Marianne Schech sings "Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?" from Beethoven's FIDELIO.
Above: choreographer Claudia Schreier
Saturday August 9th, 2014 - At the second annual Breaking Glass Project's competition for emerging female choreographers this evening, Claudia Schreier was the audience's chosen winner: her ballet HARMONIC swept to victory in a brilliantly-danced performance which elicited a vociferous ovation from the packed house at the Ailey Citigroup Theater.
Set to a marvelously dance-worthy score by Douwe Eisenga, HARMONIC was first performed by the Columbia Ballet Collaborative in November 2013. It was then taken up by Craig Salstein's Intermezzo Dance Company who danced it at Vassar College in March 2014. For this evening's presentation, Intermezzo dancers Amber Neff and Nadezhda Vostrikov were joined by ABT's Nicole Graniero, and Edward Spots, formerly of Ailey 2.
Distinctive blonde beauties, Amber (who dances for Suzanne Farrell and Miro Magloire), and Nadezhda (who is currently deeply involved with the upcoming ballet-based TV series Flesh and Bone) brought strong technique and personal flair to the fast-paced choreography. Edward took the ballet's physicality and parterning motifs handsomely in stride, whilst Nicole gave a radiant, sophisticated performance with an impetuous energy, her eye contact with audience and with her onstage colleagues giving her presentation an added allure.
Above: Nicole Graniero in rehearsal
Of the other works on the programme, each of which had its merits, none could rival HARMONIC in terms of music, structure, and a sheer feeling of vibrancy. An appealing pas de deux from choreographer Stina Quagebeur, entitled VERA and evoking a World War I atmosphere, came in a close second in my estimation, thanks in part to the attractive piano works of Ivor Gurney and the excellent dancing and emotional qualities of the English National Ballet's Crystal Costa and Guilherme Menezes.
The four other choreographers seemed to me to have somewhat missed the mark in musical selection: this was in fact Claudia Schreier's springboard to success, since Mr. Eisenga's score gave her a clear starting advantage. And while Claudia's piece was so concise and pleasing at every moment - never a wasted step or gesture - that one wanted more, the other choreographers' works all seemed in need of editing to achieve a truly pungent effect.
As a pleasing 'dessert', Breaking Glass Project's artistic director Ellenore Scott offered a neat double-feature dancework entitled EX-GIRLFRIENDS. Not part of the competition, this piece featured a lovely song from vocalist Diana Krall followed by a comic-relief romp to a tune by Anthony Randolph. Four girls from Ellenore's company Elsco Dance did a good job with it.
Competitions of this kind do not always turn out as they should: a choreographer who rounds up a sizeable contingent of friends and family in the audience can easily tip the voting. Tonight, high-quality music and movement prevailed when Claudia Schreier's win was announced. Her prize will be a full evening of her own danceworks, produced by the Breaking Glass Project next year.
August 10, 2014 | Permalink
Above: Acacia Schachte and Joseph Kudra, both members of Cedar Lake Conteporary Ballet, in Lindsay Nelko's AWAKENING; photo by Matt Murphy.
Thursday August 7th, 2014 - Somehow news of this performance of Lindsay Nelko's AWAKENING eluded me until it was almost too late. The original announcement seems to have gotten lost among the dozens of invitations I receive every week; it's my own fault. It was actually catching a glimpse of Matt Murphy's sensational publicity shots for the show that motivated me to seek out details and arrange to attend the second of three performances of the work at the Ailey Citigroup Theater.
AWAKENING came to be as a result of Lindsay Nelko being named 2nd runner-up in the 2013 Capezio A.C.E. Awards. Gathering a troupe of two dozen dancers, including some of New York's finest, Linsday went for broke with a 90-minute production that showed her to be one of the few choreographers in my experience to successfully mesh the diverse elements of ballet, contemporary, and jazz with a bit of ballroom and even a dash of B-boy spice. Kathy Kauffman gets five stars for her excellent lighting designs.
Danced in eighteen scenes, each titled by an emotion or state of being, AWAKENING flows with captivating theatrical intensity while remaining free of gimmickry or pandering. The dancing never stops, and what demanding dancing it is! Hats off to everyone on that stage who gave unstinting energy and commitment to assure the performance's great success.
As always with a longish work (approximately 90 minutes) there were times that I felt things could have been compressed slightly, but these moments were very few and far between.
The impressive and stylish playbill included photos and bios of all the dancers as well as some of Matt Murphy's powerful studio images, but I could not find any listing of the musical compositions used, so I am unsure if this was a commissioned score or a collage put together for the production. Additional excitement was generated by a slip in the playbill announcing that Alex Wong, one of the planet's premiere movers, would be interpolating a solo midway thru the evening.
