Monday, December 3, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Special cheers today for my Mum, @[1282672557:2048:Phyllis], who has defined grace, love, generosity and courage for 91 years.  As always, I am blessed and humbled.  Happy Birthday!!!!!!!  <3Today is the 91st birthday of my dear friend, Phyllis Curtin, opera diva, amazing teacher, wonderful woman.

Happy Birthday, Phyllis!

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Last evening I had the great pleasure of attending the senior recital of my voice student, Katie Weiser, in Sweeney Hall at Smith College. Katie studies voice with me and with Jane Bryden, and coaches with Jerry Noble, who accompanied her last night.

Together, Katie's 'team' have been helping her prepare the program she presented last night. Here are Katie, Jerry, myself, and Jane following the concert.

While it's not considered good form to brag about one's students, I am going to do it anyway. Katie simply took command of the stage and sang a beautiful program. Rossini, Wolf, Fauré, Handel, Barber, Duke, Hundley, and Gounod were all represented on the program and all were very well sung.

Katie has worked long and hard with her teachers and her coach to bring this program to fruition. Any performer needs talent, but you also have to do the work. Katie has the talent and did the work. It resulted in a standing ovation at the end of the concert.

Here are Katie and Jerry on stage in Sweeney Hall last night. Bravi!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Barbara, revisited.

Since I wrote the blog on Barbara Cook last night, I have it on excellent authority that she has not had plastic surgery but has simply lost weight.

Whatever she did, she looks as beautiful as I remember her when she was Marian the Librarian.

Quoting the title of my first book on singing: Sing On! Sing On!, dear Barbara!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Let it snow

This afternoon, two intrepid friends and I drove to Princeton, NJ through rain and snow to listen to a legend sing.

Eighty-five year old Barbara Cook walked out on stage with the help of a cane, sat down, and enchanted a frost-bitten audience  for an hour and a half.

I last heard her several years ago at the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington. Her voice has lost a little of its luster since then, but she still sings with that sweet sound that has identified her for years.

The program included a number of interesting songs that I was not familiar with. Most of the songs were on the quiet side with a couple of up-tempo numbers thrown in.

Barbara Cook Kennedy Center HonoreeShe now sings mostly in the middle octave of her voice with an occasional trip into head voice. No more 'Glitter and be Gay'. But she is really amazing.

Magically, she has lost the double chin that was obvious when last I saw her. Far be it from me to suggest plastic surgery, but if that is what happened, the results are sensational. She looks great!

On the drive home, the intrepid Jim did the driving honors through feet of snow. Rte 33, a major NJ highway, was like driving through a field. New Jersey goes into a South Carolina mode at any sign of snow. But he got Peggy and me home safe and sound. We celebrated with chocolate chip cookies.

Barbara announced that she was planning to keep on singing and singing and singing, and I see no reason why that will not happen.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Music, music

Often when I see the words 'Faculty Concert' I shudder. I have heard too many pedestrian presentations by well-meaning teachers.

Tonight, however, was a different story. In Sweeney Concert Hall at Smith College members of the faculty set the place on fire.

First, Karen Smith Emerson, with Judith Gordon at the piano, sang a beautiful set of songs in German by Edvard Grieg. Having been immersed in the Grieg 'Cello and Piano Sonata for the past few months, these were especially close to my heart. Karen sang with a beautiful sound, fine musicianship, and deep emotion. I would rave more but she studies with me and that would be embarrassing. Leave it at this;

Then a piano trio of Franz Schubert, his Trio in B-flat major, Op.99 was played by Joel Pinchon, violinist, Volcy Pelletier, 'cellist, and Judith Gordon again as pianist. They gave us a brilliant rendition of the work filled with fire and drama.

Finally, Ms. Gordon returned with pianist Conor Hanick to play Hallelujah Junction of John Adams. This is a tour de force! It has all the usual Adams bag of tricks: loud sonorities, complicated rhythms, and the John Adams logo, 'Why do anything just once if you can do it 17 times?' You can hear Georg Frederik Handel trying to escape. It brought down the house.

