Monday, November 5, 2018

Nell Gwynn

Last night David and I attended a new play by Jessica Swale at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Nell Gwynn, based very accurately on the life of the 17th century actress who was the mistress of Charles II.

She was born in 1650 (?) and was one of the most famous actresses of the Restoration, often mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his diaries. 

The play, with fairly authentic music, was delightful and very well cast.

Image result for scarlett strallen  

Charlotte Strallen was perfect as Nell Gwynn, singing and dancing as well as filling the role with humor and pathos.

  Image result for timothy edward kane

Timothy Edward Kane was regal as King Charles II and John Tufts was very good as Charles Hart, the actor who brought Nell from her life as an orange seller and street walker to the stage.

  Image result for john tufts photos

Nell had two children by the King, Charles Beauclerk (1670–1726); and James Beauclerk (1671–1680) (the surname is pronounced boh-clair). Charles was created Earl of Burford and later Duke of St. Albans

She was granted a house in Pall Mall which until recently was the only house there not owned by the crown.

The delightful music was written by Nigel Hess and the choreography was by Amber Mak. It was a delightful evening in the theatre!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Night and Day

I'm back in Chicago for the winter and immediately got into the Chicago concert swing with a vocal concert in Oak Park. Oak Park is the location of many Frank Lloyd Wright houses which we drove by prior to the concert. Indeed, the temple in which the concert was held was designed by him.

The concert, entitled Night and Day, was performed by the Fourth Coast Ensemble,  a group of four attractive and talented young singers who are in their fifth season together.

The very long program was divided into groups of songs whose texts brought one from daybreak to slumber with varying success. An eclectic choice of music from Lili Boulanger to Alban Berg filled the hour and forty-five minute program. I could have done without the George Crumb section as well as that of Tom Cipullo.

The singers were Sarah van der Ploeg, soprano, Bridget Skaggs, mezzo-soprano, Zachery Vanderburg, tenor and Samuel Schultz, baritone. The able pianist was Mark Bilyeu.

All four singers have very good voices and sing with enthusiasm; sometimes too much enthusiasm! In various moments they suddenly included synchronized arm, hand, and body movements to punch up the meaning of the texts. This was a bit too 'Rocketish' for me. Or Esther Williams synchronized swimming.

Having worked with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson for twenty years, I grew used to her quiet but intense delivery of song. In a lesson she would often move about to loosen up but then, in performance, she would be very quiet physically and allow the emotion to pour forth from her in sound and energy. Maybe that's old fashioned these days. Lorraine has been dead for over ten years. Alas!

In any event I found this kind of performance very distracting.

I also disliked the Crumb songs very much, especially the one that required Ms. Skaggs to need to scream out several very high note. She has a lovely voice and should not need to sing in this way.

The concert should have ended with Mr. Schultz's redition of Der Erlkònig, which was exciting and vocally excellent instead of the rather silly and pointless Insomnia by Tom Cipulllo.

It's hard being a voice teacher at a vocal concert. You can't stop teaching in your head!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Barrington Stage

This was not the most inspiring season at Barrington Stage. The highlights were Typhoid Mary at Stage 2 and West Side Story at the Main Stage.

Julie Boyd has announced that she wants to present plays that make you think about the play after you leave the theatre rather than wonder where you parked your car.

I have always thought that that was the purpose of good theatre.

Several of the other plays were more sermons than plays and the William Finn musical was just not good.

Last night David and I saw Well Intentioned White People by Rachel Lynett. I would call it a well-intentioned sermon disguised as a play.

It concerns a black college professor who has been receiving racial threats and refuses to do anything about it while her friends press her into getting involved in a very public response to the problem.

The characters were one dimensional and there was a lot of screaming back and forth between people.

Julie announced that next year Stage 2 will be devoted to this sort of play.

I may skip it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

West Side Story-again!

Last night David and I saw West Side Story for the second time in a week. This one was Barrington Stage's production and was great.

Compared to the one we saw at Glimmerglass, this was much closer to the original production I saw on Broadway in 1957.

Image result for will branner

Tony was sung by Will Branner. He has a fine 'Broadway' tenor voice and is a very good actor.
Image result for addie morales

Maria was Addie Morales who also sang beautifully. Compared to the soprano at Glimmerglass, who also had a nice voice but a flutter.

Image result for skyler volpe

Anita was Skyler Volpe and was much stronger than the Glimmerglass Anita.

This entire cast sang in what I would term the 'Broadway' sound, which has a bit of an edge to it. At Glimmerglass the sound seemed younger and less into it even though the singers were about the same age. The 'Broadway sound' uses what I call the Judy Garland 'Terminal Vibrato', begining a note with a fairly straight tone and the bringing in the vibrato toward the end. It's exciting but a bit hard on the voice.

I also liked the staging and sets better. The choreography by Robert La Fosse was based on the original by Jerome Robbins.

In short, this was the real thing. Let's have more like this at Barrington Stage where this has been an up and down season.

Monday, August 13, 2018


Thursday we arrived at Glimmerglass Opera Festival for a long weekend. We were joined by David's sister Peggy and her partner Jim. For our first night we were also joined by David's choirmaster, Christian, and his husband Chris.

The first opera was Rossini's The Barber of Seville. As we have found previously, Glimmerglass finds the best singers available for it's casts. 

