Category Archives: Marit E. Shuman

AT CARNEGIE HALL: HANDEL’S MESSIAH BY THE ORATORIO SOCIETY OF NEW YORK ·

(Edward Kiszus’s article appeared on Opening Night Online, 12/19/2023; Photo: Handel’s Messiah performed by the Oratorio Society of New York at Carnegie Hall.. Photo by Edward Kliszus.)

Handel’s Messiah performed by the Oratorio Society of New York at Carnegie Hall.

Accompanied by a coterie of gifted solo artists, a bespoke Kent Tritle strode to center stage in a radiant, scarlet jacket to conduct Handel’s Messiah (1741) by the Oratorio Society of New York. The full house erupted into a resounding applause befitting the greatest historical luminaries of choral conducting, like Robert Shaw, Sir David Willcocks, and Sir George Solti.

The sublime opening intones of the opening Sinfonia, set in a stately French overture form, established the work’s overall pathos and foundation for the first Arioso performed by tenor Martin Bakari. With ‘Comfort Ye’ and ‘Ev’ry Valley,’ Bakari demonstrated his crisp diction, articulation, expressive power, and mastery of swift melismatic passages.

Tritle conducted with bravura, inspiration, and precision. His choices of dynamics and tempi built energy, excitement, urgency, and intensity. Messiah emerged as a living, breathing entity of vitality and passion. For audiences new and seasoned, Tritle reinvented and refreshed Messiah, crafting its musical treasures for heightened accessibility as he delivered glorious crescendi and decrescendi.

These variations of dynamics occurred within the scope of Tritle’s faithfulness to the precepts of Baroque Affektenlehre that masterfully characterized anticipation of the Messiah’s arrival, the sorrow of his crucifixion, and the glory of his resurrection. After all, Handel’s score markings are less about dynamics and more associated with tempo and atmosphere with terms like LargoLarghettoAllegro, and Andante. Tritle displayed his unwavering commitment to excellence and ability to connect with an audience through music’s expressive power.

Countertenor Daniel Moody demonstrated his dramatic vocal authority throughout the concert. Moody’s extended range projected ethereal beauty, while his vocal agility displayed a fluid and effortless musical flow. Moody’s vocal acrobatics and virtuosity conveyed a sense of passion and conviction essential to the interpretation of Messiah. We heard this and more in Moody’s performance of ‘O thou tellest good tidings to Zion.’

John Brancy, bass-baritone, projected a deep and powerful aural narrative. His strong presence conveyed a sense of solemnity and gravity as in the aria “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” Brancy also expressed triumph and joy, as noted in “The trumpet shall sound” with the addition of virtuoso trumpeter Maximilian Morel. Brancy’s role served as a key element in the work’s rich and dynamic sound tapestry.

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PROM 36 A SPACE ODYSSEY: LPO/GARDNER REVIEW – “UNSETTLING AND AWESOME” ·

Prom 36 – A Space Odyssey-The London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner (Jennifer France: soprano, Clare Presland: mezzo-soprano,
Edvard Grieg: Kor, Royal Northern College of Music Chamber Choir, London Philharmonic Choir) perform György Ligeti: Requiem and Lux aeterna followed by Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 11 August 2023
Photo by Mark Allan

 

PROM 36 A SPACE ODYSSEY: LPO/GARDNER REVIEW

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(Tim Ashley’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/13. )

Royal Albert Hall, London
Intense and finely focused performances of the Ligeti and Strauss pieces used in Kubrick’s sci-fi epic revealed every detail of their unearthly majesty and awesome extremes

Like many, I first heard György Ligeti’s music on the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was a teenager, and for some years after was unable to dissociate its unearthliness from Kubrick’s ambitious vision of human evolution as a product of alien intervention. Edward Gardner’s London Philharmonic Prom marked this year’s Ligeti centenary by acknowledging 2001’s grip on our imaginations, placing his Requiem and Lux Aeterna alongside Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. It’s hard to dissociate the Strauss from some of the film’s most iconic moments, either.

Bleak and sparse despite the awesome volume of sound it can generate, the Requiem, completed in 1965, offers no comfort for the fear and violence it evokes, and hearing it complete (Kubrick only uses the Kyrie) can be unsettling. Gardner’s interpretation was a thing of extremes. The quiet, penumbral opening Introit seemed to hover on the verges of sound and silence. Later, the roaring brass of the Dies Irae pinned you to your seat. The combined forces of the London Philharmonic Choir, Royal Northern College of Music Chamber Choir, and Norway’s Edvard Grieg Kor (Gardner is also their chief conductor) sang with furious intensity. Jennifer France and Clare Presland were the hieratic soloists, their voices finely blended in the ambivalent closing Lacrimosa, its oscillating vocal lines fading away in irresolution.

