Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 31, 2023

REVIEW: South Windsor Cultural Arts, "Liana Paniyeva"

Evergreen Crossings Retirement Community, South Windsor, CT 
January 29, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Liana Paniyeva
Although Ukrainian-born pianist Liana Paniyeva’s South Windsor program included no music written less than a century ago, her skillful choice of repertoire and the order in which she presented it made each selection sound new and fresh for contemporary audiences. 

Her opening set drew on her Slavic heritage, from a ravishingly warm Prelude, Op. 23/4, by Russian composer/pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, and a tender folk-based “Dreaming,” by early Ukrainian master Mykola Lysenko, to two charming but rhythmically daring etudes and two attractively Scriabinesque “Poemes-Legends” by later Ukrainian composer Victor Kosenko.   

Next came an elegant account of Maurice Ravel’s 1905 “Sonatine,” with a lively opening “Modere,” a graceful “Mouvement de menuet,” and a vivid closing “Anime.” In sharp contrast was a pungent reading of Sergei Prokofiev’s five strikingly avant-garde 1914 “Sarcasms,” featuring a fiery “Tempestoso,” a harsh “Allegro rubata,” a furious “Allegro precipitato,” a turbulent “Smanioso” (“Frenzied”), and a hectic “Precipitosissimo” fading into a quiet “Andantino” close. 

Following the still cutting-edge “Sarcasms,” which could have been written yesterday, Paniyeva’s versatile treatment of Robert Schumann’s five 1839 “Carnival Scenes from Vienna” heightened their novelty, from her forceful opening “Allegro,” melancholy “Romanze,” fleet “Scherzino,” and dramatic “Intermezzo,” to her brilliantly exuberant “Finale.”

A leap forward in time brought a rhapsodic take on George Gershwin’s 1924 standard “The Man I Love,” in a knuckle-busting transcription by pianist Earl Wild, written in the spirit of 19th-century composer-pianist Franz Liszt, whose own arrangements for solo piano of two songs by Franz Schubert brought the concert to a nontraditional close: a lush, reflective 1826 “Serenade,” and a somber, even harrowing 1814 “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel.”  

Her unassuming stage presence belied the power of Paniyeva’s nimble fingers, which didn’t hit a wrong note throughout this technically challenging program, and the unfailing sensitivity of her interpretations through such widely varied repertoire. The theater in this northern Connecticut venue offers warm acoustics and comfortable, accessible seating. 

SWCA, a nonprofit, volunteer-supported organization, has sponsored this free concert series for 40 years. All concerts take place on Sundays at 2:00 pm, and seating on a first-come, first-served basis begins a half-hour earlier. Next up is Israeli pianist Einav Yarden on February 19.

January 29, 2023

Preview: TheaterWorks, "Queen of Basel"

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
Feb. 3-26 and steaming Feb. 19-26

Cast members of "Queen of Basal"
TheaterWorks Hartford, under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero, is proud to present the New England Premiere of "Queen of Basel" by Hilary Bettis. Directed by Cristina Angeles, Queen of Basel is a bold adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie set within the Latinx community during Miami’s Art Basel. The production features an all Latinx cast and creative team.

It’s Miami’s Art Basel, where real estate heiress Julie reigns over the blowout her mogul father is throwing at his South Beach hotel. But after tangling with him and a tray of drinks, Julie plots her next move in the hotel’s storage kitchen with Christine, a waitress who recently fled violence in Venezuela, and Christine’s fiancĂ© John, an Uber driver with ambitions. This explosive elixir of power, class, and race within the Latinx community examines the timelessness of love and betrayal in this bold new play.

Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero commented, “Queen of Basel" is a play that has excited me since I first read it a couple of years ago. When planning the 2022-2023 season, I felt it was essential to include a story that speaks to our Latin community. 

The cast includes Silvia Dionicio as Christine, Kelvin Grullon as John, and Christine Spang as Julie.

The running time is 80-minutes with no intermission.

Note: The play contains strong language and adult content. It is not recommended for persons under the age of 18. 

Preview: Playhouse on Park, "Indecent"

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
January 23-February 26, 2023

Photo by Meredith Longo
"Indecent" by Paula Vogel will run at Playhouse on Park for one month this winter.