This is a music faculty of a different stripe. Congratulations!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What to do 'til the baby comes.

This past weekend I did a huge concert with my friend Andrea; 'cello and piano. We performed works by Vivaldi, Fauré, Ginastera, and Grieg. The Ginastera and Grieg are both barn-burners! It's been a while since I have played a concert that taxing: technically and emotionally. Taxing but wonderful. Even my once-broken right hand behaved itself and performed well.

We performed in a church where I had been Director of Music and Fine Arts for twenty-one years thirty-three years ago to a packed house. Andrea had been a part of that church since childhood. We had an enthusiatic audience and got a standing ovation.

After the concert, the reception, and a lovely dinner with friends, I sat around the kitchen table with my friend Ellen, at whose home I was staying, and we talked until my Adrenalin level returned to somewhere near normal. It was after 1:00 a.m. when I finally went to bed following this 3:00 p.m. concert.

These are the lovely roses I was presented with at the end of the concert.

This is what always happens to me during and after a concert. I expend great amounts of energy, both physical and emotional, during a performance; then it takes a while for the Adrenalin to subside. At 82, your overall energy level is not what it was at 35. (hah!) At 35, I performed the complete organ works of Bach at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University; fourteen recitals in fifteen weeks. Talk about energy! That was over three hundred works by the great Baroque master. It was a blast. There were one thousand people in attendance at each concert. Those were the days to be on the concert stage. I did sixty organ concerts a year back then.

I can remember performing in Carnegie Recital Hall in New York long ago several times with my long-time duo-piano partner, Eleanor Benoist. Almost at the end of one concert, I felt as if we had only been playing for twenty minutes. I thought, 'Did we leave something out???' We played an enormous program. Check the NY Times of that season or my website for our review. ( )When you are totally involved in the music, time has a funny way of disappearing. You are momentarily out of yourself.

Eleanor was at my concert on Sunday! 

This is when I know that I have performed as well as I possibly can. I felt this same disappearance of time at this recent concert, thirty-seven years later. The mind is an amazing thing. It can lie to you about your age when you need the strength and energy to produce something beautiful.

Perhaps continuing to perform in public at my age is the Fountain of Youth. Poncé de Leon move over!

The hardest part of concert day is waiting around for the concert to begin. Different people have the need to do different things to get themselves into concert-mode. One friend I know needs to expend energy by the quart by vacuuming, washing windows, mowing the lawn, and so on. If I did this, I wouldn't be able to play the concert. Another friend of mine used to practice full tilt until just before curtain time. Exhausting!

I feel the need to take life very easy on concert day. I loll around, reading, watching television, vegging out. I barely touch the piano. I never listen to other music. My head is full of the program I am about to play. I don't want to disturb this train of thought. It's as though I plug myself into an electric outlet to charge my batteries. Then in the concert, all hell breaks loose when I release the energy. This has been my way of coping with pre-concert hours for many years. It still works.

My first organ teacher in New York City, Claire Coci, once told me, 'Always eat a chocolate bar before you play a recital'. I always did. This time, I ate it in the intermission, just before the Grieg! Sugar rush!! Just what you need to play that block-buster.

It's a little like a pregnancy; though I have obviously never given birth. Nine months or so before the new concert you make preparations: choose your program, begin to learn it, decide musically, technically, and emotionally how you plan to present it. This is the gestation period.

When you are performing with another instrumentalist or a singer, you work together many hours to share musical ideas, decide on tempi, dynamics and so on. The program is growing within your mind and body. Your musical fetus.

Then on performance day you deliver your baby. In this case it's name was Vivaldi Fauré Ginastera Grieg, and it was a lovely creation. It's parents, the 'cello and the piano, are very proud of it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pigs and flies

Tonight my friend Alice and I saw a play that was even scarier than last night's Presidential debate. It was Lord of the Flies, which was produced by Barrington Stage. Alice had read the book years ago and wanted to see the play; I had heard about the book and thought, 'Why not?'

Lord of the Flies began life as a novel by Nobel Prize winner William Golding, published in 1954. It has been adapted twice into films in English and once into Filipino.