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Prom 36: A Space Odyssey

 

Live at the BBC Proms: Edward Gardner conducts the London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra, RNCM Chamber Choir and Edvard Grieg Kor, in music by György Ligeti and Richard Strauss.

Presented by Georgia Mann, live from the Royal Albert Hall.

György Ligeti: Requiem

c. 8.05 pm
Interval: Matthew Sweet, presenter of Radio 3’s programme Sound of Cinema, joins Georgia Mann to discuss the use of music in film by Stanley Kubrick.

c. 8.25 pm
György Ligeti: Lux aeterna
Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra

Jennifer France (soprano)
Clare Presland (mezzo-soprano)
Edvard Grieg Kor
Royal Northern College of Music Chamber Choir
London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra
Edward Gardner (conductor)

György Ligeti was one of the boldest voices of the 20th century – a composer whose radical vision brought wit as well as invention to the world of contemporary classical music. Tonight, we hear two of his most famous works – the dramatic Requiem paired with the shimmering Lux aeterna, both of which featured in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also featured in the film was Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, with the iconic brass opening that calls to mind the image of the sun rising over the Earth and Moon.

 

MARÍA IRENE FORNÉS: ‘MUD/ DROWNING’ FROM MABOU MINES—ONLY THROUGH OCT. 9—REVIEW FROM NEW YORK ·

By Bob Shuman and Marit Shuman

María Irene Fornés’s Mud/Drowning is playing for only 15 performances, September 28 to October 9, at Mabou Mines, in a double bill, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis, with new music composed by Philip Glass and produced by Mabou Mines and Weathervane Productions, in association with Philip Glass’ The Days and Nights Festival. The evening is not a return to the fantastical weirdness of previous outré Mabou Mines outings, although the first production of “Drowning,” in 1986, as part of an evening of one-acts called Orchards, unrelated to Mabou Mines, and inspired by Chekhov, cast her play with men dressed as potatoes. Today, the acclaimed director, Akalaitis, in an inclusive, intimate mood, offers her Fornés shows as hardly more than unaffected stationary rehearsal presentations.  The first, Mud, is set at a long table (with the actors widely spaced, presumably in adherence of Covid rules; the production’s original staging was in Carmel, California, in October 2019), and they are accompanied by a keyboardist, Michael A. Ferrara, and harpist, Anna Bikales.  White, russet, yellow, brown, blue:  potatoes can be of many colors, but Fornés, originally from Cuba, was an important champion of Latino voices and actors before the millennium, when a string of her works, self-directed, played at Theater for the New City with her oft-chosen star Sheila Dabney, who was flooded with emotion at her curtain calls, after having recreated the brutalized, downtrodden, and brown, who claimed and called for humanity.

If the color of potatoes doesn’t much matter, the color of the actors in the first piece, Mud, can, offering the radical view we assume when we see drama at this theatre.  If it doesn’t and one is producing the work of a Cuban playwright, in a play called Mud, and unearthing and tripping over pieces of Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard lying across the page, why not do Orpheus Descending, instead? Perhaps Akalaitis is signaling the most radical possible solution for Off-Broadway:  a cease-fire on race issues and maybe ones concerning gender and age.   Next season, everything will have returned to normal but, after the weight of COVID-19, for a moment, Mabou Mines has a celebration, with  a white, blonde actress (Wendy vanden Heuvel) at the center (also in Mud are Paul Lazar, Sifiso Mabena, Tony Torn, and Autumn Angelettie) and old tenors and a countertenor, in fat suits, recalling an Orson Welles trio, dressed alike in loose jackets and scarves, one with a pork pie hat  (Tomas Cruz, Gregory Purnhagen, and Peter Stewart).   The mood is genial and marigold bright, unless you think the color is a reference to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a story about another trapped woman);  the lighting design is by Thomas Dunn and the scenic and costume design are by Kaye Voyce, using  blue and tan patterned linoleum, as if a background to a cozy cast party with wine, cheese, and sweet potato pie.  We need that vibe even if it is a very different one than the ones Fornes brought to many of her plays, roughly forty years ago. Then, the presentations could be aching, anguished, with pinpricks of matter-of-fact humor, artistically rendered sets by the author, and silences, sometimes long, perhaps to hear that small, quiet voice (like the author’s)–of what was human, among the bestiality allowed on the stage.  Signature Theatre’s production of Mud, at the turn of the millennium was unbearably intense and that is a vision probably close to what Fornés had in mind for the piece herself (Mud itself is reminiscent of a story by Zora Neale Hurston, specifically “Sweat”), but realize that Fornes, as a working playwright and theatremaker, did write comedy, as well as musicals.  What one of the reviewers here recalls first, from a class taken with Fornés in the 1980s, was the requirement that characters in plays never be made fun of or mocked, whether they were funny or not—their humanity was sacred.            

