Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Best (and Worst) of 2019


2019 was a slower year than usual in the second half because of a horrible ankle injury that left me housebound for much of the time. There are so many tickets I had to give up because the body simply would not cooperate. Nevertheless, I did see some very great performances here are some of the best and (worst) of some of the things I saw in 2019:

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Queen of Spades Revival is Aces

Lise Davidsen and Yusif Eyvasov, photo @ Ken Howard

One dilemma Met operagoers love to fret about is how new productions inevitably sell well, but revivals quickly become tired and poorly attended. This season new productions of Porgy and Bess and Akhnaten were sold out but revivals of Manon and Orfeo ed Euridice played to half-empty houses.

The answer seems to be: inspired casting. This afternoon's performance of Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades was pretty sold out despite the production being nearly 25 years old. The cast ranged from good to great. The production by Elijah Mohinsky is nothing fancy but tells the story well and effectively creates a doom-and-gloom mood. There was nothing tired about this revival.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Jessye Remembered (An Excuse to Play Lots of Jessye Videos)

Jessye Norman Memorial
Sunday, November 24th was a sleepy, rainy afternoon. But the Met auditorium was packed to the brim for a sold-out memorial dedicated to the late, great soprano Jessye Norman. The memorial mixed personal reminisces with musical performances. It struck the right notes between a somber reverence for Ms. Norman and a joyful celebration of her life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

An Evita That Will Sort of Make You Cry?

Solea Pfeiffer as Eva Peron, photo @Sara Krulwich
For the second time in a week I've seen an operatic work about a highly polarizing historical figure. Last Friday I saw Philip Glass's Akhnaten and tonight I saw New York City Center's production of Evita. I've never actually seen Evita live before.

I can't believe I'm using Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice as examples of skillful dramaturges but Evita was everything that Akhnaten wasn't. Tim Rice was not afraid to paint his own picture of Eva Perón which mixed fact with fiction. Webber's music portrays the different facets of Perón-- her naked ambition in "Goodnight and Thank You" and her shiny charisma in the anthem "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." So I know that Philip Glass is a much superior composer to ALW, but Evita was engaging in all the ways Akhnaten wasn't.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Akhnaten - Sing Like an Egyptian

Anthony Roth Costanzo as Akhnaten, photo @ Karen Almond
The Met company premiere of Philip Glass's Akhnaten is generally considered to the one of the Events of the Season (the other was Porgy and Bess). Performances are sold out, the opening night got rave reviews, and so despite lingering pain from an ankle injury, I trudged to Lincoln Center.  I had very high expectations.

Akhnaten (1984) is the last opera of Philip Glass's "Portrait" trilogy. The others are Satyagraha (about Mahatma Gandhi) and Einstein on the Beach (about, well, Einstein). Akhnaten in the14th century B.C.E. upended the ancient Egyptian religious system for a monotheistic religion that focused on the sun-god "Aten." For the libretto of Akhnaten Glass drew upon primary sources from the Amarna period. He even insisted on presenting most of the opera in ancient Egyptian with no surtitles.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Sesame Street at 50 Years: A for the Arts, B is for Ballet, O is for Opera ...


Sesame Street turned 50 this week. The beloved children's television program has made kids laugh and learn for half a century. In addition to teaching kids the alphabet, phonics, basic math and some Spanish Sesame Street has never made any bones about pushing a larger social message of inclusiveness and cultural education. The show takes place on a large urban street and the characters reflect the diversity of NYC. The furry monsters co-existed despite having their own personalities, quirks, and (this is important) different fur color. Sesame Street did not dumb down its material for children -- its skits taught children not just the ABC's but how to settle conflict, how to express affection for each other, and how to deal with difficult issues like death. They even had an episode that addressed 9/11.

But you already knew all that. What I didn't realize was the wonderful arts tributes Sesame Street included over the years. I went on YT and found a goldmine.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Will the Real Apollo Please Stand Up?

Lifar and Danilova in the original Apollon Musagete
The recent death of Alicia Alonso led me down the Youtube rabbit hole and I discovered, among other things, a Cuban version of Balanchine's seminal masterpiece Apollo. I am well aware of the various changes Balanchine made to Apollo in his lifetime from its premiere in 1927 to his death in 1983. The most drastic change was his last change -- he cut the birthing scene and the final ascent up the stairs to Mount Olympus.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Tucker Gala 2019: RBG, High Notes, and Cilea; Orfeo Recovered

Lisette Oropesa, 2019 Richard Tucker winner
Today's annual Richard Tucker Gala has all the usual suspects in attendance. The great SCOTUS judge and operaphile R(uth)B(ader)G(insburg), this year's winner (Lisette Oropesa) past winners, sparkly gowns,, and of course, Barry Tucker's #1 love: Francesco Cilea. Relationship goals is to have someone love me as much as Barry Tucker loves Cilea.

Because of who happens to be in NY this time of year the lineup was less starry than usual. But there were no cancellations, so there's that.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Alicia Alonso, Written Word and Video

Alonso in 1949
Alicia Alonso, the grande dame of Cuban ballet, has passed away at the ripe old age of 98. A list of Alonso accomplishments (original ballerina of Balanchine's iconic Theme and Variations of which a tantalizing bit of video exists, star of American Ballet Theatre, founder of National Ballet of Cuba) would be as long as Alonso's life.

Instead as I'm home yet again because of an awful ankle injury, I'm looking at Alicia Alonso films and comparing them to the written word. Alonso was a favorite subject of famed critic Edwin Denby and trying to compare what Denby thought with video evidence is important, because Denby saw her in her absolute prime in the 1940's.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

NYCB Fall Season Wrap-Up

NYCB dancers in Summerspace, photo @ Erin Baiano
I've been covering the NYCB fall season for bachtrack. I wasn't able to go as often as I'd wanted mainly due to an ankle injury that keeps getting worse. But the three major events were:

Best (and Worst) of 2019

2019 was a slower year than usual in the second half because of a horrible ankle injury that left me housebound for much of the time. Th...