Showing posts from June, 2017

'Hail to the Chief': A new version, not particularly inspiring, but channeling No. 45's tweeting habit and how it's being defended

"You Cain't Say No": Nothing like the song in "Oklahoma!" that inspired it, this one is a warning to those getting it on who then want to quit

Stagger Lee was one kind of legendary rascal, Jared Kushner is another

2017 Early Music Festival caps its opening weekend with music of three faiths from medieval Spain

Conspicuous signs of past tolerance in one place across the three Abrahamic religions are eagerly cultivated in today's cultural climate. Many people look for models of this kind of thing, rare though they may be. Another configuration of the Peabody Consort, with director Mark Cudek playing a hand drum. Without becoming overtly political about it, the Peabody Consort put together a program focusing on the example of King Alfonso X of Castile, known as "El Sabio" (the Wise) in large part for his cultural magnanimity.  In the latter half of Moorish settlement in the Iberian peninsula, Alfonso reigned from 1242 to 1284. His court assembled "Cantigas de Santa Maria," a large anthology of songs to the Virgin Mary. The king also promoted scholarship in Toledo to explore and preserve the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish cultural heritage represented among his subjects. Selections from the cantigas were the linchpin of the Peabody Consort 's concert for the

BOBDIREX production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame": Ringing the changes on diversity and acceptance in medieval Paris

However adept the Disney organization has proved over decades of storytelling, sometimes the moral clarity of the result, Jacob Butler lends overwhelming pathos to the title role. particularly in the animated, full-length features, can be too glaring. Yet dividing the world into good people and bad people is seductive when we tell stories, as we keep discovering in the "good-guy-with-a-gun" simplifications of today's raging Second Amendment debate. Adapted for the stage with real people in the roles, as BOBDIREX is now doing in its annual production at Marian University, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" preserves the broad, heavily outlined representation of the Disney film characters: The bell-ringer, marginalized and mocked because of birth deformities, learns courage; the intrepid "queen" of medieval Paris' despised gypsies who helps nurture his feelings of worth even as she gains his trust by opposing his protector, a corrupt and concupisce

Cincinnati Opera's 'Frida': Artist who represents much to so many wanted only to represent herself truly

Outstanding portrayal: Catalina Cuervo as Frida. In a pre-performance talk about his opera "Frida" Friday night in Cincinnati, Robert Xavier Rodriguez identified the appeal of his subject across a spectrum that doesn't necessarily include opera buffs: the feminist, visual arts, LGBT, leftist, Latino (specifically Mexican), and disabled communities all claim a piece of the Frida Kahlo phenomenon. Rodriguez's 1991 musical survey of the artist's life (1907-1954) transcends these pigeonholes, fortunately, even while it benefits from association with them. Importing a Michigan Opera Theatre production to the Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center, Cincinnati Opera displayed this transcendence mainly in the performance of Catalina Cuervo in the title role. Whenever you can make a deeply flawed character lovable onstage, you've achieved something special. Cuervo displayed a strong voice in all registers, leaning with special vividness toward her lower r

'The Golem of Havana': The imagination and moral choice confront national crisis

Reminders that art is not just a leisure activity or an outlet for self-expression are always welcome. With stunning effect, "The Golem of Havana" delivers an assertion that art may be crucial to survival — both physical and aspirational. Rebecca reads from her booklet to the distracted Maria. Rebecca, born in Havana to Jewish parents who escaped the Holocaust, is a young teen caught up in her artistic imagination applying the folkloric figure of the golem to superhero adventures. The graphic novel she's created represents the concrete expression of her adaptation, but the spiritual resonance of the golem for her becomes all-important in the Phoenix Theatre 's production of a musical set in 1958 Cuba. The 24th of July Revolution is about to sweep away the old order just as Pinchas Frankel, a tailor forced to flee wartime Hungary with his wife, Yutka, is poised to establish his own shop. Their lives are complicated unforeseeably by the involvement of their ma

'Runaround Mitch': A song from the distant past repurposed to address the dismal present of health-care "reform"

"The Trial": Franz Kafka's incomplete novel is nicely rounded off by Philip Glass's music in Opera Theatre of St. Louis production

The Philip Glass compositional procedure — which he concisely sums up as "music Joseph K.'s upended world in "The Trial" pauses for a portrait. of repetitive structures" — seems a natural fit for the worldview of Franz Kafka. The short-lived Jewish citizen of Prague, who wrote in German, defined the cryptic, justice-challenged dilemmas of modern life for the 20th century in fiction with the force and mystery of parables. Glass felt he should someday write an opera based on "The Trial" shortly after first reading it 60 years ago. The Opera Theatre of St. Louis production, an American premiere, confirms that affinity. The naturalness, the "everydayness," of Glass's music — its buoyancy, its dogged continuity, its jog-trot tempos, its textural variety — suit Kafka, with one big difference: "The story is so dark that you can't tell it that way," Glass is quoted as saying in the June issue of St. Louis Magazine . "It

"The Grapes of Wrath": Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents a new version of a 2007 opera by Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie

The Joad family, piled into a jalopy truck, heads for California. John Steinbeck's epochal novel "The Grapes of Wrath," rooted as it is in the dislocation and social upheaval of the Great Depression, carries a particular aptness into our 21st-century obsession with the haves-havenots gulf and mass refugee movements. So it's more than for the sake of life support for Ricky Ian Gordon's 2007 opera that a new version, shortened and more focused on the central characters, is on the Opera Theatre of St. Louis ' current season in its home at Webster University in suburban St. Louis.  Linked indelibly to Michael Korie's resonant libretto, the work deserves wide circulation. In the revision, the cast remains huge, and demands on the singers are unrelenting and must be smoothly joined. The perseverance amid the growing desperation of displaced farmers has to remain uppermost, relieved by a few tender or comical lines and episodes. Seen at a matinee Saturd

