Sunday, April 29, 2018

Met Live in HD 

Opera viewers have officially verified —Joyce DiDonato is indeed Cinderella!

Her ownership of  Rossini’s La Cenerentola, and now Massenet’s Cendrillon, might put her in a rare category of sopranos who have sung both operatic roles.  Her own fairy tale story of how she found her way through the music business to be one of today’s top opera singers as well as her congeniality is well noted.  

We have heard her in so many roles,  but it is as Cinderella that she glistens,  no matter what different composers make of that character.

Live at the Met in HD with real life humans is no less imaginative then cinema's cartoon Cinderella. The Met’s production Laurent Pelly’s  storybook production expands the possibilities of the art with the extravagant fashion couture in brilliant red dresses  (like the cover of the book of the  Cinderella fairy tale he remembers from his childhood).  The  procession of the would be consorts in their blazing gowns to meet the prince is a stark contrast to the grim chimneys staging where the prince and the cinder girl will meet in a netherland of their night dreams.

With the book’s characters/Met’s opera stars—fairy godmother La Fee Kathleen Kim,  Le Prince Charmante  Alice Coote, the wicked stepmother Madame de la Haltière  Stephanie Blythe and Laurent Naouri as her father Pandolfe—the dimensions of human emotion as well as the vocal challenges of the opera are well met.  As a side note, conductor Bertrand de Billy in his intermission interview said they had worked together before and were like a family.  

Close to the end of the opera, Cendrillon  wakes up to believe it was a dream, something that her father confirms to her is so and for the audience to ponder for a moment in wait for a spectacular ending. 

 Indeed, the stunning production is a dream that anyone could wish for.

The Barber of Seville
Washington National Opera

The Barber of Seville is an opera so easy to listen to—and one of the hardest to sing.   The Washington National Opera’s latest production makes an additional demand on the singers— their high notes accompanied by the low comedy of bumps, falls and trips.   The result is a lot of laughs to the great delight at the endless possible physical antics  done with such perfect timing with the music.

We expect the barber Figaro to be witty and wise in ways to get things done, for he is after all the factotum or jack of all trades,  as well as a perfect singer especially for the familiar tongue twister arias that Rossini has bestowed on him.   Baritone Andrey Zhilikhovsky does it all. 

Tenor Taylor Stayton as Count Almaviva  is certainly a charming royal but he too gets into the silliness as does his love, the lovely soprano Isabel Leonard as Rosina.   For all her elegance, she gets right in with  groovy moves.  

The two basses —Paolo Bordogna as Dr. Bartolo and Wei Wu as Don Basilio—   are expected to be ridiculous.  Their timing for their slapstick antics is right on with their singing.

The singing lesson in Act 2 has often been turned into "a show-stopping event.”  Intrigues pile up to add to the fun of confusion.  Close to the end, when the stage is emptied after being trashed with paper love notes, Alexandria Shiner as Berta the servant, gets to have her say in the lovely aria about the old man looking for a wife  as she faces the mess to clean up.

Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro  picks up the story after Almaviva and Rosina when the romance has gone out of their marriage.   Figaro will once again step in to fix things.    

For now, with  The Barber of Seville we know there is going to be a happy ending, to what has been a most happy show.

The Barber of Seville was first performed 200 years ago but it never gets old.  Now at The Kennedy Center to May 19, 2018

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2017 
Baltimore Museum of Art

Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2017 is a study in contrasts.

Eight of Whitten’s  larger than life painting from his Black Monolith series —tributes to James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, Muhammad Ali and others African American cultural figures—fill one gallery.

These well known works  are on loan from MOMA, Glenstone and other major collections.  These are what comes to mind when we talk of Whitten’s art.  Like their subjects, these are works we have to look up to see,  just as there subjects were looked up to in real life.

But the Baltimore Museum of Art’s exhibit Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2017 focuses on about another part of Whitten’s life work- forty of  his sculptures largely unknown and not made for shows but for his personal exploration in art.

Unlike his paintings which are in honor of  well known figures that are part of Whitten’s identity as an African American, these are shared themes with African, Minoan, and Cycladic sculptures and objects that inspired Whitten through the years. 

These works are smaller, placed at ground level or in small pedestals throughout. They do not speak to the present day, like the figures we know in the Black Monolith but share their space with works by unknown artists. 

