Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 29, 2013

Newport Music Festival

Various Venues, Newport, RI
July 10-28, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

The 45th season of the Newport Music Festival presented music from the Romantic era in 62 chamber music concerts – up to six per day – over two and a half weeks, performed by 90 musicians (almost 60 making their Newport debuts) from 18 countries in eleven Newport venues. Seven concerts celebrated the shared bicentennial of opera giants Verdi and Wagner.

This year’s expanded repertoire encompassed tango, jazz, and klezmer music. The closing weekend, for example, included “Tangofest,” a program that featured classical musicians performing arrangements by Astor Piazzolla and other composers written in the rhythm and spirit of the Argentine dance form. Piazzolla’s “Le Grand Tango,” played by cellist Jiri Barta and pianist Grigorios Zamparas, and Ernesto Nazareth’s “Odeon” played by pianist Daniel del Pino were particular audience favorites.

A highlight of the festival was a “Tribute to Dave Brubeck” presented in the Breakers mansion by the Jazz Arts Trio and alto saxophone player Billy Novick. The classically trained musicians gave scrupulous but spirited accounts of many Brubeck standards, from “Take Five” to “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Three rare nocturnes for solo piano, beautifully played by the trio’s pianist Frederick Moyer, featured vocal commentary that was consistently informative and engaging.

Traditional programs included a blazing performance by Barta and del Pino of Debussy’s haunting “Cello Sonata” and a full-blooded rendition of Faure’s youthful “First Piano Quartet,” in which they were joined by violinist Eugene Tzikindelean and violist David Quiggle. A concert of music by the Mendelssohn siblings featured six songs by Fanny Mendelssohn gorgeously sung by soprano Theresa Cincione with sensitive accompaniment by pianist Michael Endres. Violinist Grazia Raimondi, cellist Luigi Piovano, and pianist Kevin Fitz-Gerald rousingly played Felix Mendelssohn’s “Second Piano Trio.”

A good number of the above artists are Festival veterans of as many as sixteen seasons, and their performances often radiate the joy of making music with longtime friends and family. Their passion, combined with spectacular performance venues, including several mansions, the Newport Art Museum, and the historic Touro Synagogue, creates a unique formula for a winning music festival.

Mary Chapin Carpenter/Marc Cohn

The Mahaiwe PAC, Great Barrington, MA
July 25, 2013
By Eric Sutter

A special synergy surfaced between two 90's singer-songwriters who collaborated on their own catalogs and favorite songs. The feel-good folk/soul transformed the venue into an intimate living room of sonic sweetness.

Mary Chapin Carpenter and Marc Cohn's Summer Tour 2013 show started with The Beatles’ "Two Of Us." With heartfelt beauty Carpenter performed, Cohn's "Walk Through The World" and the title cut to her "Stones In The Road.” The sound quality was rich as guitarist John Leventhal added mellifluous lines to Cohn's "Perfect Love." Oddly, after he sang the touching ballad, Cohn quickly left the stage. Carpenter's mellow "That Magic Time" tapped into the listener's universal psyche.

Cohn returned carrying his blue suede shoes and announced a bee had stung him during "Perfect Love." It made for some funny ad-libs. He crooned a soulful "The Letter" from his new CD "Listening Booth/1970,” with a soothing piano solo. The pair collaborated on Cohn's "Silver Thunderbird," about a car, a man with a plan and a pocket comb. By song's end, Carpenter battled a bee to death.

Carpenter's confessional ballad of isolation and connection, "Transcendental Reunion,” personalized a flight to Great Britain with strangers. She is a wonderful singer and newest female member of the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame. Cohn performed his Grammy-award winning ballad, "Walking In Memphis" with a dedication to gospel singer Muriel Davis Wilkins followed by "My Eye Is On The Sparrow." From bee sting pain to gospel fervor joy, the show had it all!

They encored with Carpenter's take on Frank Sinatra's "In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning." Cohn crooned "Moon River" with the audience joining. It was an incredible night with both artists delivering their best.

July 26, 2013

Johnny Baseball

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through August 3, 2013
by Walt Haggerty

“Johnny Baseball,” currently “knocking them out of the park” at Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Nikos Stage, is still a work in progress but one that should be seen now for all that it has to offer.