This production will be directed by Kelly O’Donnell, with music direction by Alexander Sovronsky and choreography by Katie Stevinson-Nollet. The theme of "Indecent" and the other plays featured in POP's 14th season is Perseverance. This season highlights stories of fighters and survivors, to coincide with the Playhouse’s journey of persevering through the pandemic. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel tells the explosive and deeply moving story of the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Jewish playwright Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance—a play about a forbidden lesbian romance that enchanted and outraged audiences. We follow the path of the artists who risked their careers in order to perform it. It actively pays tribute to the Yiddish, immigrant families, Jews, theater makers, and the women, specifically the queer women, who are erased from historical narratives. "Indecent" is a riveting backstage drama filled with music, movement, groundbreaking theater, and stage magic. 

Director Kelly O’Donnell is a theater and film director based in New York City who believes that theater can be a powerful tool for fostering peace. Kelly is returning to POP, after having directed last season. A co-founder of the critically acclaimed and nationally recognized Flux Theatre Ensemble, she has directed throughout New York City in numerous venues.

About Playhouse on Park: Managed under the direction of Playhouse Theatre Group, Inc., Playhouse on Park is Greater Hartford’s award-winning destination for the performing arts. Playhouse on Park offers a wide range of thought-provoking, inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable professional theatre productions that leave audiences often smiling, sometimes crying, and always talking about what they have just experienced. 

There will be a talk back with the cast after each Sunday matinee. COVID-19 Policy: Vaccination card checks and masks are not required. However, masks are strongly recommended. 

The Presenting Sponsor of Playhouse on Park’s 2022-23 Season is The Richard P. Garmany Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. 

Preview: Hartford Stage, "Espejos: Clean"

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
January 12 - February 5, 2023

"Espejos: Clean" is a groundbreaking bilingual tour de force presented at Hartford Stage.

Two worlds collide one evening at a high-end resort in Mexico, igniting a series of misunderstandings, miscalculations, and internal reckonings. Told entirely in English and Spanish — with respective supertitles — Espejos: Clean offers an eye-opening story of unlikely and meaningful connection.

Spanish translator/adapter Paula Zelaya Cervantes has molded Christine Quintana's play to appeal to speakers and/or listeners of either language. Melissa Crespo directs. These performances are in association with Syracuse Stage.

In order for those whose first language is Spanish, accommodations include: open captioned performance on January 29 and audio described performance (in English) on February 4 at 2pm.

Preview: Exit 7 Players, "Clue"

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA
February 10-12, 17-19, 2023

The classic board game is brought to life in Clue! Six guests are invited to a dinner party thrown by an anonymous host. They are given aliases -- Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, and Miss Scarlet. Though discouraged from revealing personal information, it is soon discovered that all of them have fallen victim to the same blackmailer, they're very host of the evening. Each is presented with a weapon and an option: pay their extortionist double or kill the innocent butler. What follows is a madcap, slapstick evening full of murder, mystery, and laughs as they seek to puzzle out the culprit amongst criminals.

The director for the production is Krystle Bernier.

Understudy performance on Friday, February 17, 2023.

January 18, 2023

Review: The Bushnell, "Six"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through October 22, 2023
by Shera Cohen

So many superlatives can describe the musical "Six". For example, there's: energetic, enthusiastic, and exciting. Several more positive adjectives include vibrant and colorful, literally and figuratively. However, these accolades are balanced with some that are not necessarily praiseworthy: loud, sometimes inaudible, and confusing.

"Six" is a relatively new musical based on very old history of England's Henry VIII's six wives. One memorable and funny line, in essence, asks, Who was Henry IX's wife? Henry V? Henry VI, Henry VII? They don't know or care. Ah, but Henry VIII not only topped the head count of wives at six (although two lost their heads), history buffs in the audience at the Bushnell knew the who's who, when, where they were from, and most importantly, who succeeded whom. Indeed, it's fair to assume that most seated in the theatre were up on their history books, movies, and/or PBS Specials to be familiar with these true stories.

As a teen, I was taught, "Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived." Therein lies the plot. Six actors, boisterous singers, and dynamite dancers represent the sextet. For better or for worse, only two of the women are set apart from the others. Common are non-stop boisterous voices, most as ensemble pieces, and effervescent dance numbers throughout the production.

Separate reviews on backstage points of "Six" could easily accompany this broad stroke review; i.e. the campy metallic costumes, flashing light show, and band to "beat the bands". I'm sure it's no coincidence that all musicians were female.