The visually striking staging made use of billowy swathes of fabric at various points, and while the costuming changed from one movement to the next, the boys were invariably clad in briefs which showed off their musculature at work in the demanding choreography. Passion and sensuality are the hallmarks of AWAKENING.
The evening opened with a spoken prologue: actress Sara Thompson appeared as a personification of the choreographer, and she reappeared frequently as the evening moved forward. I'm not sure that this was an enhancement or a distraction; I felt that a voice-over narration might have been a better idea, allowing the dances to flow seamlessly forward.
The dancing begins, appropriately, with Awakening. Three lovely Eves (Daniela Filippone, Lauren Perry, and Amy Ruggiero) are slumbering on gauzy beds, to be awakened by three sexy Adams (Daniel Baker, Jeffrey Sousa, and Nicholas Sipes). The girls are on pointe: they seem like Wilis as they waft their gossamer veils about.
In a dramatic volte face, Mark Caserta manifests himself as a frightening spectre in Fear, set to the sound of ominous vocals. Caserta bedevils the vulnerable Addison Ector, and he is joined by three fellow demons: Kelly Marsh IV, Kris Nobles, and Terk Waters. These threatening spirits wear fantastical iridescent capes and hoods, and they are really eerie. Mr. Caserta's handsome form and glint-in-the-eye visage will be a continuing force throughout the evening.
A visual coup de theatre follows as the back curtains part revealing a mirrored wall. Ten women step into a rectangle of light and dance in stylied patterns with their reflections. This is Dysmorphia. In addition to Mlles. Filippone, Perry and Ruggiero, we now meet Maira Barriga, Taeler Cyrus, Ashley Fitzgerald, Sara Hoenes, Allison Ulrich and those two divine dancers from Cedar Lake: Ida Saki and Acacia Schachte.
The men then take over for Courage. This is a stylized contemporary-balletic passage, the guys bare-chested in dark trousers. Barton Cowperthwaite and Shane Ohmer join Mssers. Baker, Ector, Marsh, Nobles, Sipes and Sousa in this masculine rite.
Above: Mark Caserta and Casey McIntyre, both members of Complexions Contemporary Ballet; photo by Matt Murphy
Casey McIntyre appears on pointe for a solo in In Harm's Way, danced to a mysterious French text. Mark Caserta joins her and their duet becomes increasingly sexual.
Four girls - Lauren Perry, Ida Saki, Acacia Schachte, and Allison Ulrich - appear for Anxiety, each dancing her her own pool of light. The men invade the scene, wielding plexiglass shields with which they menace, entrap, and transport the hapless girls who seek to escape. Anxiety proceeds to a heavy musical beat.
Alex Wong, shirtless in jeans, reveals - in this solo Mirage - why he is one of the most exciting dancers of our time: deploying his masterful extension, with risky splits and powerful floor work as well as airborne vrtuosity, Alex displays his compelling trademark synthesis of athleticism and grace in a spellbinding performance.
A potent male duet, Despair was danced with vulnerable dramatic nuance and expressive physicality by Kris Nobles and Mark Caserta.
Ida Saki emits a blood-curdling shriek at the start of Scream; she is joined by Acacia Schachte and Joseph Kudra, along with Cedar Lake alumnus Jason Kittelberger. This section was especially rewarding for me, since I am a great admirer of all four of these dancers.
Addison Ector appears as a winged demi-god in Flight; he dances on pointe in this demanding and visually impressive solo.
Five women in black frocks open Lifeline : Mlles. Filippone, McIntyre, Perry and Ruggiero are joined by Youngsil Kim in this on-pointe dance. Colorful streamers criss-cross the stage as the men appear - wearing 'wife-beater' t-shirts: but there's no domestic violence, just Spring-like duets with women now dressed in sunny yellow.
Terk Waters gave a thrilling performance in Consumed, manipulating a voluminous skirt of mauve fabric from which his dazzling extension sometimes emerged. He struggles with this weighty shroud, refusing to be subjugated by it. Gorgeous, expansive movement.
With five dancers attached to him by umbilical cords, Jason Kittlelberger is a savagely celebratory control freak in Control. In this wild and punky interlude, the dancers struggle to be free from Jason's tyranny; in the end they succeed.
A lyrical trio for three women in maroon gowns follows: this is Broken. Youngsil Kim, Casey McIntyre, and Kelly Sneddon bring quiet intensity to the gestural language: this piece may have been inspired by Martha Graham's works for female ensemble.
Into The Light, a big ensemble segment, shows the women in long skirts and the men in black briefs rising up to embrace the sunshine. This merges directly into Healing as Kelly Sneddon, angelic in white, first appears walking slowly among the dancers. She performs a solo on poinet and is then partnered by Terk Waters.
