Monday, April 29, 2019

IRT's 'You Can't Take It With You': The lesson still applies, though the examination ages

Fun finale: All improbabilities are reconciled as 'You Can't Take It With You' privileges fun.
Two cheeky young playwrights, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, caused a sensation in 1937 with an energetic Broadway comedy trumpeting a message in its title: "You Can't Take It With You." It ran for 837 performances and won that year's Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Indiana Repertory Theatre just this weekend opened its second-ever production of the show, wisely resisting all possible temptations to update it. Its gallimaufry of sight gags and witticisms, threaded throughout the dizzyingly paced dialogue within one Manhattan household and its visitors, evokes an era. America was recovering uneasily from the Depression. Everyone was being urged to get with the system that had recently let them down. Going against the grain is discouraged; the range of expressing oneself freely is tightly prescribed.

True, the message of tolerance that prevails at the end gives the show some claim to heralding today's concerns. Perhaps the individualism that the Sycamore family represents has run amok over the last 80 years, but there are still tenuous pressures to conform to whatever standards still apply across the American mainstream. Those pressures, more entrenched in 1937, are shown at the end to be insufficient to provide the happiness the Sycamore family embodies in a tumultuous, live-and-let-live manner. The sanguine paterfamilias, Martin Vanderhof, played with an air of offhand, trenchant wisdom by Robert Elliott, provides the role model.

Seen Sunday afternoon, "You Can't Take It With You" in this 2019 version owes much to the brio of Peter Amster's direction. The coordinated chaos that the large cast exhibits is unrelenting. The way the peculiar interests and idiosyncrasies of the characters manifest themselves speaks to Kaufman and Hart's powers  of observation and insouciant vigor.

But over time the verbal wit has become somewhat stale. The winks and nods about sexual matters show "You Can't Take It With You" to be a period piece. Some topical references have wisely been dropped: When Penelope Sycamore, the eccentric mother of two nubile young women, Essie and Alice, observes of the domestic help Rheba and her boyfriend, Donald, "They're awfully cute... sort of like Porgy and Bess," the line is missing at IRT. Good thing, insofar as the African-American identity of the couple is blurred in IRT's casting. Still, the cut does mean that we miss an insight into the limits of the household's fair-minded white liberalism. Porgy and Bess are probably the only black lovers that would come to Penelope's mind, though the comparison is wildly inappropriate. Besides, Penelope is played here by Indianapolis' best known African-American actress, Milicent Wright, who brightly makes the role her own at every turn.

So, today "You Can't Take It With You" must be played for its savor over its substance. And the stew is well-spiced. Essie, the daughter with stretched-out aspirations to be a ballet dancer, moves and talks in a delightfully air-headed way in the performance of Mehry Eslaminia. Her incorporation of balletic positions, gestures, and cliches throughout sums up the way in which this old wine, vintage 1937, sparkles in its new bottle.

Tony and Alice envision a life of happiness together.
Sister Alice is shown to be fully in love with her unusual family and the stray people it has virtually adopted. Janyce Carabollo was totally convincing as both ingenuous and shrewd enough to eagerly anticipate her escape, thanks to an endearing marriage proposal from her boss, Tony Kirby, scion of a prosperous Wall Street financier. There's reason enough for her anxiety about the inevitable first meeting of the two families, despite the prosperous-looking milieu. I don't know much about the Upper West Side in the 1930s, not having lived there (and briefly) until the 1940s, but Linda Buchanan's set is one in the IRT tradition of I-want-to-live-there! magnificence. I'm trying to understand where the money came from, given Vanderhof's long self-exile from the workaday world.

It turns out Tony, likewise nervous, is nursing a scheme involving a family revelation, which he disguises as a scheduling mistake. That premature first encounter brings the disparity between the Kirby family and the Sycamore/Vanderhof melange to a rapid boil. This is one of the triumphs of the Kaufman/Hart dramaturgy, and still works today, despite the play's dated aspects. The scene hits the heights of this production.

Aaron Kirby plays Tony, ardent and resourceful as a young lover overcoming great odds.  The obstacles are his parents, chiefly his stuffed-shirt father, played with ample self-possession (eventually shaken) by David Lively. Carmen Roman is the equally straitlaced Mrs. Kirby, whose veneer cracks winningly during a parlor game engineered by Penelope to relieve the social awkwardness.

Among the supporting roles of unshakable outsiders, there is notably Ansley Valentine as  Mr. De Pinna, who
Mr. De Pinna brings his pocketry a little to close to the taxman as Paul Sycamore looks on.
now assists Paul, the girls' dad and Penelope's husband in self-taught experiments with fireworks in the basement. It really doesn't count as a spoiler to reveal that there will be explosions, of course. James Leaming intensely plays the self-absorbed experimenter, the head of a family who can never bear to put away childish things, contrary to the famous teaching of St. Paul. Like Penelope's restless obsession with writing plays, the parents' hobbies threaten their devotion to family but luckily stop short of demolishing it.

Buzzing constantly while stuck to the household flypaper is another visitor, the Russian ballet teacher Boris Kolenkhov, to whom Joey Collins gives a heavy stage accent recalling Boris Badenov of the "Rocky and Bulwinkle" cartoon series. He's no villain, however, just a black-bread pessimist a bit unsettling to the family, despite his flattering attentions to Essie and Rheba.

Rheba and Donald get salt-of-the-earth impersonations from Brianna Milan and Adam Tran. Carlos Medina Maldonado rounds out the display of family artistic pretensions as the xylophonist-composer Ed, Essie's husband. (I'm not sure why in a family of individualists this young couple needs Vanderhof's approval to make a baby; that's one of those little sniggers the playwrights must have felt they had to insert.) Adding further gloss to this mildly Hogarthian group portrait are Molly Garner as an inebriated actress brought in to critique Penelope's plays and in no condition to do so and Scot Greenwell as a stern, uptight taxman trying to persuade Martin to wipe the slate clean on his income-tax delinquency.

Jan Lucas comes on formidably near the end as a class-conscious Russian aristocrat in exile who's enough of a party animal to commandeer the kitchen and produce a celebratory feast of blintzes. Everyone then breaks into one of the contemporary songs that pop up now and then throughout. Turning Johnny Mercer's revenge scenario on its head, they sing appropriately: "So you found someone who set you back on your heels — goody goody!" With basement detonations, hard-won enlightenment and love all leading the way, being set back on one's heels is what this production urges everyone who sees it to welcome.

[Photos by Zach Rosing]

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Guest conductor JoAnn Falletta puts a personal stamp on this weekend's ISO program

The promotional video JoAnn Falletta made for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's website conveys her affection for the unusual program she is conducting this weekend.
JoAnn Falletta got the ISO to deliver on her enthusiasm for the music.

