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Red at the Golden

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Redfile0487 by John Logan
Alfred Molina (Rothko); Eddie Redmayne (Ken)
London’s Donmar Warehouse Production
Golden Theater, 45th and Broadway, NYC

Alfred Molina makes a compelling artist. In the movie Frida, he played muralist Diego Rivera. In John Logan’s Red on Broadway Molina is Mark Rothko at the top of his game, defensive about the pop artists about to kill off their Abstract Expressionist fathers. Molina and the gifted young Eddie Redmayne, Rothko’s new assistant Ken, out- perform Logan’s ambitious play. Theater is a tough way to show the drama of art. But this staging direct from London’s Donmar Warehouse does an exceptional job turning the Golden Theater into Rothko’s 1950s’ Bowery studio. Here are the life- size stretchers ready to be primed and pondered. Here, the acidic artist ready with the intellectual retorts and philosophizing. The drama is not in the staccato talk but in Neil Austin’s lighting and Adam Cork’s sound design, which uses music Rothko loved. Rothko slipping Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier onto the turntable (this is 1958). Bach plays softly while the artist fires questions at the assistant.

What do you see? “What do you feel?”

Rothko is working on the murals for Park Avenue’s Seagram’s Building, a Philip Johnson commission, the murals will go in the Seagram’s Four Seasons Restaurant. He natters about his theories, his miseries, his insistence an artist be civilized. Finally Ken has had enough: What is Rothko afraid of. Why is he putting these murals in a restaurant? The ultimate temple of consumption?

Red’s finest moment is the priming of a canvas with vermillion. Orchestral music pours from the artist’s turntable then an aria. The beauty of good sound design is that it doesn’t upstage the acting. A whirlwind of chaotic criss-crossing commences as the men slap their industrial size brushes over the white surface. Blood red covers faces, heads, overalls. The priming mirrors the fate of Rothko’s life- size, pulsing paintings. (Will his red be swallowed by the black that Ken suggests Mark Rothko fears?) Who will attend these murals? The Rothko Chapel is far away in time and geography. Red in New York could use more silence. But there is much to praise.


Written by Lesley Valdes

April 22, 2010 at 2:32 am

Sierra Premiere at Revamped Baptist Temple

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Mendelssohn Club Chorus:
Roberto Sierra’s “Missa Latina”
Alan Harler, conducts,
guest soprano, Heidi Grant Murphy,
Concerto Soloists Chamber Orchestra,
Inauguration of newly renovated Baptist Temple at Temple University
Saturday, April 24, 8:00 pm
$20 and $30
Phone: (215) 735-9922

Rose Window & Stairs at Baptist Temple

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Poetry Month: Dunbar Opera at Clef Club

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Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows:
An Opera Based on the Life and Love of
Paul Laurence Dunbar & Alice Ruth Moore
Steven M. Allen, composer and libretto,
Opera North, Inc.
April 11, 2010
The Philadelphia Clef Club
Broad & Fitzwater Streets

Paul Dunbar fell in love with Alice Ruth Moore from a photo: like Tamina looking at Pamina. The moment is caught in Allen Stevens opera about the Dunbars: Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows, whose first act was presented at the Clef Club Sunday. Opera North presented with a cast drawn largely from here and the D.C.. April is poetry month. Allen wrote the music and the libretto working from the pioneering black poet’s biography and the letters Dunbar wrote to Moore, the writer who would become his wife, then leave him. Dunbar and Moore corresponded for two years before meeting. Her mother was against the marriage. Dunbar may have been famous but he was three shades darker than Moore’s family – who had pretensions and their own prejudice and more money. Dunbar worked his way up in Dayton, Ohio where he was the only black man in high school class of the Wright Brothers. He worked as an elevator operator when his second book of poems, Major & Minor, came out, the one that drew mainstream accolades from Wm. Dean Howells, although Howells chose to single out only the poems in dialect, not the poems (In Major) written in standard English. This stung Dunbar and rightly so.

Allen’s score is classical with a tinge of nostalgia, built into the fine writing for voice, clarinet and flutes. It’s good if at times a bit too look at me I’m in earnest. (The composer is working on a doctorate at Catholic University.) The libretto is convoluted: too many words. Without supertitles, the English sung by this cast is sometimes hard to make out. Lisa Edwards-Burrs as Alice Moore and Gregory J. Watkins as Dunbar were excellent choices, so was Syvlia Twine as Matilda Dunbar. A boy soprano and countertenor also were good news; Brandie Sutton was convincing as Moore’s sister; Jessie Baden-Campbell an imperious naysaying mother. Iris Fairfax took the role of the glamorous Victoria Matthews at the 11th hour when the scheduled singer was indisposed.
Allen conducted a chamber octet of strings, winds, keyboard. His arrangements for acoustic piano alone with the voice sometimes sound clunky, better the work with flute, oboe, bass clarinet. There are fine love duets in the third section which, includes Dunbar’s famous poem to Alice. Also a trio for baritone and boy sopranos, well, one boy soprano and a counter-tenor.

