Saturday, December 28, 2019

Met's New Wozzeck: Waltzing Into Misery; The Sound Inside Spoilers

William Kentridge's Wozzeck, photo @ Ken Howard
The actual Vienna might be celebrating the holidays with its traditional series of Christmas/New Years concerts that are filled with merry waltzes, but in rainy New York the Metropolitan Opera there's a very different, iconic Viennese work on display. Alban Berg's Wozzeck is the work perhaps the most closely associated with the Second Viennese school. It made for grim holiday fare but was a gripping night of opera.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Dorrance Dance's Nutcracker and Other Nutcrackering ... EXPENSIVE!

Dorrance Dance's Nutcracker, photo @ Christopher Duggan
NYC has another Nutcracker! Dorrance Dance just premiered their tap-dance Nutcracker at the Joyce Theater on Tuesday. I reviewed it for bachtrack here. It's overall a rollicking good time, although I am not that crazy about Duke Ellington's arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. A blurb:
Last night at the Joyce TheaterMichelle Dorrance was the latest choreographer to throw her hat into the Nutcracker ring. There have been countless balletic versions, hip hop Nutcrackers, burlesque Nutcrackers, so many different Nutcrackers that it begs the question: does the world really need another Nutcracker? Turns out the answer is yes, if it's as clever and well-done as Michelle Dorrance's version.

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:

A Blessed Scottish Opera?

Meet the Macbeths, photo @ Marty Sohl
In theater there's this thing called "the curse of Macbeth." Really horrible, rotten, bad things are supposed to happen when Shakespeare's play is performed. Performers believe this as much as biology teachers believe that Jamie Lee Curtis is intersex. Some performers have taken this superstition to the extreme by referring to it only as the "Scottish play."

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

RIP Jessye Norman

Norman and Obama. Ah, a time when a president could do these things
The great American soprano Jessye Norman passed away yesterday. My own story about Jessye is small but here goes: after a very bad period in which I gained a lot of weight I took up running a few years ago and quickly learned that the miles went by quicker if I listened to beautiful music. Jessye's album of the Four Last Songs quickly became my favorite workout recording: at 40 minutes the album was perfect for my route, and Norman's lush gorgeous voice somehow made the miles and sweat easier. I listened to it over and over again on my workouts. I recently came down with a bad ankle sprain and have to stay off the ankle for awhile. When I'm able to work out again the first thing I'll do is put 4LL back on.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Manon: Glitter and be Glum

Oropesa and Fabiano, photo @ Marty Sohl
If there was a single performance I was looking forward to the most in the Met's 19-20 season it would have to be the revival of Massenet's Manon. One of my favorite operas with some of my favorite singers -- what could possibly go wrong? It turns out -- everything? The September 29 matinee performance of Manon has to go down as one of the dullest, most lifeless hours I've ever spent at the opera house.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Porgy and Bess: the Triumph of Catfish Row

Porgy and Bess, photo @ Paola Kudacki
Disclaimer: this is my first live experience with George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. I have listened to recordings and seen videos. But I have no deep knowledge of this opera and score -- I mostly knew the big hit tunes like "Summertime," "Bess, you is my woman now," and "I got plenty of nothing."

Therefore my reaction to the Met's new production of Porgy and Bess is going to sound green. In fact I know I'm going to embarrass myself. But this experience was so memorable that it's worth writing about, even as I'm about to probably make some embarrassing newbie mistakes.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Curtains on Domingo

Domingo at his 50th anniversary gala last season
Yesterday Plácido Domingo's 51 year career at the Met suddenly came to an end when he withdrew from his upcoming performances of Macbeth. These performances had been sold out as it had the superstar combo of Domingo and Anna Netrebko. He had been dogged by accusations of sexual harassment. Just this weekend he had sung at  the dress rehearsal and received a warm applause from the audience. Most people were in shock that he actually withdrew. UPDATE: On October 2 Domingo also resigned as the head of LA Opera.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Mostly Mozart’s Magic Flute Mostly Magical

Pamina and Papageno, photo @ Michael Daniel

One of the few things operaphiles can agree upon is that the Met is a terrible venue for Mozart. The size swallows up the intimacy and charm of Mozart’s music. The Magic Flute has had a really rough go of it in recent years as it is almost always presented in the shortened English version. Julie Taymor’s production is colorful but vapid. Therefore opera lovers owe it to themselves to go to the smaller David K@&! Theater to see the Mostly Mozart Festival’s presentation of Barrie Kosky’s mostly magical production of The Magic Flute. The smaller theater works wonders -- I was up in the front row of the fourth ring but felt closer to the singers than I often do in the orchestra of the Met.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Marius Petipa Biography; The Royal Danes and Mark Morris

