Friday, July 29, 2011

It's here!

It's here!

My new book, Case Studies in Vocal Pedagogy is ready for mailing. It discusses how a voice teacher may also have to be an amateur psychologist when dealing with some singers.

If you would like to order a copy, send a check made out to Ferris Burtis Foundation for $20.00 to Herbert Burtis, 53 Rood Hill Road, Sandisfield, MA 01255. All proceeds are going to the Ferris Burtis Music Foundation which assists young classical musicians in their education and early careers. Your purchase price will be tax deductible.

At the moment Yevgeny Kutik, brilliant young concert violinist ( ), The Elektra Ensemble, a sensational trio ( and Julian Müller, a fine young 'cellist who will be attending the Jacobs Music School at Indiana University this fall, are being helped by the Foundation.

PR images

Yevgeny Kutik


   The Elektra Ensemble

Julian Müller

I just re-read the book. It's pretty darned good!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Best of Enemies

Tonight I saw a very impressive piece for the theatre at Barrington Stage. It's not exactly a play; it's more of a documentary. It is called The Best of Enemies and was written by Mark St. Germain, who also wrote Freud's Last Session which the company did last season and the season before. It is based on a book by the same name of Osha Gray Davidson.

It deals with Durham, North Carolina in the seventies when the town, and much of the south, was divided by racial and economic tension.

Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis were on opposite sides of the problem. Ellis held a high office in the local Ku Klux Klan, Mrs. Atwater was a poor working black woman. Bill Riddick came into town to help relieve the tensions and to begin to desegregate the schools. By chance, Mr. Riddick and his wife were seated next to me tonight in Row C. Mrs. Atwater was also present. Mr. Ellis died a few years ago.

Mr. Riddick somehow persuaded Mrs. Atwater and Mr. Ellis to co-chair the committee to discuss and decide how the local schools could be integrated.

I call it a piece for the theatre rather that a play because it unfolds as a series of vignettes that begin with Mrs. Atwater and Mr. Ellis at sword's point and ends with them the best of friends. He was hated by his fellow Klansman and tore up his membership card in public at the end of their work together. It is a very strong and emotional evening of theatre.

Detroit 1-8-7, Aisha Hinds Craig Sjodin/ABC  Aisha Hinds as Ann Atwater is a powerful actress portraying this amazing woman with strength and fervor.

John Bedford Lloyd was equally strong as C. P. Ellis who began as an Exalted Something in the Ku Klux Klan, eventually tore up his membership card after being shunned by many of the white townsfolk, losing most of his white friends, losing his wife to death, his gas station, and winding up as a janitor. He eventually tried to slash his wrists to kill himself. It was at this point that Ann Atwater came to the hospital to see him and give him courage to continue his life. They became life-long friends.

Clifton Duncan and Susan Wands were excellent as Bill Riddick and Mary Ellis, C. P.'s wife.
                                 Susan Wands  

All in all it was an emotional evening in the theatre. It's not quite a play, but that doesn't seem to matter. At the end of the evening Aisha Hinds, as Ann Atwater, tells of going to C.P.'s funeral, the only black person there. She is told that the service is for family members only. When asked if she is a family member, she emotionally says, 'Yes. He's my brother.'

Trust me. There was not a dry eye in the house.

The emotional hit you get from this play that is not quite a play is that every word of it is true. These were real people and real events that took place.

In 1952 John and I attended the wedding of two very dear friends in Spartanburg, South Carolina. We saw public restrooms and drinking fountains that were labeled 'White Only' and 'Colored Only'. Twenty years later, at the time of this play, race relations were worse than they had been on that trip because by then laws had been passed to rid our country of this stigmata. But not much had changed.

Today a black man sits in the White House. Many people in this country and a good percentage of our Congress oppose everything that he suggests not just because they disagree politically, but, in my opinion, because he is black.

We still have quite a way to go, haven't we?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where the hell is Cy Coleman when you need him?

I'm jaded. I admit it freely, bright green jaded when it comes to musical theatre. Having grown up seeing and hearing musicals by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, Mary Rodgers, Richard's daughter, (Once Upon a Mattress), Adam Guettel, his grandson, (Light in the Piazza), Cy Coleman, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim... well, you get the idea-  after 80 years of listening to writers for the musical stage of this calibre, one gets to be able to discriminate between Veuve Clicot and Thunderbird, musically speaking.

