The Nature Of The Beast

In his excellent article about Merce Cunningham's decision to disband his dance company following his death ("Why Dances Disappear") Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout does a brilliant job of explaining how dances are taught by choreographers to dancers and how this impacts the longevity of the pieces he or she creates. My favorite part of the article is where the writer compares the transmission of a piece of dance from choreographer to company to the transmission of a piece of classical music from its composer to an orchestra:Dance … [Read more...]

Joe Jennings On The Podium

The people that know Joe Jennings well say that he isn't given to voluminous outward displays of emotion. The few times I've spent in the company of the great American chorus conductor, interviewing him for articles about Chanticleer, the world-famous all men's a cappella ensemble he's been directing since the mid-1980s, or on more general vocal music subjects, he's remained piquantly understated to the point of terseness.Jennings is, in fact, one of the most soft-spoken and taciturn interview subjects I've ever come across. But while his … [Read more...]


An actress friend of mine in New York who spends most of her time these days teaching voice at prestigious universities, told me a while ago that she had a fansite. She hadn't been in a stage production in some years. But a group of theatregoers were nevertheless enamoured enough with her work that they decided to dedicate a website to celebrating her career.The idea that actors who work exclusively or at least predominantly in the theatre can have groupies used to seem a little odd to me. Theatre is such a localized medium and the people who … [Read more...]

A Summer Solstice To Remember

After performing amazing music by the Milanese Benedictine nun Sister Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c1678) with my early music vocal ensemble, San Francisco Renaissance Voices, in Berkeley yesterday afternoon, I toddled off in the sunshine to the Julia Morgan-designed Chapel of the Chimes columbarium in Oakland to experience a musical event which I will not forget in a hurry.Organized by the innovative Berkeley-based concert pianist and radio broadcaster Sarah Cahill, the Garden of Memory is a yearly event which invites members of the public … [Read more...]

The Future Of Dinner Theatre

Dinner theatre need not be a bland mix of naff entertainment, cheap cocktails and wilted greens. Here's a YouTube clip of a Dutch performance company that takes the genre to new and apparently tasty heights... … [Read more...]

Great Study. But What’s It For?

Arts organizations are forever commissioning research papers to test the validity of their various endeavors. Quite often though, the time, money and effort that goes into producing a study fails to be put to good use. The research is published, journalists sometimes write articles about the findings and then, the organization which funded the research might use the results in grant applications. But then, more often than not, the information quietly gathers dust in a filing cabinet or on a hard-drive somewhere.When I heard about Theatre Bay … [Read more...]

Netrebko’s Violetta: Not Consumptive Enough

Anna Netrebko's turn as Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata at San Francisco Opera is a big deal. The great Russian-Austrian soprano launched her American career at SF Opera in 1995, when, as the age of 24, she made her US debut as Lyudmila in Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila. Audiences in the Bay Area feel proud to have played a part in nurturing the singer's formidable talent. So, unsurprisingly, every performance of La Traviata in which Netrebko is appearing, is sold out.By the third act of the company's performance of Verdi's opera last night, … [Read more...]

Playing With Conviction

The chapel at San Quentin State Prison doesn't look like it would make a very effective place to stage a play by Shakespeare -- or any work for the stage outside of the morality play cannon for that matter. The dumpy modern room is equipped with a huge wooden crucifix on the back wall. A prisoner-artist's garish painting depicting a bloody, crucified Christ hangs to the right of the Crucifix. To the left hangs a more New Agey painting of a shadowy, God-like figure presiding over the Earth and other spinning planets in our galaxy. The walls also … [Read more...]

Is It Opera? Is It Musical? It’s Theatre

The Gershwins' folk opera Porgy and Bess has a long and contentious history in the US. Originally produced on Broadway in 1935 with a cast of classically-trained African-American performers, the work remained untouched by an American opera company until 1976, when the Houston Opera staged Gershwin's full score. The company chose not to include the cuts the composer had made prior to the Broadway opening, thus allowing audiences to experience the opera as Gershwin originally intended it to be heard. The idea of a non-Black composer creating an … [Read more...]

What I Love About Being A Rookie Radio Host

Tonight, the third of five pilot broadcasts of VoiceBox, my new public radio show about the art of singing on NPR affiliate KALW 91.7 FM, airs. At this just-over-halfway point in the series, I have to say that producing and presenting the show is one of the most satisfying experiences of my life to date.Here's what I'm diggin':1. Education. Broadening my knowledge of the vocal music landscape by listening to lots and lots of music and making the acquaintance of many great Bay Area, national and international vocal artists.2. Championing. Having … [Read more...]

Don’t Begrudge His Budget

It's easy to begrudge Robert Lepage's big budgets. After last night's performance of the Canadian theatrical auteur's production The Blue Dragon, staged at Zellerbach Playhouse under the auspices of Berkeley University's Cal Performances, I overheard a few audience members grumbling about Lepage's expensive-looking hydraulic scenery and stage gadgetry."Why does he spend all this money on tiny little details when he could suggest them just as easily without going to all the expense?" one theater-goer wondered. "I could have staged that scene as … [Read more...]