Among its many rewarding elements are an intelligently written book that skillfully blends the story of a dynamic young rookie with the slow, frequently painful, transition of baseball from all white teams to today’s multi-racial rosters.  Another key attribute of this production is a genuinely melodic score – a rare commodity in today’s theatre.

“Johnny Baseball” also deserves bows for its stellar cast of thirteen enormously talented players, many of whom take on multiple roles. They are a joy to watch, especially in audience-pleasing offerings like “Eighty-six Years,”, “One More Run” and “God Bless the Boston Red Sox,” which should become a daily anthem at Fenway Park.

As Johnny O’Brien, James Snyder gives an outstanding, award-worthy performance, visibly growing in character and maturity as early triumphs disappear. Snyder has a powerhouse voice used to advantage in both solos and duets with co-star De’Adre Aziza. Ms. Aziza deservedly stops the show with her performance of “The Shimmy-Shammy Whammy,” as does Snyder with “All I Have to Do.”

Brooks Ashmanskas takes on no less than six secondary characters and manages to inject each with a distinct personality. As Babe Ruth, Tom McGowan, without a great deal of substance to work with, enacts the role of a mentor to young Johnny. Derrick Baskin as Tim Wyatt, and Alan H. Green as Willie Mays, received the evening’s most generous applause with their performance of “See You in the Big Leagues,” an optimistic perspective of what might have been.

The impeccable direction of Gordon Greenberg moves the story forward smoothly and effectively as it traces Red Sox history. Inspired choreography by Denis Jones made full use the exceptional talents of the ensemble.

“Johnny Baseball “ may not be quite ready for the World Series, but it is well on its way to becoming a champion.

July 25, 2013

Paul Lewis

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 24, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Paul Lewis was originally scheduled to play a Mozart piano concerto with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. When that ensemble cancelled for lack of funding, the rising young English pianist decided to present a solo concert of the last three piano sonatas by Franz Schubert instead.

Having recorded and performed these pieces elsewhere to wide acclaim, Lewis easily met the technical and interpretive challenges of this daunting program. All three sonatas were written during the summer of 1828, only months before Schubert’s untimely death at age 31. Lewis is a physical pianist, who brings his whole body to bear on the keyboard, but always in an organic way that disdains mere showmanship. His overall demeanor was modest and businesslike.  

The C minor sonata, D. 958, got the concert off to a dramatic start. Lewis took the opening “Allegro” movement at a brisk but moderate tempo, with a subtle and tasteful rubato that he used throughout the evening to enhance the natural flow and expressive power of the music. His rendition of the following “Adagio” movement was deeply expressive. In the A major sonata, D. 959, his relaxed approach to the closing “Rondo” movement, following a mercurial “Scherzo” and “Trio,” capped a performance on an unusually grand scale.

The B-flat major sonata, D. 960, which followed intermission, is generally ranked as Schubert’s greatest sonata, but by omitting the first movement repeat, Lewis emphasized its kinship with its two sibling sonatas rather than its distinction as the composer’s final statement in this form. The delicacy of Lewis’s playing and his careful attention to inner voices that are not always heard so clearly was especially evident in the poignant “Andante sostenuto” and the fleeting “Scherzo.” An energetic finale brought this inspired performance to a rousing close.  

The house at Ozawa Hall was less than full, but the enthralled audience gave Lewis a prolonged standing ovation at the end of this auspicious Tanglewood debut by a major international talent who will hopefully be invited back soon.

July 23, 2013

The Fab Faux

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA
July 22, 2013
by Eric Sutter

The ultimate Beatles' tribute band brought their happy frolic to the Mahaiwe. Sky of blue and sea of green illusions shined sunshine yellow as the slow whirl of sound and familiar words to Beatles' songs fluttered like a warm electric current. The show, titled "The Cavern to the Rooftop," tickled senses with intense happiness of the jump for joy style.

"Back in the USSR" touched down with a harmony sound of tingling joy. A river of melody from The Beatles' songbook flowed -- "Dear Prudence," "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Nowhere Man" splashed waves of happiness. The upheaval of souls in what was sheer joy bedazzled the crowd. "Drive My Car" motivated the exhilaration to new distances with a slide guitar solo and "Beep, Beep Yeah" chorus line.

