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...