Monday, March 31, 2014

Arrivederci Chicago

This evening I heard my last Chicago concert until I return to the Windy City next Fall. Tomorrow I fly home to Rood Hill Farm to see how much winter snow is left.

And what a wonderful way to say arrivederci to Chicago and its musical scene. Tonight we heard a dynamic performance of Haydn's Creation conducted by the  incredible Jane Glover. I humbly bow before her talent and wish I could see her conducting from the front as the chorus and orchestra does. From the back, her grace, precision, and musicality flow effortlessly into the voices and instruments under her baton. She simply lives the music and brings that inspiration to the group.

The Creation is a marvelous work, filled with drama, joy, and even humor. Ms. Glover got every bit of those emotions out of her chorus and orchestra. With a minimum of motion she conveys mighty musical ideas.

The solo singers were  Elizabeth Futral, soprano, Nicholas Phan, tenor, and Christopheren Nomura, baritone. They all have good voices but Mr. Phan was the only one whose diction could be understood. This was a shame, especially in Part III, which is mostly duets by Adam and Eve. Mr. Nomura could use a couple of low notes and Ms. Futral needs more centering in her middle and low voice. This would take care of the flutter. She often disappeared in the trios and some parts of the duets. The chorus was prepared by William Jon Gray and is wonderful.

I was interested to hear how different the sound of the chorus was both last fall in the St. John Passion and tonight under Ms. Glover's command, compared to the sounds they made under the man who conducted the December concert. It was in a different room, but the result was not good and the difference very apparent.

Ms. Glover apparently has magic hands!

Tonight Ms. Glover and the entire ensemble were perfection.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Am I Blue?

The Blue Man Group is Marcel Marceau on steroids times three! David and I saw their performance this afternoon at the Briar Street Theatre in Chicago. The show is an endlessly energetic ballet of movement, sight gags, percussion and hilarity. It was a part of my birthday present from David and I feel well feted!!

None of the cast speaks a word throughout the hour and a half show but various screens send messages to the audience as the show progresses. The three men are expert percussionists, merrily banging away on various objects including plastic sewer pipes, a strange sort of xylophone, and anything else that comes in handy.

The various skits include getting members of the audience onstage, one of whom was clothed in a white jumpsuit, spray painted and hung by his heels. He was then swung at a white canvas producing an upside down painting of himself. He got to take it home with him.

At the finale, huge air balloons descended from on high, the three men blew rolls of toilet paper into the audience from wind machines, while strobe lights played on the whole scene. You had to be there.

And we were.

The Blue Man Group was created, written, and directed by Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink. Chris's late father Walter Wink, a renown theologian and speaker, was a resident of Sandisfield and a friend of mine. He even took some voice lessons from me some years ago. He certainly produced a creative son.

The Blue Man Group has been in action since 1987. It ran for 1000 performances in New York and now has companies performing in Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Oberhausen, as well as New York.

It should live forever! 

PS Later we went to Giordano's for a fabulous pizza and salad. Perfect!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bruckner and Friends

Chicago is apparently a hotbed of good choral singers and good choruses. This afternoon David and I heard the Chicago Chorale, under the direction of Bruce Tammen, perform a glorious program of music by Rheinberger, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Bruckner in Rockefeller Chapel at Chicago University, just down the street from our condo.

This choral group has a sweet and well-blended sound but can rise to the occasion when brilliant volume is needed.

The concert opened with Abendlied by Josef Rheinberger, a lovely work I had never heard. This was followed by Brahms's Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, and Mendelssohn's Herr, nun lassest du deinen Diener in Frieden fahren

The last piece in the first half was Bruckner's sublime Os Justi. This is a work I used to perform with my choir at the Methodist Church in Red Bank, NJ in my days as a choir director and organist. It brought back fond memories.

The second half of the program was Bruckner's Mass in E Minor, a marvelous work which was also new to me. It was accompanied by an orchestra of clarinets, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets, and trombones. It is essentially an a capella piece with the instruments entering as choir voices, rather than the typical accompanied choral work. The result was magical.

Mr. Tammen certainly knows his choral stuff! Wonderful sound, musical interpretation, and beautiful accuracy. My one quibble would be several entrances that were a bit sloppy, but that is neither here nor there.

We were delighted to hear this marvelous program sung by this wonderful choir and played by these fine instrumentalists.


PS A  police shoot out delayed the start of the concert and several of the musicians were late arriving. The suspect, a murderer, was captured at 9:00 p.m. last night. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

I confess.

I must confess right at the start that I approach any production of Mozart's Clemenza di Tito  with prejudice. Sesto was one of the roles for which Lorraine was most famous. I first met Lorraine Hunt (as she was then) Lieberson when she drove out from Boston to Rood Hill Farm many years ago for a first voice lesson. After chatting for a bit, she launched into 'Parto, parto' with all that glorious voice. I kept thinking, "What can I say to this woman. She is already in a busy career in Europe, she has this fabulous instrument,...."

When she had finished the aria, and I had told her how wonderful she sounded, I said "Do you realise that you are putting a large space between the consonant and the vowel in the first word? It's coming out as 'Puh-arto'. Try singing 'Parto', just like that.

She did, and we worked together for the next twenty years until her sad and much too early death in 2006. It was an amazing time for me.

So you see that I begin my listening of anything from a very high standard of beauty and excellence.

