Wednesday, December 20, 2017

On the Town!

This weekend I was  back 'On the Town' for the first time since my brain surgery two weeks ago. David and I started on Friday evening at the Lake Shore Cafe with fabulous Dixieland Jazz by JJ and the Jazz Masters, with their wonderful vocalist Gina Gibson. They were all on a high!


Then on Sunday afternoon we attended a spectacular presentation of Puccini's final opera Turandot at the Lyric Opera. David dropped me off at the door and went to park the car while I staggered in on my new cane.

A wonderful stage setting for the work by Chris Maravich. Sir Andrew Davis was the conductor.

Image result for amber wagner

As Turandot, Amber Wagner had the high notes and the power demanded for the role but lacked nuance and often screamed out the  very highest notes.

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Stefano La Colla was Calaf. He, too, had the range and volume for the part and sang with ardor.

Image result for maria agresta opera singer

The best singing of the evening was  by Maria Agresta as Liu. Her lovely voice was expressive and balanced from top to bottom.

The rest of the cast all sang well and the chorus was superb.

Whenever I hear this opera I think about my personal favorite Turandot, Lucilla Udovich, whom John and I met in Rome in 1982. She had had to leave the operatic stage because of constant back problems,  making it difficult for her to stand for any length of time. We asked her to sing for us when we visited her in her garden apartment. When I heard this  voluptuous voice I said to her 'Lucille, you must perform!' She answered 'But I can't stand to sing.' I said 'Then sing sitting down'. And a year or so later when she and her sister Annie came to the USA, that is exactly what we did: concerts with her seated. We did a number of concerts together and she did master classes for my students at Harvard and in New Jersey.

Our times together were a high point of my musical life. Here from You Tube are examples of how the role of Turandot should be sung. Franco Correlli isn't bad either!


To finish off my first weekend out, we saw Red Velvet at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Written  by Lolita Chakrabarti, it is based on the life of Ira Aldridge, a black actor who was thrust into the role of Shakespeare's Othello when the noted actor Edmund Kean collapses on stage at Covent Garden in 1833 London.

Ira has made a name for himself in the provinces but has not appeared in London. He is also the first black man to perform the role of Othello, the Moor, in London.

His reviews are very racist and the play closes after three performances. However he goes on to have a great career playing works of the Bard throughout Europe for the rest of his life.

Image result for dion johnstone actor  

As Ira, Dion Johnstone is very strong. A good actor with a large, resonant voice, he commands the stage. The other actors are equally good. Halina and Margaret Aldridge were played by Annie Purcell, Jürgen Hooper was Casimir and  Henry Forester, Terence and Bernard Ward were played by Roderick Peeples, Connie by Tiffany Renee Johnson, Betty Lovell by Bri Sudia,  Michael Hayden played Charles  Kean, Chaon Cross was Ellen Tree, and Greg Matthew
Anderson was Pierre LaPorte.

The play demonstrates the racism of the British just at the time England was voting to free the slaves in their colonies. Thirty years before out own civil war.                         

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Double Header

This weekend David and I saw another double-header! What is it about Chicago?

Friday evening was an unusual production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, which for some reason was interlaced with a play about the Columbia Women's Club by Ron West. The obvious reason for this was that the cast was composed of all women, the 'club' giving it reason for this casting. This was merely a complete reversal of the way it was done in Shakespeare's day when all the roles were taken by men, but that has long gone out of fashion. The scenes of the club, and their attention to the women's suffrage movement (the date was supposed to be 1919) simply broke up the action that Shakespeare designed.

Image result for alexandra henrickson soprano   Alexandra Henrickson

At the end of the production in a 'club' break-in, the actress playing Kate, Alexandra Henrickson, announces that she simply cannot say Kate's final speech now that women have been given the right to vote. She finally says the lines about obeying her husband's every demand. Petruchio, played by Crystal Lucas-Berry, does not put his foot on her offered hand, but instead takes her hand and says 'Come on and kiss me Kate!' Ms. Lucas-Berry said it rather quietly at which time the cast put on sashes proclaiming women's right to vote and sang a patriotic song.

Image result for crystal lucas perry  Crystal Lucas-Perry

Poor Will must be rolling around in his grave!

The cast all did a fine job of pretending to be men by speaking very loudly and swaggering about. A good bit of overacting!  But I'd rather see a mixed sex cast.

It brought to mind the comment I made recently about changing the last scene of Menotti's The Consul which we saw last week. When one is working with the art of a genius, just sing the song the way he wrote it!

