear weapons. Valiantly upholding the “beach” end of the deal, a single conch shell now and then stands, or rather sits forlornly, on the stage.

But something about this piece of total theater strikes me as totalitarian. It cares little if at all what you think while you watch and listen. The volume level in many sections is high and unvarying. The set sometimes moves around more than the stage performers do. The strange symmetry and stark (often black-and-white) contrasts of the visual elements attract the eye in some fundamental way, as the musical rhythms and repetitions do the ear. Yet it’s easy to ignore because it’s not really about anything. Einstein on the Beach defies reflection, as if trying to one-up Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation” essay: interpret this!

It’s easy to see in it certain modernist fascinations: with machines and the mechanical (many of the performers’ movements appear mechanical), with mechanical production or reproduction (all of the sounds, including the human voices, are delivered to us through electro-mechanical means). It achieves a kind of flatness in not representing anything other than itself, and its surfaces and volumes remind us of the discovery of geometry by modernist painters. The whole thing, in fact, resembles some kind of machine of mysterious purpose.

There’s much I haven’t mentioned: the very odd courtroom scene, with its speech about men but not women being equal before the law; the cheap-looking little spaceship that moves on a wire; the lovers-on-a-train scene (which might be vaudevillian fun if it lasted two minutes, but it’s more like 20); the dances (which use some numerical cleverness but aren’t as hypnotic as they used to look, according to my companion); the “space machine” whose back wall reminded me of LED calculator displays; and more. Amid the tedium of its four-hours-plus, there are wonders to some of the stage images.

Einstein on the Beach seems to me an experiment to test the possibility of abstraction in opera. Other representational arts had begun an abstract turn years earlier, so in a way it was high time, even past time, for opera to try. I’d have to be much wiser, and/or bolder, to presume to judge what the experiment showed. But Einstein on the Beach, which once seemed so various, so beautiful, so new, today appears dull, indulgent, and annoying.

Einstein’s twin paradox comes to mind: this opera left and came back to us nearly unaged, but we’re older now. And nowadays there’s never a drug dealer around when you want one.

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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 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

Apollo’s Girl

April 19, 2012

Il Sogno di Scipione

Gotham Chamber Opera
(At Gerald W. Lynch Theater, April 11-21)

Mozart has always been the classical poster boy for youth culture, and never more so than now that we have had the good luck to hear Il Sogno di Scipione once again. Written when he was 15, the prodigious Mozart already had six operas under his belt when he composed Il Sogno for one of his patrons, who died before it could be performed. As was often the custom it was quickly repurposed (and rededicated) to another, but only three of its sections were heard in that long-ago performance. Il Sogno languished until 1979 (God only knows why), and remained unstaged in America until the Gotham Chamber Opera first presented itself and the opera’s American premiere in 2001.

So there you have it: a prodigy’s tribute to his patronsthe perfect choice for Gotham’s tenth-anniversary revival, a Patron’s Gala. And if the patrons had a lucky evening as a reward for their support, they and the company mutually deserved it, in spades. Rarely do companies, directors or conductors have the chance to revisit a landmark production, much less one in which the decade has enabled them to attract modern patrons to support their work. And it is both inventive and varied: I’ve seen Il Gato con Botas (directed by Moises Kaufman), and, most notably, Nico Muhly‘s Dark Sisters (last season’s smash, directed by Rebecca Taichman).

In Il Sogno, the fiendish difficulty of Mozart’s youthful arias and recitatives is simply the outpouring of his take-no-prisoners genius and vigor. He would calm down later in life as he adapted the less-is-more approach to the ravishing melodies that still reduce us to tears, but not yet in 1771/2 . Questions must be asked: How, one wonders, could a 15-year-old pull it off? He could, and did, and the singers are right there with him every step of the way. Where on earth can directors and conductors find the three sopranos and three tenors who sing most of the arias and recitatives, most of them in non-stop roulades at the outer edges of their register? They must not only trill their way through the demanding score, constantly upping the musical ante as the opera moves from peak to peak but, in Christopher Alden’s production, also remain in equally constant motion.

Fortunately, Gotham has figured it out: Scipione (Michele Angelini) looks and acts the part of a young libertine who must choose between Fortuna (Susannah Biller) and Constancy (Marie-Ève Munger). All three spend much of their time in partial undress (this is, after all, an update), but triumph over the demands of score and staging, repeatedly drawing lusty and hard-earned applause for their skill. In the end, Scipione does the right thing; he chooses Constancy, suits up, and walks through a wall to his future. In an epilogue, Licenza (sung by the magnetic and luminous Rachel Willis Sorenson), assures us he has made an excellent choice and, true to 18th-century convention, praises Mozart’s patron. If you haven’t already made plans to see the remaining performances, you can order your tickets now, and learn more about the opera, the production, and the company itself. gotham

Since Gotham has achieved success with this revival, perhaps they would consider bringing back last November’s world premiere, Muhly’s Dark Sisters? I, for one, would welcome a chance to see it again.

Cooper’s London

April 6, 2012

DISCOVERY: Georgia Jarman
Color-atura Her Delightful!

The latest operatic diva discovery in London this season was the American soprano Georgia Jarman. Taking on all four roles in the new Richard Jones Tales of Hoffman, she pretty much stole what was a very strong show. Perhaps this was simply because she was such a surprise! Everyone knew the production would be interesting, inventive, provocative and thought-provoking (as well as very attractive to look at). And everyone was prepared for Barry Banks to be a strong if somewhat vertically challenged Hoffman; for Christine Rice to be an appealing and luscious-voiced Nicklause; and for Clive Bayley to be brilliant (both vocally and dramatically) as all four villains. But they are all ENO regulars—very popular, known entities.

Everyone also expected that the four soprano roles would be well cast; but no one was expecting quite the level of accomplishment that Georgia Jarman showed in both her singing and acting in the roles of Stella, Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta. It’s invidious to single her out, in a sense, when everything else about the production was so spot-on, including the definitely sensitive-to-the-Donizetti-idiom, yet seriously clean and personal conducting of Antony Walker; but she really was the major discovery of this event. Watch out for her! Her coloratura is astonishingly bright and clean; the quality of the voice is very appealing; and she has a completely convincing stage presence.

You can hear her voice on and possibly most impressively at if you’re curious. There’s also a short interview done for the ENO at Jarman will be appearing worldwide next season, and will be returning to the Met for 2012-13.


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