Sunday, September 25, 2016

sex, death, and foreign policy for Monday

Tomorrow puts us in the unusual quandary of having to choose between Jerry Springer: The Opera the first [ahem] Presidential Melee Bar Brawl Halloween Frat Party Debate or the Met's opening night Tristan. You can find the latter here, along with the season schedule for the free, once a week webcasts on the Met website. (If you'd like more than that, SiriusXM Radio's online streaming service is your destination.) Met festivities begin at 4:30, because red carpet blah blah woof woof.

Monday, September 5, 2016

'glass roundup

So here we are, stumbling across the finish line and with a short breather before Fall things begin, so I thought I'd do a post-game for things that didn't get a posting when they happened. Fortunately for you, Reader, I missed a lot of things.

The main destination this year was Glimmerglass, with three of the four productions seen. The delegation skipped Boheme, from a combination of ennui, short budget, and civic-mindedness (figuring that would be the one to sell out, so they didn't need us). So that left La Gazza Ladra (billed as The Thieving Magpie, because that's how they roll out there), Sweeney Todd, and Robert Ward's opera version of The Crucible.

I've already remarked elsewhere about Magpie -- in all fairness it's a limited opera, drama-wise, with the standard Soprano Wrongly Accused bel canto plotline. The director chose to focus on the notion
The Thieving Magpie - photo Karli Cadel
of birds, so everybody got to wear feathers and behave as birds. Cute, but that's even more limited than the plotline after the first few minutes. The armchair directors in the audience were probably thinking the whole time what you might do with the notion of property ownership and the employer/employee relationship, and went reaching for their Engels when they got home. Or maybe not. But as I said before, it was really about  Rachele Gilmore, and they'll broadcast it on WQXR in November so you can hear why.

Photo: Karli Cadel
Christopher Alden's Sweeney Todd production was interesting as an attempt to bring a contemporary opera production sensibility (i.e. what should have been done with Magpie) to a musical. If the old question What's the difference between opera and musical? has an answer, perhaps it's that operas -- and perhaps opera audiences -- better withstand directorial creativity and/or hijinks. Alden's opening church hall setting, its sudden transformation into music hall comedy duo for A Little Priest, and its limited use of stage blood (not more than a gallon or two), were a challenge for some audience members -- fans of the musical armed with very specific expectations about what should happen, when, and how. Exit commentary in the stairwell afterward particularly focused on the lack of a trap door.

I can understand their point: if it's always been done that way, a director who's not going to do it that way needs to up the ante. Alden did the opposite, opting instead for a weary charwoman routinely dousing the wall with a bucket of blood she fills from a spigot. That was cute in its way, but short on impact. If Alden's intent was to undermine and critique audience expectations, I guess he succeeded.

One thing Alden's approach did accomplish is to highlight how much Sondheim's chorus is reminiscent of the chorus in Peter Grimes. If that was his intent as well, then yay, but it will have left the musicals people, who wanted their London docks and period costumes, their trap doors and their specially designed Sweeney Todd razors, all as they're used to having them.

The cast, vocally and dramatically, was pretty much the level you would expect at Glimmerglass, though Greer Grimsley's Sweeney didn't quite convey the required boiling rage under a veneer of service-economy civility -- or at least it didn't reach the nosebleeds. Sounded good, though.

Brian Mulligan, Ariana Wehr - photo Karli Cadel
The last round was Robert Ward's adaptation of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, and of the three it was the only one I would have trekked out to see again had time allowed. The draw was Jamie Barton in the role of Elizabeth Proctor, but the cast overall was terrific. Librettist Bernard Stambler winnowed the action down so the focus is on the central triangle of Elizabeth, her farmer husband John, and their dismissed and vengeful ex-serving girl Abigail Williams. But Stambler left in enough of the petty-turned-deadly community squabbles to convey the larger picture Miller was getting at in the original play. (It also means a cast big enough to serve as a Young Artist showcase, and Glimmerglass' YA program has plenty to brag about.) Brian Mulligan as John Proctor and Ariana Wehr as Abigail were both rock solid, and David Pittsinger surfed Reverend Hale's quandaries with subtle shading. The highlight, though, may have been Jay Hunter Morris' thoroughly freaky Reverend Danforth -- clearly those Ahabs he's been doing of late stood him in good stead for Danforth's all-or-nothing Wrath of God MO. Francesca Zambello's production, with sets by Neil Patel, was visually arresting without getting in the way of singers or material.
The Crucible: trial scene - photo Karli Cadel

If you never knew there was an opera version of The Crucible...welp, neither did I, so I can't speak much about the score, having only heard it once. But conductor Nicole Paiement's orchestra gave the music enough punch that I wanted to hear it again. The broadcast on WQXR is November 12th.