Youngsil Kim and Barton Cowperthwaite then dance a luminous, white-clad pas de deux with an almost Grecian look to it: Ascension is tender and - eventually - ecstatic.
The dancework now reaches its end: the choreographer has shown us her journey, filled with hopes and fears. In the final passage, Resolution, Maira Barriga - in a virginal white gown and quietly demonstrating the extraordinary suppleness of her form - depicts a woman who has conquered her demons and now moves forward to embrace the future.
The audience experienced AWAKENING in a highly receptive state of anticipation, hailing the dancers and the choreographer at the end with a spontaneous standing ovation.
August 08, 2014 | Permalink
Above: scene from Act II of The Metropolitan Opera's producton of GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG; photo: Marty Sohl
The week had flown by and suddenly it was Saturday night: GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG night. I had spent the off-evenings from the RING at performances by Paul Taylor Dance Company and New York City Ballet so it had been a really busy and very satisfying week overall.
This was my diary entry, the morning after GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG:
"Culmination of the RING with a splendid performance which reached a stunning climax, subjugating the New York public to Dame Gwyneth Jones. Maestro Levine conducted magnificently and the orchestra were at near-peak form (as they had been all week, really): they won a well-deserved, spot-lighted ovation at the end. Siegfried's Funeral March was especially grand and moving in Levine's wonderfully weighty interpretation.
The Norn scene is a particularly favorite part of the RING for me and tonight we had a very strong trio, led by the formidable Mignon Dunn as the 1st Norn, sounding super. Hanna Schwarz (2nd Norn) was especially impressive both vocally and verbally, and this was by far the best of the three 3rd Norn performances I have heard from Marita Napier. The Rhinemaidens (Mlles. Erickson, Kesling, and Parsons) were likewise very musical and their voices blended well.
Kathryn Harries was on far better vocal form as Gutrune than she had been at the premiere of this production, though the voice is not free of problems. She is a very attractive woman and a fine actress. Anthony Raffell likewise seemed to have vastly improved vocally since the production's premiere; now he makes a very strong impression in this rather thankless role.
Franz Mazura's stark, cold vocalism gave an eerie quality to Alberich's scene, one of the highlights of the evening. Along with Dernesch, Sotin, Salminen, and Dame Gwyneth, Mr. Mazura has been one of the pillars of this RING with his chilling voice and sinister presence.
Matti Salminen's Hagen (above, photo by Winnie Klotz) had literally bowled over the audience at the premiere of this production, and he repeated his fabulous success tonight. The oily blackness of tone and his ominous intensity of expression make an indelible impression. Salminen's scene with the vassals (magnificent Met men's chorus) was one of the most thrilling passages of the entire Cycle. He made this vile character come vividly alive...bravo!!!
Helga Dernesch brought her spectacular week to a close with a movingly vulnerable performance as Waltraute. Sung with her somewhat problematic but utterly appealing, moving voice, Dernesch's Waltraute delivered many great phrases, with her lower register expecially colourful. Her lean, almost timid characterization was very interesting to observe.
William Johns sings Siegfried so appealingly, having all the needed vocal resources plus the sheer stamina to succeed in this arduous role, and to produce mostly attractive sounds into the bargain. He has plenty of cutting power but also the ability to sing lyrically. The most musical Siegfried imaginable, Johns' final apostrophe to Brunnhilde was very moving.
Above: Dame Gwyneth Jones as Brunnhilde, photo by Winnie Klotz/Metropolitan Opera.
Brunnhilde was the triumphant Dame Gwyneth Jones, celebrating a huge victory over the New York public which literally worshipped her at the end. She was a tower of feminine strength, acting with concentration and passion as she flooded The Met with a voice perhaps stronger than Nilsson's (though less brilliant in quality). From her opening lines, Jones simply blew everyone else out of sight, flashing her huge, passionate notes with extraordinary commitment. The prologue duet climaxed on a stunning high-C, and she was superb in the rape scene. Act II, so incredibly powerful tonight, had Jones in a rage as she swept thru her oath like a fury. The Immolation Scene was thrillingly vocalized and so moving at "Ruhe! Ruhe, Du Gott..." which she started softly, in straight tone, only to punch out a powerful chest note on "...Gott". Then she swept on to her clarion final strophes, raced off into the fire, and brought this RING to its awe-inspiring conclusion.
