2019

Musical Theater

Broadway Close Up: Love Who You Love, Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center

This program, subtitled “a 100-year survey of gay and lesbian writers and characters on Broadway from the 1920s to 2020,” was just as good musically but more emotionally-charged than similar “Broadway tributes” at this venue. The outpouring of feelings was probably due to the subject matter—the work of gay and lesbian music makers— along with coming out stories and brief, but necessary, references to the AIDS crisis. Even though this was the second performance, the emotions felt entirely genuine and often brought cheers from the audience. The program was designed to examine the history of closeted writers and coded imagery while detailing how more open and explicit the classification became starting in the 1970s.
Recordings

A Rare Early Attempt at Serious Opera in German: Ignaz Holzbauer’s Tod der Dido (1780)

It is perhaps hard for us to imagine what determination Holzbauer, in 1780, must have had to write an opera in German, and sung from beginning to end, on a tragic tale from classical antiquity, at a time when such topics were considered the primary province of French spoken drama and Italian opera seria. Mozart’s two German operas—The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Magic Flute—are from around the same time as Holzbauer, but both are comedies, with often larky spoken dialogue between the musical numbers. (This is not to deny that both Mozart works also have dark or philosophical overtones.)
Opera

Giovanni Bottesini’s Comic Opera, Alì Babà (1871), Reconstructed and Conducted by Anthony Barrese at Opera Southwest

I have not yet embarked on the inevitable voyage through Conrad L. Osborne’s 827-page Opera and Opera, a report on the dire state of an art form many of us love as dearly as life itself, but Ralph Locke’s thoughtful discussion in these pages and Joseph Horowitz’s review in the Wall Street Journal have reinforced my awareness that performances like those cited by Mr. Horowitz, the Met performances of Verdi’s Otello on February 12, 1938 or Siegfried on January 30, 1937 are rarely even approximated today. However it does still happen, as it did the evening of April 28, 2018, when Pretty Yende joined Michael Fabiano in a thrilling Lucia di Lammermoor, also at the Met. One is even less likely to hear a performance of Siegfried or Otello of that caliber today.
Theater

DruidShakespeare: Richard III, directed by Garry Hynes at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival

Garry Hynes’ concept, which balanced respect for Shakespeare’s text with its many parallels with current events in the United States, Russia, and the UK, was, well, unimpeachable. Last year I enthusiastically reviewed a compelling, if rough and ready production directed by Austin Pendleton, which arose out of a feeling that Richard III—actually The Wars of the Roses, incorporating excerpts from Henry VI, Part 3—urgently needed to be put before an American audience for them to see the evils of contemporary politics reflected in it, no matter what limitations the situation placed on production values. The niceties of scansion and rhetoric were at times compromised by a passion to get the message across. Druid’s Richard III was impeccably, beautifully spoken, and costumed with an elegance which went against the contemporary trend towards plainness and recalled the sumptuous look of early twentieth century productions. Yet the messages were brought out with adroitness and eloquence.
Music

The Sydney Symphony with Vladimir Ashkenazy and Alexei Volodin in Medtner and Holst

Who would ever suppose an obscure one-movement piano concerto could produce this sort of triumph? Alexei Volodin simply and unexpectedly swept away his Sydney listeners at this concert to frenzied screams with his performance of the Medtner Piano Concerto No.1. Our audience came to hear The Planets no doubt, but many just as surely emerged, like me, a dazed convert to Medtner, as if taken over by pods in my sleep from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was a stunning experience.
Dance

Works & Process Rotunda Project at the Guggenheim: Dance Theater of Harlem at 50

“The arts ignite the mind, they give you the possibility to dream and to hope."  So said Arthur Mitchell, founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. The company made its official New York debut in 1971 in the rotunda of New York’s Guggenheim Museum. To celebrate the Guggenheim building's 60th and Dance Theatre of Harlem's 50th anniversaries, Works & Process, the performing arts series at the museum, presented a Rotunda Project that acknowledged Mitchell’s death in September, 2018 by including a restaging of his Tones II by former DTH principal ballerina Lorraine Graves with assistance from former principal ballerina Caroline Rocher.
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