The enthusiasm was given a firm foundation in Friday's Hilbert Circle Theatre concert of orchestral music by Samuel Barber, Edward Elgar, and Zoltan Kodaly. The marquee item was Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major, featuring Kevin Lin, a Taiwanese-American violinist who was appointed co-leader of the London Philharmonic in 2017.

The orchestral pieces aren't obscure, but their presence in a collective concert package is conspicuous. And the ISO's realization of them under Falletta's baton was thoroughly successful.

 Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta" is an original suite of music influenced by gypsy music the composer heard as a boy in the small Hungarian town where he lived for seven years. The roots of Kodaly's extensive adult activity as a folk-music collector are in Galanta.

The piece is the sort that in the old days found a place on "symphonic pops" programs. That's not to say it doesn't belong on programs of the classical mainstream, but to indicate it's the sort of work that readily gets across to casual listeners or relative strangers to the meat-and-potatoes repertoire. It hooks audiences in, as it did Friday, from the first dance on, with its seductive clarinet solo. Assistant principal Samuel Rothstein played it with conspicuous flair. The performance was also noteworthy for the vigor and coordination of the strings in heavily accented phrases.

Lin came on after the rousing Kodaly performance. He applied his rich tone judiciously as the first movement of the concerto got under way. He had attractive concepts to expound upon, diminishing and slowing phrases now and then to call attention to landmarks along the way. The Canzonetta (second movement) was ravishing, and in the finale, the rustic spiritedness that so antagonized one of the piece's first critics, the Viennese monstre sacré Eduard Hanslick, took over from the first. Lin presaged the wildness to come in his initial statement. As the movement proceeded, he embodied it to an extent that challenged the orchestra to keep pace, but the accompaniment was up to the task.

The only portion of his performance that bothered me was what followed the first-movement cadenza. It seemed
Kevin Lin captivated with the concerto and, for an encore, a stirring account of Paganini's ninth caprice
overheated, and it banged into the double bar so forcefully that some in the audience were stirred not only to applaud, but also to stand. Lin and the orchestra thus achieved a fine effect, but my notion of what might be called the rhetoric of the romantic concerto is that the solo cadenza represents a summing-up and release of the tension created in what precedes it. What follows such an unaccompanied statement should have the aura of accumulated wisdom, in which the basic material is addressed from a new angle, wholehearted but somehow viewed from above. This may be a peculiarity of taste. Lin's was a winning performance overall.

Barber's First Symphony, which Falletta has declared the greatest American symphony, was unknown to me, though the program book notes that the ISO played it 17 years ago. I must have missed that, or else memory has failed me. I prepared for Friday night by finding online a video performance last year by the Chicago Youth Symphony, and it blew me away. The oboe solo that launches what is in effect the slow movement of this one-movement work nearly brought me to tears. I thought, "If a student oboist on screen can affect me so, what will happen when the peerless Jennifer Christen plays it in the concert hall? Will I simply dissolve right there in seat L202, and a chemist have to be summoned to reconstitute me?"

I managed to keep my composure, fortunately. But the principal oboist's solo was predictably stunning, and she deserved Falletta's salute and call to stand as the audience's warm ovation began. Even if the solo had been played unexceptionally, it is so crucial to the work's structure that it seems to gather the entire force of the piece into a grand statement that brings it to a majestic conclusion. Barber, with his authentic romantic sensibility, must have known he'd come up with a wonderful tune that deserved to be preached like the Sermon on the Mount and orchestrally reinforced to the multitude.

The whole work deserves Falletta's high esteem, with perhaps an exception for the "scherzo" episode, which felt a little academic to me. Clearly, however, this piece is a major representation of this much-admired composer, well-knit, passionate and indivisible.

The concert closed with more passionate music, brought off with such style that few in the audience seemed to mind a running time of over two hours.  Like the Kodaly, Elgar's "In the South" (Alassio) is a piece of geographically oriented nostalgia. It's a consequence of the English composer and his wife having gratefully escaped a dreary London winter so that he could compose his first symphony in sunny Italy. The sojourn was such an overwhelming pleasure that the welcome distraction from the symphony resulted in this work.

It's not Italian-sounding, as Falletta noted in remarks from the podium, but rather all Sir Edward. The rising brass figures at the start speak to the uplift Alassio gave the composer. Tolling church bells are suggested, and some typically Elgarian orchestra chatter probably represents the energy of Italian street life. Among the calmer portions, the harp-accompanied viola solo, splendidly played by Yu Jin, wove a particularly lovely spell. Spellbinding, in fact, was the essence of the whole concert.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Phoenix Theatre: 'The Children' ponders dangerous legacies, both personal and technological

In their cottage home near a disaster site, Hazel and Robin fret together.
The toxic triangle of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima has left an afterglow in the public mind that has forever complicated acceptance of nuclear power as a safe alternative to other energy sources.

"The Children" takes place with a fictional accident at a nuclear power station as a menacing backdrop, but it doesn't feel like a topical or political play. It's rather an exploration of how we summon moral and physical courage in the face of challenges that seem overwhelming and call into question how we have lived our lives.

Lucy Kirkwood's three-character one-act opens tonight at the Phoenix Theatre. Seen at Thursday's preview performance, an intensely committed cast of three seasoned professionals under Bill Simmons' direction stunned the audience with the comedy-drama's illuminating scrutiny of the interplay of resilience and vulnerability.

Hazel and Robin are a couple in upper middle age who live in a cottage in southeastern England (in Zac Hunter's sensitive design of deceptive normality) in the aftermath of a devastating meltdown at a place where they once held high-level jobs. At home not far from the exclusion zone, they are surprised by the sudden appearance of ex-colleague Rose, whom they've not seen in three decades. The surprise, and the eventually revealed reason for her visit, turns alarmingly into exposure of how they've coped in the contaminated vicinity. Jolted by Rose's explanation, "The Children" settles into a glum journey over frightening terrain.

Kirkwood is a canny writer, chock-full of insights into how people carry and adjust the emotional baggage they've been forced to bear. The comedy is concentrated in the first half-hour or so of the play. It's a comedy of bad manners, as Hazel and Rose in dialogue clearly are ancient foes, treading on each other's speech in a jumble of glancing blows.

Rose's boisterous manner conceals secrets.
Hazel, portrayed with febrile fragility by Donna Steele, is an ungracious hostess on a talking jag, nervously proclaiming a hold on life she can barely manage. Diane Kondrat played Rose masterfully as an assertive, blithe cosmopolitan woman (cleverly costumed as such by Lauren Kreighan ). On a mission we are dying to find out, Rose parries Hazel's haphazard thrusts wittily.

Hazel makes us jumpy, and we are only witnesses. It's no wonder she unsettles Rose somewhat. When Robin, who has been visiting the condemned farm the couple had run on the side, ostensibly to care for its remaining cows, returns home, the cracks in the marriage resound like glaciers calving. Robin is played with aching bravado and woundedness by Charles Goad in one of his more in-depth recent roles. We eventually come to understand the hollowness behind the husband's hearty facade.

