Saturday, September 20, 2014

sundry items of livestreaming

Via La Cieca, Whitebox Art Center will be video streaming its Alcina performance/installation tonight and tomorrow (9/20 & 21) at 7pm Eastern.

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music has started its video streaming of student performances this weekend with L'Italiana in Algeri. Tonight's performance starts at 8pm Eastern.

And of course the Met season begins on Monday with Richard Eyre's new production of Le Nozze di Figaro, audio streaming on SiriusXM and from the Met's website, festivities beginning at 5:45pm Eastern, followed by SiriusXM-only webcasts of Boheme on Tuesday and Macbeth on Wednesday.

Off to the races...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Inadvertent Theseus: A Midsummer Night's Dream @ Shakespeare & Co

photo Kevin Sprague
Shakespeare & Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Tony Simotes, placed the action in the Jazz Age of the mythical land of Nawlins, on a thrust stage overhung by twisting branches, gas streetlamps, and spanish moss.

Theseus (Rocco Sisto), having long since ditched Ariadne on Naxos and assumed the Dukedom of Athens, appeared in a crisp white suit, in the company of Hippolyta (Merritt Janson), his jazz singer and erstwhile Queen of the Amazons conquest. Egeus (Annette Miller) was a Lady straight off the Southern Families register, in high dudgeon over her daughter Hermia’s refusal to marry the young squire of her mother’s choosing.  You know the story: Hermia loves Lysander and not Demetrius, but rules are rules and custom is custom. Theseus lays down the Law: death or the convent of Artemis. Hippolyta, observing from the margins, was not at all down with this. Shakespeare leaves her speechless. Here she seized that speechlessness to represent her rage.

Oberon, Puck photo Kevin Sprague
Simotes went with the option of double-casting Theseus and Hippolyta as Oberon and Titania – the walls between worlds are especially thin in these parts, as any southern gothic vampire will tell you, and trouble in one is like to bleed into the other. If it gets a little warped along the way, it’s the humidity. If Hippolyta has conquered Athens with jazz standards, Titania’s a guitar-slinging Queen of the Fairies. If Theseus seems a little nonplussed at his bride-to-be’s attitude, Oberon is thoroughly bemused by human behavior in general.

But Oberon has his fixer Puck (Michael F Toomey), a speedy and enthusiastic fetcher, goggled and dog-eared -- we might think of him as Muttley to Oberon’s Dastardly. He sported a pooka’s tricked-out utilikilt and a carpenter’s belt for holding the items of his dogsbody trade: a notepad (very useful), a staghorn-hilted dagger (useful but unused), a rubber fish (?).

 Quince, Flute photo Kevin Sprague
In the same vein as Professor Longhair’s alternate career as a janitor, the Rude Mechanicals were a group of ageing hipster tradesmen theatricals. Peter Quince (Jonathan Epstein) had a stylish red rug for his old grey head, and a buttery cod-French Quarter accent that put all the emphasis on the end syllables and dragged out or left out much of the rest – “You gon’ fright the DuchESSE!” he insisted. Later Pyramus and Thisbe will talk "through the chaaaank of the waawl.” It totally worked. 

Johnny Lee Davenport, a big presence with a voice to match -- he was a memorable Lord Mayor of London in Richard III a few years back -- had all of Bottom’s requisite, uh, acting skills at his command. (Fortunately he has some of his own as well.) He left no doubt that, should he be called upon, Bottom the Weaver could do all the roles in any lamentable comedy you could name.

Bottom, photo Kevin Sprague
The main crux of the story – the tangled adventures of Hermia (Kelly Galvin), Lysander (David Joseph), Helena (Cloteal L Horne) and Demetrius (Colby Lewis) in the wood – unfolded pretty much the way it always does, with a great deal of slapstick athleticism. Props to the actors for sustaining that level of energy without resorting to antic overkill, and props to the costume department (so to speak) for giving everybody kneepads in the same fabric patterns as their underclothes.

It’s a musical play to begin with, and, as you might imagine, jazz, blues, gospel, etc. were woven all through this production. You entered the theater and found your seats to Taj Mahal. The fairies favored acoustic slide guitar. Act 2 began with a full-cast (and audience) contrapuntal This Little Light of Mine / I’ll Fly Away. There was a band of fiddle, trombone, washboard, and banjo uke – they played an interlude of We’ll Meet Again to eulogize Bottom. In the Mechanical’s play, Lion and Moon got leitmotifs: Pink Panther theme for Lion, Blue Moon for Moon (played on horn kazoo by Peter Quince in the improvised one-man-orchestra pit from which he also acted as slightly frustrated prompter).  Alexander Sovronsky, tripling as music director, band member, and Flute/Thisbe, put together a soundtrack that kept it all rolling. 

Rude Mechanicals, photo Kevin Sprague

Monday, September 1, 2014

de nube

Alex Ross weighs in on getting your music from the Cloud.

I had this conversation at the concert the other day, picking up an Andy May CD, which I was doing because these things are much harder to come by than they used to be, and you have to seize the opportunities where you find them. The album is Happy Hours (Fellside 224), you can download it from iTunes where it's filed under Singer/Songwriter, even though there's only one song on the album and Andy May himself neither sings it nor wrote it.

