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Jasper’s Philly debut

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Jasper Quartet
Astral Artists
October 17, 2010
Trinity Urban Center

The Jasper Quartet opened Astral Artists’ season Sunday. The debut was thrilling, Four strings, none under 30, in a town where we are accustomed to great quartets. The artists, in residence at Oberlin Conservatory, played Schubert, Beethoven and Aaron Kernis. Trinity Center for Urban Life was packed: this audience knows what to expect. But the Jasper Quartet was even by Astral’s standard’s a surprise: the refinement, the beauty of tone – the rich, unified sonority – it reminded of eminences. —–

The Schubert Quartetsatz could not have not have made a better start: a string cyclone, pulsing out its melancholy. Then, Kernis’s Second Quartet (Quartet No. 2) the one that won the Pulitzer. The first movement (“Overture”) is built upon Baroque and Renaissance dances though they change so fast that unless he’d told you (which he did) you couldn’t have known. The structural integrity and intensity of the music is adept: the mix of old and new. “Sarabande Double, Sarabande Simple” has some beautiful ideas beautifully and cohesively linked though one stretch begins to veer toward the sentimental. The finale, “Double Triple Gigue Fugue,”is inspired by the finale of Beethoven’s Opus 59, No. 3, Razumovsky. Ideas crash and topple on another. The music makes a furious chaos. It blisters and these superlative players also make it work.

Beethoven’s Op. 59, No, 3 in C Major concluded. Hearing it in context with Kernis’s homage underscored Beethoven’s emotional struggles with his deafness which violist Sam Quintal discussed before the Jasper performed. Those brooding dissonances to set into balance the coming heroism. The singularity of the Andante’s unbearable lightness. The amazing fugue.

The Jasper’s sensitive members are J. Freivogel and Sae Niwa; cellist is Rachel Henderson Freivogel. Violist Quintal has an uncannily beautiful tone.


Written by Lesley Valdes

October 18, 2010 at 3:30 am

Beckett’s First Love: Bravo Live Arts

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Live Arts….
First Love by Samuel Beckett
Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Sept. 3-5, 2010

Conor Lovett, of The Gare (pronounce: Gair) St. Lazare Players, Ireland, gave a brilliantly devastating depiction of Samuel Beckett’s rarely seen First Love opening weekend of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. The work, from 1946, (but not published in 1971*) is so bleakly comic, the audience howled aloud. Artistic director Judy Hegearty-Lovett directed. In First Love, Lovett, portrays a man who hangs out in cemeteries and associates his marriage with the death of his father. Lovett, shaved head, poker face and short jacket immediately triggers a misunderstood, lost soul – ah, a Beckett man.

Lovett’s played most of them. He’s considered an imminent interpreter. (The performance told why.) The second half of the intermission-less First Love could have you gasping if you’re a woman who has loved a damaged man though there is no physical violence. The writing though uneven holds quirks and terrors. Love and freedom, this play asks: Are both possible?

*Why did the playwright wait so long? Speculation Beckett wanted to protect an acquaintance. There are two in this one-man play. The question that will stick once you’ve seen First Love. Which one.

Written by Lesley Valdes

September 8, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Mauckingbird’s “Dream”

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file0580Midsummer Night’s Dream
Mauckingbird Theatre Company
Aug. 20-Sept. 12, 2010
Randall Theater at Temple University

Mauckingbird Theatre Company views the classics through “a queer lens,” says co-founder and artistic director Peter Reynolds, who is (among other titles) also assistant chair of Temple’s theatre department. Mauckingbird, usually at the Adrienne, has new endeavors underway at Temple, including Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Temple professor Lynne Innerst joins Reynolds as co-director. One pleasure of this large scale but intimate production is casting Temple students as the mechanicals and fairies. Danielle Pinnock has a key role as Nick Bottom and Pyramis in the play within the play.

The staging also benefits from Mike Long’s video design and Chris Colucci’s invigorating sound track. The story’s been updated to Athens Academy where everyone’s texting. The Duke about to get married is a headmaster; a patron wants his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius. But Hermia has eyes only for Lysander, who in this production is a girl. And unlike the original, Helena, is a boy, which at first is unsettling. However, actor Patrick Joyce does so well with the role he overcomes even the confusing name. Times have changed! Mauckingbird’s mission with a few surgical incisions to the script makes it easy to see Shakespeare’s jousting love struck couples in the magic forest as two girls and two guys together and why not.

The play runs without intermission.

Unfortunately, the fairy queen and king are not so well matched as their attractive statures. Charles Illingworth’s Oberon exudes authority and compassion. Not so, Sean Thompson’s Titania who starts with a snippy attitude that ultimately undercuts the persuasion (and magic) of his better lines during Titania’s extraordinary dream scene with Bottom.

Pinnock’s Bottom overplays the comedy; the girl has promise; we’ll be seeing her again. She lights the black box.
Shakespeare’s Dream foreshadows The Tempest. He’s juggling imagination, the highs and lows of love, life, art. Bravo to Emily Letts and Erin Mulgrew; Brent Knobloch who plays Puck. Lauren Perigard’s costumes enhance the nonsense.