Image result for david walton

David Walton as Count Almaviva was sensational. He is tall, handsome, and has a wonderful tenor voice with high notes to spare.

Image result for joshua hopkins photos  
Joshua Hopkins as Figaro was splendid. He has a good voice but tends to pull it back a bit on his high F's in his first aria.

Dale Travis was Doctor Bartolo and managed the rapid fire diction of his arias with ease.

Image result for emily d'angelo mezzo soprano photos
Emily D'Angelo was excellent as Rosina; a wide easy range and good coloratura for her difficult arias.

Image result for timothy bruno photos  
Timothy Bruno as Don Basilio nearly stole the show with La Calunia.

Stage hands/chorus moved bits of scenery on and off the stage. It was a charming production.

Image result for alexandria shiner photos  
Alexandria Shiner has a large beautiful voice as Berta. Sensational top!

Friday evening brought a fantastic performance of The Cunning Little Vixen by Leos Janacek in an 
English translation by Kelley Rourke. Except for Eric Owens as the Forester, it might as well have been in Czech as far as getting the words went. A couple of the other men were understandable but the women, while having good voices were not there diction-wise. Of course the fact that their parts were written very high made it difficult to begin with. My theory has always been that our ears are not used to hearing speech that high so that the men always have an easier time coming through than the women.

Image result for eric owens  Eric Owens

It is a wild ballet/opera (I'm not sure which) with a fabulous score. The set  by Ryan McGettigen and the costumes by Eric Teague were wonderful as were the direction and choreography by L. Loren Meeker and Eric Sean Fogel. Joseph Colaneri was the excellent conductor.

I loved the event but had to keep watching the super-titles to keep track of what was going on. I doubt that even in the original language the women could have been understood.

I have spent too many years teaching clear diction to singers to accept what was happening. I was brain-washed by Madeleine Marshall years ago at Union Seminary and she became a dear friend. We did workshops together. So my tolerance for mushy diction is small.

Composers need to learn that writing a lot of text on very high notes for the female voice just doesn't work.


Saturday was our last event, West Side Story. I guess I have become jaded because when I see revivals of Broadway shows that I saw in their original form I'm disappointed. I saw the original production in 1957 and a reprise in the 90's.

None of the singers had the Broadway 'edge' that I am accustomed to. The setting was cumbersome and  the choreographer had too many things going on during the love duets. 

I was underwhelmed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Chinese Lady

The Chinese Lady, a new play by Lloyd Suh, was put together much like minimalist music, wherein the same passage of notes is repeated over and over until you cry 'I GIVE UP!'.

The play is based on a real person who was brought to this country in the 1830's, supposedly the first Chinese woman to be seen in this country. She was put on view twice a day and walked around on her tiny bound feet and spoke in Chinese about Chinese customs. She was supposed to be here for two years but was kept here for many more than that, eventually touring the country in her 'show'. At one point she was bought by P.T. Barnum and was a part of his Freak Show.

I am particularly sensitive about Freak Shows since one of my uncles, who was born with just two fingers on the ends of his arms, was once in one of these and came to Battle Creek when I was a kid. Mother and Dad took us to a store front on Capitol Avenue and there was Uncle Ralph, along with three hundred pound 'Baby Betty' and a few other unusual folks on display. Uncle Ralph had trained himself to be a glass blower, worked during the war doing war work, often worked in carnivals, along with my other uncle Paul. I guess the Freak Show was all he could get at that time.

So I have some idea what is like to have to resort to this type of employment to make a living. We knew that he was disadvantaged with his incomplete hands, but he did spectacular work with his glass blowing and weaving. Mother had several of his works on display. I remember one winter he stayed with us and sat up his equipment in the kitchen so the neighbors could come and watch him work. He was an amazing man who made the most of his talent in spite of seemingly impossible odds.

So I feel for the Chinese Lady, the person, not the play, which the Berkshire Eagle described as 'a screed, masquerading as a play'. I agree,

Shannon Tyo played the part of the Lady.

Image result for daniel k. isaac  

Daniel K. Isaac was Atung, her assistant.

It is a very sad commentary on the times but not a very good play.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Hello Dolly!

For some reason Lucas Hnath felt the need to write a sequel to Henrick Ibsen's A Doll's House. We saw his A Doll's House, Part 2 last night at Barrington Stage.

I haven't yet figured out why someone wants to take someone else's  play and characters and try to keep the story going. King Lear, Part 2??  It was said at the time (1876) that when Nora slammed the door and left her husband Torvald, it was a slam heard 'round the world. A sort of early 'Women's Lib'.

In this play Hnath brings Nora back fifteen years later to try to get Torvald to sign divorce papers, which he never filed. Since Ibsen never told us what happened to Nora everything now is conjecture.

Nora and Torvald argue over all the things they should have argued over when she was still there, then she and her daughter do the same thing. In the end she walks out and slams the door again.

Image result for laila robins
Laila Robins was excellent as Nora,gorgeous in a sensational purple dress.

Image result for mary stout actress

Mary Stout nearly stole the show as Anne Marie, the nanny who raised Nora's children after she left. 

Image result for christopher innvar actor

Christopher Innvar was Torvald.

Image result for ashley bufkin

Ashley Bufkin was the daughter Emmy.

The set was simple. A door in the middle of the set and two chairs. 

I'm not sure what Ibsen would have to say about the play. I felt it was unnecessary.