Showing posts from June, 2018

Finding room for wonder and details in the universe: "Silent Sky" introduces a new theater group

After I first encountered Walt Whitman's poem "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" in my teens, I thought it supported my defensive posture about science. My initial enchantment with stars and dinosaurs several years before was fading against the challenge of actual high-school science classes, getting simple experiments to come out right and all that. So I took the poet's departure from an astronomy lecture to contemplate the heavens unaided as superior to studying them; it wasn't the only time in adolescence I grabbed onto something in order to justify an immature perspective. I felt confirmed especially by the line "How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick." The women of "Silent Sky" celebrate astronomical advances. The poem is quoted at a crucial place in "Silent Sky," the stunning inaugural production of Summit Performance Indianapolis, which I saw in preview Thursday night at Phoenix Theatre 's Basile The

Mitch McConnell becomes a speed freak about Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominees, after his slowpoke act two years ago

A borrowing from Gilbert & Sullivan to comment on Americans' vexed feelings about civility

Herbie Hancock brings his decades-long legacy to Hilbert Circle Theatre

At the beginning of Herbie Hancock 's career, technology had only a small role to play in the creation Herbie Hancock has a lot of music to contemplate. of new jazz. The plugged-in part of the music was largely restricted to setting the desired studio conditions, with wizards like Rudy Van Gelder influencing the sound of jazz as the wider public encountered it on recordings. Hancock's representation in the old Blue Note catalogue is still a part of his long legacy worth cherishing. But  the pianist quickly turned his fascination with electronics into a myriad of ways to communicate musically. Some of the flowering of this involvement was evident, both positively and otherwise, throughout a two-hour concert Tuesday night at Hilbert Circle Theatre. Presented by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (which did not appear), Hancock was accompanied by Lionel Loueke, guitar; James Genus, electric bass, and Trevor Lawrence Jr., drums. Hancock divided most of his attention betw

We are all in the mood for hate, more than love, so that needs its own song

Tempesta di Mare at Early Music Festival: Three Berlin sisters helped move the German city's musical culture forward

From J.S. Bach to Mozart: Ensemble from Tempesta di Mare Music from the collection of three remarkable Jewish sisters who were well assimilated two centuries ago in upper-class Berlin formed the program that Tempesta di Mare brought to the Indianapolis Early Music Festival Sunday afternoon. The link between J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn in the seamless web of German musical culture had much to do with the advocacy and nurture of Sara, Fanny, and Bella Itzig, as members of the Philadelphia baroque orchestra demonstrated for an audience at Indiana History Center. The program's bookends helped frame the concert as an exercise in late 18th-century/early 19th-century household music-making, but pitched at a high professional level. As Tempesta di Mare re-created that cultural milieu, the most eminent Bach made for an obvious start to the concert; the Itzig sisters were devotees. In this arrangement of Trio Sonata No. 5 in F major, six visiting Tempesta di Mare members parti

Wait a minute, USA! You may have overlooked Canada for years, but you're not her overseer

52nd season opens as Indianapolis Early Music Festival releases its inner folkie with Ayreheart

Mark Cudek, artistic director of the Indianapolis Early Music Festival since 2007, has long prided Ayreheart: Willard Morris (from left), Ronn McFarlane, and Mattias Rucht. himself on assembling seasons of great diversity that help erase narrow notions of early music. So, in addition to "high art" and high Baroque repertoire, he welcomes expertise in music with more ancient roots but with the kind of range to which the crossover label can be applied without embarrassment. Thus, it was a natural Cudek touch to open the festival's new season Friday with Ayreheart in a program titled "Ayres of Albion: Songs, Dances, and Ballads of England, Scotland, and Wales." Before popular, folk, and classical became labels applied to different genres, there was a musical mainstream that embraced everything but the sacred. Ayreheart is a trio put together by Ronn McFarlane, a lutenist and Cudek colleague in the Baltimore Consort, which played a Shakespeare-themed concer

Cincinnati Opera's 'Coronation of Poppea': First-century Rome meets 21st-century America, mediated by Monteverdi

