Bach Two Ways: the Bethlehem Christmas Concert with Handel and Bach and a WA Concert with Webern and Bach

The Bethlehem Bach Choir and their many different spheres of activity are all about J. S. Bach, but other related composers, some of whom are internationally renowned and some still in high school, are also allowed to come in. Outside of this special community, even during the time between the end of his career and the Bach renaissance of the second quarter of the 19th century, Bach was never totally forgotten. His magnetism drew in Mozart, Beethoven and others, as well as post-renaissance composers like Brahms and Bruckner...on to the 20th century in Busoni and the composers of the Second Viennese School. A little fast driving enabled me to experience both an old tradition reaching back before Mendelssohn, as well as a newer one, in which Bach could be partnered with Anton Webern—this at one of Charles Neidich and Ayako Oshima's marvelous  WA Concerts.

A Politically Correct Mikado (with a Dash of Keystone Kops)

This production hews to the original Gilbert & Sullivan work in many ways but takes great care not to offend as did the 2015  production which the company pulled. Instead of being transported to the fictional town of Titipu, typically introduced as the curtain rises by the men’s chorus singing If You Want to Know Who We Are, often complete with snapping fans, this version opens with a prologue in the D’Oyly Carte Company’s headquarters. The scene reveals Messrs. G. and S. with producer Richard D’Oyly Carte mulling over what will follow their current hit, Princess Ida. Inspired by interest in things Japanese, a craze that swept London in the mid-1850s, Gilbert (David Auxier who also plays Pish-Tush), sustains a minor head injury and, as though in a dream, conceives the operetta that follows.

Confidence and (The Speech) and Jimmy Carter’s America

The thing about Confidence (and The Speech)—playing now at the Lion on Theater Row by way of Charlotte’s Off-Broadway, a North Carolina production group that dramatizes “authentic female experiences” as well as questions of “social injustice and inequality”—is that while the play hews seamlessly close to the company’s plainly outspoken mission, it does so without ever losing its cheerful sense of theatricality. That is to say, Confidence, by Susan Lambert Hatem, is, by turns, boisterous, feverish, audacious, and utterly playful. It is nifty and important at the same time, which is to say it’s the absolute best kind of theater.

Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day, Directed by Oskar Eustis, at The Public Theater

In the updated, powerfully heroic and human, exquisitely mournful version of Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day, now at The Public Theater, finding a determinable, moored center is not always an easy thing to do. For one thing, the play itself, first produced in 1985, has been fiercely summoned to the present. “Things are so bad people want to do this play!” says Xillah (an endearing Jonathon Hadary), who acts as a sort of stand-in for the play’s author and who exists in the here and now, in 2019. Then there’s his counterpart, Zillah, who, according to Xillah, was the reason the original production was not entirely successful, or as she herself tells us, “I’m this author-surrogate interruptive-oppositional someone-or-other to whom the playwright neglected to give even a trace of a backstory…” Zillah (a charming Crystal-Lucas Perry) and Xilla hover over Bright Room, debating the characters’ choices and behaviors, and creating a palpable and fluid (sometimes teary, sometimes bloody) through line from the Berlin of 1931 and 1932, where the main action of the play is set, to our own country’s current, riven, portentous moment. When he first wrote Bright Room, Kushner saw parallels between the government of Ronald Reagan and Hitler’s storming of Germany’s Weimar Republic. Now, as the Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis, who also directed Bright Room, puts it in his Playbill note, the “warnings that seemed apocalyptic in 1985 now look remarkably prescient.” Or as Zillah, nee Kushner, says, the “NAZIS ARE IN THE FUCKING STREETS.” 

Amahl and the Night Visitors at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen—Homeless Voices Rock a Classic Soup Kitchen

Amahl and the Night Visitors has a long history. First commissioned by NBC and performed by the NBC Opera Theater in 1951, it was broadcast live on television as the debut production of the Hallmark Hall of Fame, the first opera specifically composed for American television. Composer Gian Carlo Menotti reported being inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Adoration of the Magi and specified that the role of Amahl was to always be played by a boy (not a woman although it is a soprano role.)
Bard Music Festival

A Fine New Recording of Korngold’s Masterpiece, Das Wunder der Heliane

Lovers of opera, decadence, and general excess, had reason this year to rejoice. This past summer, Bard Summerscape staged, as its centerpiece, complementary to the Bard Music Festival, Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane), which is possibly the single most important work by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). And the work has now appeared in a sumptuous new recording (reviewed here) as well as in a much-praised DVD version from the renowned Deutsche Opera (Berlin), which indeed looks wonderful in this trailer.
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