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American musical theater mythology: What does it say? What can it say? How much do we care?

The quickest way to the public's heart is through the manipulated past. Politicians through the ages have played upon the public's national identity by conjuring up nostalgia for an age that never quite existed but has a close-enough resemblance to one that did. Then comes the promise of recapturing that lost world. (I'm sure you can think of examples.) In theater, however, the repurposed past can reflect much of what's going on now, particularly when re-repurposed in the face of the looming mid-term election. Specifically, I'm talking … [Read more...]

Sympathy for the monster: Frankenstein opera-in-progress debuts at Green-Wood Cemetery

After walking through David Lang's Mile Long Opera on the High Line last week, Gregg Kallor's double bill of The Tell-Tale Heart and still-in-progress Frankenstein at the Green-Wood Cemetery catacomb almost seemed mainstream. Well, somewhat. There was a genuine acoustic, a real piano, cultivated singers and a literary base line in operatic works drawn from Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley. The catacomb is a narrow hall with vaults along the way, all dimly lit, with a miniature stage at the far end where the opera unfolded with a small … [Read more...]

The near-accidental eloquence of The Mile-Long Opera by David Lang

Walking into The Mile-Long Opera by David Lang, I thought I knew what opera is. Well, the definition didn't change. But the piece, performed last week on New York's elevated walkway known as The High Line, changed the boundaries of opera, theater and artistic expression, and in ways that I couldn't have imagined before taking the elevator up three floors and then trudging from 14th to 34th street. This Pulitzer Prize-winning composer is making a life's work out of writing music to be heard outside the typical venues and … [Read more...]

Soon-to-be Met composer Missy Mazzoli merges her selves in ‘Proving Up’

When Metropolitan Opera czar Peter Gelb dashed from the Miller Theatre to a waiting car after the Friday performance of the opera Proving Up, I would've given more than a penny for his (unfiltered) thoughts. Only days before, he and new music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin announced the first female composers to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, and one of them being Missy Mazzoli, who has long been considered a paragon of edgy Brooklyn artistic chic. Her third opera Proving Up arrived for two performances Sept. 26 and 28 - at … [Read more...]

Anthony Roth Costanzo on Glass, Handel and “putting it together.”

Opera singers aren't brought up to be as enterprising as Anthony Roth Costanzo. But few have his resume: He's a child Broadway star-turned Princeton student-turned countertenor. My first meeting with him immediately told me an extremely distinctive spirit was behind that voice. It was in a Manhattan rehearsal for Wolf-in-Skins, a mythology-stepped, still-in-progress dance opera staged by Christopher Williams where wolves and men morph into each other. Costanzo immediately stuck out his hand - in what was more than a meet-and-greet but the … [Read more...]

The Guardian in action: A great newspaper is ready upon the death of a great public figure (this time, Neil Simon)

Important public figures always have their obituaries written in advance. I did this one on Neil Simon years ago and was allowed to give it time, thought and research. Excellent editing was another plus. Then, this past Sunday, hours after his death was announced, the piece appeared on line. It's another one of those things that newspapers do better than other media outlets. An even better example was Peter Dobrin's obit on philanthropist Gerry Lenfest in The Philadelphia Inquirer several weeks back. The world would be a rather less-informed … [Read more...]

‘Vanessa’ and ‘The Cradle Will Rock’: middle-aged operas speak to current ills

Even the mirrors lie in Samuel Barber's opera Vanessa. At least that's the world created in the new Glyndebourne Festival staging, which is likely to raise the profile of an opera that, sad to say, needs it. The production seemed to come out of the blue. Though the indoor intimacy of Vanessa fits this smallish, rural-England opera house perfectly, it's not characteristic of Glyndebourne, whose usual summer seasons combine very old and brand-new opera, plus standard works re-explored with unusual theatrical integrity. Samuel Barber … [Read more...]

John Luther Adams’s ‘In the Name of the Earth’: 600 singers make elemental music

"If you see 600 singers coming towards you, get out of the way." That advice from conductor Simon Halsey was no doubt a first for most people at the truly-full-house audience at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. But the Aug. 11 world premiere of the John Luther Adams choral work In the Name of the Earth was a singular occasion - 50 minutes of multiple choirs moving around the space while singing. Singing what? Nothing radical, but nothing so familiar either. Nobody should've been disappointed that the original venue - the earth … [Read more...]

Mayr’s Medea at Teatro Nuovo: Stars evolved and aligned for the opera and La Rowley

Giovanni Simone Mayr (1763-1845) is hardly the sexiest name in opera history, but he became exactly that between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m. on July 29 at Purchase College, Make that 4:35 p.m. Mayr’s Medea in Corinto needed time to warm up. Having written roughly 70 operas between 1794 and 1823, Mayr shows how Mozartean opera evolved without Mozart. An output of such volume could hardly be unknown, and it’s not. Any number of recordings are floating around – I previously encountered a number of them - and Medea in Corinto is the best known … [Read more...]

Leonard Bernstein: Free from gender with nothing to prove or lose

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON - The pre-performance corridors of the Fisher Center at Bard College appeared to have been invaded by The Radical Faeries – a madly colorful, gender-ambiguous subset of the gay community. Maybe it was a typical day in the life of a liberal campus? No. The cast of Christopher Alden’s production of Peter Pan - the Leonard Bernstein version - was revving up for the July 22 closing night  at Bard Summerscape festival. By the end of the show, I don't think there was really anything so gay about it, though it was great fun and … [Read more...]

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