As Fab Faux peeled away at the Beatles' magic, the band proved amazingly versatile. The numerous guitar changes evoked all the Beatles' to reflect early hit "All My Lovin'" to the later day "Come Together." The mighty chorus rang true with Jimmy Vivino's howlin' guitar solo. Of course, "Help" brought plenty of smiles of delight to performers and the audience. Each band member's solos proved near perfect, and their harmony singing was impeccable as "I Feel Fine" stated it all. "This Boy" was a special treat that warmed the audience. "Get Back" equalled pure excitement.

Following intermission, Fab Faux continued to play both directions. They blasted rock n' roll on "Hard Day's Night" with Vivino's lead guitar. Bassist Will Lee was full of energy dancing around the rhythms. The band mined a forgotten rockabilly nugget, "Leave My Kitten Alone," from the Cavern Days. Within minutes, Vivino played a psychedelic sitar on "Norwegian Wood." Another guitar style change sounded the jangle of Rickenbacker guitar on "Ticket To Ride." Early days' hit, "Anna" featured drummer Rich Pagano's lead vocal with great accompanied harmony by the full band. Musically varied hits "Please, Please Me" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" galvanized the masses. The complicated song, "Strawberry Fields," sparkled flawless. Keyboardist Jim Boggia resurrected the classic "Oh Darling" with nailed high mark vocals.

The Fab Faux rocked an amped up "Revolution" screamed in glorious full throated harmony. Guitarist Frank Agnello answered with the plaintive "Let It Be." "Twist and Shout" danced an ideal high note encore.

The Other Mozart/Mahalla

Berkshire Fringe, Great Barrington, MA
through August 5, 2013
by Kait Rankins

Bard College is a home to a unique theatrical tradition in the Berkshires. Now in its ninth season, Berkshire Fringe has hosted over 140 full-length productions and more than 600 artists, giving audiences the chance to see new and experimental works that would not ordinarily be seen in Western Massachusetts venues.

On all nights from July 15-August 5 except Tuesdays, Berkshire Fringe presents either two or three productions in rotation. Patrons can opt to see one or more shows in one evening, which run from 50-80 minutes in length.

The material is challenging, new, and experimental. The Anthropologists' new play "Mahalla" intertwines two stories of Egyptian revolution -- the modern Arab Spring and the Passover story of the Jews' escape from Pharoah. While "Mahalla's" narrative structure seems forced and doesn't intertwine as often as it should, it will surprise and delight audiences with innovative staging and use of movement and dance.

Berkshire Fringe was also host to "The Other Mozart," a one-woman tour-de-force written, created, and performed by Sylvia Milo. It tells the true story of Mozart's older sister Nannerl, a music lover and harpsichord virtuoso who, because of her gender, was forced to confine herself to society's expectations and live in her younger brother's shadow. Through Milo's layered and beautiful performance, brilliant lighting and atmospheric sound design, Nannerl's tale is told with heartbreaking beauty, leaving one wondering if she could have become as great (or perhaps greater than) as her brother, had she been born a man.

The tiny black box theatre has extremely limited seating, and the plays are small in scale and designed to travel. For example, the elaborate skirt featured in "The Other Mozart," which stretches across the entirety of the stage and contains all of the play's props, fits into a rolling suitcase.

Berkshire Fringe performances are at Bard College's Daniel Arts Center. This is an intimate theatre experience you won't want to miss. Tickets for each play are $16 in advance and $20 at the door, with free music, talk-backs, and workshops interspersed throughout the schedule.

Free Outdoor Concert


7PM - 9PM

Corner of State & Federal Streets

Lots of parking
Rainsite at STCC

July 22, 2013

Lauridsen & Vaughan Williams

Berkshire Choral Festival
Berkshire School, Sheffield, MA
July 20, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Guest conductor Jerry Blackstone, director of choirs and chair of the conducting department at the University of Michigan School of Music, led the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, the Chorus of the Berkshire Choral Festival, and two vocal soloists in compelling performances of music by Lauridsen and Vaughan Williams in the second concert of BCF’s 2013 season. 