It is the frightening story of a group of boys marooned on an island after their plane went down. It takes place during an imagined nuclear war and details how this group of young men go from prim English school boys to a mob of savage cannibals in an attempt to cope with their problems. One group separates itself from the others, begins to deck itself in war paint and in the blood of a slaughtered pig who they think is a deity; hence the title. They wind up killing two of the other boys. The situation is saved when a British officer from a warship comes ashore to rescue them. One word from him and they shape up into solid citizens. The murders are ignored. Stiff upper lip, and all that!

Richard DentGiovanna Sardelli, the director, brought this to the stage in startling fury and mayhem.The splendid cast, headed by Richard Dent (left) as Ralph, Chris Dwan as Simon, Matthew Minor as Piggy, and John Evans Reese as Jack, turn the stage of Barrington Main Stage into a jungle of emotion, violence and murder.
 Matthew Minor

The play, an allegory for mob rule, peer pressure, and probably the Nazi menace, is frightening in its fury. Not for the weak at heart.

Neither are Presidential debates.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mother Courage

I paid a visit to my dear friend Phyllis this afternoon. She has often appeared in these pages as 'The Other Voice Teacher', but since many of you have divined her identity, we will stick to Phyllis.

She is at home again after what I have called 'The Winter of her Discontent.' Numerous hospital stays followed by days in rehab facilities. Nobody's fun and games.

Through it all she always comes up smiling and back to her bright, intense self.

Today, having briefly discussed her health problems, she wanted to get down to our usual business of talking about singers and singing.

One of my students, a young soprano, is preparing two senior recitals; one for this fall and one for the spring. We have been going over a variety of songs and arias that she may decide to program

Phyllis and I lamented the fact that these days, the Lieder recital has become as extinct as Tyrannosaurus Rex. Outside of a college campus, nobody sings this kind of program anymore. A young singer wishing to follow a career as a classical singer, has almost no other option than to go into it through the world of opera.

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In the days of 'Community Concerts' (my youth), singers and every other sort of musician came to Battle Creek Michigan and performed at the Kellogg Auditorium. The cost of a season ticket was $5.00. Phyllis said in those days she would sing sixty song recitals a season, in addition to her appearances with various international opera companies.

When I came to New York City in 1950, every weekend I would get free passes for Town Hall concerts from the Music Office at Columbia University. I heard singers, pianists, violinists, you name it, sometime three concerts in a weekend. And the singers sang SONGS.

Well, Community Concerts and Town Hall have gone the way of the Dodo and, these days, a young singer has almost no place to sing the song repertoire.

With all of my serious young singers, I have them work on the song literature in various languages from various musical eras. But I also have them learn operatic arias.

If they expect to have a career in classical music, for better or worse, this is the route that is open to them.

We both lamented this is the way the world of music has gone, but determined that young singers need to be prepared to sing opera if they expect to have a career.

Sometimes, when they become famous, a few of them will do 'Song Recitals' and, because of their fame and reputation, actually get an audience to come hear them. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, while she was working with me, did song recitals here and in Europe. She had made her name in opera first. She always sang to a packed house. Several of her song recitals are available on CDs.

I will continue to give my students a varied diet of songs but will lace it with operatic arias. You need to do what you have to do. The important thing is to sing!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Come to the Cabarets- All of Them!

I have been wallowing in Cabaret music this month. It has been wonderful. A steady diet of hot fudge sundaes on peppermint ice cream with whipped cream and a cherry.  (I just put on ten pounds thinking about that!)

In spite of my training in classical music, or perhaps, because of it, I have always loved cabaret music, show tunes, you name it. When I was in Junior High School in Battle Creek, Michigan about a hundred years ago, it was normal for our friends and neighbors to come to our house of an evening, gather around the piano and sing all the popular songs of the day, so I got an early start in this musical genre.

The month began with my long-time friend and student, Peggy Noecker, and I performing two cabarets, which have already been noted in these pages.

