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Archive for February 2010

Tea: Tan Dan Style

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Written by Lesley Valdes

February 26, 2010 at 4:24 am

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TEA: Tan Dun’s Opera: Beauty is Transparent

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TEA: A Mirror of the Soul
Composed by Tan Dun; Text by Xu Ying
Opera Company of Philadelphia
Academy of Music
Feb 19 – 28, 2010

Tan Dun’s Tea: A Mirror of the Soul is a love story and a quest for knowledge. A man of the East is defeated by his Western-style quest. The Opera Company of Philadelphia’s staging of the East Coast premiere was conducted by the composer himself recently with the final performances at the Academy of Music by David Hayes. The composer’s been fiddling with his opera and it’s lost some of its subtleties. The Philadelphia cast is mostly excellent and the music is both aural and a visual delight. Onstage percussionists play their noisemakers by dipping their hands in and out of water bowls – like arm dancers.
Baritone Haijing Fu sings the disappointed lover, a man of steely will. Soprano Kelly Kaduce gives a sympathetic portrayal of the princess torn between the man she wants to marry and the prince who is her brother. Roger Hollaway’s portrayal of the incestuous brother was so camp opening night it was difficult to take him seriously. Antler headgear and postures added a Wagnerian jolt to the high notes the tenor did hit well.
There’s a splendor to sounds of water and the uses of paper for percussive effects – though there may be too much paper in Tea. The sound effects (all digitally enhanced) and Drew Billau’s dramatic lighting are almost sufficient for an opera that suggests meditation but moves into a mish mash of theatrics that could be Turandot when it’s not aiming for The Ring. Tan Dun’s spare vocal lines do not support such representation especially in the second act when lover and over loving brother battle for the Book of Tea. The result veers on sentimental mush. Tan Dun tries too hard to make an opera from East and West. His music already has the West built in: the modal scale he uses is no more innovative than Ravel: for all their novelty, his orchestrations beautiful as they are do not venture far afield. Director Amon Miyamoto’s staging pushes Tan Dun’s Tea toward Broadway with more color than need be. The beauty of tea is transparency.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 25, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Posted in 1, Broadway, Opera

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Bedside Table: Cezanne’s Quarry

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Cezanne's Quarry (Pegasus Books) by Barbara Corrado Pope

Who can be without a stack. Lighter reading this month: a first novel by Barbara Corrado Pope. A mystery involving Paul Cezanne and Emil Zola (who did write a novel inspired by his artist friend). The fabrications: an English geologist who follows the theories of Darwin and of Sir Charles Lyell, the Scotsman whose theories greatly influenced Darwin. A French beauty with a beautiful mind supports the Englishman. The French beauty is the victim. She and her scientist-Significant-Other hold salons to discuss the new-and-controversial theories.

Corrado- Pope teaches gender studies at the University of Oregon. Her love story is the spider in the web of mid-19th French tumult. The Catholic Church battling Science; women treated as chattel and worse. Though the whodunnit of Cezanne’s Quarry is predictable, the facts of life for females of any status were exceedingly grim; the author’s grasp of these is significant. It is always pleasant to gain a slight awareness of artist’s life, and Cezanne’s granddaughter, has endorsed the first novel, which is set in Aixe en Provence of the Midi. Corrado-Pope shows affection for her characters, some promise developing dialogue, but the plot is forced.

March 25, she will discuss Cezanne’s Quarry at The Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square. Alliance Francais sponsors. There will be a Provencal buffet.

Reservations: 215- 735-5283
$15 for members of the Alliance or the Barnes Foundation. Non-members: $25.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 22, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Posted in 1, Good Reads

The Sleepwalker: Curtis Opera’s ideal Amina

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Elizabeth Reiter: Awesome Amina

The Sleepwalker (La Sonnambula)
The Prince Music Theater
Curtis Opera Theatre
Feb. 18-21

Curtis Opera Theatre offers alternate casts. I caught the second of four performances of Curtis Opera’s production of Bellini’s The Sleepwalker at The Prince recently and got a magnificent surprise: Elizabeth Reiter sang Amina, the sleepwalking soprano in danger of losing her groom- to- be. I’d don’t recall hearing Reiter before (surely I would, if I had!). She is first- rank, no question. The other standout was baritone Evan Boyer as Rodolfo. Boyer, who looks pretty lordly, sang the count, projected with rounded tones and a fine presence to match his stature. Reiter, a slip of a girl, acted very much a bride, full of enthusiasm she couldn’t contain, later torn by despair. Her bel canto huge, securely on pitch, playfully unforced, still rings in my ears. She has probably worked very hard to sound this natural. (She’s a student of Marlena Malas.)
Curtis’s Sleepwalker, or La Sonnambula, was un-staged. It used a small orchestra on the Prince dias. A Greek- style chorus: five men, five women, dressed in black, seated either side the band, Only the principals were costumed stunningly in colors. This worked very well. The young singers kept to their positions and their acting with seeming ease. Teresa (Jazimina MacNeil) who plays Amina’s friend and mother, was mostly seen in standing profile, so that her presence did not detract from Amina’s gleefully juggled coloratura. The principals often entered from behind the orchestra which functioned as its own scrim. Would that many a staged opera worked as well.
Friday night’s Lisa (Alize Roznyai), Amina’s rival, went in and out of character, relying on stock gestures. Elvino is silly: one of opera’s dumbest roles. Christopher Tiesi couldn’t overcome that. He put emotion in his tenor, which has good quality but too often sounds clouded, confined. The choruses were terrific, prepared I believe by Danielle Orlando. Alumn Benjamin Shwartz, fresh off three years’ residency at the S.F. Symphony, conducted. (A band so pared down the strings did sometimes sound thin even, yes, this is hard to believe, an occasionally scraggly cello.)
Next up for Curtis Opera: Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 22, 2010 at 12:42 am

