Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Golem of Havana

Where to begin?

Barrington Stage has done it again! Another winner!

Tonight Alice, David and I saw a performance of The Golem of Havana at Stage 2. The music is by Salomon Lerner, the lyrics by Len Schiff, and the book and direction by Michael Hausmann.

The complicated book details the lives of a Jewish family who has fled Prague to come to Havana where the father wants to open a clothing store. The daughter, played by Julie Benko, is a writer. She has written a book about  Golem, a creature straight out of the old testament. Adam was a Golem, made from mud. Golems have mystical powers which the girl want to include in her story.

Her mother,Yutka Frankel, played by Jacqueline Antaramian, and her father, Gordon Stanley, want her to forget her writing; they call it a comic book.

Into their lives stumbles the son of their maid. Teo is a rebel in the Cuban revolution. Ronald Alexander Peet play this role and Rheaume Chrenshaw plays his mother.

Danny Bolero plays Arturo Perez, a sinister character who pretends to help the father develop his business but who is really working for Batista, who is played by Felipe Gorostiza

Gabriel Kadian portrays Olga, the sister of Yutka, who was killed in a concentration camp and appears in dreams.

In a complicated story line, the Frankels try to hide Teo from Batista's thugs and are finally arrested along with him. In the meantime his mother has been killed by the authorities who are looking for him.

Eventually, under Fidel Castro, the government changes and a Communist State is set up, taking Mr. Frankel's business away from him. The family leaves Cuba for Miami.

This is more or less The Sound of Music in Spanish. The very good score alternates Jewish music with Cuban music in a convincing way. The strong cast carries the plot along with energy, singing the songs with passion and drama.

It's a lot to put into a musical but, in this case, it works.

Great show! 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Let's have another cup of coffee!

One way to make a cup of coffee is to take one teaspoon of instant coffee, add boiling water, and drink it.

Or one can grind coffee beans, put them in some kind of coffee maker and allow it to brew slowly, before enjoying the result.

I don't like coffee and never drink it, so the following is from hearsay only: Instant coffee tastes like dish-water, brewed coffee is heavenly.

What does this have to do with Bach's St. John Passion you may ask.

Preparing a large oratorio takes time. At the Berkshire Choral Festival performance, which Alice and I attended last night, and in which David sang in the chorus, we got instant coffee. In coffee and in Bach you need to grind your beans!

It is almost impossible in one week's time, with a 230 voice choir of mostly amateurs, to put together a convincing performance of this great work, or, really, any large work. To begin with, a chorus of 230 singers is hardly the ideal Bach group. It is almost certain to be unwieldy in fast moving passages. While is it impressive to hear this many voices singing the chorales, so marvelously harmonized by the great master of the Baroque, it leaves much to be desired in the choruses which are often fast and dramatic.

Tom Hall, the guest conductor for this past week, took a romantic approach to the work. Having performed the work myself, having heard John Ferris's performances with the Harvard University Choir, and more recently, a performance by the great Jane Glover with Music of the Baroque in Chicago, to my ears, this was not the way to go.

The overall sound of this week's chorus was better than last week's, which did the Brahms Requiem, which is actually a Romantic choral work. But in the fast moving sections it sounded ponderous with lumpy runs and exaggerated dynamics.

The thing that bothered me the most was at final cadences, where there was a large pause between the penultimate note and the final chord. When studying Baroque music with Gustav Leonhardt, I learned that those two notes should go quickly without a pause between them: ta-da, not ta.............da! In this performance we often got the latter. This was just not an authentic performance using the information we have about the Baroque.

The soloists were Mary Wilson, soprano, who has a lovely voice and sang well, Krista River, mezzo-soprano, who came into her own in "Es ist vollbracht", Charles Blandy, tenor, who had trouble making music out of the admittedly difficult tenor solos, and Jesse Blumberg, baritone, who sang well.

The vocal star of the show was Kevin Deas, bass-baritone, who as Jesus sang with a rich, dark voice filled with emotion and drama.

Less successful was Mark Molomont, the Evangelist, who struggled vocally, often either pinching high notes or lapsing into falsetto for a note or two unconvincingly. 

Sean Taylor, bass, as Pilate sang well if somewhat un-emotionally, and smaller roles were sung by Madelyn Ross, soprano, Matthew Swanson, tenor, and Robert Martin, baritone.

In my opinion the purpose of the Festival seems to be to give singers a chance to sing major works they love in the beautiful setting of the Berkshire School. Each week a different set of people, for the most part, spend the time preparing that week's work. For the singers it is, I'm sure, an exciting and wonderful experience.

But for those of us in the audience, considering last week's dull Brahms and this weeks Bach, it doesn't quite work.

Next Saturday David and I are scheduled to hear Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. We'll see how that fares.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Brahms Requiem

Tonight Peggy, Sarah, Jim, David and I attended a performance of a rather lethargic presentation of Ein Deutches Requiem by Johannes Brahms at the Berkshire Choral Festival in Sheffield, MA.

Rollo Dilworth was the conductor of the large chorus which has spent the past week preparing the work. The overall effect was that everything was a bit too slow and too uninflected. The sopranos seemed to be the weakest section, shredding pitches on high notes and singing flat some of the time. The men's sections sang quite well. It is difficult to make this magnificent work boring but tonight Mr. Dilworth and company managed to do this.

At the Berkshire Choral Festival, each week a different conductor prepares a different oratorio with a different chorus. This makes the preparation of a major work difficult. It is hard to pull together a major choral work in a limited amount of time allowed with whomever shows up to sing.

Mr. Dilworth's conducting seemed to consist largely of beating time. He seemed to give very little emotional or dynamic inspiration to the chorus, resulting in a mono-chromatic presentation. Having conducted the work a few times myself, I felt cheated not hearing the passion that is Brahms.
Tyler - colour photo 2
Tyler Duncan was the excellent baritone soloist, singing with a beautiful sound, easy technique, and splendid diction. I look forward to hearing more from him.

Ilana Davidson was less successful in the soprano obbligato. The voice is just not large enough to be convincing in this lyrical, emotional role. One doesn't need to have Eileen Farrell, but it would be nice to have something more in this role from the singer.

I would say the whole endeavor, except for Mr. Duncan, who was splendid, lacked energy.

Next week the Festival is doing the Bach St. John Passion. David will be singing in the chorus. I hope for a better result musically and emotionally.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Step by Step! A blast!

Tonight David and I saw the Capitol Steps, the satirical branch of the U.S. Government, if you discount the House of Representatives, at Cranwell in Lenox. They are an endless supply of wit and jollity at the expense of the Federal Government and other pointless institutions.
Bari Biern

The cast included Bari Biern, Mike Caurrthers, Morgan Duncan, Janet Davidson Gordon,and Mike Tilford. The amazing keyboard player was Marc Irwin, who played the whole show from memory.
Mike Carruthers
The very funny sketches included How to succeed in Congress without really Lying, Embattled Hymn of the Republicans, and so on. Biting satire that was not for sissies- or Republicans.
Morgan Duncan
We began the evening at Sloane's Tavern on the Cranwell grounds with a delicious dinner and saw our neighbor Sue, who was there with a group from her work.
Janet Davidson Gordon
The mansion at Cranwell was built in 1894 and is one of the 'Berkshire Cottages', as they were then known.
Fifty room mansions that were only used in the summer months by the ultra rich when they were not at their homes in New York City, Palm Beach, or Paris. It's quite a place.

(Sorry about the double pictures of Marc Irwin. The foibles of Blog Site!)

Mike Tilford on the right   
                                                                    Marc Irwin, piano