The curtain calls were every bit as thrilling as the Cycle itself had been. Dame Gwyneth's bows were just fabulous, the public so utterly with her; so pleasing to see her receive New York's great hommage. The ovation lasted over twenty minutes (my friend Simon timed it); there were tons of solo bows plus group bows where the other singers applauded Dame Gwyneth. Many bouquets were tossed to her, and at one point Levine brought her out and then left her there, facing a barrage of cheers. Just so fantastic!!! In group bows, whenever Gwyneth would start to walk off, a tidal wave of 'bravas' would make her pause again for another curtsey. It went on and on. People were screaming "Gwyneth! Gwyneth!!"; the sheer volume of noise was almost frightening and it seemed the entire audience had stayed on, cheering themselves hoarse. My hands were numb from applauding but I couldn't stop. Just such an ecstatic experience.
This RING involved so many heroic forces: certainly Levine and his orchestra were the mainstays, the cornerstone of the whole epic. Dernesch, Bean, Johns, Sotin, and Salminen are all to be thanked for their tremendous efforts, with a special stentorian "bravo!" to the great Franz Mazura. There was the excitement of Gessendorf, too.
But it was, most of all, Dame Gwyneth's RING, and I am sure that's how I will always remember it."
Metropolitan Opera House
May 6, 1989
First Norn..............Mignon Dunn
Second Norn.............Hanna Schwarz
Third Norn..............Marita Napier
August 06, 2014 | Permalink
Sunday August 3rd, 2014 - A packed house - a wildly enthusiastic audience - celebrated dance at the Ballet Arts Studio at City Center this evening as The Next Stage Project, under the joint artistic direction of Jana Hicks and Marijke Eliasberg, presented their New York City Summer Choreography Workshop performances. Six ensemble works choreographed for the workshop participants by Jana, Marijke, and Julia Ehrstand were interspersed with more intimate danceworks by guest choreographers. It was an evening blessedly free of narrative pieces and of gimmickry. It was all-dance, all-the-time, and the dancers really gave it their all.
A timely quote from Eleanor Roosevelt inspired the opening work, IT ISN'T ENOUGH: "It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it." In this first of the workshop-created dances, the fifteen dancers, first seen up against the wall, move to the sounds of falling bombs and rolling thunder. Like other recent danced evocations of peace - Jacqulyn Buglisi's monumental TABLE OF SILENCE or Jennifer Muller's haunting MISERERE NOBIS - IT ISN'T ENOUGH strikes a definitive chord.
Each of the six workshop creations had its own mood; with the exception of TIME PASSING BY (to music of Max Richter) each was choreographed to mixed scores of contemporary music. I sometimes wished for some Bach or Albinoni to give the dancers a different feel. But all six of the workshop pieces were successful in doing what these kinds of works must do: give the dancers interesting and challenging movement, and if possible set forth some solo opportunities in the course of things. HOUSE OF CARDS, with its jarring squeaky-hinge door motif; sno eynjuhis, a noisy free-style piece moving from punk to jazz; ALL THE WAY DOWN AND BACK which veered from lyrical to turbulent; TIME PASSING BY which semmed to emerge from darkness into light; and Ms. Ehrstrand's evening-finale ebullition in which the dancers, all clad in black, gave passionate commitment to the strenuous demands of the choreography, winning a huge burst of applause at the end.
Works by other choreographers gave variety to the evening: an especially clean and clear quintet by Mayu Furukawa entitled JUST ONE DAY was led with verve by Voltaire Wade-Greene; the five dancers were wonderfully in-sync, perforrming to music by The Mighty Oaks. ARE YOU THERE?, choreographed by Diane McCarthy, is a beautiful all-female ensemble work, with the women appearing as angelic beings all in white; very nice meshing of music and movement. And Sara Colomino's solo MINI SKIRT was appropriately short and sweet, and the audience loved her.
Two contrasted duets gave me special pleasure: SUNLIGHT was choreographed and danced by Katie Sun and Sunny Bjaanes (based on phrases by Marijke Eliasberg) and was a quietly ecstatic hymn to friendship and nature in which the girls played catch with an imaginary ball and otherwise delighted in a Summer afternoon. The girls' chosen music, from Arnór Dan and Ólafur Arnalds, perfectly enhanced the dance.
The aria "Cum diderit" from Vivaldi's Nisi Dominus has always struck me as an ideal piece for a dance setting; I have in the past suggested it to a few choreographers but none have yet created to it. So I was very pleased tonight to find that Julia Ehrstrand and Aurélien Peillex have chosen it to create a duet, PENDULUM, on themselves. Despite its sacred origins, the Vivaldi aria has an incredibly seductive lilt to it, and this the couple caught in a highly imaginative movement motif where they swayed, shifting weight form one foot to the other, rocking to and fro, as the music rises gently higher, like a plaintive plea. In the end, they lean upon one another, neck to neck, turning slowly as the light fades.
Aurélien Peillex (above, photo by Sunny Bjaanes) also danced in TIME PASSING TIME this evening, and he served as the choreographic assistant to Ms. Ehrstrand for ebullition. Aurélien was recently featured along wth his colleagues from Steps Repertory Ensemble, in photographer Paul B Goode's magazine Vision (#4).