Petipa, Petipa, Petipa. His name has become almost synonymous with classical ballet. The French ballet master spent over 60 years in Russia, first as a dancer and then of course as a ballet master. During that time he created, partially choreographed or revised so many of the full-length classics that still make up the backbone of ballet repertoire: Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Raymonda, La Bayadere, Don Quixote. It's his versions of Giselle and Coppélia that audiences are familiar with today. Yet until now there hasn't been a comprehensive biography of the man's life. (It's an odd gap but there isn't a comprehensive biography of George Balanchine either.) Now, thanks to Nadine Meisner's exhaustively researched biography, we finally know can understand Petipa the man AND are given a priceless snapshot into pre-Revolution Imperial Ballet.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty Closes Out ABT's Spring Season

Sarah Lane as Aurora, photo @ Rosalie O'Connor
ABT's spring season ended with a week of Ratmansky's new/old Sleeping Beauty. I attended two performances. The Cassandra Trenay/Joseph Gorak/Stella Abrera performance I reviewed for bachtrack here. The other cast I saw (Sarah Lane/Herman Cornejo/Christine Shevchenko) were stellar although Ratmansky's insistence on recreating what he thinks is Imperial Ballet style gives the whole ballet a very staid, mumsy feel.

Friday, June 21, 2019

ABT Says Farewell to Roberto Bolle

Bolle's curtain call, photo @Kent G. Becker

ABT's spring season is now officially into warhorse territory. Last week we had Le Corsaire, which I reviewed for bachtrack. (In a sign of the times Le Corsaire now comes with a disclaimer in the program.)  I was lucky enough to see Daniil Simkin's Ali before he got injured. Last night ABT said farewell to longtime danseur noble and uber-hunk Roberto Bolle. The ballet: Kenneth MacMillan's L'Histoire de Manon, which is actually the first ballet I ever saw Bolle dance (he was partnering Alessandra Ferri in her first "farewell").

Friday, June 7, 2019

To Kill a Mockingbird; ABT's Spring Season Chugs On

Father and daughter in To Kill a Mockingbird, photo @ Sara Krulwich
I'm always skeptical when one of my favorite novels gets adapted into a play. To me novels are internal and plays are external, and when novels are adapted into plays they lose their inner voice. And so it was when I heard that Aaron Sorkin was adapting Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird into a play. I loved the 1962 film adaptation, but that film had the close cooperation of Harper Lee. Harper Lee's estate actually sued Aaron Sorkin before a private settlement was reached, allegedly because Lee's estate felt that Sorkin had taken too many liberties with the novel. It was only the raves of friends and the week-after-week sell-out crowds that made me buy a ticket.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Spring Diaries: ABT's Seasons, SAB Workshop, NYCB's Midsummer

Ratmansky's The Seasons' final tableau, photo @ Rosalie O'Connor

ABT continued its Ratmansky Ballet Theater season with a triple bill: the pretty but somewhat bland Songs of Buklovina, the pseudo-dram-ballet On the Dnieper, and his new work The Seasons. I reviewed the program for bachtrack here. Everyone loved The Seasons -- I'm not there yet. To me it lacks the tight organization that is a hallmark of classical ballet. As I said on bachtrack:
The Seasons is overstuffed, uneven and way too busy. There are so many steps, but they rarely made me "see the music". It's also confusing; one had to keep glancing down at the program notes to keep track of who was supposed to be representing what. It was a frustrating ballet, with so many lovely moments that were less than the sum of its parts.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Spring Diaries: Ramasar Returns to NYCB; ABT's Damp Start


Mearns and Ramasar in the Rondo of Brahms-Schoenberg

ABT's Harlequinade, photo @ Marty Sohl
Spring ballet season continues in NYC. I was at the first performance of ABT's spring season and reviewed it for bachtrack here. Ratmansky's Harlequinade is a delightful miniature gem but it needs a livelier performances than it received the night I saw it. The mime has grown cartoonish, the corp de ballet dances had the good old ABT sluggishness, and while individually very fine James Whiteside as Harlequin, Isabella Boylston as Colombine, Stella Abrera and Pierrette and Thomas Forster as Pierrot could not bring the commedia dell'arte tale to life the way they had been able to last year. I have never seen the Met so empty and unenthusiastic -- there wasn't a single individual curtain call.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

NYCB Spring Diaries - A New Era

 Tanowitz's Bartok Ballet, photo @ Andrea Mohin
This spring season at NYCB truly marks the start of a new era -- Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan are firmly in place as the new artistic directors, and the company looks both more at ease and more disciplined. No more turmoil.

