Monday, May 8, 2017

The Arabian Nights

Constellation’s production of Mary Zimmerman’s The Arabian Nights is a dream come true. 
 As Constellation concludes its tenth anniversary season, it has its own story behind The Arabian Nights.  This was Founding Artistic Director Allison Arkell Stockman’s second production in 2007,  one which received great reviews and launched Constellation’s stellar career in Washington theater circles.  

That production also launched the collaboration with Tom Teasley, a world-renowned composer, instrumentalist, and teacher who created The Arabian Nights on his CD All the World’s a Stage

 Their formula of great stories accompanied by live original music continues. While it  might seem daunting for a small theater company with only 100 seats to attempt world classics,  Constellation shows never miss its target which is the human heart.

Eleven ensemble actors portray 40 characters from the legendary tales of a 1,001 nights.    Veronica del Cerro is the famed storyteller Scheherezade, with Ryan Sellers as the ruthless ruler Shahryar.   Matthew Aldwin McGee, who does double-duty as a member of the ensemble, playing Jester and others.  Lilian Oben is most impressive in her display of knowledge and wisdom as  Sympathy the Learned while Shravan Amin as Madman and  Jeremy Keith Hunter as Pastrycook are quite exuberant!

Making their Constellation debuts are Surasree Das, Thomas Howley, Yesenia Iglesias, Dallas Milholland, and Kevin Sockwell; and understudies Linda Bard, Justin Jarod Bell, Thomas Ellis, and Melissa Reed.

As the tales unfold,  one leading into another,  the  costumes continually  dazzle the eyes— thanks to costume designer Erik Teague— while our ears are enchanted by the musical magic of Tom Teasley throughout. 

The entire company join in spirited dances and fights, thanks to the choreography of Casey Keleba and Verionque Kim Tran.  Scenic designer A.J. Guban, with Matthew Aldwin McGee as property designer and lightening designer Jason Arnold, provide the imaginative setting and perfect atmosphere for recounting these tales.

Scheherezade’s storytelling is never-ending—that is what we wish for Constellation in its next decades.  

Constellation is at 1835 14th St NW, 

Monday, May 1, 2017

IN THE HEIGHTS = It’s here in Columbia Heights! 

What do you say about a sold out show that gets a standing ovation?  GALAs production of In the Heights is that special. 

With heart stopping singing and exuberant dancing, this production of In The Heights  explodes with endless possibilities as one “follows the path that is your life.”  

There are days when everything goes wrong from fights with family to NYC ConEd blackout to the death of a dearest  lifelong friend.  And at the same time, things go right—lovers match up and  people resiliently re-build businesses.  

And there are nights when everyone goes out dancing!

Juan Luis Espial leads the cast, as Usnavi, in the role originally played by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  He is the narrator and owner of a small bodega in Washington Heights and in love with Vanessa,   (Veronica Alvarez).   He was raised by Abuela (means grandmother in Spanish)  Claudia (Michelle Rios)  

Laura Lebron is Nina and Vaught Ryan Midder is Benny.  Nina is the first of her family to have left the barrio, but she loses her scholarship to Stanford.    Benny works for her father’s taxi dispatch business and is the only not Hispanic/not Spanish speaking  character.  

Nina’s over protective parents are Kevin (Jose F. Capellan) and Camella (Shadia Fairuz), who are not happy with her not telling them first that she is leaving school or her relationship to Benny, but must of all, that she did not come home to family first.

Daniela (Scherzade Quiroga) is the owner of a salon where   Carla (Gabriella Perez) works.  They are a team, with Daniela as  bold and Carla as slow to get jokes. But Carla is more than the other half of a comic team.  She is diversity personified, being of Dominican,  Cuban,  Chilean, Puerto Rican descent.

Rafael Beato is Usnavi’s younger cousin Sonny and Myriam Gadri is Graffiti/Sonny’s boyfriend.  Together they will bring a surprise unifying moment to the conclusion of The Heights.  

Pete Felix Marchany as Piragua Guy (it’s a Puerto Rican shaved ice dessert, shaped like a pyramid, consisting of shaved ice and covered with fruit flavored syrup).  Like the unnamed everyman in a play, he pushes his cart through the neighborhood.  With the electric power  off (in a heat wave), Mr. Softee is out of business, and the Piragua Guy saves the day.