The illnesses and unresolved conflicts in all three characters, some of them the residue of their troubled old friendship, come to the fore in a kind of striking parallel to the superficially undetectable effects of radiation. There is also, as the play's title suggests, some significant riffs on the theme of maturity. People well along in life often confront mortality in the manner of children unwilling to leave behind favorite playthings and the more abstract fondnesses they choose to lay claim to. The First World marketplace, which dictates that we should have (preferably via purchase) what we think we deserve, seems to set the cultural rules. This may carry over into how we exercise our skills, especially when we choose to overlook the downsides of technology. All three have some considerations to ponder about their culpability, which Rose underscores frankly as she makes the pitch I can't reveal here.

These unlikable characters are winningly played, and the danger they are confronting seems overwhelming. The last scene, with its hint of the supernatural, is an odd mixture of yoga and domestic tidiness. Laura Glover's enchanted lighting takes on the colors of the nearby sea. Air, earth, and water have all been affected by the nuclear accident. That leaves out only one of the ancient four elements, and once again nature warns (in the refrain of the Rolling Stones song that's part of Tom Horan's sound design), "Don't play with me, 'cause you're playing with fire."

[Photos by Gray Dragon Photography]

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Full-dimensional: Superb violin-piano duo ends IVCI concert season

Augustin Hadelich has a winner's knack for coming up to the level of whatever he plays.
With its generous blend of the familiar and the lesser-known, Tuesday's recital here featuring Augustin Hadelich  promised much on paper. Fortunately, it delivered the goods in actuality, too.

Hadelich returned once more to town, having built worldwide on the promise he established with his 2006 gold medal victory in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. The organization brought him to the Glick Indiana History Center stage with his frequent duo partner, pianist Orion Weiss, whose program biography is likewise replete with an abundance of honors and globetrotting engagements.

The duo opened with Beethoven and closed with John Adams. The men's precision and spirit was amply demonstrated in performances of the German's Sonata No. 4 in A minor, op. 23, and the American's "Road Movies."  Adams' carefully blossoming minimalism is on attractive display in the 1995 work, with its three movements titled, with illuminating offhandedness, "Relaxed Groove," "Meditative," and "40% Swing."

Orion Weiss brought excitement and precision to match Hadelich's.
The first movement was rhythmically agile cruising music, testing well the piano-violin partnership. Hadelich and Weiss hit no bumps in the road — clearly they were in pothole-free territory. The second movement displays Adams' calmer side, yet capable of bringing emotion to the fore (a quality that helps his operas succeed). There also was a severity to parts of this engaging music that recalled the angular outlines of Aaron Copland's "Piano Variations." So it was appropriate not just because of "Americana" associations that the duo responded to the audience demand for an encore with Copland's "Hoedown," an arrangement of the finale of the ballet "Rodeo." The encore matched the vernacular energy Adams draws upon in "40% Swing," whose rapid pace of figuration touches upon both country fiddling and jazz.

Hadelich and Weiss also visited the mainstream of the violin-piano repertoire. Their account of the Beethoven
sonata boded well for what else they played with like-minded understanding and flawless execution. I admired the mutual rapport with which they shaped phrases. Dynamic contrasts were pronounced, as Beethoven's score requires. Both showed a firm sense of who should be "leading" at any point. Particularly enlivening was the pungency of Weiss' left hand: anything in the bass or baritone register was unfailingly well-defined.

Brahms' genial Sonata No 2 in A major, op. 100, set the tone for an upbeat second half. Hadelich's tone had a rich mahogany hue in the frequently low-lying writing for violin. Weiss' touch made another sensitive adjustment to the score's personality, becoming mellow and songlike.

There were solo showcases for both players. Hadelich's was a fused presentation of Eugene Ysaye's Sonata No. 6 in E major, with Hyperlude No. 5 for Solo Violin, by the young Spanish composer Francisco Coll, offered as a prelude. The Coll was a muted interior monologue, with a peculiarly flamenco style of lyricism, out of which burst the Ysaye. It was gratifying to hear a performance of this Spanish-influenced work, familiar to many followers of the IVCI over the years, that was thoroughly in tune — unlike several I browsed among online after failing to find the version I own.

Weiss' solo turn was the fiendishly difficult and rewarding "L'isle joyeuse" of Claude Debussy. This is one of those pieces by the French master that strikes one with the miracle of how music so revolutionary can also be so pretty. Hearing "L'isle joyeuse" deeply exposes the listener to absolutely novel approaches to musical coherence involving phrasing, harmony, rhythm and tone color that are thoroughly convincing. And the surface charm of the music never ceases; even the fanfare passages near the end seem extraordinary, despite precursors in the glory of 19th-century French music from Berlioz to Saint-Saens. Weiss delivered the piece with full-spectrum panache and precision.

Late Debussy was also on the program in the form of the concise violin-piano sonata of 1917. A summing-up as well as a bit of nose-thumbing in the face of a horrid war and the composer's losing battle with cancer, the sonata features both architecture and drama, pathos and stoicism in balance. Especially effective in this performance was the whimsical aspect of the second movement and its blithe ability to seem both dreamy and down-to-earth. Among the great gifts these musicians brought to this concert was full sympathy with the special characteristics of such a variety of composers. They didn't seem to be wrapping all the music around themselves. Instead, they entered each diverse realm with curiosity and respect.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

'Swan Lake' shows Indianapolis Ballet fit for masterpieces

The impulsiveness of youth and the proneness of everyone to deception in matters of the heart make "Swan Lake" a reliably gripping ballet. And that's apart from the often glorious music and the demands of acting and technique, particularly in the double role of Odette/Odile.
Shea Johnson and Kristin Toner danced the central roles of "Swan Lake" Friday night.

These qualities were fully in evidence Friday night in the second of three performances Indianapolis Ballet is presenting of the work at Newfields' Toby theater.

In the cast I saw, there was a striking representation of the Queen of the Swans by Kristin Toner. She displayed the melting lyricism of the object of Prince Siegfried's affection throughout the original's second act (in this production joined to the first act). There was the touch of victimization, as Odette leads a flock of the majestic birds that are actually maidens under the spell of the sorcerer Rothbart. But there was also stature of the sort that leaders, even those subject to powers greater than their own, have to show forth. Odette's reciprocal love for the prince, her belief in his promise to choose her above all rivals, came through in Toner's performance. That Odette's trust will be betrayed is central to the pathos of "Swan Lake."

