Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Balanchine's Nutcracker pops up ... everywhere

It's December 2020 and the world is going through a furious, deadly second wave of the covid pandemic. Most performances have been canceled. How do ballet companies make money during their traditional Nutcracker season now that Land of the Sweets has been replaced by Land of the Sick? Well, they stream Nutcrackers from their archives, of course. George Balanchine's classic 1954 version of Nutcracker was streamed by no less than four different companies. The New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, and Pennsylvania Ballet all offered performances of Balanchine's chestnut.

Seeing the four different renditions of Balanchine's Nutcracker affirms the greatness of this version. It's remarkably resilient -- it does not rely on one dancer to carry it. Some of the most awe-inspiring moments actually don't involve professional dancers at all. For instance, I've never sat through Balanchine's Nutcracker without getting a lump in my throat when the Prince's Nutcracker costume is ripped off and he comes to the lip of the stage and bows to the audience in tendu.

Yet the different streamed performances show how this ballet differs depending on the production. Each production had a different look, flavor, and accent. NYCB's Nutcracker tends to go for the grand tableaus like the huge snow blizzard and growing tree. Other companies like the Pacific Northwest Ballet emphasize the coziness of the ballet. Watching the four versions is a bit like sampling the same dish from different restaurants. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

La Scala 2020 Gala Promises to "See Stars Again"


Italy was one of the first regions hard-hit by the worldwide Covid pandemic. It beat back the virus by late spring only to have covid roaring back in Europe's deadly second wave. As a result, plans for a new Lucia di Lammermoor were jettisoned and La Scala's traditional December 7 opening was changed to a semi-staged concert gala. Organizers called the show “A riveder le stelle” (“to see the stars again”) in reference to the final phrase in Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno." The gala was performed without an audience.

 All operatic galas end up being alike -- they are overlong, the singers are variable in quality, and they rely too much on overdone warhorses. There was also a last minute cancellation (Jonas Kaufmann canceled and Piotr Beczala was flown in.) Conductors usually take a backseat to the singers and this was no exception -- Riccardo Chailly followed his singers' lead and let them do their own thing. I knew there were too many warhorses programmed when the first number was an orchestral rendition of the prelude to Rigoletto and there were 11 Verdi and 5 Puccini excerpts. Good lord.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Been a Long Time But ...

Well, well, well. It's certainly been a long time since I've written on this blog. First things first: Happy Days Are Here Again! The Orange Monster has finally been dethroned from his reign of terror. 

I also started reviewing again. Here is my review for New York CIty Center's Virtual Fall for Dance:

 New York City Ballet ballerinas Tiler Peck, Ashley Bouder and Brittany Pollack performed the three female solos from Balanchine’s Who Cares? Tiler Peck’s Fascinatin’ Rhythm solo was worth the price of admission, her trademark speed, daring, musicality and ability to play with the music and steps was a joy to watch. Ashley Bouder and Brittany Pollack didn’t quite match Peck’s brilliance but it was still a joy to see the fast footwork of NYCB ballerinas on display.

 I also reviewed NYCB's week of original choreography. Review is here:

The last ballet, Justin Peck’s Thank You, New York, has the most chance of staying in the repertoire. It’s set to Chris Thile’s song of the same name and most resembles something that would actually be danced by NYCB. There are four separate dancers who are filmed in different parts of NYC. The choreography strongly resembles Peck’s “sneaker” ballets like The Times Are Racing – lots of fast footwork, with the sneakers mimicking tap shoes as they moved frantically across the pavement. The use of flat streets for this ballet was smart – the dancers did not seem constrained by their surroundings. Taylor Stanley, Sara Mearns, Christopher Grant and Georgina Pazcoguin all threw themselves into the steps. Stanley and Grant were amazingly fast and graceful. It was a piece d’occasion that also had artistic merit.

 But let's all watch this moment again:

Friday, July 3, 2020

Hamilton on Disney Plus - Happy Independence Day!


The United States on July 4, 2020 might be the bleakest it's ever been since, well, idk ... the summer of '68? The Great Depression? Civil War? Ever?

Therefore the release of Hamilton (filmed in 2016) on Disney Plus is a balm for the frayed nerves of the country. It's also a dream come true for the many musical theater fans who never saw the now-legendary OBC. When I saw Hamilton in 2018, some of the replacement cast was great (Micheal Luwoye as Hamilton), but a lot of the cast was quite frankly disappointing.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Best Moments from the Met At-Home Gala

Zoom in!