First of all, as you all might know, I've been writing more for bachtrack, and so two of the performances I attended this spring at NYCB are at bachtrack. One is the opening night performance of Pictures at an Exhibition/Oltremare/Rodeo. Review can be found here. The other is my review of the Spring Gala which had a Justin Peck premiere (the six minute, pleasant, and forgettable Bright), a Pam Tanowitz premiere, and the classic Tschaikovsky Suite #3. Review can be found here. However my review was extensively edited and they took out my favorite line about the disappointing Pam Tanowitz piece, so I'll quote it here:
Bartók Ballet reminded me of why I rarely enjoy Asian fusion restaurants. To me Asian fusion restaurants don't satisfy the appetites of those who want authentic Chinese food, authentic Japanese food, etc. By trying to be everything, it ends up being nothing. Tanowitz's Bartók Ballet tries to fuse modern dance with contemporary ballet and the hybrid was just confusing.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Dialogues of the Carmelites

Dialogues des Carmelites, photo @ Ken Howard

Poulenc's masterpiece Dialogues des Carmelites only has three performances at the Met this season. Which means ... you should definitely try to catch one of the two remaining performances either in person or in HD, because opera does not get more devastating than this. I went in only having seen the opera on video. Nothing could have prepared me for the impact of seeing it live in person. This is the sort of opera that makes you unable to sleep at night.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Hadestown, aka Orpheus and Eurydice, the Opera


The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice inspires great operas. There's Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (or Orphée et Eurydice), Offenbach's parody operetta Orpheus in the Underworld, and now to that list we have to add Anaïs Mitchell's Hadestown. Because make no mistake -- Hadestown might be playing at the Walter Kerr theater and be advertised as a musical, but it is an opera from curtain to curtain. Its appeal lies not in the usual musical theater tropes but in its operatic scope and scale. This is a work that goes from the heart to the heart.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Ferryman: Style Over Substance; Merce Centennial

The Carney clan, photo @ Joan Marcus
I recently finally saw The Ferryman, Jez Butterworth's lauded play about the fortunes of a large Northen Irish family in 1981. The play received near-unanimous acclaim in both the West End and Broadway. It won a bunch of Oliviers and seems on track to pick up a bunch more Tony's. I didn't see the original "Irish" cast that opened the play, but the replacement American cast. There are some OBC holdovers, like Fionnula Flanagan as Aunt Maggie from Far Away and the brood of Carney children.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Oklahoma! - Violence as American as Chili and Cornbread

The rifles, the chili, the playbill
The new Oklahoma! playing at Circle in the Square (after a highly successful off-Broadway run at St. Ann's) starts off sunnily enough. Laura Jellinek's set design is homey and rugged at the same time -- the stage is filled with bright wood picnic benches and where I was seated (right on the floor of the stage) there was a hot pot of chili brewing in front of me. But the walls were lined with rifles. Almost the whole first act played without the usual dimming of the house lights. The ruggedly handsome Damon Daunno (looking a bit like Sun Records-era Elvis) strums his guitar as he launches into a disarmingly casual, country/ bluegrass rendition of "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'."

Saturday, April 6, 2019

La Traviata's Sleepy Spring Revival; Martha Graham

New cast of Traviata, photo @ Ken Howard

When Michael Mayer's new La Traviata production starring Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Quinn Kelsey premiered last December it was quite the hot ticket. Performances were sold out, and there were fierce online debates about the merits and demerits of Mayer's rather traditional production compared to the previous Willy Decker production.

What a difference a few months make. The spring revival with a brand new cast premiered tonight and while it was has fine voices there were many empty seats in the house and each act had more attrition. And truth be told, it was a rather sleepy performance that never took flight.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Die Walküre Casts Its Magical Fire Spell

Grimsley and Goerke, photo @ Richard Termine
A few weeks ago Christine Goerke posted this on her Instagram: "I just finished a piano rehearsal of Walküre. This cast is so ridiculously great. This conductor is off the hook. If y'all don't come see this you're really missing out. I am the luckiest woman alive."

