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.  

Friday, January 27, 2017

Roméo et Juliette
Their love is here to stay!

Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo in a new production of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette”  are being praised for their chemistry. 

Is it “ A marriage  of true minds.”

Here’s what they told a NYTimes writer:

GRIGOLO:  It’s not out of nothing. 

It’s like when you want to make a dish in the kitchen, you have good prime materials. Good tomato, good zucchini, good fish. Everything is so fresh. You just need to put it on the grill.  Me, Diana, a good conductor, a good director: 

The ingredients are so good that it’s going to come out something nice.

DAMRAU: It’s true.

GRIGOLO: You just do the right thing. Just do it for real. We never fake it.

DAMRAU: The kissing we fake.

GRIGOLO;  What?  I don’t fake it.  I never fake it.

So much for “he said/she said” discussions—especially when he and she sing  four stunning duets in Romeo and Juliette.

This Met production with its classic yet unspecific time period, consistent, with a touch of Fellini showmanship, sets the stage for the eternal love that is forever Romeo and Juliette.  

What is about the Simulcast  that is  better than in person?  The closeups where we enter the space of the intimacy of the two lovers —a contrast to the wide world picture of the chorus.  

 With amazing tour de force of design, the entire five acts flow on one place, with the most subtle adjustments even as the two lovers mature in the realization of what the youthful love entitles. This is a recording of  Romeo and Juliette  that will not die.

Side note:  Yes, Grigolo will remind you of a young (and far more athletic) Pavarotti, a man who told whom to be a star.   

Quote from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 
 Interview excerpt from Zachary Woolfe  Romeo and Juliet, Flushed and Feverish at the Met Opera (Dec. 22, 2016)

DON’T MISS THE NEXT ONE —a   Rusalka  like you have never seen before!


Monday, January 9, 2017


What becomes a legend most?  Remember that 1968 ad campaign that became a legend of its own almost fifty years ago. 

That was the year that  Placido Domingo made his official debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York  when he substituted with little notice for Franco Corelli in Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur with Renata Tebaldi.  

Who remembers that?  

Who will ever forget Domingo in  the Met Opera Simulcast  of January 7, 2017,  of Verdi’s Nabucco?  As Domingo adds a new role to his Met repertory as the Babylonian ruler Nabucco, Liudmyla Monastyrska sings the tour-de-force role of Abigaille, Nabucco’s willful daughter, with Jamie Barton as Fenena, Russell Thomas as Ismaele and Dmitri Belosselskiy as the prophet Zaccaria,

Nacucco which is so seldom seen, was Verdi’s third opera and the one that launched  his stunning career.   Aida by the way would come 30 some years later and would also include warring ancient people, and  two rival princesses, and a fatherly king.  And there would be a love match crossing the lines of the enemy as well as incredible chorus pieces. 

Domingo has sung almost all  Verdi’s operas but this is the first time he has sung this role,  that of the mad king Nacucco.

Yes, Domingo is 75 years old. 

One of the added joys of this broadcast of Nabucco was the addition of the taped conversation of Domingo and Levine about the first time they worked together, 50 years ago, in San Francisco.  It’s not all in the statistics of how  many performances they have done over the years but in this message of how they approach their art.  

Maybe that is what becomes a legend most, that they don’t stop doing amazing things. 

With legendary Met Music Director James Levine at the podium, this opera  moment now belongs to the generations to come. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


A Giant White Whale was spotted near the Wharf on November 18.   

No ordinary one was it, but the fabulous fabled Moby Dick arriving at Arena Stage!   

Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company’s had sailed with the classic nineteenth century Melville novel of New England whalers with their harpoons and ships, into this twenty-first century theater at the Southwest waterfront.

Moby Dick  is not just another fish story.  That very long Great American novel which many people find unreadable has now taken its legs to the stage. 

  Lookingglass Theatre Company’s exuberant production  while true to Melville’s words and spirit magically interjects both humor and silence into a script that waves between lyrical and dramatic.     

