Monday, March 30, 2015

A Tale of Two Conductors

Two concerts. One Sunday, one Monday.
Two conductors: two very different results.

Yesterday we heard the St.Matthew Passion. The main point the conductor seemed to be making was a sharp downbeat, no matter what was going on musically. As a result, several times the ensemble got away from him. He also tended to push tempi, which added to the confusion. It was a disappointment.

Today- two words- Jane Glover!

Image result for jane glover

This woman is a magician. Her every movement tells her troops what the music is about and they respond with glee.

Tonight, at Music of the Baroque, she led the orchestra in an incredible performance of Mozart's Symphony #31 and Haydn's Symphony # 103. They were each performed in a way I think the composers would applaud. Brilliantly. Every musical nuance was realized by the orchestra. Every motion she makes has its own musical meaning, which they get.

She also led them, along with the brilliant English pianist Imogen Cooper, who has the same musical approach to performance as Ms. Glover, in Beethoven's Piano Concerto # 2. She has technique to burn and a great emotional connection to the work.

Image result for imogen cooper

It was a breath-taking way to end my winter sojourn in Chicago. Tomorrow I fly back to Rood Hill Farm and snow, I fear. 

It's been a great winter!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

St. Matthew in Chicago

This afternoon David and I heard the Chicago Chorale perform Bach's St. Matthew Passion. The performance was at Rockefeller Chapel at Chicago University, just down the road from our condo.The Chorale has a very good sound and the soloists had various measures of success in their performances.

Image result for steven sophSteven Soph

Stephen Soph was a wonderful Evangelist, singing beautifully throughout the recitatives as well as the tenor arias. Not many Evangelists can do the arias as well as he did them.

Image result for gerard sundberg  Gerard Sundberg

Equally good was the Jesus of Gerard Sundberg, singing with a rich free sound throughout. Both he and Soph sang as if they were living the text.

Image result for angela young smucker  Angela Young Smucker

Mezzo-soprano Angela Young Smucker sang with beautiful tone and rich phrasing.

Image result for ellen hargis  Ellen Hargis

The soprano, Ellen Hargis, was the most problematic of the soloists, having a lovely upper register and practically nothing in the middle voice. Someday I may write a book on finding the middle voice for sopranos....Oh. that's right, I already did that. *

Image result for bruce tammen       Bruce Tammen

The bass soloist was Ryan De Ryke, who sang with a vibrant voice. He needs to learn how to go from his upper range into his lower range. 

Image result for ryan de ryke   Ryan De Ryke

The conductor, Bruce Tammen, is a puzzle to me. He prepares a wonderful chorus but conducts in a way that makes me wonder what he is thinking. He seems to favor heavy downbeats, whatever else is going on musically. Part of the problem today was that he stood behind a very high music stand which blocked most of his movement from the chorus and orchestra.

It is a wonderful work which I have performed and was a bit disappointed in today's performance.

* Sing On! Sing On!  EC Schirmer, Boston, MA.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Tonight David and I had a joint Birthday celebration; mine in two days and his next month. 

We started by wandering through the Chicago Garden Show on Navy Pier, which I thought was underwhelming. Then on to a Dover Sole dinner at Riva, also on the pier, which was definitely overwhelming!!

Then to Chicago Shakespeare Theatre to see Dunsinane, a play by David Greig, which pretends to be a sequel to Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Well, Mr. Greig is no Shakespeare. Dunsinane takes place after Macbeth's death, leaving lady Macbeth, now called Gruach, as Queen of Scotland. The British are anxious to have her marry Malcom, their choice for King, whom she would rather not marry. The action involves a lot of bloodshed with the Brits killing as many Scots as possible including Gruach's son, the next in line for the throne. Siward, the commander of the British forces falls in love with Gruach but his love is not returned. She finally escapes to a remote part of Scotland where he follows her, only to be sent away.

I had a hard time getting involved with the plot. For one thing, for the first ten minutes I could not understand a word that was being said in the strong Scots accent the cast was using. As the play progressed some of them relaxed the brogue and it became more understandable. Siward shouted most of his lines which made it difficult to understand as well.
Image result for darrell d'silva  Darrell D'Silva
The cast included Darrell D'Silva as Siward, Siobhan Redmond as Gruach, and Ewan Donald as Malcom. A large supporting cast moved up and down the aisles of the theatre creating a lot of action.
Image result for siobhan redmond Siobhan Redmond
I would not choose this as my favorite play.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

From the sublime......

From yesterday's sublime Tosca, in singing anyway, to the ridiculousness of Gilbert and Sullivan's Yeomen of the Guard, was a fun adventure this afternoon. David and I went to Mandel Hall at Chicago University, just down the street from our condo, to hear a lively performance of this operetta put on by The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, Inc., and the University of Chicago Chamber Orchestra.

It was a delightful afternoon with very good singing and playing.