August 04, 2014 | Permalink
Above: William Johns and Dame Gwyneth Jones in SIEGFRIED, photo by Winnie Klotz/Metropolitan Opera
Continuing the saga of my first complete week-long RING Cycle in May 1989, we come to SIEGFRIED, the third evening of the Cycle...the scherzo of the RING! SIEGFRIED is perhaps the most difficult of the four RING operas to get into, party because for two long acts male voices dominate - the Forest Bird sings briefly in Act II - and because there is not a lot of action. But the music is deeply rewarding and the more you listen to this opera the more beautiful it seems.
My diary entry, written the morning after:
"Very impressive despite some longeurs. The orchestra played so beautifully for Levine - the Act II Forest Murmurs were especially well-performed. The cast was very strong with Dawn Upshaw sounding lovely as the Forest Bird and John Macurdy making a very good impression as Fafner: his somewhat drowsy tones were really so well-suited. Horst Hiestermann's demented, tireless acting made his Mime admirable even if the voice at times seemed almost a parody of old Wagnerian character-tenor style. He was hugely applauded.
Franz Mazura again made a tremendous effect as Alberich - he is one of the grandest elements of this RING. His malevolent voice and superb acting make his performance unusually powerful.
The grandly-voiced Erda of Gweneth Bean (above) gave some of the evening's most thrilling moments. Her majestic timbre filled the role to perfection. The audience really took her to heart, giving her an enormous ovation at her curtain calls.
William Johns brought more of a feeling for line and musicality to the music of Siegfried than most previous contenders; he sang some truly beautiful soft phrases yet he also had plenty of power where needed, especially some large, steely top notes. His acting is rather limited - he did not throw himself into the role physically like (Wolfgang) Neumann did. But vocally he was just about perfect.
Hans Sotin 's marvelous Wanderer was a major force in this performance and he has been a truly god-like otan for the Cycle. His singing here was strong, grandiose, and shot-thru with humanity. His 'Riddle Scene' with Hiestermann and his summoning of Erda were but two high points in his splendid portrayal. "Bravo!" to this excellent artist!
With Dame Gwyneth Jones' appearance as the awakening Brunnhilde, this performamnce - already so very strong - moved into a still higher level. She gave a thrilling performance in every sense: vocally, dramatically and physically she embodied the role and gave us palpitating thrills in doing so. Her voice to me sounds even more huge than Nilsson's had in this house and I think that Jones now has the wobble pretty well under control. A random attack here or there might have an oozy sound, but overall she was vocally magnificent with the top-C's clarion, and brightly launched into the big hall. In quiter moments, Jones' deep femininity suffused each phrase, bringing her joy, momentary doubt and final rapture vividly to vocal life. She looks like a goddess and she sounds like one! Superb! Bravissima!
Huge ovations at the end with giant roars whenever Dame Gwyneth appeared for her bows...many curtain calls, rhythmic applause, and ecstatic screams in a truly epic demonstration of affection for the singers and for Levine."
Metropolitan Opera House
May 4, 1989
Forest Bird.............Dawn Upshaw
August 02, 2014 | Permalink
Above: Cedar Lake's Jon Bond
Wednesday July 30th, 2014 - I have always loved Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet's homespace on West 26th Street and I very much enjoyed this evening's presentation of Cedar Lab, a new adventure for the Company wherein the dancers create choreography on their colleagues. Tonight, works-in-progress by Jon Bond, Navarra Novy-Williams, Matthew Rich, Joaquim de Santana and Vânia Doutel Vaz were presented.
Earlier this month I stopped in at a rehearsal of two of the works, those created by Navarra and Vânia, so I had a sampling of tonight's programme. The Cedar Lake dancers are among Gotham's most talented and alluring, and this opportunity for five of them to spread their choreographic wings did indeed make for a stimulating evening. A quote from dancer/choreographer Navarra Novy-Williams set the tone for this new initiative: "We explored a lot, and I'm certain we are still exploring."
The only drawback to my enjoyment of the evening was that I was seated in the back row which, despite being on risers, caused my view of anything happening on the floor to be cut off by the rows of spectators in the intervening space. Since most of the choreographers made use of floor time in their danceworks, this aspect of the presentation went for nought from my perspective.