Starry night at Kimmel: Angela Brown in big hall, Takacs in small

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If you were you at the Kimmel Thursday night, you were in luck, Verizon had the splendid soprano Angela Brown performing with the Philadelphia Orchestra; in the Perelman: thanks to the Chamber Music Society, the incomparable Takacs Quartet (playing besides Robert Schumann and Beethoven, a new work by James MacMillan).
Brown was giving the first performance here of Richard Danielpour’s new song cycle,file0413 A Woman’s Life. It’s written especially for Brown to seven poems from a cycle by Maya Angelou. The soprano looked even more spectacular than she did at the Mann this summer, and again she was in wonderful voice. The acting was engaging as Brown portrayed a very young girl moving into older age. Danielpour’s settings were attractive, the simplest, the best. For instance solo celesta and keyed percussion which brought a sense of stillness in the song “My Life has turned to Blue.” The poems are not profound, more entertaining than deep. Danielpour’s work is expertly crafted and always suave; Brown’s gifts lend splendor. The first song opens in her lowest range, it would be nice to hear more of this. The high notes were sometimes pushed but the tone is there colors are remarkable. The song, “Let’s Majeste” one of the better interpretations. The song, “They Went Home,” has a Coplandnesque setting that works. Come. And Be My Baby. a snappy operatic flavor that is annoying.

Milanov opened with dashing Overture from Barber’s School for Scandal well polished by Richard Woodhams’ oboe. Skipping Rachmaninoff Third Symphony, I was able to hear the Takacs play Beethoven’s Opus 59, No. 2 in E Minor.This Razumovsky is a ferocious world. But for the Molto Adagio, a sonata form all by itself, a quiet wonder. Patterns. Theme and structure. violins and cello listening to each other, rising, rocking, ever softer. Only Beethoven knew to make the complex sound so simple and so true.

How lucky there is often chamber music or orchestra at the Kimmel on Thursday nights.

The Breath of Life (Lantern Theater)

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Ceal Phelan (Madeline) and Cheryl Williams (Frances)

The Breath of Life
by David Hare
Lantern Theater Company
Feb. 4-28
This one’s not so compelling as the Englishman’s Skylight, which is also about intimacy and betrayal and which the Lantern (2008) pulled off so brilliantly two seasons back. David Hare can’t write a play without talking about smart things. Here, not just a love triangle but Americans vs. the English. Why he finds the novel reductive, why work is the only thing that sustains.

The Breath of Life has only two characters –onstage. Ceal Phelan and Cheryl Williams put their all into a play that even Maggie Smith and Judi Dench couldn’t entirely pull off . If only The Breath of Life had more life, more show than tell, a flashback, perhaps, an audience member offered at the Lantern’s Sunday talkback, or one more character, though that would destroy the tete-a-tete conceit.

It’s damned hard to pull off two hours moaning over a man. Phelan as Madeline, the retired curator of Islamic art, and Williams, as Frances, a late- blooming novelist, almost manage. The women are the ex-es of Martin, who has gone off with a third.

Martin’s former wife, has come to the isle of Wright to get the backstory on Martin’s longtime lover. As the play progresses there are lines about love and family I just don’t buy. More than just contradictions.

Still Phelan and Williams, who are on the Temple Theater department, play the characters very well. Madeline, acerbic, ungiving, a pro at hiding her needs; Frances, warmer, courageous despite her desperation for comfort – and closure – ultimately providing a bit of each for both. There work Hare’s shifts and swerves to let us see the flashes of pain or wit or insight.

Kathyrn McMillan directs. Dirk Durosette’s staging hits the right tone for Madeline’s frugal retreat. Christopher Colucci’s sound design is built on cello and hammered dulcimer solos he composed himself.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 15, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Posted in 1, Community, Drama, Theater

Potato Stone

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Photo: Bonnie Tocher Clause in Vermont

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 13, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Posted in 1, Art, Photography