Then, just last Tuesday, my friend and student, Karen Smith Emerson, who is the Elise Irwin Sweeney Professor of Music (Voice) at Smith College, sang a beautiful recital of songs by Francis Poulenc, who was one of Erik Satie's Les nouveaux jeunes. He was also one of Stravinsky's Les Six. Satie spent a lot of time playing piano in Parisian saloons and undoubtedly had an influence on Poulenc. When Karen and I were working on her program, I said, several times to her, 'Think Edith Piaf'. So much of Poulenc's Fiançailles pour rire, which was the main part of her program, evokes the smokey atmosphere of a Paris Boite. Karen was able to bring her high soprano voice right down below the passaggio to deliver this kind of sexy sound. It was a great recital.

To round out my indulgence in Musique de Cabaret, tonight my friend Sue and I heard Brel in the Berkshires presented by Barrington Stage Company. It was not held in their usual venue but rather upstairs at the Spice Dragon Restaurant in a great room for this kind of event.

The two exceptional singers were Amanda McBroom and George Ball, accompanied by the fine pianist, Michele Brourman. I have heard Amanda several times and am blown away every time I hear her by the emotional strength and communication of her performance. She grabs you by the collar and won't let you go until she leaves the stage. She is about the most intense cabaret singer I know of. She has the kind of voice that seems able to do absolutely anything she wants it to. She is simply wonderful!

Her husband, George Ball, is equally good and together, with Michele, they brought an exciting evening to Pittsfield.

Jacques Brel was a Belgian singer-songwriter-actor who created  a new type of chanson that became an international sensation. His musical, Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris, has been performed throughout the world for many years. Both Amanda and George have appeared in this show many times.

Amanda is a talented song writer in her own right, having penned 'The Rose' which was made famous by Bette Midler some time ago. She sang this as an encore.

This was a great evening. Let's have more of this from Barrington Stage!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Cabarets

My friend Peggy Noecker and I have recently performed two cabarets. We have been doing cabarets, as well as classical vocal recitals, together for about thirty years. We announced last night that we are going to keep doing them until we get it right.

Well, it's going pretty right as it is. We did the first one a week ago at my home in Massachusetts and the second last night at her home in New Jersey.

This is the obvious ambiance for an intimate concert like a cabaret. The performers have the audience literally in their laps. This makes our communication with them, and with each other, very compelling. The audience becomes a part of the show.

I have seen a lot of cabaret performances in my lifetime. Two of my favorites were Nancy Ford performing at the Firebird Restaurant on west 47th street several times, and Lena Horne doing her one woman show a number of years ago on Broadway. I worked with Nancy on the preparation of this performance. She got rave reviews in the New York Times. Lena did her own thing- as only she could do it!

Cabarets need to seem as if the performer is making it up as he or she goes along, while really having a very clear plan in mind of the direction the show needs to take. Off-hand remarks while performing need to be tested to see if they work and should be kept in the act. This may vary from performance to performance, but usually you can tell pretty quickly if something is going to sell. I saw Lena's show twice. Each time her apparent off-hand remarks and stage business was the same. She made it look as if she had just made it up. That's acting!

Whether one is performing in a private home, a café, or on a Broadway stage, the feeling of spontaneity is necessary. I guess this is true of any performance, but when singing Schubert, you can't do too much ad libbing or you'll be arrested for murder.

Not every classical singer can be convincing in both classical repertoire and show tunes. (See Renée Fleming and Barbra Streisand). Eileen Farrell could do it just fine. Lorraine was able to swing on both sides of the pendulum, stylistically speaking.

Once when we were Los Angeles to hear her sing Xerxes at the LA Opera, after the matinée we all went to dinner together and then, because it was still early, went on to a hotel lounge for an after dinner drink. Someone was playing background  piano music. One of Lorraine's friends spoke to him, suggesting he ask her to sing. After some coaxing, she got up and sang a couple of 'pop' numbers in great style, musically and vocally. The friend then told the pianist that she had just finished singing the title role in Xerxes at the Opera House just down the street. He was delighted; and so were we! It was a great evening.