(I couldn’t tell if there were other Dunbar poems in this libretto: the diction was not always clear enough. But this is only one act – more will follow.) The pioneering poet –“We wear the Mask,” “Dreams,” “The Debt” lived only 33 prolific, achieving years. The love story was tumultous.
Allen’s libretto may need to cut back on the exposition to play up the drama. Though it’s important. having Dunbar’s agent sing of William Dean Howell’s glowing if backhanded review of Dunbar’s second book, Majors & Minors is labored. Dunbar had reason to loathe that mainstream review: The critic singled out the poems in dialect, ignoring the ones in standard English.
Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows have operatic conflicts in the Moore daughters’ scenes with their negative mother but they are presented so statically the scenes lose a bit in the telling. The audience caught the sly comedy.
Projections are used with a simple staging and lighting. More images, please.
Opera North does a lot of its work behind the scenes, in schools and the community. It employs fine singers. Leslie Burrs is the artistic director.

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 12, 2010 at 3:04 am

The Tarpon

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Recuerdo: Frank Llaneza
March 9, 1920 – March 18, 2010

of green waters

High jumping
ordinary man

Boca Grande the kingdom
Big mouth sin llanto
Big quiet eye

Slippery in salt froth
Silver in fresh agua

Clear quiet eye
Takes time to grow
Times time to see

Big fish do this
Breathe free
to leap horizons

Slap the castanets of rod and wave
Slip the line

Beneath the seabed
coral quiver:
Eulalia’s mandolin

Long stay:
Our Silver King!

Frank Llaneza, one of the pioneers of the premium cigar business, died two weeks after his 90th birthday. He was my uncle.
Read more:

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Terell Stafford Jazzes up Temple Premieres

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fourth stream La banda Bill Cunliffe (World Premiere)
Ansel Adams: America, Dave & Chris Brubeck
Temple University Symphony Orchestra & Combined Choirs,
Luis Biava, Alan Harler, conducting
Terell Stafford, trumpet,
Verizon Hall, March 21, 2010
Alice Tully Hall, April 9, 2010

We’s so used to cheering the Curtis prodigies, we forget how good the Temple music students are. Until we hear them play full out, burnished, something like Barber’s Essay No. 2, Op. 17, rousing, burnished, and eureka, after all these kids, who are their teachers? Members of the Philadelphia Orchestra! Sunday Temple Symphony and Combined Choirs impressed a crowd at Verizon under maestros Luis Biava and Alan Harler. When jazz trumpeter Terell Stafford got up to play, the house was over the moon.

Grammy artist Stafford was the soloist in fourth stream…La Banda, Bill Cunliffe’s world premiere. He’s also a Grammy artist. Stafford’s horn can make anything sound over the moon but La Banda (which has a jazz quartet fronting the orchestra) is strong. It swings. Having Luis Biava to conduct doesn’t hurt. To its influences of Django, John Lewis, and Dizzy, La Banda adds claves, Latin percussion. Cunliffe smartly keeps different strains of music separate, nothing messy – at first. Great solo riffs for trumpet, but not until the themes have been announced. There’s a beautiful theme for cellos, which played it well. Stafford’s tone is long and pure and gold. Then, a blizzard of tones. But never shrill. He was Sunday’s mentor-hero.

The fizzle was Ansel Adams: America the commission a handful of orchestras (Stockton to Baltimore ) have paid $12 grand apiece to premiere (Additionally, a $15,000 grant. Temple alum, concert pianist and philanthropist Susan Carson who lives in Northern California brokered the deal which is written up in Symphony Magazine. The Stockton Symphony realized many benefits from the commission, according to the Symphony article. ) Jazz legend Dave Brubeck wrote the tunes, his son Chris arranged them. The score is a pastiche for 100 photographs by the late master. Snatches of waltz time, a little syncopation; the Brubecks said Bach and Chopin are influences since Adams wanted to become a concert pianist. These composers aren’t much in evidence in the soupy score. There is little to suggest musical depth or visual: the artist who caught Yosemite’s grandeur. The video projections (two screens above the stage) lack sophistication. No dissolves or fades. The slideshows on my Apple are dazzle. A friend pointed out: There might have been restrictions from the estate on how the photographs are. Still:

Stafford’s solos in La Banda better expressed Ansel Adams’ aesthetic eloquence.
Andrea Clearfield’s The Golem Psalms is a Passover tale for baritone, chorus and orchestra. Golem Tales shimmers with color, and the chorus enunciated Ellen Frankel’s text perfectly But I was weary by the 5th of its 7 parts. Baritone Sanford Sylvan was masterful and so was Alan Harler who is retiring after 30 years. Harler will be missed.