'Titus': Opera Theatre of St. Louis' eye-opening production of a political opera

You might call Mozart's last opera, "La clemenza di Tito," a case of Roman imperial The title character of Mozart's opera rules in the shadow of the imperial eagle. intrigue and love tangles — with lots of fuzz. Fired FBI director James Comey recently testified "there should be no fuzz" on the matter of Russian interference with our presidential election last November. To borrow that homespun description, there seems to be nothing but fuzz about this opera's complications during the reign of the Emperor Titus in first-century Rome. Ambivalence runs riot; deadly alliances shift abruptly.  But the Opera Theatre of St. Louis ' current production shows the substance beneath the fuzz, with the peerless assistance of Mozart's music, draped upon a Metastasio libretto set to music many times before the Austrian genius put his seal upon the opera seria subgenre.  Clarity is tantalizingly delayed in the story of a decently inclined emperor&

CD review: A revelatory Schumann pianist, winner of a major Canadian competition

Luca Buratto: An affinity for Schumann. You expect musicians heavily involved with a particular composer to express their closeness to what they're working on. When such expressions are linked to marketing, even in the low-key manner of a publicity release, the affinity can hardly be expressed too strongly. The bear hug seems entirely natural. Still, when Luca Buratto, the most recent laureate of the Honens Piano Competition (2015), writes that "the music of Schumann has become almost an obsession with me — a kind of religion," some forgivable hyperbole might be suspected. Yet the recording that accompanies these words of devotion bears him out. Hyperion has released his all-Schumann disc, and it's a stunner. The Italian-born and -trained pianist seems to be channeling the troubled avatar of 19th-century Rhineland romanticism. The Honens prize is prestigious and well-heeled, established by a Canadian philanthropist, Edith Honens, in 1991 with a $5 million e

Texan-turned-Hoosier trombonist confirms his bona fides locally heading a quartet

Freddie Mendoza put together a quartet in short order to fill an open space on David Allee's schedule. So the Ball State University trombonist and teacher came up with adept confederates to play the Jazz Kitchen for his debut there under his own name Wednesday night. Freddie Mendoza first came to local attention directing jazz studies at the University of Indianapolis. In the concise first set, he showed his mastery as both leader and colleague with pianist Scott Routenberg, also a BSU faculty member; bassist Jesse Wittman, and drummer Kenny Phelps. For the latter half of the set, Mendoza was joined by an old collaborator from his former home base in Austin, Texas: Stanley "Cool Pops" Smith, a clarinetist and vocalist with deep Indianapolis roots as musician and producer. Smith told me he used to bring in some of the most eminent Indianapolis musicians to the old Hummingbird Cafe on Talbot Street, including Pookie Johnson, Russell Webster, and Jimmy Coe. In Aus

CD review: 'Straight-ahead' jazz is capable of a fresh approach to the well-known past

At the imaginative forefront of NYSQ: Tim Armacost Complaints that there's too much recycling in jazz, in part the product of the separation of some players into "contemporary" or smooth jazz, plus marketing favoritism toward vocalists, plus a wealth of tribute concerts and CDs   — all have contributed to a perception of the music's balkanization in a sprawling village of gated communities. But the agenda of the New York Standards Quartet moves free of the retread stigma and dead-end vistas. The "standards" it specializes in aren't simply treated to serial disquisitions on a tune's chord changes. Instead, the seasoned ensemble — Tim Armacost, saxophones; David Berkman, piano; Daiki Yasukagawa, bass; Gene Jackson, drums — reimagines the tunes to make them fit the personalities of the players and the rapport they unfailingly display as a unit. At least that's the case on "Sleight of Hand," a new release on Whirlwind Recordings, p

ISO displays fine partnership with Indianapolis Symphonic Choir in music of Orff and Bernstein

Chances are few people would be aware of the complexity of the Middle Ages if "Carmina Burana" had not been written and gone on to achieve worldwide popularity over the past eight decades. Carl Orff, a German composer of a personally secretive nature who is almost as well known as a trailblazing music educator as for this work, got from Goliard poetry that had been stored at a monastery in Bavaria glimpses of medieval counterculture that nearly everybody has taken to their bosoms ever since. There is a pagan celebration of nature in bloom, considerable irreverence toward kings and priests, a celebration of lasciviousness and heavy drinking, and other age-old, ineradicable deviations from uprightness. All this is subjected to sonically varied but basically simple musical treatment: lots of repetition, short phrases, unfashionable adherence to tonality, and in places almost as much overloading of rhythmic accents as today's hip-hop. As such, the cantata is looked down u

Youth under pressure in Summer Stock Stage Eclipse's 'Spring Awakening'

Melchior (Joey Mervis) and Wendla (Paige Brown) are about to awaken. Ten years away from its New York premiere, "Spring Awakening," a musical version of an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, shows no sign of becoming a period piece. That's to its credit, as well as that of a new production by Summer Stock Stage, introducing Eclipse , the alumni component of the teen-focused theater training program. With its rock-inflected songs by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, "Spring Awakening" is sort of immune from aging. This is despite its being set in a provincial German town in the 1890s (as the program reminds us). The show imbibes at the fountain of youth, and that's its secret: As long as young people feel oppressed and misunderstood by their parents, teachers, and preachers, this heart-wrenching drama with impactful songs ought to find receptive audiences on both sides of the generational divide. Armchair sociologists can doubtless point to the loosening of