Neither Peggy nor I is in our first blush of youth, but somehow we can still do it. Good luck or good genes! And lots of working together. To quote a line from the 1954 musical comedy, The Boy Friend, which introduced Julie Andrews to Broadway, 'Many a good tune's been played on an old violin'.

Think of Peggy and me as Stradivari. Priceless!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Autumn music

This is going to be a busy fall for me, performance-wise. Beginning on September 8th, I begin a two concert series with my long-time friend and student, Peggy Noecker. Peggy and I have done classical concerts which have included Berio's 'Sequanza III and Turino's 'Semana Santa á Sevilla'.

We have also done a number of Cabarets from time to time. This fall we are doing two of these. September 8th at Rood Hill Farm at 7:30 p.m.( for reservations) and in Middletown, NJ on September 15, 7:30 in the evening. ( for reservations). Seating will be limited at both venues. We will be singing songs from Sondheim to Coward; a melange of show tunes from the 40's to the present day.

Then in October and November I will switch hats and play three classical concerts with 'cellist Andrea Spencer-Linzie. We will perform works by Vivaldi, Fauré, Ginasteria, and Grieg. We will be at Rood Hill Farm on Sunday afternoon, October 7th at 4:00 p.m.
( for reservations), then at The Methodist Church in Red Bank, NJ on Sunday afternoon, October 14th at 3:30 p.m., and finally at the Cherry Hill NJ Unitarian Church on Sunday, November 4th, at 3:30 p.m. For reservations: .

I have also been asked to speak at the GLAD 'Spirit of Justice' benefit dinner at the Marriott Copley Hotel in Boston on Friday, October 26th. I will speak for the plaintiffs in the suit GLAD is bringing against DOMA. We have won at the Federal District Court level and at the Federal Appeals Court level. Our case will undoubtedly go to the US Supreme Court next year. I am proud to have been asked to speak on behalf of the seventeen plaintiffs in this case.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Am I too loud?

Some years ago Gerald Moore, the brilliant pianist and musical collaborator with the likes of Pablo Casals, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskow, Victoria de los Angeles, and Maggie Teyte, to name but a few, wrote his auto-biography entitled Am I too Loud? 

In those days Gerald, and most musicians, were concerned with volume and balance.

I have decided, after witnessing a performance at Barrington Stage 2 last night, that those words are so old-fashioned as to be practically Shakespearean. Nothing, in today's musical theatre world, is considered too loud.

Last night's production, a rip-off on the musical Jersey Boys,  was absolutely deafening. I hated it! I can't even tell you much of what it was about because I had my fingers stuffed into my ears to protect my hearing until the intermission, at which point, I left. Even at 82, my hearing is still pretty good. Good enough to know when to get out of the din!

It gave me the idea that volume has now replaced emotion in popular theatre music. Forget text, forget harmony, forget melody (ça va sans dire); when the composer wants an emotional response from the audience he raises the volume electronically, sometimes to painful levels, as was done last night- over and over.

Nothing is real anymore. Orchestras for musical theatre presentations in New York City are now often in a building blocks away from the stage where the singers and actors are performing. Brrrrrrrr! Eeeeeek!

I know, I know- I'm old. Apparently younger ears have already lost so much of their receptive capabilities that they need more decibels to accept anything. I take ear plugs to the local cinema. Yes. I am apparently the only one in the theatre that can't take the volume the camera man prefers. With ear plugs in place, I hear everything perfectly.

Also, especially with the Musical Theatre School at Barrington Stage, the rule is 'Set whatever words come out of your mouth to some sort of tune, no matter how impossible this may be. Prosody begone! Iambic pentameter be damned!'

More and more often in musical theatre, at least on the local level, volume replaces joy, terror, sadness, anger, just about any true emotion. Just turn up the dial and the audience claps. Last night these five young actors (all of them very talented, I have no doubt) were jumping about the stage, screaming into their body mikes, lighting fires, having sex, smoking pot, trying to put together a Boy Band, at fortissimo levels.

I should probably have my hearing checked. At my age you are supposed to be losing your hearing. Am I an aberration? (Probably) Is my hearing improving at 82 going on 83? (Duh!!!) Or are theatrical productions using volume to replace emotion and excitement.