So the big Metropolitan At-Home Gala ended up being 4 hours-long (!!!), and had the expected glitches in wifi connection, as well as some of the usual vocal highs and lows that are par for course with big galas. Also: these voices are OPERATIC and when they sing they PROJECT so it was weird and occasionally painful to hear them blasting the microphones of their iPads. But overall it was a lovely afternoon of music-making that certainly gave reasons for people to donate to the Met during these difficult times (I know I did). Here were my favorite moments:

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Tiger King or Met Opera?

Since y'all not going to pretend that y'all aren't spending your quarantined days watching Tiger King, the seven-part Netflix series with a menagerie of characters so wacky and out there you can scarcely believe they really exist, this week's survey of the Met livestream offerings with just make comparisons to how watchable they are versus Tiger King.

So without further ado, here's the run-down of this week's Met streaming schedule (can you tell that I'm writing this between re-watching episodes of Tiger King?)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

COVIDammerung -- The End of the World in Met Streams

The Norns say it's the end of the world!
The nightly Met streams continue this week. Someone behind the dial at the Met must have a dark sense of humor -- for the first week of streaming they included La Boheme and La Traviata, two operas where the heroine dies of a specific infectious respiratory illness that was often acquired by lack of social distancing. This week they are doing an all-Wagner week which happens to include ... wait for it ... Götteradamerung.

So try to forget the fact that the Met season has been canceled! Try to forget that everyone in NY and NJ is essentially locked in our houses! At the Met website we can watch the End of the World! Without further ado, here are some of my totally irrelevant musings on the Met HD offerings this week. Either way, these Wagner operas are great cleaning routines. You can disinfect your residence three times over BEFORE the first intermission:

Saturday, March 14, 2020

For the CoVid Apocalypse

On March 12, 2020 basically everything in NYC shut down. In one fell swoop The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, The New York Philharmonic shuttered its doors for the remainder of March. Broadway is closed until at least April 12.

I felt very lucky that I literally caught the last show in town -- on March 11 I saw a wonderful off-Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors. Gideon Glick (Seymour) was so endearingly shy as Seymour and Christian Borle (Odin/other roles) was hilarious as the sadistic dentist. I haven't seen a production of Little Shop of Horrors since our high school did it and Audrey II sent shock waves through the auditorium when he said "No shit, Sherlock." (My high school was a very conservative place.) I also caught a preview performance of Martin McDonagh's The Hangmen which now might never open. Again, a play definitely worth seeing if it ever opens. Has a lot of dark humor and a very ambiguous ending. The cast which included Mark Addy, Dan Stevens, and Tracie Bennett was terrific.

In the wake of this CoVid Apocalyse, the Metropolitan Opera and Vienna State Opera will stream some past HD's on their websites. Social distancing made a little more bearable.

Here is this week's schedule. I saw all these HD's and have revisited these performances either on Met Opera on Demand or DVD and here's my totally irrelevant opinions on whether these HD's are a must-see or whether you can fire up the Netflix binges instead. Stay safe everyone, and wash your hands!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Met's New Dutchman Drowns

Dutchman set, photo @ Ken Howard
New Wagner productions around the opera world are considered Events. Expectations are usually high. The thinking is that it's hard to mount Wagner without a worthy cast, so therefore performances tend to be worthy. Francois Girard's new production of The Flying Dutchman was highly anticipated. It got the NYTimes promo treatment. Sure the original Dutchman Bryn Terfel had to withdraw because of a broken ankle but still, this should have been good.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Agrippina: In Which I Brave Baroque Opera Seria

Evil, evil people. Photo @ Marty Sohl
Some people are afraid of snakes. Other people are afraid of heights. Me? I have another phobia: baroque opera seria. Nothing strikes more fear into my heart than hours of da capo arias. Listening to those ornate A-B-A melodies is more intimidating than twelve-tone music, more intimidating than John Cage's "random sounds," more intimidating than a root canal. But life is all about conquering fears, and today I sat through Handel's Agrippina. I was buoyed by good reviews and also the availability of cheap rush tickets on HD day.

Balanchine's Nutcracker pops up ... everywhere

It's December 2020 and the world is going through a furious, deadly second wave of the covid pandemic. Most performances have been cance...