Written by Lesley Valdes

August 30, 2010 at 3:06 am

fireworks for orchestra and overture

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Tchaikovsky & Fireworks
Philadelphia Orchestra
Rossen Milanov, conducting
Efe Baltacigil, cello
Mann Music Center
July 26, 2010

Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise from Eugene Onegin; Marche slave, Op. 31; Variations on a Rococo Variations, Op. 33, Selections from Swan Lake; Solemn Overture 1812

Written by Lesley Valdes

July 27, 2010 at 6:41 am

Yannick’s visit: Corrado’s Orfee

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Orfee et Eurydice
Opera Company of Philadelphia
/Curtis Opera collaboration
Corrado Rovaris, conducting
June 17-25, 2010
Perelman Theater

Good news energizes: Yannick Nezet -Seguin’s appointment as the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director elect has put the city in a good mood. The French Canadian’s visit to the Kimmel and to Citizens Park on Friday brought in 200 hundred new subscribers according to a marketing rep for the orchestra. While Yannick was working the neighborhoods, Opera Company music director Corrado Rovaris was steering a fine Orfee et Eurydice at the Perelman. The Gluck is the Opera Company’s anticipated and usually sold out chamber opera collaboration with Curtis Opera Theater. This season’s production was changed from the planned three to five performances.

Designer Phillipe Amand strips the stage to sensuous color (teal/sky blue) and projected light. The underworld has a way of appearing and disappearing that is fabulous. There are only three principals: Mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Dunose as Orfee, soprano Elizabeth Reiter as Amor and Maureen Mckay as the doomed Eurydice. Dunose has a triple challenges in her first time out in the arduous role, she’s nearly always singing on an empty stage and the blocking doesn’t cut her any slack. One end of the stage to the other (or prone midcenter). the distinguished mezzo can’t always be heard. The grief and pain; the burnish of her art does comes through. Gluck’s timeless arias grow stronger, deeper as Orfee finally finds Eurydice and the lovers prepare to gain or lose each other – again. Mckay as the doomed wife shows many facets of Eurydice’s character in a soprano that is brilliant and can soar.

The austere staging clearly inspires director Bob Driver but perhaps to match the minimalism of the modernism, he keeps gestures at a minimum nor are there are any helpful props. Nary a flower for the grave, no instrument for the musician Orfee, any of which could have been projected but I am sure the idea was to avoid sentiment. (Instead the dancing veered toward sentiment.) Most confusing are Orfee’s trials: though we have the supertitles to remind that husband must not look at his wife as he takes her from the Underworld they are staged so near each other singing it feels ridiculous to have them pretending they do not see each other each other at all. Some productions use a blindfold which has its merits.

Reiter, a standout as Amina in Curtis Opera’s Sleepwalker not so long ago, is terrific in the feisty role of Love. Her costume makes her look like a punk hellion, the main wit in the opera. Richard St. Clair clearly had fun with the get up.

Amanda Miller’s choreography has a lot to recommend it particularly during the Elysian Fields panorama. Miller (of Miro Dance Theatre) ’s dances take up 50 of the opera’s entire 90 -minutes but there is some mannerism to the choreographic effort that detracts. Melding the chorus into the dance is a good idea that doesn’t quite work. Using an aerialist for Orfee’s descent is a brilliant stroke.

Maestro Rovaris, who has achieved so much for the professional company, doesn’t push too hard; his band usually aims for and achieves the subtle. It would have been nice to have a drier, more detached style of string playing to suit the period of Christoph Willibald Gluck instead of the fatter legato achieved. Still, such ardor to Orfee and Eurydice’s music – humanity here, real beauty. Rare opportunity to hear this version Berlioz arranged from Gluck’s two earlier French versions.

The poet Louise Glueck writes: “Everyone wants to be Orpheus.” True enough, since he gets the adulation and the best parts.But Eurydice’s part, though smaller, is pretty amazing too.

The last performance at the Perelman is June 25.

Written by Lesley Valdes

June 22, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Dudamel Rocks Verizon

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Gustavo Dudamel
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
May 19, 2010

Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic
First U.S. Tour
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
May 19, 2010

It had to happen. The media who went wild for Gustavo Dudamel and the LosAngeles Philharmonic at the start of his first season begins its joyless task of picking apart the charismatic and enormously gifted maestro.

Unlike some of the press here, I found the Tchaikovsky Pathetique heard recently at Verizon Hall a compelling interpretation. Perfect, of course not, the Venezuelan maestro is not even 30! Compelling because of the direction, shape and flow the young man gave the 45- minute masterpiece as he clearly inspired his charges. Unlike others observed on this podium, Dudamel, whose work I have observed on four separate occasions (*twice in Disney Hall) is not manipulative or aggressive. The music director does not beat music into submission. Dudamel is dominant. He appears to ride the sounds he summons.

The composer’s contrasts and pauses were keenly expressed; the pleasures best served by the woodwinds. Tchaikovsky’s low bassoon solo which opens coming up out of welter of basses was arresting. There were many clean exchanges among woodwinds. Violins may not be the Philharmonic’s treasure but the almost waltz theme- its return and transformations were nicely exposed.
The brass had some snafus – they had gotten a workout in the cinematic, jazzy and 25- minutes of City Noir by John Adams.

Principal cello Peter Stumpf, Philadelphia’s former assistant principal led the cello-rich symphony well. But the sold out house did not keep still after the lone cellos which take the Pathetique beyond hearing. You could tell it wasn’t the usual crowd. The huge sonority of the scherzo’s thumping lurched them into applause. So what: A joy to see nearly so many new people.
Can we get them to the Philadelphia Orchestra?
Yes. When there is leadership on stage to ignite the talent. L.A. has the dominant, assertive Deborah Borda as ED. Fingers crossed about Philadelphia’s director Allison Vulgamore, who did smart things for Atlanta….

Written by Lesley Valdes

May 24, 2010 at 12:25 am

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