It reminded me of perfomances I attended of Vittorio Gianinni's opera based on the play at the New York City Center in 1958. My dear friend, the late Dorothy Fee, was the librettist and attended every performance with me as her escort. Those were my gigolo days, I guess. Phyllis Curtin was Kate and Walter Cassell was Petruchio. It is a wonderful opera and should be revived! This was when I first met Phyllis. We became friends and, in our old age, shared many happy times together trashing singers we didn't like! 

At about this same time I saw Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate! on Broadway with Patricia Morrison and Alfred Drake in the leading roles. Great show!


'Time magazine called The Skin of Our Teeth “a sort of Hellzapoppin' with brains,” as it broke from established theatrical conventions and walked off with the Pulizer Prize.'

Well something has happened since 1942 when it opened on Broadway with Talullah Bankhead, Frederic March, Florence Eldridge, and Montgomery  Clift. The production we saw last night at the Remy Bumppo Theatre just couldn't get off the ground. 

The play is supposed to be a 'comic strip' version of human exsistance from the ice age to a post-nuclear war. The Antrobus family struggles for thousands of years to survive.

Last night's cast barely made it.

Image result for kelly o'sullivan actress  Kelly O'Sullivan

Kelly O'Sullivan as Sabrina and Linda Gillum as Mrs. Antrobus were the liveliest actors and help keep the play afloat.

Image result for linda gillum actress        Linda Gillum

The final act seemed deadly slow.

The best costumes by Micka van der Ploeg were for the Mammoth and the Dinosaur, who appear in Act One.  I have always thought that I directed this play years ago at the Methodist Church in Red Bank, NJ. I remember the wonderful costumes Margaret Stehlik made for those creatures, but I draw a complete blank on the play. Perhaps it was another play with a Dinosaur and a Mammoth?

Old age is hell!


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Rigoletto and The Consul

I've only been in Chicago for four days and have seen two operas already! That's living!

Friday night David and I saw a performance of Verdi's Rigoletto at Chicago Lyric Opera. The first performance of this opera that I saw was in Battle Creek, Michigan, at the Kellogg Auditorium when I was in high school. A touring company, the San Carlo Opera Company, presented it, and as Managing Editor of the high school paper, the Central Key, I reviewed it. 

'The San Carlo Opera Company was a touring grand opera company founded by the Italian-American impresario Fortune Gallo. Taking over management of a touring opera company led by Mario Lombardi that was stranded in St. Louis, Missouri in 1910, Gallo brought them back to New York City, untangled their finances, and reorganized them as the San Carlo Opera Company, opening in December 1913 with a premier performance featuring “Carmen”. Until its disbandment in the mid-1950s, the company - 100 strong, including 30 instrumentalists - toured annually in the United States and Canada, visiting cities and towns poorly served by other companies, and often ventured as far afield as Europe, and South America.' (from Wikipedia)

I even went backstage to talk to some of the singers. I don't remember a lot about the performance except that the Gilda was Jean Dickenson, 'Nightingale of the Airways'. She had her own radio program and at the end of 'Caro nome', interpolated a high 'e'!

Jean Dickenson (1913-2007)

Jean DickensonJean Dickenson was born December 13, 1913, in Montreal, Canada, to U.S. citizen parents. Her mother, May F. Dickenson, was a noted writer, and her father, an engineer, was a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia. As her father traveled abroad extensively in his profession, she lived in India and South Africa, as well as Canada and several places in the USA. Jean became a student at the Lamont School of Music of its founder, Florence Lamont Hinman, who took her to Mondsee near Vienna for a summer of intensive study while Mrs. Hinman was conducting classes there. She graduated from the University of Denver Lamont School of Music with honors.
Jean Dickenson
In 1932 Jean won the Colorado Atwater Kent Radio Auditions, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain News. She got her professional start singing on KOA radio in Denver, and then she was employed as the soprano on CBS radio's weekly Hollywood Hotel, which featured host Dick Powell, singer Frances Langford, and guest celebrity stars. With the Denver Grand Opera Company, she sang Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in 1934, Violetta in La Traviata in 1935 and the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor in 1939. With the Denver Post Opera Company she was Gilda in selections from Rigoletto in 1934 and Lucia in selections from Lucia di Lammermoor in 1935. Jean appeared with the San Carlo Opera Company in 1937 at the Denver Auditorium in the role of Gilda in Rigoletto. At age 26, coloratura soprano Dickenson, made her Metropolitan debut January 26, 1940 as Philine in Mignon, with Risë Stevens in the title role, and subsequently appeared with the company in five concerts. She became a protégé of the celebrated opera star, Lily Pons. She became a regular performer 1937-51 on the NBC radio program, American Album of Familiar Music. A favorite of radio audiences, she was know as the "Nightingale of the Airwaves." She appeared in concert with the Denver and Milwaukee symphony orchestras, the Promenade Symphony Concerts, and the Little Symphony of Montreal. Jean sang numerous concerts throughout the United States and Canada under the management of the National Concert and Artists Corporation of New York.