In tonight's performance of 'Tito', all of the singing was fairly good. No one sang flat or did anything strange. A couple of the sopranos had very fast vibrati but otherwise sang quite well.

La Clemenza di Tito - Joyce DiDonatoThe Sesto of Joyce di Donato was well sung but in a voice lighter and higher than Lorraine's. At the opening of Act one, the three women all sounded much the same. Two mezzos and a soprano. No definition of voice or character. Ms. Donato also pulled back vocally for the very difficult runs. I mentioned this problem in the review I did of 'Barber' a while back. You don't need to pull the voice back to sing runs. You must move into the voice with energy and the runs will sing themselves. That's the way Lorraine did it and that is how I teach all of my students to sing.

La Clemenza di Tito - Cecelia HallI very much liked the Annio of Cecilia Hall and the Servilia of Emily Birsan. La Clemenza di Tito - Emily Birsan

I also liked the Publio of Christian van Horn and the Tito of Matthew Polenzani. 

Poor Tito has a kind of dumb role to deal with. In fact, the entire libretto is fairly silly.Thank God for Mozart's magnificent music. I wonder what possessed him to set this to music?

The set by Sir David McVicar was stolid. An all-purpose back wall with windows and doors, an enormous clunky staircase that took up half the stage, and a few oddments that slid on and off stage.

The stage direction, like the set, was deathly heavy. It needed someone like Steve Wadsworth to get the   people doing something besides standing still, facing out, and singing their piece. He directed Lorraine in Ashoka's Dream, and Xerxes,  among other operas to tremendous effect.

As I said, the rest of the cast sang all right if you excuse the tremoli in some of the sopranos (soprani?). It was kind of a dull evening.

David and I amused ourselves by renaming two of the leading characters 'Vidalia and Pesto'. It works!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A perfect opera!

This evening David and I heard what may possibly be the most perfect operatic performance I have ever experienced. Of ANY opera!

It was the Chicago Lyric's presentation of Dvorak's magnificent Rusalka. It was sung by what may be the perfect cast. 

Rusalka  is a fairy tale of a water sprite who lives at the bottom of a river and emerges at night to walk the earth. According to legend, these creatures are the spirits of young women who died early, often after being jilted by their lovers. The tale of Undine follows a very similar path. I saw Audrey Hepburn portray this part on the Broadway stage in 1974.

Rusalka falls in love with a handsome prince who comes to the river and wants to become human so she can be with him in the world. She asks the Water Goblin how she can achieve this and he sends her to the witch, Jezibaba. She tells Rusalka that in return for turning her into a human she must remain mute whenever she is with other humans. Rusalka agrees to this and plans to marry the Prince. However, tiring of having a lover who cannot speak, he falls in love with a foreign princess, casting Rusalka out. She goes back to the witch and begs to be turned into a water sprite again. The witch tells her that this will only happen if she kills the Prince. He comes looking for Rusalka, having decided he can't live without her. She kisses him, he dies, and she is left to roam the river bank forever.

Whew! Quite a story!

Rusalka - Ana María Martínez Possessed of an amazingly beautiful voice, Ana Maria Martinez was Rusalka in every way. Her middle and lower range seem mezzo and contralto until she soars to sublime high notes. She even has a gorgeous messa di voce up there. This is one of the finest soprano voices I have heard in a very long time.

Rusalka - Brandon Jovanovich Equaling her in every way is Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince. He can produce stentorian high notes or give you a sweet, limpid voix mixte. His acting skills match Ms. Martinez in fervor and dedication. The two of them have performed these roles together previously which undoubtedly added to the evening's performance.

Rusalka - Eric OwensRusalka- Jill GroveAs Jezibaba Jill Grove used her wonderful mezzo voice to terrify and thrill. I would love to hear her as Azucena and Eboli. Eric Owens possesses an enormous bass-baritone voice which commanded the role of the Water Goblin.

The rest of the cast was equally fine. The set, designed by John Macfarlane, was a wonderful twisted mass of trees in Acts 1 and 3, and the palace kitchen and ballroom in Act 2. 

The orchestra was conducted by Sir Andrew Davis and was perfectly balanced with the singers at all times. This seems to be a welcome norm at Chicago Lyric. Singers don't have to shout to be heard.

All in all we were completely mesmerized by the whole production, as was the entire audience, who asked for curtain call after curtain call.

Bravo Chicago Lyric!

Dvorak was born on one of the estates of the Lobkowicz family in Bohemia. William Lobkowicz, who would be the 13th Prince Lobkowicz if titles were still used, studied voice with me at Harvard. I spent a wonderful ten days with Will and his family several years ago during which I heard a performance of Rusalka at the State Theatre in Prague.

Dvorak's wonderful score is simply beautiful beyond words and this opera marks the high point in Czech opera.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Tonight Sarah, David and I saw a fine performance of Gypsy  at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier. We started with a wonderful dinner at Riva, Dover Sole, no less. Louise Pitre was very good as Mama Rose. I had seen Ethel Merman and Tyne Daley do the role on Broadway  at various times and Louise doesn't have the pipes of either of those ladies, but she gave a very good performance as the 'Stage mother to end all stage mothers.'

Jessica Rich was Louise, Erin Burniston was the adult Baby June, and Keith Kupferer was Herbie. All were excellent in their parts.

The rest of the very large cast, especially the three strippers, were excellent.

Gypsy holds it own after all these years with music by Jule Stein, book by Arthur Laurents, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It's a very good score and we enjoyed the show very much.