Friday, February 17, 2017

Welcome Back, Joseph Gordon!

After being out for the fall and Nutcracker season with an injury, the wildly talented Joseph Gordon made his return to the NYCB stage as Gold in the 2/15/17 performance of Sleeping Beauty. NYCB has put up two brief but wonderful clips of the performance:

Joseph Gordon as Gold. No explanation necessary.
And the ever radiant Sterling Hyltin's entrance as Aurora:
Also new to me was Sara Mearns' delightfully hammy Carabosse, by far the most entertaining of the four that I've seen:

This has been a wonderful series of performances. I go to my last one tonight.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sleeping Beauty Marathon

Balanchine's glorious Garland Waltz, photo @ Paul Kolnik

I went on a Sleeping Beauty marathon this weekend and saw three performances in two days. NYCB's Sleeping Beauty is one of the finest productions I've seen -- Balanchine's wondrous Garland Waltz with the SAB children weaving in and out of the garland formations is itself worth the price of admission. The designs are beautiful and tasteful. Although Peter Martins cut the knitting scene and made some more abridgments this is a surprisingly complete Sleeping Beauty, and a nice contrast to ABT's historically correct but somewhat fussy and constipated Ratmansky version. For instance, more of the Panorama music is included than many versions, and the Wedding divertissements are almost all there. Especially adorable is the little SAB students they have as Little Red Riding Hood. They steal the show every time.

Here are the casts I saw:

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I Puritani - no high F, but who cares?

Javier Camarena and Diana Damrau, photo @ Marty Sohl

Whoever knew that the serene I Puritani would be the opera to bring out the audience crazies? Last night at the Met's premiere of I Puritani there was this EXTREMELY vocal Diana Damrau fan who would scream "BRAAAAAAVVVVVVIIIIIIISSSSSSIIIIIIMMMMMMAAAAAA" and "THANK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUU" after every number. You could admire her enthusiasm except that sounded more like she was giving birth than anything else.

Then at the end of "Credeasi misera" some fanatical vocal purist (???) shouted "NO HIGH F" at Javier Camarena. The audience was shocked.

The two overly vocal audience members leant some comedy to an otherwise rather sleepy (if vocally solid) revival. Don't get me wrong -- there's reasons to see this revival, the number one being Javier Camarena, whose warm sweet timbre, glorious upper register and winning stage presence officially put him in the designated spot of The Great Arturo of His Time. This status isn't to be sniffed at -- this notoriously difficult part has struck fear in the hearts of many a tenor. Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda (RIP), and Luciano Pavarotti were previous bearers of this mantle.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Great Comet

Last night I saw Dave Malloy's wonderful musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and reviewed it for parterre box here. Suffice to say I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to people looking for a fun night at the theater. Josh Groban and Denée Benton are amazing. Here's my review:

I never made it through more than a few chapters of any Tolstoy work. And I never made it through Chapter One, Volume One of War and Peace. Yeah, I know. I suck. Turns out I was just not using the left side of my brain, because War and Peace can actually be a fun, entertaining, lighthearted musical. 
The travails of Natasha, Pierre, Andrey, Anatole, and company are really a funny, tongue-in-cheek soap opera. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is one of those improbable shows that  throws in everything, including the kitchen sink, cabinet and refrigerator, and somehow the final product just works. 
One of the things director Rachel Chavkin did was to make the sprawling Tolstoy novel an intimate ensemble musical. The Imperial Theater’s stage has been transformed into a cabaret nightclub, with many audience members seated onstage.
The performers circulate the theater all night singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, and throwing out little boxes of pierogi. Sometimes the action will take right place at the seats of some audience members. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house because of the constant performer-audience interaction.
David Malloy‘s score ingeniously combines pop ballads with Russian folk dance with electronica with burlesque entertainment with good old-fashioned musical theater numbers. The musical is almost entirely sung. The lyrics  are cheeky and witty—as I said, whoever thought Tolstoy could be funny? The opening number warns:
Gonna have to study up a little bit
If you wanna keep with the plot,
Cuz it’s a complicated Russian novel,
Everyone’s got nine different names
. . . .
Balaga is fun, Bolkonsky is crazy, Mary is plain, Dolokhov is fierce, Hélène is a slut, Anatole is hot, Marya is old-school, Sonya is good, Natasha is young and Andrey isn’t here.
And what about Pierre?
Dear, bewildered and awkward Pierre? What about Pierre?
The show is an ensemble—it’s not The Color Purple or Gypsy where if you don’t have a good Celie or Madame Rose, there’s no show. The energy of the cast is infectious. In fact, one reason this musical so enjoyable is that everyone is likable.
Josh Groban as the alcoholic, depressed Pierre is a marvel—he doesn’t treat this as a star turn. He immerses himself fully in the character. He spends most of the musical in the orchestra pit, playing the piano, drinking wine, and narrating the story. He even wears a fat suit to give himself a paunch. His powerful, mellifluous voice is only used to for “Dust and Ashes” and the final number.
Denée Benton is also a wonder as Natasha. Her pretty, bell-like soprano voice and charming stage manner wins the audience over immediately. Hard to believe this is her Broadway debut, as she is so poised and graceful throughout the evening.
Lucas Steele’s Anatole is dressed like an 1980’s style punk rock star and he succeeds in making the character charismatic enough so you believe the lady-killer charms. There isn’t a weak link in the cast. Brittain Ashford makes her character (the “good” Sonya) immensely likable and she even has her own show-stopping number (“Sonya Alone”). Even dour Mary (Gelsey Bell) becomes endearing. “Slut” Hélène (Amber Gray) is played as a burlesque character, but at the end of the day, you like her too.
The ensemble players anchor the cast because of their constant circulation through the theater —the violin and accordion players and gypsy dancers are just as important as Groban and Denton because they’re usually performing inches away from us.. The 11’o-clock number is “Balaga,” a singing, dancing, fiddler and accordion extravaganza which spans the entire theater, all the way to the top of the balcony.
Sam Pinkleton’s choreography is so diverse—one minute you’re at a Russian wedding, the next minute you’re at a rave. The show never becomes pretentious, never loses its momentum.
But I can’t really descibe the musical very well. You really just have to see it for yourself. But this is how much I enjoyed the show: when I got home the first thing I did was download War and Peace onto my kindle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Winter Season Diaries: Swan Heaven, Sunday Un-funday

The flock of black swans, photo @ Paul Kolnik
I've seen lots of Swan Lakes in my balletomane life. And to be honest, I've disliked or felt indifferent to almost all of them. A long time ago Nina Ananiashvilli impressed me with her boneless arms and old-style Bolshoi acting. Mariinsky swans are hard to beat -- I loved Viktoria Tereshkina's strength and chutzpah. Uliana Lopatkina's Odette/Odile was a master class of classicism, and she also had an inner radiance and spirituality that was heartbreaking. But really, that's ... it?

Well tonight I was transported to Swan Heaven again, and in the unlikeliest form: petite, slight Sterling Hyltin in Balanchine's one-act version of the ballet. I've never taken Balanchine's abridged Swan Lake seriously -- sometimes I think he took an orchestral suite and had no idea what to do with it. He added a coda to the pas de deux. He added variations. He deleted variations. He changed the setting to some sort of arctic winter wonderland replete with icebergs. The best part of his Swan Lake is unsurprisingly his choreography for the corps -- he has them swarm as an a scary flock in their black feathery costumes. They are not the mournful swans of most "after Petipa/Ivanov" versions. They're wild birds. But his changes to the white swan adagio (a peppy coda) and Odette's variations are unimpressive, the solo for Siegfried is unnecessary, and he unfortunately deleted the dance of the cygnets in one of his many revisions. One thing: nice costumes, especially for the hunters.

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...