The opening work set a very high standard for the evening in terms of choreography, music, production elements, and dancing. Joaquim de Santana presented his duet DISTANT SILENCE, set to Sigur Rós' "Fjögur Píanó" and "I Just wanted to Know" by Phillip Jack. The work opened with a brief film by Billy Bell in which the dancers - Jon Bond and Vânia Doutel Vaz - made a ghostly appearance. A large white drape is then torn down and Jon and Vânia appear in the flesh. They cross the space in a flow of gorgeously plastique moves, illuminating the music and choreography in a way that puts the viewer under a spell. Dancing in true sync or in partnered passages, Jon and Vânia were a compelling pair. Jon's solo, with Vânia doing a walk-about, underscored his status as one of the great movers in the modern danceworld. Vânia is a marvelous match for him: her solo - in the second 'movement', set to spoken word and mechanical music - was very finely wrought. Mr. de Santana knows his dancers well and employed their incredible gifts to the finest advantage. There were no bows after the individual works, but if there has been Jon, Vânia and Joaquim would have brought down the house.
Vânia was the next featured choreographer: her ensemble work THEM THERE was danced to an original score by Tom Sansky. The dancers wear simple white shirts and black briefs. One by one they step into the spotlight to pose and emote as their colleagues dance quietly in the background. Combining solo opportunities and in-sync ensemble passages, the overall effect was excellent though I wish I could have seen what was going on on the floor. Ebony Williams, that paragon of contemporary dance, was the last to step into the solo spotlight; she was soon engulfed by her fellow dancers.
I was dazzled by RESIDUAL REACTION, a film in which Matthew Rich combined his 'double-major' of dance and fashion, working with Billy Bell who directed and edited the work. A fabulous dance track from Nalepa and Flume sent the movie into orbit with incredible footage of Cedar Lake's sexy and spellbinding dancers. And they have never looked more sensuous: Nickemil Concepcion, Joseph Kudra, Navarra Novy-Williams, Guillaume Quéau, Ida Saki, Rachelle Scott, Madeline Wong, with guests Patrick Coker and Daphne Fernberger. The camera invades their privacy, lingering on their skin and muscle with provocative investigation as they move with seductive glamour to the music. Baby powder is an unexpected element, and later - dancing on a rooftop - we are enslaved by the emblematic gorgeousness of the Cedar Lake dancers. I hope this film will soon be available on the Company website, or on YouTube. It makes a super-enticing trailer. The moment it ended I wantd to watch it again.
Some audience members are summoned to the stage to observe MUSE, Navarra Novy-Williams' series of three solos, danced in turn by Acacia Schachte, Madeline Wong, and Rachelle Scott. Acacia, with her very personal mystique, snaps her fingers to turn on the spotlight for her solo which includes some very witty moves and covers the space fluently. Madeline, in a fanciful puff-skirt, dances to a big lyrical theme by Ennio Morricone, and then Rachelle displays powerful balance and control as she dances to "Moon River". Here, more than elsewere, my inability so see the floorwork of the dancers was especially disheartening. But enough of the flavour of Navarra's work emerged, and the music was particularly well-used.
Jon Bond produced a nightmarish work, THE DEVIL WAS ME, dealing with the aspects of sin - one of my favorite topics! Music by Murcof and Peter Broderick summoned excellent work from the dancers - those already mentioned above plus Billy Bell, Gwen Benjamin, Joaquim de Santana and Jin Young Won. The work begins with a deeply ominous theme, Rachelle Scott in the spotlight; later she will endure a satanic ritual performed on a table. The dark gathering of masked feral creatures is briefly relieved by a passage where the dancers appear in silhouette before a yellow-gold sunset. But the overall tone is sinister and sinful. The one thing that might have made this purgatorial work even more fascinating would have been to have Jon Bond dancing in it.
The house was packed, and when I emerged into the lovely summer evening light there was a long line of dance-lovers waiting to get in to the second show. This sort of initiative is a feather in Cedar Lake's cap, and I sincerely hope Cedar Lab becomes an annual event.
July 31, 2014 | Permalink
Above: Dame Gwyneth Jones
A week-long RING Cycle invariably involves RHEINGOLD on Monday night followed immediately by WALKURE on Tuesday. This places heavy demands on the gentleman singing Wotan; he has a lot of singing to do on Monday and even more (much more) on Tuesday. Fricka also appears in both operas, but her role in RHEINGOLD - though major - is not especially demanding, and in WALKURE she has only one scene: quite a strenuous one vocally, but once it's over she is finished for the night. Fortunately the Wotan in my first Cycle, Hans Sotin, managed the back-to-back operas superbly. And Helga Dernesch's Fricka was a thrilling interpretation.
WALKURE brings four new characters to the drama: Brunnhilde, Sieglinde, Siegmund and Hunding. With Dame Gwyneth Jones's first appearance as Brunnhilde in Act II, this RING Cycle - already off to such an impressive start - soared into the stratosphere.