You can download it from Amazon, where at least it's filed under the largely meaningless but not un- useful catchall of Folk. You can also buy the CD from them, for $22 direct or via third parties new (starting at $11) or used (starting at $20).

You'll find it on Spotify for free. You have to sort through the albums of another guy with the same name, but okay. Once you find it, all the tracks are there in order. (And track order does matter if you're listening to more than one track.)

I'm not going to get all wistful and blather on about the good old days when you could and did spend several  hours browsing bins and shelves in record stores, and one or two of those stores might even have had a section dedicated not just to bagpipes, but to Northumbrian smallpipes. But if you click on the Related Artists button on Spotify, you end up in a pretty big ballpark of vaguely related celtic-y folk records, which might be a highland pipe rock band or a solo singer of muckle sangs or an Irish fiddler from Brooklyn or a band from Belfast. Never mind that the Actually Related Artists are all up on Spotify, too: Jez Lowe, Kathryn Tickell, High Level Ranters, Cut and Dry...

So okay, basically you end up in the old shop circa 1998. Only if it was run by people who had no idea what anything was.

So much for efficiency. Spotify should probably read the liner notes. Or at least look at a map.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Special Envoy, Court of King Festus:

I just bought a beautiful sounding vielle!!!! 

I am going to hell...

Ministry of Noise:

I just ate a dry roasted cricket

and now I am going to the play-house.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Inadvertent Theseus: Ariadne @ Glimmerglass, part 3

After all the discussions about women on the podium that have cropped up in the last few years, props to Glimmerglass for putting Kathleen Kelly at the wheel. Even working a reduced score with scaled-down orchestra (this theater’s pit being only so big), it’s a monster piece of noise-making that must be tricky for that size a house. Apart from a couple of points where the balance skewed a bit, Kelly kept the orchestra’s sound in shape, surfed the score’s nuances, and let the singers be heard. More big conducting gigs for her, please. 

Finally, in keeping with director Francesca Zambello's chosen setting, and presumably also as a way of heightening the divide between "high" art and "low" as represented in the work, everything is performed in English except for the Ariadne opera seria. As with last year's King for a Day (and next year's Magic Flute), the job of translating Hofmannsthal's not uncomplicated libretto fell to Kelley Rourke, Glimmerglass's dramaturg and supertitles ninja. Rourke manages to write singable verse, adhere to the intentions of the libretto and of the score without being slavish, and make it come out both musical and funny (when it needs to be), and contemporary as the production’s premise requires. (“It is quite obvious to me / that you’ve gone off your meds,” sings the Wigmaster at the Tenor in the Prologue.) At times the German/English juxtapositions play off each other, as in “Too many nights alone can really take a toll!”/”Toll, aber weise….” Clever. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Inadvertent Theseus: Ariadne @ Glimmerglass, part 2

Christine Goerke, who was a Glimmerglass Young Artist once upon a time, and who is also wicked funny, by now has the Diva moves down. (It probably helped that the audience gave her big hand just for showing up on stage.) But she also managed the nuance of an artist going from not expecting much to finding herself drawn in to the Composer’s art. (The Prima Donna seems a little stunned at the huge applause she gets for Es gibt ein Reich, and looks over at the Composer with a combination of surprise, admiration, and gratitude.) At this point, coming off a tremendous success in Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Met, Goerke has a voice that can more than fill Glimmerglass’s 800 seat Alice Busch Theater. It was fairly clear that she was reining in the volume at times, but we like an Ariadne with power to spare.

Seriously, if she sang it like the performance before, no problem there.

Rachele Gilmore has pretty quickly become one of the go-to sopranos for the role of Zerbinetta, and with good reason. She had one of those insane Halo jump short-notice Met debuts subbing in the role of Olympia for Kathleen Kim. So it was no surprise she tossed off Zerbinetta’s coloratura without a hitch. Zerbinetta being something of a Strauss/Hofmannsthal combo of Despina and Don Giovanni, she works her way through the guys’ applications, has a brief thing with Harlequin, but it’s the Composer who turns her head. As the opera progresses, you can see her thinking maaaaaybe she’s done with the old gods.

Catherine Martin has a lush, muscular voice, and she captured the Composer’s comic lows and poignant highs in a way that makes me hope we won’t have long to wait for her Octavian.

Likewise the three nymphs, Naiad, Dryad, and Echo, seem to be a gateway to bigger things, although most of what they do in this opera is sing cosmic harmonies. Jeni Houser, Beth Lytwynec, and Jacqueline Echols were nicely aethereal together, and we’ll look forward to hearing them again individually (in Echols’s case, next year as Pamina).

On the mundane side, what the four clowns – Carlton Ford’s Harlequin, Brian Yeakley’s Brighella, Gerard Michael D’Emilio’s Truffaldino, and Andrew Penning’s Scaramuccio -- may lack in otherworldliness they made up for with Eric Sean Fogel’s fairly intricate choreography.

Strauss’s evident hatred of tenors notwithstanding, Corey Bix, oar in hand, made it across the high seas of Bacchus intact. No mean feat.

Actor Wynn Harmon was appropriately officious and dismissive as the Major Domo (“I leave it to you to work out the specifics” is probably his mantra) and Matthew Scollin’s Farmhand looked as perplexed by it all as my Montgomery County farm-owning boss when I try to explain to him that I’m blowing off work for an opera out beyond where even he lives.