In order for such a personality to emerge in context, the miming aspect of all the named roles must be intact. This was quite clear under Victoria Lyras' direction. Every gesture told, crucially in the case of Odette and her lover, Siegfried, danced on Friday by Shea Johnson. It was evident as well in roles with less dancing, chiefly Michelle Merrell as the Queen, Siegfried's control freak of a mother, and Paul Vitali as her consort.

The latter role is ominously combined with that of Baron von Rothbart, costumed in a billowing cape shimmering with nocturnal colors and resembling a bird of prey. This production's prologue briefly summarizes the sorcerer's spellbinding control of Odette, which drives the story, even if the motivation remains unclear. It's just the sort of thing sorcerers do, I guess. Every move Vitali made conveyed the message that there is a canker at court as well as out at the wooded lake.

Johnson had the right royal bearing, while also communicating Siegfried's determination to be his own man. His rejection of three princesses vying to be his bride was firm and willful; their wooing efforts were brought off well by Indiana Coté, Jessica Miller, and Camila Ferrera. My impression of this Siegfried was that he was a little more earthbound than he needed to be, though he executed the virtuoso requirements of the role pretty well. 

I was more impressed by the youthful spring in Chris Lingner's every step as Benno, Siegfried's best friend. (Lingner will portray the Prince in today's matinee.) The hunting party he heads was lent just enough realism to make it clear that Siegfried has far different goals from his companions.

Indianapolis Ballet's 'Swan Lake': Mazurka Dance finale of the Palace act's character dances.
The troupe of swans accompanying Odette was thoroughly enchanting. Coordinated movement also had flair and the kind of mystery that makes an audience willing to suspend disbelief: Yes, we are convinced, young women under a spell can also be beautiful birds. Predictably delightful was the perky dance of young swans (cygnets); Rowan Allegra, Abigail-Rose Crowell, Camila Ferrera, and Katherine Sawicki looked well-nigh perfect in this ballet's rare touch of humor, hopping in unison with hands joined.

The costumes were stunning in the Palace act. Each character dance, with its specific ethnic flavor, joined visual enchantment to that of Tchaikovsky's music. The Neapolitan Dance, as danced by Lingner and Yoshiko Kamikusa, had extra brilliance and spirit. It helped set up this section's expansive ensemble finale, the Mazurka Dance.

But of course the tipping point of the action in this act is the appearance of the sorcerer's nuptial candidate Odile, danced as is customary by the ballerina who has already won our hearts as Odette. It's hard for this impersonation to come up to the level of the white swan as an acting feat. The characterization must be more one-dimensional even as the technical demands are greater. While hinting to Siegfried that she is his beloved, as her arms tantalizingly move like wings, Odile's movements are angular and stark in a show-offy way.  

This is capped by the repeated bent-leg whipping motion that propels a series of stunning turns (fouettés), which achieved the proper level of astonishment Friday night. If something demonic as well as technically advanced comes through flawlessly, this solo variation for Odile is ballet's equivalent of the Queen of the Night aria in Mozart's "Magic Flute." That's what Toner provided. Siegfried is of course fooled by the display and, despite misgivings prompted by the apparition of Odette, links his fate to Rothbart's daughter.

Lyras has loaded the final act with dramatic tension, as Rothbart appears to have won, solidifying his command over the captive swan-women. Her choice of a happy ending has plenty of precedent, and no doubt makes "Swan Lake" less disturbing to audiences with many children in attendance. At the other extreme, there's something spiritually deflating about witnessing the magnificent Rudolf Nureyev as the helpless Siegfried flailing about, drowning, at the end of the film Nureyev directed decades ago. 

Gloomy endings are, to be sure, common in fairy tales. But here, the evil spell is broken. The liberation of Indianapolis Ballet's exemplary swan corps as Siegfried brings Odette forward in his arms and she revives before our eyes is just the reward everyone wants to receive at the end of this superb romantic ballet.

[Photos by Moonbug Photography]

Saturday, April 13, 2019

At Clowes Hall, the Branford Marsalis Quartet pushes the boundaries and works within them, too

With the bandleader offering the choice between starting the set with something "wild and crazy" and a swinger
A quartet to reckon with: Calderazzo, Revis, Marsalis, and Faulkner.
more within bounds, the Clowes Hall audience predictably shouted out the former Friday night. "We're old-school," he explained. "No set list."

College crowd, right? What do you expect?  So the Branford Marsalis Quartet socked it to the responsive throng with "Dance of the Evil Toys," a piece by its bassist, Eric Revis. It was a fine exposition of the individual and collective readiness of the ensemble to represent mightily.

The composer laid down a menacing ostinato, and the sense of demonic energy only grew from there as his colleagues added to the charge. Drummer Justin Faulkner let fire an all-out fusillade behind the kit, and the ensemble balance tilted toward him in a manner that fortunately didn't characterize the two-hour performance. In fact, it was one of the best-balanced jazz quartet outings in a large hall I've ever experienced.

And that's all to the good, because each of the four was consistently worth hearing. Besides the three already named, the quartet is crucially linked to the protean piano-playing of Joey Calderazzo. A key to his playing and composing lends insight into a core value of Marsalis as well: the importance of not losing sight of the responsibility to honor melody and, even more important, create tunes in the course of improvisation.

On the Marsalis/Calderazzo "Songs of Mirth and Melancholy," a soft-spoken duo CD from 2010, the French composer Darius Milhaud is quoted inside the jacket saying categorically: "Melody alone permits a work to survive." The emphasis was evident Friday night in Calderazzo's "Conversation Among the Ruins," with Marsalis switching from tenor to soprano sax, as he was to do several times more. His limpid tone on the latter served the pianist's piece well.  The audience palpably calmed down and became reflective along with the band.

"Snake Hip Waltz," a perky Andrew Hill number, fitted in nicely, emphasizing the witty sides of Calderazzo and Marsalis. It was succeeded by "Life Filtering From the Waterflowers," another selection from the recent quartet CD "The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul." A long piano solo, out-of-tempo or "rubato" in the jazz sense of the term, displayed the mutual trust and security with which Marsalis's colleagues do their work: Revis and Faulkner were fully simpatico with Calderazzo, everybody doing just fine without putting a steady pulse down to keep things on track.

Marsalis then addressed the crowd, pretending to complain: "When will they play something we know?"  To answer the presumed objection, the quartet went way back. Many years ago, a friend of mine with a jazz show on public radio made a sort of feature out of including from time to time a different recorded jazz version of "On the Sunny Side of the Street." There's a myriad of 'em. The buoyant song, with lyrics to match, has long been one of what Marsalis, citing Louis Armstrong, called "one of the old favorites." Speaking of whom: my favorite "On the Sunny Side of the Street" stems from my first record purchases as a teen—the version included on "Satchmo at Symphony Hall" (from a 1947 Boston concert). It's thrilling just to think of the stately, florid Jack Teagarden trombone solo emptying into the break, filled by Big Sid Catlett's short snare-drum rolls just before the sextet's strutting out-chorus, capped by a crowning trumpet break.
The Branford Marsalis Quartet version Friday took a deliciously slow tempo, breaking up the phrases with suspenseful rests while keeping the pace steady. The playing reminded me that Marsalis favors instrumentalists' not thinking of the lyrics to old songs, contrary to the view of many jazz players. On such an evergreen, you can hear even the drummer thinking in freshly instrumental terms. This "Sunny Side" sang after its own fashion, not beholden to any vocal conception of the song.