Jean Dickinson died January 26, 2007. She was survived by her husband, Daniel Edward Marcy Jr., whom she married in 1942, just prior to his being sent overseas in World War II. In their retirement years, Jean and Daniel lived in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Their daughter, Cc Marcy Dwyer, resides in Garrison, New York.

Jean Dickenson graciously corrected the earlier draft of this biography and provided the accompanying photographs. This charming anecdote was related in a letter from her: "In the third act of La Traviata, when Alfredo throws the money at Violetta, and she falls back on a sofa, I was wearing a beautiful big hoop skirt costume. Alfredo throws the money, I fall back on the hoop, it flies up, I vanish completely. Wow! A "show" I will never forget!"
(Colorado Opera Luminaries)

Image result for quinn kelsey      Quinn Kelsey

Friday's performance featured a cast of fine singers. Quinn Kelsey sang the title role with a large, resonant voice and convincing acting. Matthew Polenzani was excellent as the Duke of Mantua. Brilliant tenor voice that could also deliver a beautiful voix mixe. Gilda was sung by Rosa Feola. Lovely voice and well acted.

Image result for matthew polenzani   Matthew Polenzani

The story is a little hard to believe, but as Anna Russell said 'In opera you can do anything you want as long as you sing it!'

Image result for rosa feola       Rosa Feola

The set and staging didn't help much. As is normal at Lyric Opera, its small, old-fashioned stage doesn't permit fast scene changes, so you get one basic set that serves for all the scenes. A series of arches on either side of the stage was pretty much it.

Rigoletto's house slid in from stage left and  was a bare two story, red room. It later appeared with some shutters added as Sparafucile's cafe.

As has always been the case the balance between the singers and the orchestra was excellent. However, Magdalena, sung by Zanda Svede, was hard to hear in the famous quartet. The conductor was Marco Armiliato.

Saturday night we saw Menotti's The Consul at Chicago Opera Theatre.

An evening of drama and great, lush singing by the entire cast!

Image result for patricia racette Patricia Racette

Patricia Racette sang the very demanding part of Magda Sorel with rich, voluptuous sound. I first heard her in Vancouver a number of years ago in I forget what opera, but liked her singing very much at the time.

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Victoria Livengood was the mother and was certainly the equal to Marie Powers who sang the role originally, only without Marie's enormous 'break' in the passaggio. It has been said that Menotti wrote the Mother's Lullaby with that in mind, jumping the octave down from middle 'a' to low 'a' in the first phrase, thereby avoiding the break. Whatever, it's a great aria!

Image result for justin ryan baritone  Justin Ryan

Justin Ryan was John Sorel and sang fervently with a fine baritone voice. Cornell MacNeill sang the role in the original production.

The other members of the admirable cast were Audrey Babcock as the Secretary, Cedric Berry as the Secret Police, Kyle Knapp as the Magician, Vince Wallace as Mr. Kofner, Kimberly E. Jones as the Foreign Woman, Kira Dills-DeSurra as Vera Boronel, Zacharias Niedzwiecki as Assan, and Lani Stait as Anna Gomez. A whole cast of excellent voices!

The Studebaker Theatre, like the Lyric, has stage problems as far as creating scenery. Everything needs to be shifted by hand, requiring a large stage crew to do the work. Alan E. Murakoa was the scenic designer and did a good job considering his limitations. His idea of having the Secretary's desk mountainous was excellent.

Andreas Mitisek was the stage director. Everything seemed to work until the last scene of the opera, where, for some reason, Magda, attempting suicide, is surrounded by the rest of the cast carrying chairs which they attach to ropes that come down from the flies and are eventually lifted in the air. To Heaven?? One golden rope comes down to Magda, who is standing on a chair, which she grasps. Getting ready to hang herself?

In the original production, which I saw in 1950, she turns on the gas in the stove to commit suicide. The gas making her hallucinate the presence of the others. Also, as in the stage directions, the Secretary at the embassy is trying to phone her to tell her that John has returned. The phone rings,unanswered, as she dies. I think that is a much better ending.

Gian Carlo Menotti was a great dramatist as well as a great composer. Don't mess with his ideas!