Rather than overload the scenery with authentic looking antiques from that era of New England whalers, this staging employs a unifying symbol. A whale’s rib cage defines the ship’s hull, an image which  interconnects with whale bones used for women’s hoop skirts.  

The choice of bones is apt for the fates of Captain Ahab and the crew of the Pequod is sealed on their whaling ship just as whale oil and products of remaining bones provided for the fortunes of the society dependent on whaling. 

Moby Dick has its memorable quotes  (“My name is Ishmael” for its opening line)  but this production is further filled with unforgettable images.  

A woman in a blue-and-black silk dress enters the theater toward  the stage, her huge shimmery skirt billows like the vast ocean, covering everything beneath.      

Three women like the three Greek fates chant in procession while holding large black ribbed umbrellas to simulate a pod of spouting whales.  

Actors acrobatically dancing in air, struggle to keep from drowning in aerial space now transformed to be below the sea, transformed in a flash, like that fragile line between life and death for this crew.  

While the necessity for whale oil for light and fuel is as dated as cumbersome hoop skirts, Captain Ahab’s obsessive battle against the forces that be is a theme as old as mankind.   

Ahab's refusal to help any human being who would delay his destiny to find that great white whale who haunts him is heartless while the slow gasping death of yet another whale dying at the hands of the harpoonists—portrayed by  a woman mime whose silk skirt is stripped  like whale meat from the bone,  bit by bit revealing the bare skeleton of white whale ribs —heartbreaking. 

Alas!  Is Captain Ahab a mad man?  Is Moby Dick really the monster?  

At last!  Moby Dick makes his appearance in a surprising way and settles the score with these mere mortals!  

Moby Dick was seen leaving Arena after its closing performance Christmas Eve (the day before the Peguod first sailed off in the novel) and heading west after what was another victory for the epic beast, and for this superb ensemble Chicago company.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

 L’Amour de Loin
The Met’s opera sets sail upon A Sea of Love

Do you remember that oldie “Sea of Love”?…  Come with me …To the sea …The sea of love - I wanna tell you -How much-I love you.”  

How simple that song made love  and the sea - both eternal -seem to be.  But for all its beauty and allure,  the sea —like love— is vast and deep and dangerous.    

In  L’Amour de Loin-the Met’s Live in HD broadcast— the sea is the fourth and very complex character in this tale of medieval love.

The title of the opera comes from the poetry of troubadour Jaufre Rudel who developed  the concept of “love from afar.”  In the time of the Second Crusade in the 12th century, the poet fell in love with a Countess in Tripoli, a beautiful woman whom he had never seen but had dreamed of  in his works.  

It is the sea which  separates the lovers and it is across the sea, that the poet will take his fateful journey to finally meet his idolized love. 

Kaija Saariaho’s opera has been described as dazzling even as critics rave that she the first woman composer to have an opera at the Met in over a hundred years (let alone the second opera composed by a woman to be presented by the company.)  Conductor Susanna Malkkiis  has been hailed as brilliant as well as only the fourth woman to take the podium in the company’s history.  

Soprano Susanna Phillips  who sings the title role is stellar as the beautiful Countess.  Bass-baritone Eric Owens is earthy, as the vulnerable troubadour Jaufré, in what has been described as a “weary sadness.”  Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mum is excellent as the pilgrim who facilitates the events which unites the lovers.

The sea, recreated through  the wonders of theatrical technology, and sung by the fabulous Met chorus  looms large as one powerful presence compared to these mere mortals. 

 We can not ignore it any more than we can the contradictions and complexities of love which librettist Amin Maalouf has put into a sea of  words that stoke our mind simultaneously as the music evokes our sensual and our spiritual natures.

L’Amour de Loin is a gem of an opera, one that has garnered wide critical praise for its music and words in each of its productions to date. 

What is most appealing to me is that rather than try to modernize an opera set in olden times, what this modern opera has going for it is that it has a fresh and universal look while remaining true to the essence of this tangled true story from the middle ages.    

And like the oldies but goodies, it works so well because it is authentic in its emotional content—after all, all Jaufre was trying to do was tell the Countess “how much I love you.”