By taking away the slow, Beckettian tempo of Fornés scenes, an awareness of melodrama and comedy can emerge (Akalaitis uses humorous physical parallelism, of hands and body placements, as examples, pronounced in the Mabou Mines production, and has a clown in Tony Torn as Henry, a man who can barely read).  Actually, such an approach displays Fornés’s writing technique, which calls for randomization and displacement (the playwright Robin Goldfin typed and compiled many of Fornés’s exercises, and apparently there are more.  Hopefully, INTAR has them and they are in safekeeping, a rare treasure). What the method allows Glass, however, are clearly defined sections to compose for, which is why the evening can feel like being at a silent film, where music is played at clear demarcations (Fornés’s script actually calls for freezes to last eight seconds at the end of each scene, which will “create the effect of a still photograph,” amplifying the idea of the filmic and sectioned).  Glass’s post-minimalist music for the opera does not (and probably should or could not) feel particularly specific to a rural America, in Mud, or to potatoes reading a tabloid at a diner, whatever that would sound like (Gabrielle Vincent’s anatomically accurate  makeup for the bloated bald-headed men may be a reference to actual victims of drowning).  Glass seems to take a generic, or maybe unobtrusive, route through the absurdity, giving ambiance in minor-keyed arpeggios, relying on sung text, without, for instance, configuring arias, duets, and trios.

Part of the allure of this Mud/Drowning may, in fact, be the decision to have extreme visionaries take themselves less seriously, less adventurously, less singularly, and be tempted to put down their own visions.  Instead, they offer what is possible:  non-intimidation, non-attachment, an informal feel of the home, and an appeal to camaraderie, after a very long two years of the arts being at sea.

© by Bob Shuman and Marit Shuman

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Photos: I. Fornes (Mabou Mines); cast of ‘Mud’ (Credit…Julieta CervantesNY Times); Cast of ‘Drowning’ (Credit…Julieta Cervantes, NY Times); J Akalaitis (Mabou Mines); P. Glass (Famous Composers.net)

VERDI REQUIEM AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL: PROM 64, 2018 ·

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Live at BBC Proms: Verdi’s Requiem with the London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra with conductor Orozco-Estrada and Lise Davidsen, Sarah Connolly, Dmytro Popov & Tomasz Konieczny Live from the Royal Albert Hall, London Presented by Georgia Mann Verdi: Requiem Lise Davidsen, soprano Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano Dmytro Popov, tenor Tomasz Konieczny, bass London Philharmonic Choir London Philharmonic Orchestra Andrés Orozco‐Estrada, conductor Rising conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada continues this season’s sequence of Requiems with Verdi’s mighty concert-hall setting – an ‘opera in church vestments’. Embracing the full gamut of human emotion, from the most tender and fragile of hopes to the visceral terror of the Day of Judgement, it’s a work that transforms private grief into an astonishing public statement. An international team of soloists includes the exciting young Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen and renowned mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly.

LLOYD WEBBER/RICE: ‘EVITA’  (REVIEW FROM LONDON) ·

By Marit E. Shuman

 Rainbow High or Rainbow Low?

In the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, at the Phoenix Theatre in London, panache seems to overtake sincerity in this gilded, but nonetheless, enjoyable production. Title-role: Emma Hatton, no stranger to the West End (her credits include Elphaba in Wicked) or to the world of jazz and blues, seems to rely heavily on the latter in the delivery of her performance.

A vocally taxing role, Evita swoops from dusky, barely audible low notes all the way up to belted passagio, and then some. To quote Patti LuPone, originator of the role of Evita on Broadway, “There’s a couple of notes that aren’t as strong as your top notes or your bottom notes and that’s exactly where the score sits.” Where LuPone punched through the Es, Fs, and Gs, that characterize the vocal line (at the cost of her vocals, to be fair), Hatton backs down and floats them, in a breathy, bluesy manner. This approach adds a layer of sensitivity to Evita, by the addition of more dynamic contrast, but at what cost? Some of the strength, drive, and fearlessness of Eva Perón seem to be lost.

 

Playing opposite Hatton, making his West End debut in the role of Che, is Gian Marco Schiaretti.  Extremely handsome, he moves about the stage with ease and confidence.  Classic Che beard tightly clipped, army reliefs tightly fitted, and vibrato tightly coiled, this “boyband Che” brings charisma to the role, and, when he moves to his higher register and gives up trying to speak-sing, reveals an expressive and powerful voice. Unfortunately, the honesty and gravity of Che, as narrator, are glossed over by all the glitz.

Whereas the roles of Evita and Che seem to be lacking something, in terms of integrity, so too does the music. As is the norm nowadays, with theatres trying to cut costs, the orchestra that Webber’s iconic songs were written for consists of three keyboards–playing the parts of various instruments, such as strings and harps–a couple of trumpets, and a guitar.

All in all, a fun production but fluffy–ephemeral and insubstantial.

© 2017 by Marit E. Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photos: Pamela Raith