It’s a musical that takes its lyrics seriously.  Director and choreographer Luis Salgado has adapted  a Spanish version by Amaury Sánchez  of Lin-Manuel Miranda musical/ book by Quiara Allegría Hudes.   GALA’s production intersperses  English and Spanish  throughout each song.  While this idea seems theatrical, it is actually the way that people immerse into another culture by using another’s language as they go along in everyday transactions.   

And we know the two lovers are on their way to permanent togetherness when Benny asks Nina to teach him Spanish.

Kudos to the production team which includes Music Directer Walter “Bobby” McCoy, Set Designer Elizabeth J. McFadden; Lighting by  Christopher Annas-Lee: Costumes:Robert Croghan; Sound, Roc Lee.  

The fine Ensemble includes Aaron Cobos, Hector Flores Jr., J.Jose Ozuna, Melinette Pallares, Amaya Perea, Nathalia Raigosa, Luis Ramos and Ma.Ximena Salgado.

Show runs from April 20 to May 21, 2017 —hopefully there will be an extension since  many of the remaining performances are already sold out.   

GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14 St. NW. Visit or call 202-234-7174.

Blood Knot and A Human Being Died that Night
South Africa: Then & Now

Two monumental plays by two South African icons at Mosaic pose a question. 

What has changed in South Africa in 50 years?

Nathan Hinton and Tom Story star in Athol Fugard’s classic fable Blood Knot is the never ending struggle between two brothers, separated by color but bound by blood.

Erica Chamblee and Chris Genebach face off in A Human Being Died that Night,  the true story from South African psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s  2003 book about the interrogation of Apartheid-era torturer and assassin Eugene de Kock.

We are reminded that in 1961 Johannesburg, when Fugard himself performed as Morris,  that the premiere production closed the day after it opened, after  a single performance, in part because it was then illegal for a racially mixed company to perform on the same stage. 

We can also read the daily political and social news articles on South Africa like the recent Guardian headline that asks:  Why is South Africa still so anti-black, so many years after apartheid?

And we ask again, what has changed? 

If you wonder about what can effect change, think on what  Kwame Kwei-Armah (Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage) recently says that  “theater  ultimately re-humanizes the most powerful tool on the planet: the human heart.” 

Mosaic  Theater does more than try to answer  such questions…  Mosaic is the theater that transforms hearts.

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(Or Everything you want to know about love is at the MET OPERA)

Great music and great literature meet on a great stage at the Met Opera’s production of Eugene Onegin on the big screen on April 25, 2017. 

The words are Pushkin’s from his  Russian novel-poem.  The music is by Tchaikovsky  for what he termed “lyrical scenes.”

Tchaikovsky’s music is forever embedded in our consciousness  with his fantasy ballets like  Nutcracker  and Swan Lake.   Pushkin’s work has provided the inspiration for dozens of musical works, including another famous Russian opera, Boris Godunov.   

This team of Tchaikovsky and Pushkin is a sure thing but while there are many scholarly interpretations of Pushkin’s work, there is none that so gets it at its core as this opera.

Using the very words from Pushkin’s poem,  Tchaikovsky built the opera through a series of powerful contrasts.   The main characters and chorus of dancers and singers reflect different sentiments and  life styles from the broad range of rural landowners to  the royal court 

  Act I  — sets up the meeting of the bored elitist Onegin (Peter Mattei) who dismisses  the  love of the idealistic youthful Tatiana (Anna Netrebko) while local  peasants gather at her family home for a traditional celebration.  

 Act II — Neighbors and  landowners gather at a party to celebrate Tatiana’s name day.  The fatal turning point is the duel between Onegin and  his best friend, the poet Lensky (Alexey Dolgov)  over Onegin’s attentions to his flighty girlfriend/Tatiana’s sister, Olga (Elena Maximova). 

 By Act III  — Tatiana has married a real prince (appointed by the tsar for his heroism on  the battlefield), who a relative of Onegin who has been in self-exile since he fatally wounded Lensky.   The  occasion for Onegin and Tatiana’s  emotional re-union is an elegant ball  with  waltzing gentlemen and ladies in fancy dresses.   

Tatiana is now a mature woman, one of the world, but one whose authenticity is intact.  Her youthful passion torments her but she plays by the rules of a married woman true to her husband.  Onegin, now old and broken, reverts to his youthful fantasy, in the despair of a life loss, one spent where everything was dismissed by his weariness with it.  

A  fatalistic fairy tale,  wrapped up in lush music, Eugene Onegin, is a treat for the senses even as it tears one’s heart out.   