Colonel Fairfax was well-sung by tenor David Fair, Sergeant Meryll by Peter Morgan, his son by Nathan Oakes, Jack Point, the Jester, in hilarious mode and wonderful diction in the patter songs, by Daniel Berry, Elsie Maynard by very fine soprano Anna Caldwell, Phoebe Meryll by equally good mezzo Samantha Attaguile, Dame Carruthers by mezzo Rachel Dawson, who was perfect for the part but needs the low part of her voice to fully bring it off, plus Brad Jungwirth as the Head Jailer and Assistant Tormentor, David Govertsen as Sir Richard Cholmondley, Anastasia Malliares as Kate, and David Jones as the Headsman.

Daniel Berry   Daniel Berry
All the parts were well sung in fairly accurate G&S style with various versions of British English. There were super-titles when the diction got lost so you could catch the wonderful words and the set was far more authentic than last night's black stage at Tosca.

The Chamber Orchestra played very well on the often tricky score which was conducted by Matthew Shepherd. The stage direction by Shane Valenzi was also excellent.

A fun afternoon of a great operetta!

La Tosca!

Tonight David and I heard two extraordinary singers at Chicago Lyric Opera: Jorge de Leon and Hui He.

Leon, a Spanish tenor, was simply marvelous as Mario Cavaradossi. He has a true Puccini top to his voice, brilliant and un-tiring.He is one of the best tenors I have heard in recent memory.

Image result for jorge de leon

Hui He has a gorgeous soprano voice, again with the top needed for these dramatic roles. She seemed to tire a bit in Act 3; some of her high notes were a bit flat, but her high C's rang out beautifully.

Image result for hui he

Both of them are excellent actors as well.

I was disappointed in the Scarpia of Mark Delavan. He tends to pull back and cover everything above the passaggio becoming inaudible at the end of Act 1, for instance, when he is supposed to soar over the chorus and orchestra. Compared to the other two singers, he was out of his league.

Image result for mark delavan

The rest of the cast sang well.

I must carp a bit about the set and the stage direction. The stage consisted of a large black box for all three acts. Apparently the designer, Bunny Christie, has never seen an Italian Cathedral, the Farnese Palace, or Castel San Angelo. The cathedral had the black walls with little windows at the top of the set. The lighting was dim and dull. Mario's painting was split up on three levels at the right of the stage. Instead of a portrait, three enormous chunks of the Madonna's face were placed, one on each level: the mouth on the bottom, an eye on the second, and the rest of the face on the third. A sort of giant jigsaw puzzle.

In Act 2, instead of an elegant room in the Farnese Palace, the scene was set in the basement of the building. Thus, the black walls and high windows were perfect- if completely wrong. The room was filled with crates on top of which were various statues that Scarpia had supposedly stolen from somewhere.

Act 3; again the black walls which looked nothing like the roof of the Castel San Angelo. They had added a large window at the back and a large hole in the ceiling, from which hung a series of nooses. A prisoner was carried on stage, hung, and drawn up to the top of the stage. I can only hope that this was a dummy, since he hung there for the entire act.

Finally, after Mario is shot, a couple of men rush on stage, Tosca climbs to the window in the back, STABS HERSELF (!!!!!), and then jumps out the window.

Thank Heaven for the wonderful singing of Leon and He!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

First Wives- Revisited!

Tonight David and I saw The First Wives Club, the musical, at the Oriental Theatre. It was a blast! Based on the novel, by Olivia Goldsmith and the film of the same name, it followed the original plot line very closely. I think many of the spoken lines were taken from the movie.

It is a very funny story about three women, each of whom is being dumped by her husband for a younger woman. The three wives get their revenge by taking over each of the husbands businesses.

Image result for faith prince Faith Prince       Image result for carmen cusack  
                                                            Carmen Cusack

Faith Prince,Carmen Cusack, and Christine Sherrill took the roles played by Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton in the film. And they made them their own. The men were equally good but in much smaller roles. They were Sean Murphy Cullen, Gregg Edelman, Mike McGowan, and Patrick Richwood.

                                        Image result for christine sherrill   Christine Sherrill

The music and lyrics were by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland. It was loud, brassy, sassy, and fun. Not Gershwin, but nothing is these days.

The set was remarkable. Furniture and parts of the set slid on and off stage as if by magic. No moving floors, no strings. I guess they were versions of the Roomba Vacuum Cleaner and were controlled offstage by a computer.

The singing was what passes for singing on Broadway these days: loud with lots of belting. As a voice teacher who works with the classical voice for the most part, I don't know how they do this eight shows a week and have any throat left, but they seem to.

We had a good dinner at Petterino's restaurant just a block away with valet parking. On a very cold night this was a benefit!

We had a really good time.

The show is now headed for Broadway.

Now it's off to Houston on Friday for us.