Showing posts from June, 2016

Jazz from a couple of saxophonists: Bob Mintzer and Lou Caputo lead bands on the mid- to full-size spectrum

Bob Mintzer likes his Angeleno pals. The survival of larger jazz ensembles in the 21st century depends on the imagination and resourcefulness of leaders and arrangers alike. Two such ensembles are Bob Mintzer' s "All L.A. Band" (in a CD of the same title on Fuzzy Music) Lou Caputo 's Not So Big Band's "Uh Oh!" (Jazzcat 47). and These well-recorded sets range over the possibilities of big-band jazz today. Mintzer, with credits both mainstream and on the edge of contemporary fusion (Yellowjackets), got a 17-piece group together to play compositions he wrote over a 40-year period. Peter Erskine, "All L.A. Band" producer, recently played the Jazz Kitchen. The tenor saxophonist is an educator as well, and the same music is available at the Mintzer Big Band Essentials play-along app. What is at hand here is a full-throated professional ride over the 10 compositions. Longtime colleagues Peter Erskine (with producer credit here) and Russ

Early Music Indianapolis: Emma Kirkby, a star of early music who blazed trails with apt vocal style, makes a festival appearance with lutenist Jakob Lindberg

Jakob Lindberg and Emma Kirkby are seasoned collaborators. Like a later composer more in the mainstream, the solo piano god Frederic Chopin, the Elizabethan John Dowland comes down to us as a giant in composition through his masterly concentration on another specialty: lute music, both solo and partnered with one voice. A program of music by the English composer and his contemporaries couldn't have been in better hands than it was Sunday afternoon at the Indiana History Center in an I ndianapolis Early Music presentation: Emma Kirkby, soprano, and Jakob Lindberg, Renaissance lute. The  concert, "Like as a Lute," scrupulously curated by the artists and lovingly performed, crowned the second weekend of the festival's 50th-anniversary season. The program title is drawn from the first line of a sonnet by Samuel Daniel — like Dowland, a contemporary of William Shakespeare's. The polished poem later refers to the lute's "warble," a word associat

Pimp and Circumstance: A Post-Brexit March, Shot Through With Misgivings, to Counter the Eurowhores

With dazzle and heart, Bobdirex's 'Billy Eliot' sets a boy's dance dreams in a dying English coal town

You can count on Bob Harbin to come up once a year with a big-hearted production that reaches out to audiences in a big way. This year, an odd timeliness — with Americans more focused on Britain than normal in the wake of the Brexit vote — helps "Billy Elliot" stand out even more. Seen in the second performance of the run of nine (through July 10) at Marian University Theatre, Bobdirex 's "Billy Elliot" succeeds not only because of the usual pizazz he generates from large casts, but also for the captivating portrayal of the title character by Thomas Whitcomb. Thomas Whitcomb as Billy Elliot takes flight into a future with the electricity of dancing. Whitcomb's singing and dancing fit splendidly the demanding role of the younger son in a miner's household who accidentally finds himself smitten with ballet. But what puts the shiny cap on both those skills is Whitcomb's charming onstage persona, the convincing way he blends Billy's naivete a

With a focus on 17th-century plucked string instruments, Early Music Festival presents its first solo recital in many years

Xavier Diaz-Latorre played music for baroque guitar (shown) and theorbo. The focus on instruments not current for centuries has long been a part of the Indianapolis Early Music Festival's appeal. Patrons over the psst 50 years have become acquainted with citterns and krummhorns, archlutes and rebecs, finding out a little bit about how they're made and how they work. The main payoff, of course, is exposure to the captivating music written for them in various combinations (sometimes the choice of today's players). The spotlight narrowed Friday as the festival entered its second week at the Indiana History Center. That's where, for the first time since he began programming in 2009, artistic director Mark Cudek scheduled a solo recital. The Basile Theatre, lights dimmed and the stage set to look like an intimate salon, made an attractive setting for "Music for Kings and Commoners," a program of early baroque music for theorbo and baroque guitar played by

Phoenix Theatre's 'Hand to God' puts personal crises through a puppet blender

Jason (Nathan Robbins) argues with Tyrone Puppet ministry takes remote stories — foundational in the Judeo-Christian tradition — and makes them cozy and relatable. Whatever lessons apply in the tale of Joseph and his brothers, or the return of the Prodigal Son, can perhaps be conveyed more tellingly through cuddly manipulation of handcrafted, hand-worn doll characters. In "Hand to God," which I visited as the second week of the Phoenix Theatre production opened Thursday, we don't get to see how this aspect of contemporary Christian teaching is supposed to work. Playwright Robert Askins has another end in view: to explore what the distancing effect of expressing moral and spiritual values through puppetry might mean in loss of control, in channeling deeply felt problems through puppetry so thoroughly as to create monsters. There's an aspect of voodoo in this process, like the hysterical focus on pricked rag moppets in "The Crucible." Cypress, Texas,
"Happy Talk" is a bouncy, sentimental song from "South Pacific." Repurposed as "Trashy Talk," it's a bit of sung advice to Donald Trump to keep on keeping on -- putting down anyone who opposes him or who may not be in his corner. Why not? Who's really waiting for him to "act presidential"?

