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 How do ballet companies make money during their traditional Nutcracker season now that Land of the Sweets has been replaced by Land of the Sick?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.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

La Traviata's Second Cast is First Best

Oropesa and the rest of the Traviata cast, photo @ Richard Termine
In a Met season there always is an unspoken pecking order regarding revivals. Some revivals are heavily promoted with lots of press, sometimes a New York Times or Opera News profile and an HD transmission. Others are quietly tucked into a season and come and go with no fanfare.

The second cast of the Met's revival of La Traviata seems to have fallen to the bottom of the totem pole -- it didn't even merit a promotional video on the Met's Youtube channel. Too bad, because it's the strongest revival of the year. It surpassed the first cast (starring Aleksandra Kurzak, Dmytro Popov and Quinn Kelsey) in every way. From curtain to curtain it was just a very well-sung, moving performance. Even Michael Mayer's shallow, gaudy production looked better with performers as sincere as Lisette Oropesa, Piero Pretti, and Luca Salsi. (Germont's silent daughter popping up in inopportune moments is a directorial conceit that unfortunately has not been 86'ed.)

Thursday, February 20, 2020

West Side Story: Total Momsical Failure

Tony and Maria pulled apart, photo @ Sara Krulwich
Every year I try to take my mom to one Broadway musical. My mom requires two things: 1) it be a classic musical; and 2) it's not R-rated. So this year I bought tickets to Ivo van Hove's highly discussed revival of West Side Story. When it was over my mom beat a hasty retreat out of the theater. I asked her what she thought. "I wanted to see West Side Story, not a home video of West Side Story!"

Friday, February 7, 2020

NYCB's Episodes Wakes Up Sleepy Winter Season

Paul Taylor in Episodes
NYCB's Winter Season is usually a big gathering of dance fans who crave 'real dance' after Nutcracker season. Yet after three weeks of Winter Season it's hard to ignore the empty auditorium, the tepid crowds, and the feeling that for whatever reason the company is in a rut.

It's a strange feeling because the programming has been strong. The dancing has rarely been outright bad. And there have been excellent performances: Tiler Peck (paired with the virtuoso Roman Mejia) losing a bit of her speed but none of her brilliance in Allegro Brillante, Joseph Gordon soaring in the variations of La Source and remembering to point his feetthe delightful Emma von Enck charming the audience as the solo girl in La Source. Teresa Reichlen and Ask La Cour have been having the seasons of their lives -- they were gorgeous sculptures in Momentum and all twisted angularity in Movements, and both of them danced a Firebird that was beautiful, mysterious, and surprisingly heartrending.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Ratmansky's New-Old Giselle

Olga Smirnova and Artemy Belyakov
On Sunday, January 26 the Bolshoi Ballet had a cinemacast that was an Event for balletomanes -- it was the live transmission of Alexei Ratmansky's reconstruction of Giselle. Ratmansky has reconstructed Sleeping Beauty and Harlequinade for ABT and Swan Lake for Zurich Ballet. In each of those reconstructions he not only restored altered steps but he insisted on restoring a facsimile of 19th-century Imperial Ballet style. Low extensions, modest jumps, more expressive mime. For Giselle Ratmansky has as usual relied on the Stepanov notations for Petipa's productions for the Imperial Ballet, as well as choreographic sources from Henri Justament who documented a production of Giselle in 1860.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Even a Booer Can't Wake Up Bland, Efficient Met Traviata

La Traviata, photo @ Marty Sohl
A champagne flute was thrown across the stage. The soprano twirled defiantly. She glowered and smirked at the audience. Then she launched into "Sempre libera" and capped the aria with an interpolated E-flat. Curtain comes down. Audience is mildly appreciative, except for one guy, who booed loudly from the E-flat to the part where audience members make that mad dash to the restroom.

I was puzzled because there was nothing to boo about. In fact I couldn't imagine generating strong feelings either way about the Met's revival of La Traviata. The evening was from curtain to curtain blandly efficient. No one was really terrible, but there just wasn't anything interesting happening.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Slave Play: Can Love Overcome the Legacy of Slavery? SPOILERS; Little Women

Dustin and Gary in Slave Play, photo @ Matthew Murphy
There are only five days left to see Jeremy O. Harris's remarkable Slave Play. If you are anywhere in the NY metropolitan vicinity and have a free evening, drop all your plans. You might not "like" this play. It might make you mad, uncomfortable, confused, sometimes all at the same time. But you will not forget Slave Play. This is a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical experience. Note: I originally had tickets to see this in October, but an ankle injury left me housebound for much of that month. I'm so grateful I got to see this before it closed.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Megxit: Unhappy Operatic Princesses

Meghan, Harry and Baby Archie
This week a bombshell was dropped upon the British Royal Family: Harry and Meghan announced on their Instagram account that they intended to "step back as senior members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent." The also announced they'd be splitting their time between North America and England. Even the NYTimes has been covering this story with a breathless intensity. Because, really, why cover Australia going up in smoke and a possible war between the U.S. and Iran if there's juicy royal dish? Tidbits: Harry and Meghan apparently did not inform Queen Elizabeth of their plans. The latest NYTimes article: "Harry, Meghan and Britain: When Did the Fairy Tale Go Sour?" 

My only thought: could Meghan have been watching some opera? Because opera is filled with women who marry into royalty, realize that it isn't all that and a bag of chips and are so unhappy there's an entire opera about it. Let's examine some unhappy royal princesses and how their situation might or might not have parallels with Meghan:

Boris: Do Russian Leaders Ever Change?

  RenĂ© Pape, photo @ Marty Sohl There's a leader of Russia. He's corrupt and has killed people on his path to power. He only trusts ...