There is the beloved Minoan Snake Goddess  from around 1600 BC. and   a Cycladic Female Figurine from 2500 BC., both from the Walters Art Museum.  There is a  collection of African wood carvings,  from over half a dozen countries, dating from 1100 AD to the 20th century   Whitten’s The Heart of Humanity, from his estate, fits right in with these works from three continents, and many millenniums.

While the exhibit shows that sculpture influenced his paintings, Whitten as a true artist ably expressed with diverse types of material —that  is the constructed  acrylic tiles of Black Monolith as well as natural materials; wood, marble, copper, bone, fishing wire, and personal mementos in the small works.   

His themes  likewise expanded to include ritual items, family members, Greek gods, and animals which evoke a shared human experience.  

Contrasts  of  his well known and unknown works  now being shown for the first time together reveal the unity there is in the discoveries of Whitten in search of his identity through his art. 

Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2017  on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art (to July 29, 2018)  before going to the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Grusha knows what love is!  

In Bertolt Brecht’s  The Caucasian Chalk Circle, our heroine Grusha (Yesenia Iglesias)  knows the delights of young love when she meets a soldier Simon (Drew Kopas).   She knows the  hardships of love  as she sacrifices to save a child who is not hers when she finally after many tests faces the big trial before Azdak the comical judge (Matthew Schleigh who is also the Singer who narrates the show).

The Caucasian Chalk Circle  is at once an epic tale with 60 characters from every social class from peasant to royalty, covering decades of political tyranny and warfare— and it  also a folk narrative of a simple but determined servant girl named Grusha caught in this chaos and swift changing tides of fortunes.  

Constellation Theatre manages to get both the gigantic scope and the intimate details down right in this production. 

Yesenia Iglesias as Grusha is not as a stock character but one in whom we can feel the threats she faces from the warring soldiers looking to harm her on their way to find and kill the royal child.  The audience knows that the child is not Grursha’s but the royal son left behind by his mother and for this too, she will face the critical gossip where she takes refuge.  

Grusha indeed seems to be punished in life for her good deed to save a helpless human life.  Yet this timeless allegory of love, justice, and compassion told with humor and heart unfolds its broader message of what this all means in society as well as  a simple proverbial ending that we can all take home.

Constellation’s production engages all the senses, with  live music, vivid characters, and daringly immersive staging.

For that, it takes a village to create a village as over a dozen actors take on 60 roles:

Ashley Ivey (Lavrenti and others), Billie Krishawn (Ludovica and others), Keith Irby (Governor and others), Natalie Cutcher (Doctor and others), Scott Ward Abernethy (Sergeant and others), and Teresa Spencer (Governor’s Wife and others) join newcomers Amanda Forstrom (Cook and others), Brian Reisman (Jessup and others), Greg Ongao (Adjutant and others), Lisa Hodsoll (Mother and others), and Tamieka Chavis (Shauva and others). Justus Hammond, Louis Lavoie, Rebecca Ballinger, Tess Higgins, and Thais Menendez understudy the ensemble.

Allison Stockman directs Brecht’s masterwork, joined by a fantastic team of creative collaborators. Kelsey Hunt, as Costume Designer; Tony Thomas II (Theatre Alliance’s Word Becomes Flesh) choreographs; A.J. Guban serves as both Scenic and Lighting Designer; Gordon Nimmo-Smith is Sound Designer; perennial Constellation favorite Matthew Aldwin McGee returns as Puppets Designer; Corinne Hayes the production’s Dramaturg; and Crista Noel Smith rounds out the creative team as Props Designer.

Local musician Brian Lotter to the Chalk Circle creative team as Composer. Lotter has collaborated with actor Matthew Schleigh to create original music for Brecht’s lyrics, which frame and comment on the action of the play. Keyboard player Ben Luyre and percussionist Manny Arciniega perform live during each show, with added guitar and vocals from Schleigh and other members of the ensemble.

 (until May 13, 2018)


The Mirabal sisters versus Trujillo, the oppressive dictator of  the Dominican Republic is history.  In the Time of the Butterflies— a play by Caridad Svich, based on the novel of award-winning author Julia Álvarez— is the fictionalized recollection of the surviving sister, Dedé. 