Cincinnati Opera's 'Fellow Travelers' gives contemporary musical and dramatic weight to a Washington tale of suppression and ambition

A manipulator in the classic American vein, Roy Cohn is a distant yet relevant presence in a new  operatic adaptation of Thomas Mallon's novel "Fellow Travelers." Cohn, a deeply closeted gay man, was crucial to Sen. Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt for Communists in the federal government more than six decades ago. The opera, with music by Gregory Spears and a libretto by Greg Pierce , opened over the weekend in a Cincinnati Opera world premiere at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Seen Sunday afternoon in its second performance, "Fellow Travelers" is a straightforward narrative of America's complicated relationship with homosexuality. It can be compared with the play "Angels in America," Tony Kushner's elaborate examination of gay life brought forward into the AIDS crisis and rife with fantasy elements foreign to Mallon's focus on the middle 1950s in Washington, D.C. Both works involve Cohn, whose baleful influence extended into the 19

Indianapolis Early Music celebrates its first half-century with a deep bow to music in Shakespeare

Mark Cudek (second from right) and the Baltimore Consort The music of Shakespeare's time was largely focused on tunes, the musicologist Edward Tatnall Canby remarked usefully in notes to an old  Nonesuch 2-LP anthology called "Music of Shakespeare's Time." This explains why music is often incidental in Shakespeare's plays, welling up from characters in several of them, usually in comical moments. These tunes, in sung and instrumental versions, were carried around in the heads of the populace, like modern pop songs, as Canby goes on to note. Thus, they typically connected to the public through arrangements and were more identified by their titles than their composers or arrangers. It's a rich field for the Indianapolis Early Music Festival to harvest in opening its 50th-anniversary season as it did Friday night at the Indiana History Center. "If Music Be the Food of Love" brought together the Baltimore Consort of artistic director Mark Cudek

EclecticPond's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' wishes boisterously on the moon

June being the month of marriages (including my own, celebrating its 44th anniversary today), "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a timely, multi-tiered wedding cake — layered sweetly with four circumscribed worlds in one huge confection. It opens tonight in an EclecticPond production at IndyFringe's Basile Theatre . Seen at a media preview Thursday evening, the show brims with energy, hardly a line delivered plainly, with enough action and roaring to banish in any audience the drowsiness that periodically overcomes several characters. Zack Neiditch directs what he says in a program note is his favorite Shakespeare play. His fondness animates the full-throttle cast, who are largely clad according to a beach-party updating that makes the pursuing and cavorting look all the freer. Period recorded music, roughly contemporaneous with pop songs of the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello era, is exuberantly danced to at several points. Perhaps the silly complexities of "

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: A youthful, friendship-intense 'La Boheme' nears the end of its run

Everything you most want from a "La Boheme" (in addition to good singing) has to do with how well the bonds of friendship and love among impecunious young urbanites with artistic inclinations are conveyed. There are probably more people who fit that description now than in 1896, when Puccini's fourth opera first made its glorious way in the world. But that doesn't ensure this heady blend of camaraderie and commitment will come across on the opera stage, despite the music's imperishable assistance. Rodolfo and Mimi get acquainted in the bohemians' attic apartment.  Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' fifth "Boheme" production in its 41-year history, with just two more mainstage performances remaining, strikes home. The young Bohemians scrape by with consistent grace and good humor, streaked with romantic melancholy. The production's updating to about 1930 hardly affects the sentimental charm of the setting. (It's not a thoroughgoing updat

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: 'Macbeth,' the young Verdi's fond tribute to Shakespeare, illuminates the story's fundamental savagery

Giuseppe Verdi's predilection for the witches as the third main character in his setting of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" gives the pagan heritage of 11th-century Scotland greater weight than it normally has in the play. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has taken full advantage of this focus in a production in which naked ambition, joined to supernatural prophecy, overwhelms the forces of  burgeoning civic order and Christian conscience. The composer was conspicuously defensive of his knowledge of and respect for the playwright. In this first of his three completed treatments of Shakespeare, he moved toward a Shakespearean  understanding of character through motivation and action, which helped him surmount an operatic heritage that often allowed singers' vanity to rule the stage. OTSL's production retains an emphasis on the malevolent naturalness of the power couple at the center of the action through the performances of Roland Wood and Julie Makerov. As seen June

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: 'Ariadne on Naxos' deftly manages to toy with caprice and the high glamour of tragedy

The Major-Domo delivers his master's orders to the astonished entertainers. The zanies attempt to lift the abandoned Ariadne's dolor. The  tug-of-war between high and low art has to suffer the biased officiating of commercialism today. In the perpetual ebb and flow of mass taste, however, the enduring struggle concerns not only how serious we choose to get about art, but about romantic love as well. Few people avoid some shifting between lofty and vulgar planes in either area. How consistently high-minded can anyone stand to be, after all? In "Ariadne on Naxos," which the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is presenting through June 24, the contrasting perspectives are shoved cheek-by-jowl into the same performance time and space. In the same way, the odd couple of high and low contends within us all. The history of this "prologue and opera in one act" is too complex to recount here, but in its final form the brilliant collaboration between Richard Stra

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: 'Shalimar the Clown' gives musical wings to a story of conflict rooted in disputed ground

Shalimar (Sean Panikkar) contemplates how to avenge his betrayal. The congested car culture of Los Angeles sprawls across land once thought of as paradise, just as Kashmir still has some claim to that designation. In "Shalimar the Clown," an opera based on Salman Rushdie's novel given its world premiere Saturday by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, both milieus are irreversibly tainted -- one by overdevelopment, the other by endless religious and political strife stemming from the 1947 partition of colonial India. In the prologue and epilogue, black-and-white videotape loops present the LA clutter of freeway, palm trees, and miles of lights as backdrop overhead while a chorus sings loudly of the urban environment thousands of miles distant from the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. That's where the story of the title character and his beloved, a Hindu dancer named Boonyi, develops. Los Angeles is an essential frame for a revenge tragedy that sprouts and dev