How did Rogers and Hart ever make it, un-amplified?

A mystery of the age.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Proud Teacher!

This afternoon Rood Hill Farm was filled with concert-goers who had come to hear a recital by Katie Weiser, soprano, and Jerry Noble, pianist. Katie is a senior at Smith College and Jerry is the Staff Accompanist at Smith. They presented a delightful afternoon of song.

While it is unseemly to brag about one's voice students, here goes: Katie was sensational; singing a program that included Handel, Bach, Wolf, Barber, Hundley, and Puccini. Jerry is a fabulous pianist who provided musical taste and immaculate cooperation.

                      Katie and Jerry plus audience

Katie also studies with Jane Bryden at Smith College and recently won honors which include two voice lessons a week for her senior year. She will sing two recitals this coming year. She has been working hard with me all summer and has made great strides. The appreciative audience called for two encores. She sang 'Breit über mein Haupt' of Richard Strauss and a new song that had been composed for her by a friend.

The concert was filmed for a documentary presenting 'Music at Smith.'

It was a lovely afternoon.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Zing went the strings!

I spent a delightful afternoon at a concert held in the Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox, Massachusetts by Elizabeth Faidley's 2012 Conservatory Camp Violin Choir. Ms. Faidley is an excellent violin teacher whom I got to know through my good friend, the brilliant violinist, Yevgeny Kutik.
Elizabeth Faidley

Having made a gift to Yevgeny's fund to help produce his CD, Sounds of Defiance, I found that I was eligible to take a violin lesson with the Maestro. Since my only acquaintance with the violin had been a few lessons I took from a friend when I was Searle Wright's Assistant Organist and Choirmaster at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University in the 1950's, (and those, under duress!), I could see no valid purpose in taking advantage of this offer, as splendid as it was.

Having been told about a talented young violinist in New Jersey by a friend of mine, I asked if he would be interested in using my lesson to work with Yevgeny. He was delighted to do so and his parents brought him to Rood Hill Farm last summer to play for him.

Benedikt Winzer is now ten years old. When he came here last summer, he played for Yevgeny with me at the piano, and was given an extraordinary lesson by the Master. Among other ideas Yevgeny presented was the thought that Benedikt should find a different teacher. Yevgeny recommended Ms. Faidley and the rest was history.

Pictured above are Yevgeny Kutik, Elizabeth Faidley, Benedikt Winzer, and myself at the Lenox concert.

This afternoon Benedikt played the first movement of the Bach Concerto for Two Violins with Yevgeny brilliantly. His growth over the past year amazes me. Ms. Faidley certainly knows what she is doing with young violinists.

Her Violin Choir had studied for several weeks at her Violin Camp in North Adams this summer. These eleven young performers, the oldest being sixteen, performed a program that included works by Vivaldi, Telemann, and Kreisler with wonderful tone, tuning, and musicianship. I was hoping to hear some violin solos from the youngsters, and was a little disappointed that much of the rest of the program was a series of transcriptions from various operas, played (very well indeed), by the group. Another time I would like to hear some of these fine young musicians perform Sonatas or movements from Concerti rather than the ilk of O Danny Boy and O sole mio arranged for group performance.

All of these young people are to be commended for the hard work they have put into the preparation of this program. They are all en route to a career in classical music.

Yevgeny Kutik has been under the aegis of the Ferris Burtis Foundation for the past nine years and is performing internationally. It was this connection that eventually put him in touch with Benedikt and Benedikt under the tutelage of Ms. Faidley.

Job well done!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Laughter at last!

After a season that has been filled with grim reality, Barrington Stage has made us laugh. And laugh and laugh! Tonight we saw See how they Run by Philip King, a British playwright. It is a complicated, hilarious farce in the style of Georges Feydeau who wrote for the Paris stage during the Belle Époque. His plays often involved the world of the Paris demi-monde complete with great wit, complicated plots and what a critic called 'Jack-in-the-box' construction. There were always a number of people running about the stage at great speeds, mis-understandings, and character mix-ups.