Such an approach to melody naturally held sway in the two encores the quartet offered just after they'd charged the atmosphere fully once again with "The Windup," an original capturing both the Marsalis hometown's Cajun culture and zydeco exuberance as well as a kind of jubilee shout deriving from the black church. Taking one turn on soprano and another on tenor in succession, Marsalis led the band through a Jobim bossa nova and a crooner's favorite, "The More I See You."

This group can go to the outside and generate a somewhat avant-garde fury; but it always seems to have a comfortable home base to return to. The Clowes audience was amply rewarded with excellence in both areas.

Channeling the sepulchral presidential aide who may have directed purge of top homeland security echelon: Get Out of Town!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Lucy's a surprise to Biden! And that's as consciousness-expanding as the Beatles' original song

Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz, the American Pianists Awards' top prize in a quadrennial competition, lands in a familiar pair of hands

Emmet Cohen lived out the "third-time's-the-charm" cliché Saturday night at the Gala Finals of the American
Kurt Elling and Dee Dee Bridgewater flank award-winner Emmet Cohen.
Pianists Awards
in Hilbert Circle Theatre.

A finalist in the 2011 and 2015 jazz piano competitions, the 28-year-old topped the five-man field when all the judges' assessments were tallied. He's the new Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz, ringed round with a host of honors, chiefly around $100,000 in monetary benefits.

The carefully organized summit of a process lasting more than a year brought Cohen and his fellow competitors before a large audience to perform one song each with featured guest vocalist Kurt Elling, then showcased them in a Brent Wallarab arrangement of music each pianist chose, accompanied by the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra.

When I first heard Cohen in 2010, he was inaugurating the Premiere Series, club gigs at the Jazz Kitchen at which the finalists front a trio in the conventional piano-bass-drums combination. In my Indianapolis Star account at the time, though out of context it may sound like faint praise, I wrote: "Cohen strikes me primarily as a responsible artist: loyal to the material that inspires his arrangements and improvisations, very grounded in how to put across what he wants to say."

That's a rare effect for a 20-year-old to have, perhaps, but a sense of responsibility is vital equipment for any young artist, and it seems to have carried Cohen forward to the present. In Saturday's set involving collaboration with Elling, for instance, singer and pianist made good work of the least-known song of the five, "I Keep Goin' Back to Joe's," a male torch song associated with Nat King Cole.

Elling's career, a rare distinction for a male jazz vocalist, has been eminent for over two decades. His expressive range is as vivid as his command of vocal registers is secure. "I Keep Goin' Back to Joe's" put a spotlight on a strain of vulnerability that the Chicago-based singer has always exploited well. (The archetype in American popular song is Frank Sinatra's "Only the Lonely," perhaps the first "concept album.")

Cohen was fully with him in spirit, reinforcing with yearning phrases the lament of a solitary drinker hoping to reconcile with a long-absent lover. He also took flight in solo passages. So, while he may be properly grounded in honoring whatever material he undertakes, he typically allows plenty of room for his sometimes whimsical imagination to soar.

That's why I was slightly underwhelmed by the Fats Waller medley he played with the band on the concert's second half. The excursion through "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now," and other Waller chestnuts was idiomatic enough and showed off Cohen's pearly touch, but it explored only one facet of his artistry. I thought back to the fuller spectrum of his talents displayed in Friday's Club Finals at the Kitchen, when he gave "The Second Time Around" a prismatic treatment spanning both delicacy and bravura.

In any event, his capture of the top prize is fully deserved. It was almost predictable: I told a friend beforehand when asked for my pick: "Well, I think Emmet Cohen is due." I meant not that some sort of justice had to be served by giving a third-time finalist the top prize, but rather that anyone notching three places in the distinguished history of the American Pianists Awards is already in the winner's circle.

Here are the top moments for me from each of the other finalists in Saturday's performances:

*Kenny Banks Jr.'s steamy partnership with Elling in a ripe and rousing "Georgia on My Mind" and his characteristically puckish take, seconded by Brent Wallarab's excellent arrangement, on Harold Arlen's "Get Happy."

*Dave Meder's deep-delving examination of Thelonious Monk's "Work," which came through handsomely despite an open stage environment that didn't flatter the band. (Ideally, the BWJO would have been well served by an acoustical shell that might have gathered its sound and pushed it forward instead of allowing it to scatter upward, sideways, and behind.) With Elling, Meder's Chopinesque interpretation of Alec Wilder's "Moon and Sand" was also memorable.

*Billy Test's "From This Moment On" featured a subtle chorus after Elling's first traversal of the song, which made a nice contrast to the dominant sense of romantic mission that the Cole Porter evergreen encapsulates. The finalist's love of highly charged playing got effective free rein in the program-closer, Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care."

*Keelan Dimick complemented Elling's vocal acrobatics  in "Bye Bye Blackbird" as the performances launched after honorary chairman Al Roker's video greeting.  Dimick quickly served notice that these pianists can stand shoulder to shoulder with an inventive and mercurial vocalist of Elling's caliber. No wonder: they all brought plenty of performance history to the competition. In everything I heard from them over the course of the past season, there was an unflagging commitment to well-modulated ecstasy rising from a jazzman's essential task:  taking care of business.

The upbeat feeling of the evening, capped by the stage-spanning line-up of distinguished musicians and APA supporters as CEO Joel Harrison opened the envelope, had been established from the start by the emceeing of Bridgewater, spectacularly outfitted and exuberantly walking the sunny side of the street. She didn't need gold dust at her feet — she was wearing it.

[Photo by Mark Sheldon]

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Tessa Lark, a buoyant and directly communicative violinist, returns to Indiana to interpret Michael Torke's 'Sky'

Prizewinner: Tessa Lark shows affinity for various musical idioms.
On the way to her silver-medal finish in the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, Tessa Lark impressed listeners with her technical security and unfussy insights into the music, from Bach through Ysaye and on into the contest's two concerto phases.

I referred to her playing of Mozart's popular "Turkish" Concerto (No. 5 in A major) as "an astute, generously expressive, and well-balanced rendition." Similar qualities can be predicted when she and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra present the Indiana premiere of Michael Torke's "Sky" tonight at the Schrott Center for the Arts at Butler University.