At age 70, Morton Lauridsen may be considered the dean of living American choral composers.  A longtime music professor at the University of Southern California, he wrote the 17-minute cycle “Mid-Winter Songs,” setting five poems by Robert Graves, in 1980 for USC’s centennial. The music is more agitated than usual for Lauridsen, from the chilling “Lament for Pasiphae” to the playful “Mid-Winter Waking” and the dramatic “Intercession in Late October,” with its long poignant ending. The men and women of the chorus captured the shifting moods of the music with clarity and assurance, and with sensitive accompaniment from the orchestra. 

Two of the greatest works for chorus and orchestra by the English master Ralph Vaughan Williams completed the concert. He wrote the “Five Mystical Songs” to four poems by George Herbert (two songs are based on the same poem) for the Worcester Three Choirs Festival in 1911. Baritone Timothy Lefebvre was a mellifluous soloist, and the chorus was especially moving in its wordless passages during the sublime central song, “Love Bade Me Welcome.” The orchestral playing throughout this radiant cycle was suitably rapturous. 

Closing the program after intermission was the cantata “Dona Nobis Pacem,” written in 1937 to biblical texts and Civil War poems by Walt Whitman for the Huddersfield Choral Society as a plea by Vaughan Williams for peace in a world increasingly threatened by war. Chorus and orchestra were joined by baritone Lefebvre and soprano Sun Young Chang for a viscerally exciting performance.

Two among many vocal highlights were: Lefebvre’s tender singing of the words “my enemy is dead, a man as divine as myself” in Whitman’s poem “Reconciliation;” and Chang’s recurrent and heartrending cries of “Dona nobis pacem,” especially when echoed by the chorus at the hushed close.   


Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through July 27, 2013
by Shera Cohen

“Extremities” personifies the violence of rape in three different time periods: before, during, and after. The emphasis in this powerful and oftentimes uncomfortable drama is, of course, on the victim as well as her assailant. Although the play was written 30 years ago, it is a sad reality that the story is quite relevant today. A large black sign covering half of a wall space in the theatre’s lobby lists statistics from 1982 and the present; i.e. number of rapes, number of reports, percentages of convictions, percentages of depression.

Yet, “Extremities” is not data collection or book learning. There’s the woman, and then there’s the stranger who enters her home. This is not your typical rape story (if there is such a thing as typical, and there shouldn’t be), as the attacker eventually becomes the attacked. The characters and the audience face the question of how to define justice. Does an eye for an eye apply here? There’s another question, perhaps even more important, of what does violence and justice mean to both people in a terrible situation?

The casting of Molly Camp (Marjorie) and James McMenam (Raul) is masterful. Camp transforms from a somewhat wimpy and board young woman to a bug-eyed, quivering, determined soldier of circumstance. McMenam morphs from a physically aggressive man to a caged animal-like creature. Director Karen Allen molds the two, at first giving one character an edge up, then the other, and soon the audience wonders just who is in control. Marjorie’s housemates, portrayed by Kelly McCreary and Miriam Silverman, arrive on the scene. Both actresses define their individual personalities quickly.

Kudos goes to the backstage crew on music, lighting, sound, and set design. This is the most detailed story-telling staging at the Unicorn Theatre to date.

A coupe for this reviewer was the opportunity to attend the talk-back. All of actors participated, as well as the director. Karen Allen (of “Indiana Jones” fame, and wasn’t it serendipitous that I had just caught the last half of the movie the day before on TBS?)…anyway, was quite shy, humble, and solicitous of her actors. Yet, it was obvious that she knew each character inside and out, and so did the audience.

West Side Story

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 13, 2013
by Shera Cohen

How did they do that? How did the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and its conductor David Newman recreate the entire score to the Academy Award winning movie musical “West Side Story” simultaneously with the singing and dialogue on screen? Didn’t the movie already have a sound track? Didn’t the actors/singers’ voices meld with the music? Yes and yes. However, today’s electronics and masterful techies designed means to lift the singing from the movie and, using layman’s terms, permit the BSO to perform as if it was the original composition of a half-century ago. The debut of “West Side Story” was 1963.