But if this seems too sad, do not give up!  

There will be more passionate exchanges and more dancing crowds ahead as the next Met Simulcast performance moves to Vienna, with  Richard’s Strauss’s comic  Der Rosenkavalier  on May 14. 

There will be some tears at the end  of Der Rosenkavalier  but this not because of the lovers on stage  but because for the audience of opera lovers’  this will be Rene Fleming’s farewell opera performance.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Back To Methuselah Part 3 
As Far as Thought Can Reach. 
(Part Five of  A  Metabiological Pentateuch.)   

At Washington Stage Guild to April 16, 2017

Take a bunch of unlikely characters.   

Give them long winded speeches on art and life and humanity and eternity.  

Be sure they have an assortment of names that match equally time warped costumes — ancient Greek garb for the setting in the 32nd century in comparison to a 20th queenly yellow suit with proper red hat and matching pocketbook and formal male attire of man and woman created in lab by Pygmalion. 

Did I mention there is no intermission for almost 2 hours.

What you have is a theatrical success of the first order.  That is because the Washington Stage Guild knows what it is doing when it tackles George Bernard Shaw.  They are simply the best at doing the best.

Bill Largress directed this sumptuous piece of theatrical entertainment.   Back To Methuselah is the final part, set in 31,920 AD, and subtitled As Far as Thought Can Reach  (the last of a set of five parts that is subtitled A  Metabiological Pentateuch.) 

 Double casting adds an underscore to some of the roles that beings continue to be formed in some image of Adam and Eve and the Serpent, and what happened in the Garden of Eden.  For instance, Brit Herring is both Strephon and also the Ghost of Adam and  Lynn Steinmetz is Chloe and Female Figure and Ghost of Eve while  Conrad Feininger is Male Figure and Ghost of Cain.  Lisa Giannarelli is She-Ancient and Ghost of Serpent. 

The Biblical characters are blended with the ancient Greek wise ones.  Vincent Clark is He-Ancient.  Michael Avolio is Acis.  Frank Britton is Pygmalion, Egg/Newly Born is Madeleine Farrington (in a egg designed by Joe Largess) and Ecrasia is Malinda Katheleen Reese.  

And Lilith, who started it all in 4004 BC or several years ago at least,  in Part One, is the Ensemble.

What I liked best about this production is how the cast shared the  fun of what it is to think about everything from childhood to eternity delivering  deftly whether in  long discourses or in short aphorisms. 

Yes, this is the play that has the much quoted line “ You see things; you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?”  

A single man might not live as long as words will.  While GBS’  words are almost a hundred years old, they are alive and well at Washington Stage Guild.  

Try not to miss it in this lifetime around!


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mozart’s Idomeneo lives!

Almost 200 years since  a 24-year old Mozart first composed and conducted Idomeneo, the Metropolitan Opera  in 1982 created this production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.  James Levine who was prime mover for the that production,  conducted it anew for the Met HD viewers all over the world on March 25, 2017.

How do you describe an opera like Idomeneo?

For one thing, you don’t talk about the plot which includes among other things, serious father-son relationship issues, not unlike Abraham and Isaac situation of God (in this case since post-Trojan war times) Neptune, ordering a slaying of the innocent son. 

This is only one of so many unbelievable situations to give opportunities for sublime singing.  Any attempt to follow a plot line is besides the point.  It’s the music which is convincing that serious human emotions are at stake here.

The cast is sublime.  Alice Coote is Idamante who is in love with a Trojan captured princess, Ilia,  sung by Nadine Sierra.  Sierra opens the opera with a beautiful aria and I found myself really believing that she was a Trojan princess.  Everyone would be in love with her—this brilliant young soprano— so that Idamante is captured by his captive, is no surprise.   

Matthew Polenzani is Idomeneo, who was friends of  the fellow warrior/now dead King Agamamnon, so that explains why his daughter Elettra aka Electra is now on Crete.   Idomeneo’s life was spared by promising Neptune he would slay the first person he sees, which turns out to be his son Idamante who was wandering on the beach.    He can only get out of this situation to slay his son as ordered by Neptune  by getting him out of Crete, as advised by Arbace  sung by Alan Opie.  So hence the obvious solution is to have Idamante take Elettra/Electra back home.  

Idomeneo refuses to look at Idamante to explain what is going on.  Ilia and Idamante are broken hearted at the separation.  Elettra/Electra is gleeful that she is about to have her chance to be with Idamante alone.