The ICO, under the artistic directionn of Matthew Kraemer, is one of six orchestras that co-commissioned the new work, which was premiered and recorded in January by the Albany (N.Y.) Symphony Orchestra. It's a three-movement piece about 23 minutes long that evokes the bluegrass genre with which the Kentuckian Lark has long been familiar.

It's her second guest appearance with the ICO. In 2015, she charmed the audience with Vieuxtemps' Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor, Beethoven's second Romance, and, for an encore, a Kentucky fiddle tune. She was last heard in the area a year ago February with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, playing a concerto called "Love Letter" written by her boyfriend and musical collaborator, contrabassist Michael Thurber.

Her career has blossomed elsewhere since she won the IVCI silver medal. She received the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2016, and more recently she got a fellowship from the Borletti-Buiitoni Trust, which will enable her to work on such CD projects as "Strad Grass," an exploration of American folk music from a classical perspective.

This will be her third concert performance of "Sky." She hesitates to label it too exclusively as a bluegrass
Michael Torke: Visual guidance provided to his music.
concerto, preferring to say it was "influenced by it and inspired by it. But it's not like anyting I've heard before. There's French-style playing, a Scots-Irish musical language and banjo licks." Her collaboration with Torke brought into view the composer's unique perspective: "He creates his own sounds in this piece," she said. "He was curious to see if one plus one actually equals three or two. How would it sound?"

Torke has been associated with a the phenomenon experienced by relatively few people: a tendency to hear sounds in terms of distinct colors. Known as "synesthesia," the mental orientation was prominent in Torke's early works, but in "Sky" Lark senses the composer has steered away from the synesthetic focus.

Still, "the descriptors he uses are vivid and hilarious — very strong visions for what he's hearing. He'll say 'This should sound like drinking brandy by fire glow," or "like jewelry flying all over the place."

As for the bluegrass influence, Lark doesn't think a soloist's knowledge of that genre is essential to interpreting "Sky."  She concedes that it's often said "you can't play jazz or bluegrass unless you grew up with it, and there's a lot of truth to that." But Torke "hit deeply" on bluegrass, the violinist is convinced, "but it's his take on it. I sure hope it has that connection to other violinists. It's good enough that it could stand different interpretations."

The artist for whom "Sky" was created is giving six first impressions of it, however, and can be heard at 7:30 tonight on a program that also includes music of Dvorak, Virgil Thomson, and Kodaly.

APA Club Finals: The crescendo builds for the naming of the 2019 Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz

Giants of the keyboard: Jazz finalists put their feet into play before the big weekend.
The Club Finals of the current American Pianists Awards presented five top jazz pianists who already show promise enough to honor the competition before a note is heard. That is ample testimony to the quality of the American Pianists Association's structure, history, and reputation.

One of the finalists will get a special boost as the jury puts its assessment of Friday night's work at the Jazz Kitchen together with the Gala Finals today at Hilbert Circle Theatre. Judgment of their work in the season-long Premiere Series will also be a factor in the result. The crown is selection as the APA's Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz.

A packed Jazz Kitchen heard two sets by the stellar fivesome, accompanied by Jeremy Allen, bass, and Kenny Phelps, drums. This is a report on the early program, briskly hosted by the affable Matthew Socey, in recognition of the live-streaming presentation of the evening to anyone anywhere wishing access to the double attraction.

The crowd was openheartedly responsive to all five men. It greeted Dave Meder's announcement of his set's ballad, "If Ever I Would Leave You," with sighs of appreciation and affection, almost as if a parade of cute puppies had just passed along the bandstand. The performance of the Lerner and Loewe song, taken quite slow, seemed to caress the lyric. Though I doubt Meder made a conscious effort to do so, the rendition approximated the mosaic finesse of the sort that Kurt Elling, who was seated in the audience and will be featured in this evening's Gala Finals, gives to songs like "All or Nothing at All" and "In the Wee Small Hours."

Not that an evergreen in slow tempo inevitably evokes a singer. For contrast, Emmet Cohen's ballad choice, "The Second Time Around," was thoroughly pianistic. The theme was slightly ornamented with grace notes, and the growing intensity Cohen imparted to it with Allen's and Phelps' assistance took care not to overload the interpretation. It was never vocal, but all about the piano: Some might beg to differ, but I thought the heavy accents that barged their way into the climax were integrally exciting, capped by a kind of pile-driving buildup a la Oscar Peterson.

Keelan Dimick, with a characteristically light touch that permitted some restrained digging-in (as in his original, "Hole in One"), put a deliberate variety of texture in "In a Sentimental Mood." Bass and drums sat out until the bridge. Later a rare bass solo (Allen was subbing adeptly for an indisposed Nick Tucker) inserted a respite that was brightly interrupted by an outchorus full of feeling.

As for Meder, his ballad choice — Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You" — prized the sort of mental focus the song's title suggests. Phelps switched naturally from brushes to sticks as Meder's playing became chordal. Yet the thickened texture never took over, and thinned sweetly again as the piece neared its end. To underline the reigning mood, Meder inserted a suspenseful pause before the song's final phrase, which is of course the title.

Other high points:

*Meder avoided the obvious in his unaccompanied life essay, "This Road." The controlled jerkiness of the main material was fascinating, as interior voices vied for the ear's attention. The work became more ambitious as it proceeded. There was always some striving going on, with countermelodies briefly raising their heads. The polarity of conflict and resolution characteristic of most people's lives was skillfully implied throughout.

*Kenny Banks Jr.'s original, "Dream Waltz," brought to the fore his sensitivity to old musical styles. Lots of pedal and trilling established the work's nostalgic cast. A lightly applied oompah bass was varied just before it became boring. The performance came close to the Palm Court style — the genteel, sentimental idiom found in English resorts that crossed the Atlantic and mingled with ragtime more than a century ago. Banks has a very picturesque approach to his work: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" evoked its period with a few quoted tunes before shedding new light on the classic song's martial resolve and fulfillment of an idealistic mission.

*Billy Test stretched out more than his colleagues. His original, "Belonging," seemed simplistic at first, but later expounded on the useful difference between simplistic and sturdily simple, which it turned out to be. "Love Is Enough," an obscure pop tune with manifold phrases in the rhythm of its title, got things started. The set finished with a torrential charge through Miles Davis' "Nardis," in which explosive exchanges between Test and Phelps galvanized the atmosphere. With a lavish solo turn of his own, even Allen abandoned any confinement to merely filling in, assuring everyone that he had as much to say as his bandstand companions.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Blowhard in chief: Dylan's questions are revised and raised rhetorically to apply to Trump's loony suspicions of wind farms

Latest top-flight visitor to Butler University: Vibraphonist Stefon Harris concludes a two-day residency with a "neighborhood concert"

Stefon Harris brings his 'A' game to Butler.
Now almost unbelievably middle-aged, Stefon Harris — who helped sustain the small but vital jazz mallet-instrument tradition when he burst onto the scene in the 1990s — joined forces with true youth Thursday night in a Butler University Jazz Ensemble concert.