At no point does the audience see Henry, just the wives. Overheard at the musical's end were comments that "Six" is a feminist musical. Others used the description "inspirational". Perhaps? No steadfast stance is necessary. A take-away for me was wannabe-feminists crushed by actual history of some 500+ years ago. 

Two comments are important to the audience:
  • Assuredly, it's fun to boot 'n holler, sing-along, wave your arms, etc. Yet, think about courtesy to those seated nearby.
  • Try to give 5 or so minutes to read the 2-page bios on each queen. Included are facts and fun commentary. Catherine's interests: religion, sewing, dancing, a bit more religion. Jane's was obedience. Anna of Cleves' was staying alive.

January 17, 2023

REVIEW: Valley Classical Concerts, "Orion Weiss, William Hagen, Nicholas Canellakis"

Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity, Florence, MA 
January 15, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

This varied program by an ad hoc trio of soloists – pianist Orion Weiss, violinist William
Hagen, and cellist Nicholas Canellakis – could have been titled “A Century of Piano Trios,” as it moved from Haydn’s 1793 trio in A Major, the thirty-second of his forty-five works in that form, to Dvorak’s 1891 “Dumky” trio in E Minor, the last of his four such works, and back to Mendelssohn’s 1846 trio in C Minor, the second of his two piano trios. 

Haydn’s likeable music is a favorite concert opener to put audiences in a good mood, and, here, also to clarify the easy personal rapport and technical unanimity among these players, who all have extensive chamber music experience but are soloists in their primary careers. In their lively reading of his A Major trio, the “Allegro moderato” first movement was urgent and visceral; the “Andante,” a restful interlude; and the “Finale: Vivace assai,” a fast and furious race to the finish line. 

Dvorak’s “Dumky” trio derives its nickname from the Ukrainian word “dumka” (“thought,” plural “dumky”), which evolved into a Slavic folk ballad and, later, a classical music form depicting sudden happy-sad mood shifts. Like Haydn’s A Major trio, Dvorak’s E Minor defies the traditional four-movement structure, comprising six movements, all dumky. Introducing the piece, Weiss joked that it could almost be called “Six Slavonic Dances.” 

The Dumky’s open emotionalism gave each member of this world-class threesome a chance to shine. Hagen’s clear, silky tone thrived in the many upbeat, exuberant moments, while the warm, resonant timbre of Canellakis’ cello was most expressive in the darker, melancholy passages. Weiss provided a solid, steady underpinning for his flashier colleagues, while showing digital dexterity to spare.   

Hagen praised Mendelssohn’s C Minor trio for its “triumphant” finale (the silent Canellakis had temporarily “lost his voice”), which the ensemble rendered whole-heartedly, along with an animated opening “Allegro energico e con fuoco,” a graceful “Andante espressivo,” and an elfin “Scherzo: Molto allegro quasi presto.” The Bombyx's warm acoustic enhanced the drama of all three performances.

The next concert in Valley Classical’s season will present cellist Zlatomir Fung and pianist Janice Carissa on March 8, 2023 at Smith College, Northampton on March 8, 2023.

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, "Audacity of Hope"

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA 
January 14, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Subtitled “Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.,” the third classical concert of the SSO’s 2022-2023 season offered a notably diverse audience a rare program of music and poetry created entirely, and performed in leading roles, by artists of color. 

It opened with a stirring rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a poem by James Weldon Johnson set to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson, often called the “Black National Anthem,” and vividly arranged for large orchestra by Hale Smith, under the dynamic baton of guest conductor Kevin Scott. Next came Quinn Mason’s spirited 2021 tribute to a musical youth leader colleague, “Rise to the Occasion,” and the US premiere of Scott’s own brief but forceful elegy for civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, “Fannie’s Homecoming,” both in impassioned readings by orchestra and conductor.     

Artisan McCain
A stunning account followed, with soloist Artina McCain, of Florence Price’s 1934 Piano Concerto in D Minor. The first female African-American composer of national stature, much of Price’s music has only been rediscovered in recent decades. McCain’s technical and interpretive command equally showcased the mercurial opening and radiant slow sections and the rousing final juba, an African-American folk dance. The ensemble provided lush, full-blooded support. 

Then came a dramatic reading by charismatic activist and Springfield Poet Laureate Magdalena Gomez of a poem she wrote for this occasion called “The Metaphysics of Memory.” Reflecting on today’s program, she spoke in rhythmic cadences and spontaneous song-and-dance moments which evoked Dr. King’s rhetorical style and showed how music can advance his beloved community. 