Live in HD host Eric Owens sings the role of Neptune for two minutes in Act III—a clue that things are going to get worked out for almost everyone except guess who!

For spoilers, Elza Van Den Heever as Elettra comes out of nowhere with a performance  at the end of Act III, that had everyone laughing.  (Richard Strauss did his version of Idomeneo and we all know that his Electra is no laughing matter.) 

It was an afternoon of the Met and Mozart at their best.  A winning combination.  Buy a lottery ticket, and maybe win a million dollars.  Buy a ticket to a Fathom Met HD simulcast, you are sure to win priceless moments of music.

Want to know more

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Dvorak’s masterpiece lyric opera is about a water nymph who wants to transform herself into a human being to know the love of a prince. That formula has been used for myths of a Slavic  water-sprite, Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, Jean Giraudoux’s Ondine, Disney’s Ariel and other fairy tale heroines who have attempted brave transformation into human forms, only to be dashed and doomed into eternal disappointment.   

Rusalka  is a wave in the water, a beam from the moon, the ultimate in romantic fantasy,  a being that truly puts her whole self into a love relationship. 

Rusalka (Kristine Opolais)  dwells in the Met’s opera Mary Zimmerman’s production in a lush fantasy world, with her Water Gnome father (Eric Owens) and her dancing sisters - green garbed sprites who sprint about  along watery ponds in a deep dark dense forest. 

She meets the prince  (Brandon Jovanovich) while he was trying to shoot a white doe in the forest and makes a Faustian bargain—to remain mute forever— with the local forest witch Jezibaba (Jamie Barton wearing a black dress suitably decorated with spider webs woven pattern),  so that she can become human  and be with him.  

The flip side is if things go downhill, she will  be doomed forever.  

From this habitat, Rusalka emerges to bright sunlight fields, now re-born as human wearing only a simple white sheath, as the prince lifts her in his arms and carry her off to happiness.  

In Act II at the elegant palace,  Rusalka is now dressed in a fine jeweled white shimmery gown for her to princess role, as befitting a moon goddess symbol.   

Rusalka finds that being human is more complicated than she thought.  The prince has invited a foreign princess (Katarina Dalayman) to their wedding.   Her fully human rival is  determined clever woman, skilled in seduction and appropriately dressed for the part in fiery red satin.

Rusalka’s contract with the witch was that she remain silent, an amazing acting challenge for the lead soprano for the entire Act II.  But the pain of confusion and rejection prove too much. Breaking her silence, her fine clothes now torn and tattered, she leaves the prince and all that other stuff that fairy tale princesses seem to have happily settled in to, to return to who what she is in her realm.

 The prince  now ravingly ill,  follows her into the dark wood.  The flip side of her deal with the witch,  eternal doom for all will now enfold as Rusalka and The Prince sing one of the dozen most beautiful operatic duets.  She exits after donning his coat, all that remains for her, a memory.

On re-thinking, is the mythical Rusalka really any more a fairytale than the “realistic”  fictional characters —  Butterfly and Boheme—roles to which Kristine Opolais has brought her unique interpretations.  (Yes, she’s the one that performed both within the same 24 hours on short notice and only 5 hours of sleep between).   

Sure, we can feel bad for Rusalka, something which the text of the opera reminds of periodically — but truthfully, we are awash with the beauty of Dvoark’s finest opera.  

When Opolais is asked  about the difference in her roles, she has said  Puccini has her heart but Dvorak has her soul.   Her performance as Rusalka says she sings the truth in her art from both her heart and soul for all of us.  

It is never to early to plan and here it is,   
Season at a Glance: The Met: Live in HD 2017-18

Norma (October 7 at 12:55 p.m.) 
Die Zauberflöte (October 14 at 12:55 p.m.); 
The Exterminating Angel (November 18 at 12:55 p.m.);
 Tosca (January 27 at 12:55 p.m.);
 L’Elisir d’Amore (February 10 at 12:00 p.m.); 
La Bohème (February 24 at 12:30 p.m.); 
Semiramide (March 10 at 12:55 p.m.); 
Così fan tutte (March 31 at 12:55 p.m.); 
Luisa Miller (April 14 at 12:30 p.m.); 
Cendrillon (April 28 at 12:55 p.m.). 

All ten operas will be Saturday matinee performances, transmitted live from the Met stage. All start times are Eastern Time; for local start times and rebroadcast information, please visit in the next few months for more details on tickets.