t's always a pleasure to attend a Yamaha piano event. Some take place in the more intimate halls around Manhattan, but most are in Yamaha’s New York show room on Fifth Avenue. The main room, where the recitals are held, has been acoustically treated, and the sound is as well-balanced and lively as many of the purpose-built auditoria in the city.
It may not be typical to come out of a Pinter play and have Sam Shepard on your mind. But it was Shepard—the recently deceased chronicler of a mythical but still resonant American West, whose plays used a violent poetry and choreography to tell dark, personal stories that seemed somehow to include everyone: cowboys and city people, fathers and their sons, and anybody who has ever loved not wisely but with foreboding, explosive consequences—I invoked to my companion as we exited the Jacobs Theater on 45th Street, where we had just been fortunate to witness director Jamie Lloyd’s new, bareboned revival of Pinter’s 1978 classic Betrayal.
Sophocles’ Antigone is a play written 2.500 years ago but in many ways relevant for today’s culture. In this performance, Greek tragedy and Japanese theater join forces to create a magical, mystic and spiritual experience of this tragedy in a show that combines Japanese culture and Greek drama. Twenty-nine actors and a director create an experience that deals with loss, memory, and duty—a performance that unites cultures, techniques and aesthetic types.
Not to be missed—something new and something old! The outstanding musicians who have worked with conductor Justin Bischof for some years with noted success in New York City and Westchester county are now reorganized as The Modus Opera Orchestra, resident in St. Mary's Church in Long Island City. This coming Saturday, November 23rd, their inaugural concert will begin with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, in a performance which is sure to be exciting and fresh, followed my Rossini's William Tell Overture, which is partly inspired by Beethoven's Fifth and his "Egmont" Overture. Follwing that soprano Elyse Ann Kakacek will join the orchestra for Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and an Alleluia by Mozart. The concert will conclude with Wagner's Overture to Tannhäuser. I think we may assume that the unusual sequence of works, pretty much the reverse of standard classical programming, hints at something new and extraordinary to expect from Maestro Bischof and his superb musicians.
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.
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.)
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.
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.