I'd normally be skeptical of such a gushfest when said singer posting the gushfest is the Brünnhilde of the production. Of course she's going to tell people to come see her sing! But after tonight's  performance of Die Walküre I felt the same sense of awe that Goerke expressed. Because the cast was amazing, the conductor led a gripping, thrilling performance that made the five hours fly by. And get thee to a movie theater on Saturday March 30 for the HD because if you don't, you're really missing out.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Theater Diaries: Kiss Me Kate and The Prom; Met's Samson

This has been a slow theater season. Great for my wallet, but disappointing when I remember that the things I did see (Choir Boy, My Fair Lady with the new cast, A Chorus Line) kind of sucked too. Well that dry spell is over. This weekend I saw two wonderful musicals. One (Kiss Me Kate) just opened. The other (The Prom) has opened October 2018 but for some reason I didn't get around to seeing it till now.

Roundabout Theatre's revival of Kiss Me Kate is actually my first live experience with this musical. I of love the original Broadway cast recording, the film adaptation. I was really looking forward to seeing the classic Cole Porter lyrics and score and the book by Sam and Bella Spewack onstage. And of course, let us not forget the Bard. The afternoon did not disappoint.

Monday, March 4, 2019

A review of NYCB at Bachtrack; Winter Season Wrapup

New Leaders of NYCB
Winter Season at NYCB has finally ended. After a surprisingly tumultuous season that had an ugly backstage drama about Sleeping Beauty casting make the NYTimes the season ended on a note of stability: permanent artistic leaders were finally appointed. Jonathan Stafford will be the Artistic Director, Wendy Whelan the Associate Artistic Director, and Justin Peck the Artistic Advisor. Judging from reactions on social media the dancers of the company found this news a relief and I can't blame them. Fourteen months without a defined leader is hard for even the most resilient company. Stafford and Whelan seem like good choices -- both have a reputation for professionalism and Whelan can impart her knowledge of her vast repertoire while she was prima ballerina at NYCB to her former colleagues/new dancers.

Friday, February 22, 2019

NYCB's Sleeping Beauty has Radiant New Aurora

Indiana Woodward and Anthony Huxley, photo @ An Rong Xu

Natural Auroras in Sleeping Beauty are surprisingly rare for a ballet that's performed so often, all over the world. Many ballerinas try it, many ballerinas can do the steps, but very few ballerinas have that combination of charm, radiance, joy, AND classical technique to really pull off the transformation from a sixteen year old in the birthday party to the regal monarch in the wedding scene. Margot Fonteyn was a legendary Aurora. A film made when she was 50 showed that she could still nail all the Rose Adagio balances and be a remarkably convincing teenager. In my live ballet-going experience, Alina Cojocaru, Diana Vishneva, and Sterling Hyltin are/were wonderful Auroras. Well tonight I can add another natural Aurora to this very small list: Indiana Woodward.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

My Fair Lady's new cast; My new assignment


Benanti as Eliza in the Ascot scene, photo @ Sara Krulwich
The annual "momsical" came and went this past weekend -- My Fair Lady with an almost entire new cast. Henry Hadden-Patton is the only holdover from the original cast.  (Well and Allan Cordunner as Pickering and Linda Mugleston as Mrs. Pearce but ...) My mom is usually a very enthusiastic theatergoer (provided the musical is a wholesome, G-rated old-fashioned affair). Indeed she loved Henry Hadden-Patton and Danny Burstein (the new Doolitel), REALLY loved Christian Dante White (the new Freddy), and she  also liked Sher's ending. She said it "made more sense" because "Eliza could never be happy with Higgins." Keep in mind she's very old fashioned and was mildly bothered by the drag dancers in "Get Me to the Church."