That Rodgers family was a sort of modern herd of Bachs, weren't they?

All this is a preamble to my discussing tonight's première of Mormons, Mothers, and Monsters at Barrington Stage 2. Veuve Clicot it ain't.

The book and lyrics are by Sam Salmond and seem to be a recitation of his trip through psychoanalysis. He, or the hero, was born into a Mormon family. A fairly dysfunctional Mormon family, apparently. His mother remarried a number of times. Like Mae West, she apparently never met a man she didn't marry. As husbands go, hers did. She is presented as a very controlling factor in the young man's life.

To make the cheese more binding, the young fellow finds out that he is gay. What, you may say, a gay Mormon? Brigham Young must be rolling in his grave with all of his wives.

He has his first sexual encounter after being baptized in the Mormon Temple- in it! He goes to New York, to NYU and...... well the mother is to blame. Put the blame on Mom, boys. Sigmund Freud would love this scenario.

The music by Will Aronson seems to work, even with the sometimes unsetable text.

The excellent cast almost makes up for the lack of real musical theatre. Jill Abramovitz is good, if screamy, as the mother.

Taylor Trensch is adorable as the young boy (Mormon). He looks about twelve but is obviously older since he graduated from Elon University.

 Stanley Bahorek is fine as his alter-ego and the narrator of the piece.

Adam Monley does an incredible job as the monster and all of the mother's various husbands. They all turn out to be monsters as well, as does the mother, of course. By the end of the show even the boy is turning into a monster.

Perhaps this is supposed to be a gay re-make of Ionescu's Rhinoceros.

As with the musical last season about a woman coming down with Alzheimer's and her daughter, I think this would have worked better as a straight (you should pardon the expression) play. Or an opera.

Tonight solidified my opinion that too much of what comes out of the Music Theatre Lab at Barrington Stage is from Clone City. They need to get some fresh ideas going in what could be a very fine program

But, as I said, I'm jaded.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Domingo as a baritone?

Tonight I have been watching a most unusual production of Verdi's Rigoletto.For some reason RAI decided to film it on location in Mantua, indoors and out, at the times, day or night, noted in the libretto.

To make it even more interesting, the role of Rigoletto was sung by tenor, or possibly, former tenor Placido Domingo.

Recently my voice teacher friend and I were discussing how some sopranos, as they get on in years, have retooled, and come back to the opera stage as mezzos.

Apparently Domingo is doing a similar switch. He actually began his singing career as a baritone, so perhaps this is not as unusual as it might first appear.

In tonight's performance he was vocally lost in the first scene. But that scene was so badly filmed with so much going on, everyone was more or less at sea.

Later, in the duet with his daughter his voice came forth in all it's beauty. Rigoletto is a high baritone part, and it is only at the Met where he needs to be stentorian.

This may be a role he can sing on camera that might not work for him in an opera house.

Leonie Rysanek sang the title role in a filmed version of Strauss's Elektra some years ago when the role she usually sang in that opera was Chrysothemis, Elektra's sister. Apparently it took a lot of persuading for her to be convinced that she should attempt the role. She said that she would never perform it live on stage. Her filmed performance was excellent. Usually her Elektra was sung by Birgit Nilsson.

Julia Novikova as Gilda sang with a beautiful, silvery voice. Her 'Cara nome' was sung with great finesse and vocal beauty.

As the Duke of Mantua, Vittorio Grigolo sang with a bright, strong tenor voice the role that was Domingo's for so many years.

Zubin Mehta conducted the orchestra in the Teatro Scientifico Bibiena. Through various technical wonders the singers and orchestra stayed together even though they were physically far apart. This might be a way of getting a better singer to orchestra balance at the Met where, in my opinion, the orchestra is almost always too loud.

The production was filmed live by RAI.

At age 70, Domingo, either as a tenor or a baritone, still sings better than most other male singers around today.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Back to School

This morning I had the pleasure of attending a voice class at Tanglewood led by the redoubtable Phyllis Curtin. For many years Phyllis has worked with budding singers, helping them find their way to a professional career. Her career at Tanglewood goes back many years to her own early days there as a student.

Today was no exception. She listened to a number of singers, all of whom had obvious talent and fine instruments, and coached each of them to sing better than they had when they came to class today. She told me that the singers had all had a very busy day yesterday, beginning with her class, followed by more coaching with other members of the Tanglewood faculty, ending with a very long concert in the evening.