Tonight's play had all of the above. Cary Donalson played the part of The Reverend Lionel Toop, a vicar in a small town church. Lisa McCormick played his wife, Penelope. He the befuddled husband; she an ex-actress upon whom the townsfolk tended to frown.

Michael Brusasco played Corporal Clive Winton, an actor who had performed Noël Coward's Private Lives with her many times before her marriage. He shows up unexpectedly while her husband is off with the village choir.

Dina Thomas was the maid, Ida, who is befuddled most of the time by the rapid-fire happenings.

Michele Tauber was the village gossip who also arrives un-wantedly.

Keith Jochim was The Bishop of Lax, Penelope's uncle, who arrives a day early.

Jim Schubin the escaped German prisoner who attempts to take over the household. (The play is set in wartime England; 1942).

Jeff Brooks was The Reverend Arthur Humphrey, who has arrived to fill the pulpit for Lionel on Sunday morning.

Don Lee Sparks is Sergeant Towers who is called to help capture the escaped German and return him to the prisoner camp.

So you have two clerics, a bishop, and then Clive who dresses in one of Lionel's clerics so he and Penelope can attend a play which he is not supposed to do while in uniform. The German also puts on some of Lionel's clerics to disguise himself, giving us a total of five apparent clergymen on stage at any given time. Total befuddlement!

Trying to persuade the Bishop that all is well, Penelope, not wanting her uncle to think she is mis-behaving while her husband is away, first tries to pretend that Clive is her husband, and then, threatened by a revolver the German is holding, is forced to say that he is her husband so that he will not shoot her.

The plot gets wilder and wilder with people being pushed into the closet, running in and out of doors, falling on the floor, and so on.

This wonderful cast kept the action going at breakneck speed, adding to the general confusion. They and the director, Jeff Steitzer, are to be complimented for an evening of exhausting gaity!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tanglewood at Night

Last night I attended a concert which was a part of the 'Festival of Contemporary Music' at Tanglewood. Tanglewood is 'just up the road' from Rood Hill Farm but I don't get there very often anymore.

Last night, with two friends, I  heard a remarkable concert with music by Niccolo Castiglioni and Oliver Knussen. Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center provided the very fine orchestra and singers.

The first work, Inverno In-Ver by Castigliano, was a series of short sketches, musical poems as it were, about the iciness and whiteness of winter. While interesting in its plan and orchestration, it is not the work I want to have with me when stranded on a desert island. There is a certain sameness to many of the movements and the orchestration is so brilliant, both in concept and in actual sound, that I found it irritating. Mr. Knussen conducted this work wonderfully well and obviously had this difficult score fixed securely in his mind.

Second on the program was Mr. Knussen's own Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! or There Must Be More to Life, a charming fantasy composed in collaboration with the brilliant Maurice Sendak, based on his book of the same name.  Netia Jones was the video designer and live video performer and had created a remarkable animated film that was shown on a large screen at the rear of the stage in Ozawa Hall.

One of my friends attending the concert with me was Mike Miller, the illustrator, who introduced Knussen to Sendak years ago at Tanglewood, thereby setting in motion this collaboration.

In this work, Knussen's brilliant and humorous score set forth Sendak's tale of his little dog, Jennie, who goes on an imaginary voyage of discovery, finally to find her way back home at the end of the opera. The role of Jennie was brilliantly sung by the wonderful mezzo-soprano Kate Jackman, who embodied  every inch of Jennie.

The Potted Plant, Baby, and Mother Goose were sung by soprano Ilana Zarankin, Rhoda and the Baby's Mother were sung by soprano Sharon Harms, the Cat-Milkman was Zach Finkelstein, a remarkable tenor, the Lion was Richard Ollarsaba, bass-baritone, and the Pig-Ash Tree was performed by Douglas Williams.

All of the singers were very fine, especially Ms. Jackman and Mr. Finkelstein.