Here's my diary entry from the second night of the Cycle:
"WALKURE - excellent despite some audience distractions. Levine and the orchestra do wonders with this score. The cast was really fabulous, though I had mixed feelings about the Siegmund of Robert Schunk. He looked well, sang and phrased in a musicianly manner; he had the right feel for the role and - for the most part - more than enough volume. He tended, however, to sing just a shade flat much of the time. Too bad...he tried hard and he did have his moments.
Everyone else was on peak form. Matti Salminen gave a tremendous Hunding, rolling out the tone with tremendous force and simply smacking of evil...really menacing sound and thoroughly convincing as an actor: his long, deadly stare at Siegmund after man-handling his wife was such a provocation (Siegmund, weaponless at this point, is in no posotion to respond). Salminen continues my great line of Hundings - Rundgren, Haugland, Moll, Macurdy - and he's such a fascinating artist.
We have a wonderful new Wagnerian soprano in Mechthild Gessendorf (above) who, if this performance is any indication of her abilities, is a fine addition to the operatic gallery. Her bright, almost girlish tone has a clear middle range with top notes that can be clean-attacked or slightly scooped-up to: they are exciting! Oddly, she reminds me a bit of Mara Zampieri though I can't put my finger on why! She gave a glorious Sieglinde, full of feminine warmth and real emotional commitment; I look forward to her Kaiserin and Senta.
Helga Dernesch's Fricka proved spellbinding, sung with great authority and vocal power; the slight peril in the upper range was overcome by force and she simply did a magnificent job. The drama of her plea was put across with an awesome balance of of security and desperation: really engrossing. And she looked gorgeous...a splendid assumption of the role.
Hans Sotin's Wotan was given with great vocal command and heartrending dramatic sureness. He was in excellent voice, giving a truly impressive monolog and ending Act II with a furious "Geh!" to Hunding who crashed to the ground at the god's irate command. Singing gloriously, Sotin came thru with much moving and beautfully modulated vocalism in the third act, and he triumphantly sustained the top notes of his final phrase to majestc effect...bravississimo!!!!
It was a great pleasure to see Dame Gwyneth Jones on the Met stage again: still unsure of how she would sound, she nevertheless is an arresting physical presence. But as soon as she began to sing, it was clear we were in for a thrilling Brunnhilde: her great personal and vocal radiance set its stamp on the entire evening. She is a very different Brunnhilde from Behrens, more feminine and less complicated. She offered a spectacular battle cry, sustaining the clear-attack high-C and thereafter she simply went at it vocally all evening, with powerful and moving singing in the 'Todesverkundigung' where she well portrayed Brunnhilde's increasing embarrassment at the deceitful way Wotan has treated Siegmund. Jones's third act was wonderful in every regard, with a movingly intoned "War es so schmählich" and increasing desperation as she begs Wotan to spare her degradation. Her final plea - to surround her slumbering place with magic fire - literally tore at the heart. The sheer size of Dame Gwyneth's voice is such a treat at The Met, and her occassional wooziness and a couple of oddly pronounced words ("Siegfried" in her Act III address to Sieglinde somehow became "Augfried") were just trifles compared to the great flood of warm, emotional power she generates. Simply great!! And she looks marvelous...great legs! So, a really remarkable evening with huge ovations for all and a particular hurricane of applause for Dame Gwyneth. A grand night!!!"
Metropolitan Opera House
May 2, 1989
Ortlinde................Adriana La Ganke
July 29, 2014 | Permalink
Above, dancer Marie Vestermark at today's open rehearsal
Sunhwa Chung/Ko-Ryo Dance Company have been invited to participate in Danceforms’ 67th International Choreographers Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 in Edinburgh, Scotland, from August 5th through August 9th, 2014.
The Company will perform a trio entitled It Doesn’t Matter, It Already Happened: Life is Every Day III choreographed by Sunhwa; she will also dance in the piece along with Dorothy Chen and Marie Vestermark. Sarang West will perform the solo violin part, and the music will be drawn from works of Evelyn Glennie, Doug-Chang Lim, and Fazil Say.
Today I went down to SoHo to watch an open rehearsal of the piece at a very interesting studio space on Wooster Street. Unfortunately it was a bit too dark to make successful use of my camera, but Sunhwa, Dorothy and Marie ran thru the piece twice, with Sunhwa giving us some background between the two runnings.
Sarang, Sunhwa and Marie
Sunhwa's young daughter Sarang West (above) performs a violin solo, and later the dancers begin to sing.
A group of visitors commented on the work during the break as Sunhwa (above) explained that the piece was originally created as three inter-connected solos for one dancer and now she's set in for a trio.
This will be Sunhwa and her colleagues' first trip to Scotland, so we wish them "Bon Voyage" and hopefully they will send back some photos from Edinburgh.
July 28, 2014 | Permalink
My all-time favorite tenor and one of the last surviving titans of the 'last golden age' of opera has passed away: Carlo Bergonzi.