Hudson River School

Saturday, September 3, 2016

City of Diss


Read: Wells Fargo Officially Damned To STEM Hell Of Its Own Devising


Read: OOOH! You have unlocked the Heldensnark! It's Satan's own 8am Trigonometry class for you!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Real life is what happens while you're forgetting about Proms

The Mahler 3 from Proms with Sarah Connolly, c Haitink, is up for a few more days here, but you have a few weeks yet to catch Das Lied von der Erde with Alice Coote and Gregory Kunde, likewise Rueckert Lieder with mezzo Tanja Ariane Baumgartner b/w Mozart's Great Mass in C with Carolyn Sampson and a bunch of other people.

Links to all available Proms audio can be found here.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Merchant of Venice @ Shakespeare & Co, Lenox

Tina Packer's production of The Merchant of Venice, played in the round with minimal staging and more or less period costumes, drops us in the middle of a frontier society where all kinds of identities are jostling for space. It opens on a masked revelers' dance party (anachronistically Bruno Mars), which gradually breaks up until a handful of diehards pass out in place. The arrival of morning is marked by a muezzin, and small groups of people -- a couple of Muslims, some Jews, a pair of Christian monks -- pass by the heap of last night's partiers, looking askance but going on about their business, and we realize it's the Rialto. The Merchant Antonio wakes, and admits he is sad, and we are off.

The Merchant (John Hadden) has a thing with that boy Bassanio (Shahar Isaac), but that boy Bassanio is moving on, there's an opportunity in Belmont, a lady with a fortune, and well, you know, those kinds of gentlemen's agreements were never meant to last, not in a city with profit at its heart. Packer's Shakespearean Venice is not the mythical melting pot of a dominant mercantile city, but a vast and intricate network of social and ethnic tensions, where religion, class, gender, race, and sexuality form constantly shifting fields of conflict. Antonio, who has famously spat upon Jews, has the spit of others to contend with himself, and he's losing the love of his life to a woman whose own future is bound by a capricious patriarchal game.

But in spite of the fact that the Merchant owns the title, this play is not about him. One of the choices an actor playing Shylock has to make is how to place him in or against the society with which he comes into conflict, and accent is often a big part of the role. Jonathan Epstein's Shylock is unaccented -- or rather, in a sea of accents, he speaks in the same accent Antonio does -- and it makes the character matter-of-fact and believable, erasing lines that would make him a single Other representative of a community of Others. One of the points of this Shylock is he is his own man, and his actions are his own, and the adamant position he takes vis a vis the bond is his own.

It also gives the sense that when Shylock expresses his anxiety in terms of loss of property, that that's a social script he's fallen to using because it's required and expected. Epstein's Shylock is profoundly weary of that game, a thin pretense that's tossed away in the famous line about the stolen ring -- "I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor" -- in the same way he'll toss away his kippah and tallit katan in the face of "Balthazar"'s reading of the Law (presented in this production as much a vengeful doubling down as Shylock's own).

It's the heart that counts, and one of the finer aspects of this production is the way in which people are surprised by the moral failings of themselves and others. In the trial scene, as Tubal declares his dismay at Shylock's unbending will, so the maid Nerissa (Bella Merlin) registers a growing shock at her mistress Portia's (Tamara Hickey) equally exacting cruelty. Likewise Jessica (Kate Abbruzzese) realizes that Lorenzo (Deaon Griffin-Pressley) is not the man she took him for, as he takes to verbally and then physically abusing the servant Lancelot (Thomas Brazzle), once (possibly still) her only friend. In fact this dynamic is one of the most interesting in the production, as both Lorenzo and Lancelot are played by black actors. So Lancelot, master of authority-challenging satire, enraged by Lorenzo but constrained by class, makes his final entrance into their presence literally shouting Dixie. Lorenzo comes out of that encounter looking shell-shocked, so perhaps there's hope for him. But after news of the trial comes to Belmont, Jessica is clearly wondering if the world she's escaped into will turn out infinitely worse than the one she had before: herself, her father, and her friend as yet undefeated by this brave new world that has such people in it.