Deep personal intrigue at a society's highest levels may not permit drawing as many parallels from one era to another as temptation offers. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy said, and when power and wealth are involved and sustained by flattery, the intimate rancidness radiates in a peculiar way. So it was in the reign of the Emperor Nero, whose increasingly cruel and willful rule (54-68) was immortalized by the historian Tacitus. Nero and Poppea prepare to canoodle. Drawing parallels to today must be resisted, especially when the vehicle is such an operatic landmark as "L'Incoronazione di Poppea," by Claudio Monteverdi. When norms are overthrown and government by iron whim takes over, it may be best to let each historical tub rest on its own bottom. So on to opera-reviewing! Monteverdi came a little late to the turn-of-the-17th-century creation of opera, then had a remarkable "late spring" as a composer in his 70s.  One of t

Variegated, inspiring and intense, 'Indecent' opens the final part of Phoenix Theatre's season

After the splash of "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" linked Phoenix Theatre history from the old era to a new one last month and had Vonnegutites genuflecting toward North Illinois Street, the first post-transition production to come to the new facility's main stage focuses on the interaction between theater and the world itself. It has unique historical material to apply to the Shakespearean touchstone, made banal by repetition, of "All the world's a stage," flipping it to something like "all stages are the world" and the reversed corollary, "and all the players merely men and women." Two women kissing got Sholem Asch's play off the New York stage. "Indecent" is a Tony Award-winning play by Paula Vogel, a stylistically free-flowing ensemble drama with the feel of a historical documentary. It traces the fortunes of "God of Vengeance," a 1906 Yiddish play written in Warsaw during the time of pogroms and with E

'La Traviata' opens renovated Music Hall for Cincinnati Opera season

Alfredo (Ji-Min Park) woos Violetta (Norah Amsellem) the courtesan he's admired from afar. Never before have I enjoyed the opportunity of seeing two different productions of a core-repertoire opera within 15 days. Endless comparisons could be made, but in covering Cincinnati Opera 's opening-night (June 14) performance of Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata," I've decided that's my proper focus. So I will bring in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis ' English-language version, which I attended May 30, at just a single point. The Cincinnati production is owned by Chicago Lyric Opera. It has an expansive, old-fashioned look, well suited to mark the reopening of Music Hall, once again the company's home after two years away. The opening scene at Violetta Valery's house speaks to the glamour associated with the heroine at the height of her cachet in mid-19th-century Paris. The stage picture of the courtesan's lavish lifestyle, despite the tragic turn

There Are Big Hotels (to come), and many fine condos, on North Korea's beaches: just listen to POTUS!

Getting in deep with Bach's violin-keyboard sonatas: Vinikour and Pine join forces in two-CD set

In J.S. Bach, there is always at least as much as meets the eye (or ear). Everything can be heard, and often its relationship to its surroundings is immediately evident as well. But – it's time to embrace the cliché— there's always more than meets those two relevant sense organs, too. It's all on display in "J.S. Bach: The Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord" ( Cedille Records ), which came out last month in double-CD performances by Rachel Barton Pine , violin, and Jory Vinikour, harpsichord. (The duo was among the guest artists two years ago at the Indianapolis Early Music Festival, so my local readers are aware what they are capable of.) My standard of comparison couldn't be more different from the new version, which adheres to 18th-century performance practice and the sound that presumably would have been familiar to the composer. The comparison is a 42-year-old double LP with Jaime Laredo, violin, and Glenn Gould, piano. What follows is not a poin

Machismo at the outbreak of America's worst war: Eclipse produces the jarring jarhead musical 'Dogfight,' a love story