The Schrott Center for the Arts was fairly well filled for the free performance in the Neighborhood Concert series. Before the guest star's appearance, a short first half introduced the current big band in a state of readiness and purposeful drive. Under the guidance of Matt Pivec, Butler's director of jazz studies, the ensemble acquitted itself well in Dave Rivello's "Suspension of Disbelief" and Marcus Miller's "Splatch."

I liked the calm yet alert way the band came in behind Xavier Robertson's tenor-sax solo in the first number. And the "shouting" back and forth among the sections was essential to the groove in "Splatch,"  with its prominence of guitar and electric bass sustained confidently by Eric Garcia and Isaac Beaumont.

Born in 1973, the much-traveled, pedagoically astute Harris (a guest at the 2014 Indy Jazz Fest, by the way) seemed to be a generous and supportive academic visitor. In concert, he varied his exhibitions of virtuosity on marimba and vibraphone with just enough commentary to display his genuine engagement with the band and the audience. His solos sometimes spanned both instruments, and he often emphasized the expressive value of their difference in timbre: glossy (vibes) versus matte (marimba), to put it in visual-art terms.

His exquisite feeling for time was well-deployed in a reflective interpretation of Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan," an imperishable ballad suggested to him by Pivec when the two conferred by phone on repertoire. In contrast, when he wants to maximize the percussive nature of a mallet instrument, he holds nothing back. His forceful showcase in Thad Jones' "Big Dipper" was ample evidence of that.

His collaborative zest had already been established with a spirited jaunt through Horace Silver's "Cape Verdean Blues," and that ringing, exuberant authority, fully seconded by Pivec's band, was replicated in the set-closer, Sonny Stitt's late-bop standard "Eternal Triangle."

Harris is a prolific composer as well. In this outing there was an inviting, restless piece he wrote for the SF Jazz Collective, "The Devil in the Details."  The other original was a tender love song to his wife, "Let's Take a Trip to the Sky." In this arrangement, at least, it seemed rather a drifty work, forever moving toward elongated points of rest — too much a cadential taffy pull to make much sense on first hearing.

That minor disappointment did little to mar for me the welcome opportunity again to savor in concert the fleet ingenuity and warmth of Harris' vibes and marimba mastery.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Ronen finale: Norwegian guests join Ronen Chamber Ensemble for program of Grieg, Franck and others

The Ronen Chamber Ensemble marked the conclusion of its current Sister Cities Project season with a focus on
Norway that benefited from the participation of two first-class Norwegian musicians.

Chamber-music masterpieces performed by locally connected musicians constituted the two substantial works at the program's start and finish at Indiana Landmarks Center Tuesday evening.

Adept pianist Einar Røttingen
Paying immediate tribute to its guests, the Ronen program opened with Edvard Grieg's Violin Sonata No. 2 in G major, op. 13.  Violinist Jayna Park was joined by Ronen pianist/artistic director Gregory Martin in a work typical of its composer in melodic charm contrasted with energetic dancelike episodes.

The recitative-like opening statement by the violin first grabbed the attention, performed as if in confirmation that the minimizing label of "nationalist" composer sits uneasily upon a creator with fresh things to say in absolute music. The florid phrases in the main theme of the second movement were particularly inviting, as if fulfilling the hesitant promise of the piano introduction. In the finale, lyrical contrasts to the music's vigorous manner were balanced and expressively forward-looking, which made the duo's relative lack of bravura in the final measures a tad disappointing.

Jumping to the program finale, Martin was back onstage to be joined by violist Li Li, co-founder and artistic director Ingrid Fischer-Bellman (cello), and violinist Joel Smirnoff for a sojourn away from Scandinavia that lent the program part of its title, "Grieg and Music of Fin-de-Siecle France." The vehicle was Gabriel Fauré's Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, op. 15.  The weight of that "fin-de-siecle" label may today be a bit lost amid wave after wave of successive fads and trends both cultural and specifically musical.

Yet it's clear that the continuing appeal of a late-19th-century aesthetic, especially that centered in France, comes through in some of Fauré's best music. It's summed up in a sentence of description from the entry about the composer (1845-1924) in the New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians: "He...sometimes yielded to the gracefulness of the '1880s style' — melodious, tortuous and languid...." The rippling rapidity of the piano in the second movement, against pizzicato strings, emphasized gracefulness for its own sake. And those three salient adjectives all apply significantly to the third movement; the pathos of the second theme in particular was well-marked in this performance.

Njål Sparbo, Ronen's guest baritone
It must be said that there was a meeting of musical minds in the performance that was not always matched by the execution, which reflected the unalterable fact that we were hearing a one-time-only group of four professionals aiming to produce a common effect. It came close to representing the piece well, however.

The great treat that made the concert special was the participation of Njål Sparbo, baritone, and Einar Røttingen, his countryman at the piano for several songs,  as well as for some short solo pieces. Røttingen showed a gift for fully characterizing miniatures, such as Harald Sœverud's "Her Last Cradlesong," a mother's lament for her dead infant, and a sonatina movement that was plainly frivolous, with a flippant ending that delighted the audience.

Similarly, Geirr Tveitt, like Sœverud a Norwegian countryman esteemed as a lesser light to Grieg, was represented as a composer for solo piano by the brooding, romantic "Fare Thee Well" and the picturesque "Mountain Call," in which Røttingen deftly projected the echo effect of phrases repeated as if over a wide expanse. After intermission, Grieg, an exquisite composer for piano, got proper exposition with two memorable pieces given full honor in the guest pianist's interpretation: "Arietta" (op. 12, no. 1) and "Notturno" (op. 54, no. 4).

Sparbo displayed a fine, flexible baritone, solid in all registers, in Grieg's "The Time of Roses," "With a Water Lily," and "The Old Mother." The tone had a consistent glow, and especially in "The Old Mother," sensitively applied dynamics. His easy reach into a floating upper voice reminiscent of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's first showed up in Tveitt's "March Evening." That composer was also represented in what could almost be called a scena after the linked dramatic solos familiar in Italian opera; but "Night and Day" did not involve dramatic impersonation embracing several moods so much as a diverse narrative that brought to life a Norse creation myth involving a striding giant and cosmic horses galloping in relay. Thus the steeds were imagined to have created night and day — which, in the Arctic regions, have commanding positions for about half the year each. Sparbo's characterization was full-bore and as spellbinding, even given the language barrier, as a master storyteller's.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Ho-jo-to-ho! A fever-dream of U.S. politics smushed together with 'The Ring of the Nibelung'

The Ring of the Nebulous
(An April Fool’s Day operatic fantasy mashing up American politics on today's left and the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of the Ring Cycle)

Current poster for production of the pivotal opera in the real "Ring."
Ages ago, communities formed out of necessity and created symbols and forms of wealth to help assure their prosperity and continuity. But greed and lust soon compromised devotion to the communitarian ideal. Value passed out of the hands of those who created it and was promiscuously distributed, sometimes by violence and theft. Values eventually solidified uneasily under two headings — one material, the other spiritual. But material wealth, essential to triumph of both values, has largely stopped flowing, having coagulated under the control of Monopoly Capitalism, taking the form of a precious Ring guarded by a Dragon who killed his rivals and cheated his partners.