Neither the students nor Phyllis showed any signs of wear.

There was a variety of talents on display today. Several very good sopranos, a fine mezzo, a couple of baritones, a bass and a tenor. I especially like one soprano who sang 'Deh vieni' beautifully with a technique that moved up and down her range superbly and was emotionally involved in the role.

I also like the tenor who first sang a song and then sang the first movement of Bach's 'Ich habe genug'. This last, of course, was a staple of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson who performed it many times, including a staged performance directed by Peter Sellers that won ecstatic reviews from critics and has been superbly recorded with Craig Smith and the Emmanuel Music Orchestra. This young man is very promising but still has a few things to learn about singing Bach. But then, who doesn't? He has a fine, easy, tenor voice. I hope that he will take the time to listen to Lorraine's recording of the cantata.

Phyllis has been a dear friend for many years. We get together from time to time and talk about- what else?
Singers and singing.

I wish her a long life and happy classes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The New Book

I have been telling myself and others for a number of years that I did not have another book in me. I have published two books on vocal technique, Sing On! Sing On! and Vocalizing from the Ground Up, a book on piano technique, as espoused by Theodor Leschetizky, How to Make you Arm into a Wet Noodle, and a book of poetry Save the Wine for Me Another Day. I also penned a mystery novel that takes place in the Berkshires that has been lost in one of my previous computers.  I figured that I had done my bit.

Not so, apparently. Recently, in the midst of practicing three hours a day to prepare a long-delayed solo piano recital, I found that I had so much energy left over that I surprised myself and wrote another book!

It is called Case Studies in Vocal Pedagogy and details work that I have done with students where Psychology had to work hand in hand with Music.  I have turned out about a hundred pages that I hope are interesting, amusing at times, and helpful. 

The title makes it sound like a very pedantic, scientific tome, but it isn't. That just seemed like a good title. It was a lot of fun to write and I hope it will be fun to read.

Chapter One 'Boo-Hoo Betty'
Chapter Two 'Can't Sing Those Low Notes'
Chapter Three 'Can't Hit Those High Notes'.
Chapter Four 'Dealing with a Six-Pack'.
Chapter Five 'Tight as a Tick'.
Chapter Six 'Wunderkind''
Chapter Seven 'Hit and Run'.
Chapter Eight 'I Give Up'.
Chapter Nine 'Lorraine'.

The book is available by writing to me at: Herbert Burtis, 53 Rood Hill Road, Sandisfield, MA 01255, and including a check made out to Ferris Burtis Foundation for $20.00. The proceeds will go to the Ferris Burtis Music Foundation which supports the education and careers of young classical musicians. The amount over the cost of the book and mailing is tax deductible.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guys and Dolls

In 1950 or 1951 I saw the original production of Frank Loesser's and Abe Burrows's perennial classic, Guys and Dolls at the 46th Street Theatre in Manhattan. It was, and is an incredible show.
  Matthew Risch

Last night I witnessed Barrington Stage's current production, which is a winner. Director John Rando has managed to capture all the vigor and excellence of the original production.
Leslie Kritzer

The cast, which featured Michael Thomas Holmes as Nathan Detroit, Morgan James as Sarah Brown, Leslie Kritzer as Miss Adelaide, and Matthew Risch as Sky Masterson, couldn't have been better  They all can sing and act with verve and portray their characters as Damon Runyon, the author of the original stories, might have wished.

Morgan James, as Sarah, should get special mention. It was so good to hear someone who can really sing take the part. Isabel Bigley, the original Sarah, had a break in her passaggio that became legendary and the source of many parodies in the song 'I'll know'. Apparently Frank Loesser slapped her at one point during rehearsals because she wasn't singing the song the way he wanted it sung. Now that's showbiz.

Michael Thomas Holmes

The supporting cast was equally good, especially Daniel Marcus, who sang the role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson and stopped the show.

I didn't care much for the orange and black sky-scrapers which didn't much look like 1940's New York, but otherwise the set worked very well.

I also was lucky enough to see the 1976 revival of the show which featured a dynamite all-black cast.

But this group was right up there with the best!

After having heard Lucie Arnaz caterwaul her way through a solo evening a while ago, it was refreshing to hear a talented cast of Broadway singers who know how to sing!