The demanding vocal score fit Ms. Jackson like a glove. If I were to make any criticism, it would be that the roles for the other soprano had so much stratospheric singing that it was impossible to hear the text. On the other hand, some of the bass arias went so low that these young men really didn't have these notes in their voice. Composers should realize that while some sopranos are able to sing incredibly high pitches, one should not put a lot of text on the high C's and above if you want anyone to get an idea about what the singer is trying to convey textually. The reverse is true for the men, of course. If you don't have a solid low E, don't try to sing Baron Ochs.

The opera is a work of two geniuses and I am happy that I could be there.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Now this is theatre!

After what has been,for me, at least, an under-whelming season at Barrington Stage, tonight they hit the jackpot with a new play by Rajiv Joseph. It is called The North Pool and it is a winner. It is a terse, almost frightening story of an encounter between a high school vice-principal and a senior in the school.

The senior is Syrian and is new to the high school, having transferred from a fancy private school. He is called into the office of the vice-principal who then proceeds to conduct an inquisition worthy of an Auto da fe. These were popular with the Roman Catholic hierarchy from the 13th to the 16th centuries, especially in Spain and Portugal. Nothing good ever came from them.

The principal alternates between seeming to chat with the young man and suddenly raging at him. He accuses him of cutting classes, vandalism, and various other misdemeanors, all of which he young man denies.

Finally, inflamed by anger, the young man turns on the principal and accuses him of perversion. Apparently this is the tale that has gone through the school

It turns out that both of them have been involved in one way or another with a young woman who has committed suicide. She, eager to make some big money participates in a wild party, where she is paid to have sex with a number of men, getting beaten-up in the process. The young man has told her about these kinds of parties that pay a lot of money for this sort of thing and feels responsible for her death.

She comes to the principal, bruised and beaten, who has been a close friend and mentor, tries to kiss him, and is pushed away. He already has a reputation that is not too savoury. He also feels that had he not pushed her away, she might still be alive.

Both the principal and the student feel guilty, thinking that it is their fault that the young woman commited suicide. Each has lived in torture with this grief ever since her death.

The two actors, Remi Sandri, as the principal, and Babak Tafti, as the student, are forceful and wonderful in their roles. They leave the audience gasping by the final moments of the play. They keep the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the performance.

The play was brilliantly directed by Giovanna Sardelli.

These are 80 minutes of the most dynamic play- writing I have witnessed in a long time.

Good for you Barrington Stage!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

All my sins

Barrington Stage is presenting Arthur Miller's over-wrought tragedy All my sons. And no, the title of this blog is not a misprint, because the play is all about post World War II guilt or the lack thereof.

It is based on a true story of a woman who informed on her father who sold faulty parts to the military during the war. It also refers to The Wild Duck of Henrik Ibsen in which two partners in business divide, one taking the blame and responsibility for a similar action.

Joe Keller is the partner who was exonerated after being charged with shipping damaged plane cylinder heads, while his partner, Steve Deever, goes to jail for the crime. Steve does not appear in the play. Jeff McCarthy, a regular at Barrington Stage played this role. I know him more as a musical comedy performer, so it was a bit difficult to accept him in this grim role of a man who has convinced himself that he stayed out of jail for the good of his family.

Lisbeth MacKay was much more believable as his wife, Kate. Josh Clayton was believable in the role of their son, Chris and Rebecca Brooksher, as, Ann, the daughter of jailed Steve Deever was good in her role as well. In an almost biblical reference, Chris is planning to marry Ann who was engaged to marry his brother, who was killed in the war. It turns out that the brother was aware of his father's crime and deliberately flew to his death.

Everyone expresses a lot of angst. At the end Chris confronts his father with his duplicity and threatens to take him to the police. The father shoots himself. So everyone feels guilty. The play probably would have struck me differently had I seen it in 1947 when the war and war barons were a part of our lives, but at this point it seems dated.

This was Miller's second play. His first,The Man Who had All the Luck, closed after four performances. It seems to me that Miller was just getting his stride in this one, which of course, led to Death of a Salesman.

There have been several revivals of of the work and two film versions. It has a dramatic, emotional thrust, but to my way of thinking, borders on the melodramatic.