Oftentimes, the police on “Law & Order,” “CSI,” et al will ask the brilliant computer guy/gal to isolate the background sound (ah ha, I hear a train whistle) or increase the pitch and machination of the person talking (ah ha, sounds like our killer). Perhaps this isn’t exactly the way that the BSO managed the monumentally creative task of playing “pit band” to “West Side Story,” but the process was similar.

Tanglewood’s program book gives the details about “recognizing and removing orchestral elements on the sound track while retaining vocals, dialogue, and effects.” The program continues to describe the arduous work to synchronize the music with the action, the singers and the dancers in the movie.

The shed was completely sold out, and the lawn “seats” just about full. The off and on rain of the day stopped an hour prior to the first downbeat, and the 90 degree day cooled to a 75 degree dusk and evening. Large movie screens were set in the shed and along the outside. In other words, the view was perfect for all.

Hopefully, Tanglewood will program similar events like the coupling of the BSO with “WSS” to astound its audiences with other successes like this perfect evening of movie music.


Williamstown Theatre, Williamstown, MA
through July 21, 2013
by Shera Cohen

Betty Hapgood is no James Bond. One obvious difference between the two is that she is female. She is also a mom. Bond is suave, drinks martinis, and dresses impeccably. Hapgood is brittle, matter of fact, and wears off-the-rack skirts. However, similarities outweigh one side of this seesaw of espionage. Both fictional characters are British spies, hate the Russians, pack guns, are intelligent, and A+ at their jobs. While both worked in the 1980’s and might have passed in the corridors outside of M’s office, there would have been no attraction. Bond would never bed Hapgood because she’s too bright and, after all, a mother. Hapgood, in turn, would dismiss Bond because he is a high maintenance risk-taker.

Tom Stoppard penned “Hapgood.” Who am I and/or any critic from In the Spotlight in Springfield, MA to cast aspersions on this Academy Award and Tony Award winning writer? For the most part, spotlight reviews take the material as a given, commenting on the production qualities instead. Exception must be made regarding “Hapgood.” The play is uninteresting and seems unfinished. Kate Burton – a marvelous actress and mainstay at Williamstown for 18 years – tries so hard to make Hapgood real, but she fails to make her character and the play much more than two-hours of ho hum theatre. No fault can be found with any of the actors – each pulling his weight to try to make “Hapgood” good.

Note that every reviewer has his/her opinion. For Stoppard lovers of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” “Travesties” and “Arcadia” there are those who don’t like any of the above. Yet, there is other Stoppard work like “The Real Inspector Hound,” “Round Crossing” and “Shakespeare in Love.” Each of these deserves high marks.

Morgan O-Yuki

Ventfort Hall, Lenox, MA
through September 1, 2013
by Shera Cohen

One of the somewhat hidden gems in the Berkshires is the annual play at Ventfort Hall. Each summer’s performance stars a solo female actor in the role of an historic figure related to Ventfort’s history. Subtitled, “The Geisha of the Gilden Age,” the story is the biography of Yuki Kato, wife of George Morgan of the famous J.P. Morgan family. George’s parents were owners of Ventfort Hall in the 1900’s.

Mayu Iwasaki is beautiful and splendid in the role of the Japanese geisha whose life changes dramatically upon her marriage and life in the United States. It is, obviously, difficult for one person to hold an entire play together. Iwasaki, along with director Enrico Spada, flows smoothly from scene to scene just as her costume flows onstage. Iwasaki tells her audience Kato’s story in the first person – a story that isn’t always pretty, yet honest.

As Ventfort Hall’s renovations continue, the staff increasingly adds public programs and events. In addition to theatre is a unique fashion doll exhibit, lectures, Appraisal Day, and the Tea & Talk Summer Series. The latter features noted experts speaking on such subjects as the Jekyl Island Club, the New York Subway tunnel art, Louisa May Alcott, Nellie Bly, and Miles Morgan. Talks are on Tuesdays from 4pm – 6pm.

Capitol Steps

Cranwell Resort, Lenox, MA
through September 1, 2013
by Shera Cohen

Each year’s cast of characters is essentially the same: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Queen Elizabeth, et al. Most of the music is the same: Broadway, 50’s, TV tunes, and a lot of Disney. These constants let the audience know that no matter what the year on the calendar is, Capitol Steps is always there to lampoon.