Old Socialism, the inheritor of the damaged communitarian ideal, would do everything to get the Ring back and restore it to its proper function, though what that was remains vague, or nebulous. Through his belief in an idealized State of Nature he fathered the union of Big Money and Big Fundamentalism. Unfortunately for him Big Money has become a murderous nomad, and Big Fundamentalism is trapped in a toxic marriage to Pastoral Authority. He had thought that from that marriage he could devise a way to assure the eternal survival of his values. His consort, Liberal Democracy, also swore allegiance to the communitarian ideal, but she is a bulwark of ethical standards, and averse to her husband’s authoritarianism. Scandalized by the incest, she has insisted on the household’s dissolution.

A Wotan figure for our times, Bernie strives to advance his vision
But Old Socialism, having established a power base in Vermont he calls Marx Manor, has ideologically fathered a warrior band, the Millennialkyries, sending his favorite one, Alexandria, into battle to rescue the result of the Money/Fundamentalism union. At the behest of Liberal Democracy, he changes his mind. Alexandria, sensing Old Socialism’s fondness for his offspring, disobeys the new order. She has her own agenda: to resist the worn-out platitudes of Old Socialism in the name of Democratic Socialism, the steed she rides into battle, returning fallen heroes to perpetual honor at Marx Manor. She names the rescued offspring Green New Deal. But Liberal Democracy has demanded that Old Socialism punish Alexandria for breaking the marital bond. Reluctantly, Old Socialism places the Millennialkyrie on a pyre surrounded by the Flames of Publicity. She must remain thus shielded until the arrival of a hero bold enough to break through and liberate her.

Green New Deal grows quickly into a strong young man, naïve and fearless, groomed to be a hero. Old Socialism has given his grandson a weapon forged by the dwarfish race of wealth creators; it is called Alternative Forms of Energy. Thus Green New Deal launches a mission to slay the guardian of the stolen wealth, a resentful Dragon of Monopoly Capitalism, who is more behind on payments to creditors than even Old Socialism. Once this mission is accomplished, with the Dragon roaring “Fake News!” at the end, Green New Deal has the secret of society’s transformation in his possession.
Alexandria, hemmed in by the Flames of Publicity, awaits deliverance.

After relieving Alexandria of her confinement by the Flames of Publicity, Green New Deal is ready to fully emerge as a hero. But he is tricked into surrendering the powers his new status has given him by Big Fundamentalism, now represented by the baleful Pence and his consort, Mother. Their victory will inevitably need the contribution of Big Money, so the magic Ring of the Nebulous must not be allowed to be returned to Old Socialism. Green New Deal forgets his mission under the machinations of Big Fundamentalism, but yields the ring to Alexandria as surety of his bond to her and sets forth to fulfill his mission.  Alexandria waits patiently for him outside a cave in the Bronx.

Old Socialism, disguised as Bernie the Wanderer, descends to Earth to reset Green New Deal on the right path, and, meeting him, mocks his ignorance. “Big banks are the main problem,” he says. “A healthier environment will follow.” Insulted to combat, Green New Deal shatters Old Socialism’s spear, Political Correctness. Soon, however, the eager hero, falsely promised fulfillment, is stabbed in the back by the deceptions of Pence and Mother, who fear they will lose all power if the hero should triumph.

The distraught Alexandria, faithful to the last to her lost love, mounts the steed of Democratic Socialism and rides into Marx Manor, setting it afire with the cursed power of the Ring of the Nebulous. The flames consume the underfunded, ideologically flimsy estate, and everyone perishes – including Old Socialism, Liberal Democracy, Democratic Socialism, and Alexandria’s colleagues and rivals, among them Elizabeth, Cory, Kamala, Joaquin, Beto, Zeppo, Groucho, Chico, and Harpo. In a final outburst before he too is consumed, Rudy, the Dwarf of Gotham, makes a futile grab for the Ring, just before everything is reduced to cinders.

Here’s a crucial part of the opera libretto, written in the alliterative style of ancient Germanic verse (Stabreim) that Wagner adopted for his tetralogy and that English readers know chiefly in “Beowulf.” The scene is the argument between Old Socialism and the Millennialkyrie, who has defied him and thwarted his agreement with Liberal Democracy to spare Big Money and Big Fundamentalism. Her disobedience necessitates the imposition of a punishment confining her within a wall of fire until a hero’s rescue.

Here you are to hold me responsible, right?

Old Socialism:
You punish yourself palpably, too ready to rise,
Deficient in honor to daring deeds of old.

Being Millennials, we are meaning to burgeon,
And so we rise greatly to hit the ground running.

Old Socialism:
But without my blessing, you were a barmaid wasting:
I boldly mandated the benefice of your mission.

Moving dead heroes monotonously to Marx Manor
Is a slave’s mission: Harrowing earth’s hell, we slink
Away from the fraught condition of the world
To wearily tend to your worn-out tenets.
Like the dreadful, leering Dragon,
You reveled for years in raucous rallies,
While we knocked on many neighbors’ doors,
Valiantly deserving the vote deluge
That came to us so convincingly.

Old Socialism:
These boasts are your failings foretold,
Born of inexperience, blatant and banal:
Retail politics rends real progress
And dishonoring elders is dangerous.

Your old socialism sinks ever into senility.
Your vaunted spear, Surplus Value, surprises
No more, your values invalid, unvenerated:
If workers no long weave ways to wield
The means of production, what message
Make you beyond moaning of unfairness?

Old Socialism:
It grieves me greatly that you must yield now.
Fitting is it that you suffer for falseness
To the service that sustains us. Surrounded
By the forever Flames of Publicity,
The substantial aspect of your celebrity,
Only a puissant paladin may penetrate
The pale, one pure and impervious to fear.

Whatevs! That’s what I warrior-like reply
To this demented law of Liberal Democracy
To satisfy the surrender of old socialism,
Putting the people and the planet in peril.

Old Socialism:
So must it be. Mingle, mainstream media!
Come engender fits of furious fire
Mounted magically about this Millennialkyrie
Until her deliverance may descend
From valor unveiled, perhaps via
Green New Deal, undaunted and dexterous.
Farewell! I vacate now this venue
To mourn at Marx Manor in Vermont.