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 22, 2010 at 5:01 am

Age cannot wither (Curtis Opera’s Antony & Cleo)

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file0452Samuel Barber’s
Antony & Cleopatra
The Curtis Opera Theatre (in association with Opera Company of Philadelphia & the Kimmel Center)
Perelman Theatre
March 17, 19, 21

Samuel Barber’s alma mater has done him proud. Curtis Opera Theatre’s sold out Antony & Cleopatra at the Perelman is arresting: Fine singing, yes. A design that takes the breath. Light simplifies us, Derek Woolcott says. Opera’s funny that way. The clearer you see, better you hear. The simplicity of Lenore Doxee’s light summons the Nile without a barge or pyramid. Chas Rader Shieber’ and David Zinn’s staging reflects sea and sun onto walls that look like stainless steel. The Opera Company of Philadelphia, who co-produces should borrow this team, pronto.
The Kimmel Center is also a sponsor.

Allison Sanders opens her mouth and a geyser pours up and out. The high notes have ping. Cleopatra’s high-wire challenges were ravishing. The soprano’s Mark Antony was bass baritone Brendon Cedel, big voice, lots of emotion. Both young singers are still awkward actors, give them time. Not so, baritone Evan Boyer’s whose grasp of Enobarbus – the loyalties, the conflicts – is near ideal. The voice is splendid. The mixed choir alert, on pitch, sing this tricky English very well. The supernumeraries look terrific in Jacob Climer’s costumes: grey suits that fit, witty sock caps. The Senators wear silver ear laurels.

Samuel Barber was hard on himself. After the world premiere when Franco Zeferelli’s design pretty much toppled the thing he cut and fret. Curtis puts the shorter, 1974 version at the Perelman. Some of us still crave the edginess, the longer version with the time to delve the back story. These days, who knows their Rome and Egypt? New York maestro George Manahan also likes the long version restored. The New York City Opera music director was brilliant leading the Curtis singers and band, coaxing a subtle flute or cello, focusing the intensity. The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage paid for Antony & Cleopatra.

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 22, 2010 at 12:10 am

Posted in 1, Drama, Music, Opera

Tagged with ,

Maestro in Waiting? Jurowski & Philadelphia?

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Vladimir Jurowski conducts
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Benedetto Lupo, piano
Verizon Hall
March 18-20

Sounds like Vladimir Jurowski’s convinced the Philadelphia Orchestra he’s the one- the new music director. The guest conductor’s program Thursday night was captivating. The Russian maestro who doesn’t smile on stage was given a speech before the music started. Jumping from the back row, violinist Jonathan Beiler thanked Jurowski, who’s guested for three previous seasons (this is his fourth). He called the Muscovite a favorite. He mentioned some 1,000 details their music making has involved. This is so special, Bieler said. The appreciation read quietly was emotion, almost embarrassing. But the praise held up once everyone delved into Brahms’ Tragic Overture all that intensity laced with flow.
The key to Jurowski’s magic was the Eroica Symphony. So many maestros sweep an audience off its feet with those Romantics. Beethoven shows what you’re made of. How clean are your thoughts. Jurowski made us sit up and sit still. Everything was noticeable: The first movement’s levels of loudness, keenly felt, keenly varied. The Funeral March that wasn’t pounced upon us but allowed to flow — so that when the flute slips in you really feel the solo. When music flows, is not unduly stretched or beaten, there is no end of difference in how wde feel about it. We aren’t manipulated.
Too many conductors rush us this way and that making their points. Juroswki makes his by expansion and discretion. Thursday’s Eroica did not pull the heartstrings. Beethoven kept us focused line by line and note by note.

At the concert’s heart, a beautiful surprise: Benedetto Lupo made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut playing Robert Schuman’s tender Piano Concerto in A Minor which requires delicacy, power and soul. If you been there you are doubtless in love with Benedetto Lupo too. href=”″>file0446

Written by Lesley Valdes

March 19, 2010 at 5:51 am