Tuesday, September 30, 2014

adventures in impromptu docenting

[the scene is a small wigwam containing various artifacts for educational purposes, into which a horde of little kids has just swept, trapping a lone random adult inside and thus revealing one tactical problem with wigwam design]

Little Kid: What's this?
Lone Adult: It's a wolf skin.
Little Kid: Did they hurt the wolf?
Lone Adult: uh....
Tiny Kid: [picking up bird wing fan and hanging it around her neck] Did they buy these feathers?
Lone Adult: [trying to think how tactfully to explain where whole bird wings come from]
Other Little Kid: [picking up Algonquin war club and waving it around] What's this?
Lone Adult: It's really dangerous.
Other Little Kid: [holding up non-business end of same] You could poke somebody's eye out.
Lone Adult: Among other things...

[horde sweeps out again, leaving lone adult to ponder the evolutionary benefits of gnat-like attention spans]

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.