Friday, February 8, 2019

La Fille du Régiment: Vive la France, vive Les Hauts C!!!; Call Me Madam

Fille du Régiment, photo @ Marty Sohl

Donizetti's delightful comedy La Fille du Régiment made a much-welcome return to the Met last night. This was one of those evenings that was such a delightful performance overall that the flaws hardly mattered. The Met has assembled a wonderful cast for this revival, and Laurent Pelly's ubiquitous production remains as fresh and funny as ever. My first ever Fille was unforgettable -- Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez in the lead roles. I remember the pandemonium during that performance -- the screaming, shouting, and stomping. If this performance didn't quite have the same raucous energy it was still one that made you leave the theater grinning from ear to ear.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

NYCB Winter Diaries: Justin Peck's Principia Drops to the Bottom of his Oeuvre

The ladies of Principia, photo @ Andrea Mohin
Winter Season at NYCB usually follows a pattern: one week of pure classics, and then week 2 brings new works. Week 2 brought the premiere of Justin Peck's by-now obligatory new work. The title: Principia, after Isaac Newton's book (why???). The music: Sufjan Stevens (again). The strengths of the ballet: Peck's consistent ability to create arresting corps formations. In one of the ballet's few interesting moments, there are three separate huddles of dancers onstage. One dancer breaks free and breaks up another group. That broken up group quickly unites again. This action is repeated several times. Why are these dancers so determined to remain in this tight huddle formation? It's mysterious, intriguing.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

City Ballet Winter Season Brings New Debuts

Stanley as Apollo, photo @ Andrea Mohin
Among NYCB fans the chatter about the imminent appointment of the new artistic director is at a fevered pitch. Fans have all sorts of theories and wishes and desires, and no choice is going to satisfy everyone (or anyone?). But in the meantime life goes on, and the Winter Season and the severely depleted male roster means there are exciting debuts in Balanchine's seminal ballet Apollo.

Everyone already knows about Apollo and how it's the oldest Balanchine ballet to survive in the repertoire. And almost every balletomane has strong feelings about how Apollo and the muses should be interpreted. In my relatively brief shelf-life as a hardcore balletomane I'd say two Apollos were masterful: Adrian Danchig-Waring and Robert Fairchild. Alas, Danchig-Waring is injured and Fairchild no longer with the company. The other two Apollos (Chase Finlay and Zachary Catazaro) were fired after the infamous photo sharing scandal.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Stinney: An American Execution is Jolting and Traumatic

George Stinney Jr.
In March 1944 two girls in Alcolu, South Carolina were murdered. One was raped. Fourteen year old George Stinney Jr. told the police that he had seen the girls picking wildflowers. By June 14, 1944 George Stinney was executed. He was so slight that the electrodes could not reach him and he had to sit on a Bible in order to be properly electrocuted. The jury deliberated for 10 minutes. In 2014 a South Carolina judge vacated the conviction, citing a lack of evidence -- there was no written confession, just the insistence of a local police chief. Stinney's trial lawyer was a tax commissioner. He was questioned alone without a lawyer.

This horrifying, egregious miscarriage of justice is now the subject of an opera that was presented at New York's Prototype OperaFest, an annual festival of contemporary and experimental opera. Indeed, Stinney: An American Execution is not even presented as a complete work. The program says it's a "work-in-progress." Composer and librettist Frances Pollock wrote in the liner notes that she first presented the work in 2015 in Baltimore and insists that this is still a "reading." The opera (about 2 and a half hours) was done as a semi-staged concert, with orchestra, chorus and soloists sitting in rows on a small platform stage. One of the more disconcerting parts of the performance was that the background gave subtitles AND the libretto's stage directions, but the stage directions were only intermittently followed by the performers.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Adria-anna Lecouvtrebko

Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, and Anita Rachvelishvili, photo @ Ken Howard
In 1937 the legendary soprano Rosa Ponselle was losing her upper register. She had stage fright and also wanted to act in movies. She asked Met general manager Edward Johnson to mount a new production of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur for her. Johnson refused. Ponselle never sang in staged opera again. She was barely 40.

Tebaldi as Adriana with a young Domingo
In 1963, beloved Met diva Renata Tebaldi was also dealing with a receding upper register, and demanded that Rudolf Bing stage Adriana Lecouvreur for her. Bing reluctantly agreed. Tebaldi sang six performances before vocal troubles overwhelmed her and she canceled the rest of the run. In Bing's memoir he recalled the incident with such bitterness you would have thought Tebaldi had personally murdered Bing's beloved dachshund with poisoned violets.

Therefore the new production of Adriana Lecouvreur that was mounted for Met superdiva Anna Netrebko breaks a sort of curse. Netrebko is not singing Adriana because she is losing her upper register. This is not the desperate demand of a soprano with rapidly disappearing high notes. Netrebko's Adriana is a symbol of her power -- in Peter Gelb's Met, what Anna wants, Anna gets.

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...