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.
Broadway Close Up
Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center
December 9, 2019
Behind the Scenes of Broadway
One of the many delights of Transformations, the final concert of this year’s Broadway Close Up series, was to hear …
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 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.)
Not everyone agreed about the merits of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's music, but he was the occasion of one of the most provocative Bard Music Festivals ever. Four of us have deliberated on either that or important new recordings, which add to our understanding of this sympathetic composer.
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.
After attending the fully staged performance of Korngold’s opera Das Wunder des Heliane and the concerts of the second weekend of the Bard Korngold Festival, I arrived a distinct sense of the shape of the composer’s career trajectory and of the development of his unique musical sensibility, one which I suspect the festival programmers might not have hoped to suggest. To the extent that Korngold’s name is familiar, it is owing to his powerful, compelling, and influential Hollywood film scores. The unique, invaluable Bard Music Festivals usually aim to take us beyond and behind the headlines associated with its central figures and to give us a means to re-evaluate them in a more nuanced way, in the context of their less familiar works as well as those of their contemporaries. In the case of my encounter with Korngold, however, the result was a strengthening of the general view that this composer was born to compose film scores.Up to now, Korngold’s non-film music has not been completely neglected.
As I return to the Bard Music Festival year after year, I notice that the spaces of Olin Hall and the Fisher Center, become more crowded and sold-out notices appear ever more frequently. I also notice that I’ve seen a good many of the attendees before. There is certainly a minority who are passionately interested in one composer or his historical and cultural context and not in the others, but I am confident in saying that the core of the Bard audience consists of recidivists. Lately the choice of focal composers has shifted from the undisputed pantheon to composers who are interesting because of their cultural position in their own time. Saint-Saëns, Chávez, and Rimsky Korsakov fall into this category. The audience keeps on growing. It’s obvious that we share a broad interest in western art music, but the way in which the individual composers are presented is exploratory, and, given the presence of musicians and musicologists, bound to take a controversial course. I always leave not only knowing something I didn’t know before, but with a profound new insight, and, most important of all, questions to mull over during the months that separate us from the next Bard Festival.