A mean exercise suggesting the degree to which testosterone poisoning influences male bonding (and Culture wars foreshadowed: folkie Rose gets acquainted with Eddie. degrades women) grips the first act of "Dogfight," the period musical now being presented by Eclipse, the alumni outgrowth of Summer Stock Stage, at the IndyFringe Theatre. The setting is San Francisco in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy is sending marines over to Vietnam as "advisors." Peter Duchan's book, with songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, throws at the audience  six rough-and-ready jarheads (a fighting word they're proud to reserve for themselves) preparing for a last night out stateside with pickup dates. The show's title has a double meaning, to explain which would put me into spoiler territory. It's important that the audience only become aware what's really going on just before Rose, a naive but politically sensitive waitress sweet-talked into a date by Edd

'Nice Work' (if he can get total capitulation from Kim Jong Un in Singapore)

O Canada! A scolding song for our northern neighbors from the Trumpian viewpoint

Concluding its classical season, ISO produces a splendid 'Magic Flute,' audaciously staged

Saturated as "The Magic Flute" is in Masonic symbols, the relative obscurity of their significance pales for the general populace beside the opera's eclectic brilliance, which has sustained it in all-ages appeal to the present day. That truth was reflected in every aspect of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra' s staged production of the opera to conclude its two-week "Mozart's Last Year" festival. Seen Friday night in the production's Hilbert Circle Theatre premiere, the show brimmed with 21st-century imagination, helped immeasurably by the immortal 1791 score and its chockablock libretto. Its chief creator and the opera's instigator, Emanuel Schickaneder was a producer of the sort we can see as modern: gifted with outreach values, able to be both high-toned and streetwise, as long as he could bring the Viennese public along. He concocted the text with a fellow Mason, and the composer's enthusiasm for the assignment as the most immortal

A concise historical ballad, bawdy but based on well-known facts, inspired by a song not included in 'Million Dollar Quartet'

A jam session for the ages: ATI brings back its 'Million Dollar Quartet'

The company of 'Million Dollar Quartet' belts out the finale. I told this story over four years ago in a post detailing my overall aversion to rock music . But it may be more pertinent here because it's relevant to my first exposure to "Million Dollar Quartet" as presented by Actors Theatre of Indiana i n an encore run. The rocking out will continue through June 17 in the Center for the Performing Arts' Studio Theater. It's about "Blue Suede Shoes," the beloved rock 'n' roll song that launches the show, which is based on a one-time Memphis gathering of Sun Studios' early stars in December 1956. The song was passed on to Elvis Presley and became part of his burgeoning stardom, overshadowing the man who wrote it, Carl Perkins. That stroke of fate is one of "Million Dollar Quartet"'s dramatic conflicts, as Perkins reminds his boss, Sam Phillips, of the slight.  He's defending himself and his rhythm section for t

For art's sake: Some people write poems the way Donald Trump makes deals

This morning, as part of a feature on how the administration is approaching the summit meeting with North Korea next Tuesday, NPR played an audio clip of Donald Trump praising his "art of the deal." With a Google search, I found this boast was also a tweet from way back in December 2014: "Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully or write poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That's how I get my kicks." That got me to thinking about how five great American poets could function as Trump conduits, in revisions of one famous poem each, if they were around to represent his manner, his style, and his values. The titles of the actual poems on which these Trumpified verses are based appear in parentheses after the poets' names. My shorter versions reflect the President's short attention span. Hart Crane (Proem to “The Bridge”) How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest, Bob Mueller’s wings shall dip and pivot him

'Appalachian Spring' highlights a varied Dance Kaleidoscope program

The ebullience of young love in "Appalachian Spring" Putting on one of his mentor's most celebrated works with the company he has directed for 27 seasons adds further distinction to David Hochoy's tenure at the artistic helm of Dance Kaleidoscope . The arrival of Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring" on the DK schedule has been justly heralded. The result, as seen Saturday night at Indiana Repertory Theatre, was fulfilling and refreshing. The provenance of this ballet here is solid: Hochoy spent the '80s as a Graham dancer and rehearsal director, and continues the association on the faculty of the Martha Graham School. The great choreographer's fascination with Americana would fade later in her career. In 1944, when her collaboration with Aaron Copland came to fruition, she was still creatively focused on American folkways and finding a dance language to blend the attitudes and postures she found there with symbolism that dominated her la