Bergonzi sang over 320 performances at The Met, debuting in AIDA in 1956 opposite the also-debuting Antonietta Stella. He sang his final Met performance in 1988 in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. Over the years, Bergonzi - who started his operatic career as a baritone - gradually lost the ease and surety of his upper register, but stylistically he remained a paragon throughout his long career.
When I started listening to opera at the age of 11, I had no idea of how long a singing career could last or how a voice would age. The first singers I fell in love with - Milanov, Tebaldi, Jan Peerce, Robert Merrill, Giorgio Tozzi : it seemed to me they were eternal, that they had always been singing and would always continue to sing, and that they would always sound exactly the same as they did on the first recordings I acquired. Imagine my despair when I discovered early on that two of my first idols, Jussi Bjorling and Leonard Warren, were already dead!
I last saw Bergonzi onstage in 1988 as Rodolfo in LUISA MILLER, one of his last Met performances. People were raving about the staying power of this 64-year-old primo tenore but to me the voice was sadly pallid. The style, however, was wonderfully intact: the generosity of line, the feeling for the language, the skillful mastery of dynamics. Despite his admirable ability to cope with the music technically, I was disheartened and left midway thru the evening. Twelve years later, I was living in New York City when Bergonzi announced he would sing Verdi's Otello in a concert performance at Carnegie Hall. My friends, knowing of my great love for the tenor, assumed I would be there but I feared it would be an unhappy evening...and it was: beset by vocal problems, he was forced to withdraw after Act II.
No, I would rather remember the great years, though in fact he was already well along in his career when I first heard him live in a concert performance of Catalani's LA WALLY at Carnegie Hall in 1968. Appearing opposite Renata Tebaldi, Bergonzi managed to steal the show: he brought down the house after Hagenbach's Act IV aria.
At The Met I heard his superb Radames, once with Lucine Amara and once with Martina Arroyo. It was with Arroyo that he triumphed as Verdi's ERNANI in a stellar performance that also featured Sherrill Milnes and Ruggero Raimondi. He was a generous-toned and poetic Andrea Chenier in a performance where Renata Tebaldi struggled vocally, only to cast off all reserve in the final duet where she and Bergonzi thrilled us with their passionate outpouring of sound. And the tenor managed to convey the youthful vigor and tenderness of Alfredo Germont opposite the moving Violetta of Jeannette Pilou.
Listening to a matinee broadcast of TOSCA in 1975, I was dismayed to hear Bergonzi struggling with the top notes and fighting a losing battle, though he sang on to the end. He took a year and a half off (at least from the Met) returning in November 1976 as Radames opposite Rita Hunter. After a somewhat cautious but still impressively handled "Celeste Aida" Bergonzi went on to give a spectacular performance with some of the most generous singing I ever heard.
And such generosity won him great acclaim in 1979 when he returned to a signature role, Riccardo in BALLO IN MASCHERA. His phenomenally sustained top notes, sometimes attained thru sheer will-power, and his matchless phrasing drew enormous ovations on both evenings that I attended: one performance with Teresa Zylis-Gara and another with Carol Neblett. In 1982 Bergonzi was still on impressive form in FORZA DEL DESTINO, and in 1985 he scored a grand success in a concert performance of Verdi's GIOVANNA D'ARCO opposite Margaret Price and Sherrill Milnes. In every one of these performances, whatever slight misgivings one might have, his ever-persuasive style carried the day.
But there was a final small chapter in my Bergonzi story: eight years after the MILLER that I walked on of, he appeared at James Levine's 25th Met Anniversary gala, singing the aria from LUISA MILLER and the trio from I LOMBARDI. Massive demonstrations of love rained down on him and people raved about his longevity but for me, despite admiring his courage, he was a shadow of his glorious self.
But, I have lots of recordings (both commercial and live) to keep my favorite tenor's voice ever in my ear. His early Decca aria recital has never - in my opinion - been matched by any other tenor's, though some have come very close. Both his commercial BALLO recordings are superb. His Duke in RIGOLETTO (opposite Scotto and Fisher-Dieskau) is a fine document of Verdi tenor singing. In TROVATORE, PAGLIACCI, BOHEME and DON CARLO, he is The King. I deeply love his BUTTERFLY with Tebaldi, his TOSCA with a voice-in-peril Callas (she still has some magical moments though); and his lovely TRAVIATA with Montserrat Caballe. And I am particularly fond of Bergonzi's splendid performance as Edgardo in the RCA LUCIA with Anna Moffo.
Carlo Bergonzi sings Tosti's 'Ideale' here.
Hail and farewell, Maestro. If there's a heaven, you can teach the angels how to sing.
July 26, 2014 | Permalink