Broselianda Hernández is the older Dedé, who tells the story of which she is part, and which is played by Catherine Núñez as young Dedé,.  Karen Romero is Mujer Americana, a writer whose family left the Dominican Republic when she was 10.

Together they weave the story of their lives into that of   Dedé’s sisters —Alina Robert as Minerva,  Domínguez del Corral and Lorena Sabogal, as Patria.  

 What Dedé  tells a young writer of her memories of not just what happens but what she remembers.  Together the sisters  as they grow up, they  develop and share their ideas on love and life as they are aware of the politically oppressive world they live in.

As the sisters become stronger in their beliefs, they are more determined to bring down the regime.  They  would  who used the  code name “the butterflies” as they inspired resistance.   They faced hardships and imprisonments until eventually they were  brutally murdered, along with their driver,  on an isolated road on the way to visit their husbands in jail on November 25, 1960.

Dede did not go with them that day.  Fearful of what would befall in those dangerous times, she is the one that was left to grieve and to tell the story. 

Delbis Cardona plays all the male roles:  the DJ,  Leo, Trujillo and their driver Rufino. 

A beautiful heart breaking story—not to miss  GALA’s production  In the Time of the Butterflies --  through May 13, 2018.


Luisa Miller is an early Verdi opera, that has long lost its spot in line as his later works take the top places of the most performed operas.   

But even while not so well known,  Luisa Miller  most recently got talked about  a lot in the weeks  before its performance on the Met’s Live in HD 

 Mostly, people remarked, “I have never seen it  or even heard of it before.”

The opening scene is dark, with the chorus of villagers blending into the scenery.  The one bright spot is Luisa who emerges in a bright red dress.  This is the incredible Sonya Yoncheva who gets to sing not only with tenor Piotr Beczala as her lover Rodolfo, Placido Domingo as her father Miller, but also with her rival to be as the wife of  Rudolfo,  Countess Federica, sung by Russian mezzo-soprano Olesya Petrova.

For this, her voice is a gymnastic feat of Olympian proportions.   Not only does the story progress in time, but the characters grow and change with events over the course of the opera, calling for their voice to meet the moment.  Yoncheva gets to be in many operas in one with the range of voices that Verdi asks of his star sopranos.

Piotr Beczała as Rudolfo, her lover, renders most beautifully the opera’s most famous aria, “Quando le sere al placido/When the nights to the placid.”  

 Domingo sang Rudolfo over 40 years ago, but now the legendary Placido Domingo has undertaken yet another role —his 149th—to sing Luisa’s father.

 A duet of two basses is rare enough, but Luisa Miller can boast such a  moment.  Alexander Vinogradov as Rodolfo’s father Walter and Dmitry Belosselskiy, as Wurm (his partner in crime and would be husband to Luisa)  are well matched in voice as well as conspiracy as they sing the bass duet in Act II ( L'alto retaggio non ho bramato / "The noble inheritance of my cousin").

The opera is a rare treasure not only for such beautiful moments  but for what it tells about Verdi’s passage from the  bel canto tradition of his predecessors to what would be the high dramatics of his later operas like Otello. 

For those who heard  the Live in HD, they will have  lots to talk about this production for awhile.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Coney Island and  the Met Opera team up for 

“If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.”

 That  last line from 1970’s folk rock song pretty much sums up the story line of Cosi Fan Tutte,  Mozart’s great comic opera first performed in 1790.

This latest lavish Met’s production is for modern eyes,  would likely have been  a hit in the 18th century too.  

Besides being great music, it’s great fun.

A dozen Coney Island performers —including a snake charmer, a fire eater, a brother and sister sword swallowing team, a strongman, contortionists, a bearded lady and a pair of little people—join Broadway star and Tony-winner  Kelli O’Hara (as the indispensable Despina) on the Met’s stage. 

 Five of the Met’s top voices— Amanda Majeski, Serena Malfi, Ben Bliss, and Adam Plachetka— are  the pairs of young lovers who are matched and then mismatched in a test of  faithfulness.  Christopher Maltman is Alfonso, their friend who makes the bet that sets the ball rolling. 

This dazzling fantasy production by  Phelim McDermott with David Robertson conducting is really two shows in one.   Grand operatic voices and amazing circus body performances add up to  great entertainment for everyone!