What changes, not only from year to year but often from month to month, are the skits. New in 2013 is the Paula Deen controversy, Al Gore’s financial deals, Eric Snowden, Twinkies, and Kate Middleton about to give birth. By the time this review is posted tomorrow, that sketch might already be passé.

Their slogan is, “Who put the MOCK in democracy?” Catch the show.

July 19, 2013

Bryn Terfel

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 18, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Bryn Terfel
Long before the end of a recital whose start was delayed by an ill-timed thunderstorm, charismatic bass-baritone Bryn Terfel had the capacity audience in Ozawa Hall eating out of his hand. Brilliantly accompanied by pianist Natalia Katyukova, he proved himself both a born entertainer and a master musician.

The concert opened with settings by three composers of seven poems by John Masefield. With flawless enunciation and emotional sensitivity, Terfel perfectly captured their varied moods, from Ireland’s wistful “Sea Fever” to Warlock’s riotous “Captain Stratton’s Fancy” to Keel’s haunting “Mother Carey.” The English-language first-half concluded with Roger Quilter’s settings of four more poems by British poets, all lovingly rendered. 

The second half began with German-language sets of four songs by Schumann and three by Schubert. Drawing on his long operatic experience, Terfel produced dramatic accounts of Schumann’s “Two Grenadiers” and Schubert’s mostly cheerful “Trout” until its darker ending. His facial expressions during the closing piano solo in Schumann’s eerie “My Cart Rolls Slowly” also showcased his strong acting skills.

While the formal program ended with rousing renditions of four “songs from the Celtic Isles” (including the Irish “Danny Boy” and the Welsh “All Through the Night”), Terfel and Katyukova delivered three surprising encores: the novelty songs “Green-Eyed Dragon” and “Big Brown Bear,” and the Kansas state song “Home on the Range.” To all three pieces Terfel brought a lighter touch but full vocal command.

In one of the earthy spoken introductions he gave to each set, Terfel had already expressed his admiration for Welsh-American baritone John Charles Thomas, who loved and performed two of these encores. Along the way he also paid tribute to his teachers at the Guildhall School of Music, Arthur Reckless (enjoying the name) and Rudolf Piernay, with whom he still studies as time permits.

By the time he invited the enthusiastic audience to sing along with him, they were happy to oblige both in the official closer “Loch Lomond” and in “Home on the Range.” As a fitting end to a magical evening, a bright moon was visible in the Berkshire sky at the concert’s close. 

Hello Dolly!

Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam, CT
through September 14, 2013
by Walt Haggerty

Photo by Diane Soboloewski
America’s long-term love affair with Dolly Gallagher Levi was officially launched in 1963 with the arrival of “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway with the incredible Carol Channing as Dolly. At Goodspeed Opera House, Klea Blackhurst brings her own brand of charm, exuberance, and show-stopping delivery to a Dolly that has the audience cheering at frequent intervals. Blackhurst’s Dolly has captured the heart of the character and deserves to be ranked up at the top of the list of exceptional Dolly interpretations. She is extraordinary!

Goodspeed’s production of “Hello Dolly” has been handsomely produced by Michael Price, with flawless direction by Daniel Goldstein. The choreography of Kelli Barclay is miraculous. Her dancers are seldom given breathing space, spending most of the evening airborne. In the "Waiters Gallop" they are magnificent.

As Horace Vandergelder, Tony Sheldon has totally absorbed he character down to the last double take. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a more captivating Irene Malloy than is portrayed by Ashley Brown. She is pure joy, as is Catherine Blades as her assistant, Minnie Fay.

Spencer Moses as Cornelius Hackl, Mr. Vandergelder's Chief Clark, and Jeremy Morse, as Assistant Clerk Barnaby Tucker, are superb. Their frantically executed romp in the hat shop is a masterpiece of choreographic execution and timing, quickly followed by the inspired hilarity of “Dancing.” Jack Doyle deserves special credit for his excellent dual role performances as the Judge and especially as head waiter Rudolph Reisenweber.

Creating the foundation for these marvelously endearing characters is the book by Michael Stewart, based on Thornton Wilder’s original play “The Matchmaker.” The score by Jerry Herman, who contributed both music and lyrics, is one of his best, filled with a series of show-stopping solos, duets, quartets, and full company ensemble numbers. It is a pleasure to hear such glorious, infectious music from a Broadway show performed with such enthusiasm and professionalism.

As is customary at Goodspeed, everything that could possibly be done to create a memorable afternoon or evening at the theatre has been accomplished to perfection. “Hello, Dolly!” is another treasure of America’s glorious musical theatre past impeccably restored to vibrant life.

July 17, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 11, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

John Harbison
Fitzgerald’s classic novel has been memorably adapted on film at least five times, on stage at least once (“Gatz”) and, in 1999, as an opera for James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera by composer John Harbison, who also wrote his own libretto. A revised version of the opera was powerfully presented at Tanglewood by the orchestra and chorus of Boston-based Emmanuel Music led by their artistic director Ryan Turner and joined by twelve vocal soloists.

Harbison notes in the program book that the opera began gestating when he wrote a short orchestral piece, Remembering Gatsby, for the Atlanta Symphony in 1985 which later became the opera’s overture. While its music suggests influences as diverse as Barber, Messiaen, and Britten, the opera creates a distinctive sound world all its own. Part of its unique sound is the interweaving of popular tunes sung in 1920s style by a “radio singer” and a “tango singer” when a radio plays behind some of the action. These songs sound like familiar hits of the era, but they were all written by Harbison, with lyrics by Murray Horwitz.   

The same ensemble performed “Gatsby” in Boston two months ago, and their experience with the piece added poignancy and depth to this production. All the soloists did fine work, but three performances were especially distinguished.  Soprano Devon Guthrie brought warmth and vulnerability to Daisy; tenor Gordon Gietz was a tormented but dignified Gatsby; and baritone David Kravitz carefully balanced emotional involvement with distance from the other characters as narrator Nick Carraway. 

The production made imaginative use of Ozawa Hall’s limited stage space, with chorus members entering and leaving periodically from backstage and even appearing on the first balcony in the closing funeral scene.  The virtuosic orchestra included a “stage band” which played idiomatic twenties-style dance music during the party scenes.  

The personal meaning of this triumphant evening for Harbison, whose career has deep ties to both the BSO and Emmanuel Music, was clear in his beaming smile when he joined the performers on stage for a well-deserved curtain call from a large and enthusiastic audience.

Britten and Shostakovich

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 15, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

No more convincing proof could be required for the high quality of training offered at Tanglewood than this concert, in which an orchestra of emerging professional musicians, including two conductors, who have worked together for only a few weeks performed several rare and demanding works with consummate technical and interpretive skill.    

Members of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra played two pieces by Britten in celebration of his centennial year and one by Shostakovich. The composers were born and died within a few years of each other, and their music shared what Hugh MacDonald, writing about Britten in the program book, calls ”a powerful message, usually concerning the exploitation and vulnerability of weaker souls.” Their mutual admiration was shared by such great musicians as cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, for whom both composers wrote several pieces.

Ciaran McAuley
Irish conductor Ciaran McAuley opened the concert leading the orchestra in the “Pas de Six” from Britten’s 1957 ballet “Prince of the Pagodas.” McAuley’s minimal but precise gestures drew a fiery account of the virtuosic music, which featured an inventive set of variations that made particularly fierce demands on the sterling brass players.

Alexadre Bloch
French conductor Alexandre Bloch took the helm for Britten’s song cycle for soprano and string orchestra “Les Illuminations” to poems by Arthur Rimbaud. Singing in French, TMC fellow Laura Strickling brought ravishing tone to these brilliantly varied pieces, and Bloch’s full-body technique elicited a colorful and well-balanced account from the orchestra.

Stefan Asbury
A dazzling performance of Shostakovich’s eleventh symphony, “The Year 1905,” followed intermission under British-born conductor and longtime TMC faculty member Stefan Asbury. Dedicated to the victims of an abortive Russian Revolution, the symphony places huge demands on all sections of the orchestra, which were unfailingly met with professional rigor and youthful brio by the players.  Asbury’s conducting style was more animated than McAuley’s and less flashy than Bloch’s, but the musicians were equally responsive to his leadership.

The acoustics of Ozawa Hall allowed an impressive level of detail to be heard in all three pieces, and the large audience applauded enthusiastically after each one.