A brilliant rendering of Ozie Cargile’s short but powerful 2009 ode to Barack Obama, “The Audacity of Hope,” preceded “dean of African-American composers” William Grant Still’s 1947 fourth symphony. Celebrating, in Still’s words, “the fusion of musical cultures in North America,” its four movements were respectively energetic, tender, whimsical (“with a graceful lilt,” as Still requested), and exuberant in this affectionate performance. 

An encore, Florence Price’s piano etude “The Old Boatman,” arranged for string orchestra by Dana Paul Perna and played with glowing warmth by the ensemble, quietly closed this landmark evening. As heartening as its respect for the past was the audience’s enthusiastic applause for Mason and Cargile, both present, which suggests a strong future for Black traditions in American classical music.    

January 14, 2023

REVIEW: Cirque d'Soleil, "Corteo"

The DCU Center, Worcester, MA
through January 15, 2023
by Jarice Hanson

Cirque d’Soleil is an entertainment phenomenon in its own right. in the current show, “Corteo,” playing at the DCU Center in Worcester, audiences are treated to an immaculately choreographed combination of physical feats, music, lighting and mesmerizing acts that awaken senses and allow for a two-hour escape from the world outside. At the DCU Center, the stage is placed in the center of the arena, with audience members seated on two sides of the playing stage, simulating the experience of a center ring of a circus. 

Though Cirque d’Soleil represents traditions representative of the European circus, don’t expect a “traditional” circus experience. Every show in the Cirque repertoire tells a story. In “Corteo,” a former clown dies, but ascends to heaven with the aid of angels who guide him to his rest. The word, “corteo” references a funeral cortege—but this is anything but a sad parade. The show’s acts represent fun, friendship, human frailties, and even a little romance.   

The story loosely holds the show together and propels the action from one act to another, with multi-talented troupe members working in ensemble, solo, and duets to entertain every generation represented in the audience.

"Corteo” features Italian songs and music, beautifully and skillfully provided by cast members. Audiences will have no problem shifting their ears from Italian to English.  The performers are artists of the physical, and while older audience members may marvel at the artists’ sculpted bodies and total commitment to their art, children will undoubtedly find themselves enveloped in a fantasy that allows their minds to imagine escaping gravity. 

In addition to the mastery demonstrated by the performers, “Corteo” allows the riggers and roustabouts to take their own bow—as well they should.  

What becomes obvious as the show progresses, is that something interesting happens in the audience. The retiree seated next to me quietly gasped in some of the more death-defying moments, and an eight-year-old girl seated with her mother cheered the acts and held on to her mother in moments of wonder. When asked, at the end of the show, what her favorite part was, she didn’t pause to think. She blurted out “the robots!" I chuckled when I realized that though the show allows for a collective experience, every person seated could find a different “favorite moment.”  

For two hours, the audience at the DCU Center became a community. “Corteo” is first-rate entertainment that could only be successful when viewed live, and Cirque d’Soleil is a welcomed addition to live family entertainment.

January 13, 2023

PREVIEW: Shakespeare & Company, "I'll Be Thine, Valentine"

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
February 11, 2023

Photo by Katie McKellick
Shakespeare & Company will stage a special Valentine's presentation of Romeo and Juliet by
William Shakespeare for one performance only on February 11, 2023 at 7 p.m., featuring the cast of the Northeast Regional Tour of Shakespeare and directed by Kevin Coleman.

I'll Be Thine, Valentine: Romeo & Juliet will be staged at the Tina Packer Playhouse at Shakespeare & Company’s campus, featuring Travis Ascione, Cameron Davis, Ptah Garvin, JoJo McDonald, Stephanie Neuerburg, Savanna Padilla, and Naire Poole, with costume design by Shakespeare & Company Costume Director Govane Lohbauer and production design by Devon Drohan.

This production is part of Shakespeare in American Communities, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

Discounted student rates apply to this production.

January 5, 2023

REVIEW: Berkshire Bach Society, "Bach at New Year’s"

Academy of Music, Northampton, MA 
January 2, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Eugene Drucker
The hope expressed by Eugene Drucker, Music Director of the 16-member Berkshire Bach Ensemble, that this concert of 12 pieces by five Baroque composers would inspire audience members “to enter the New Year with hope, joy, and a belief in the resilience of the human spirit” was brilliantly fulfilled by these distinguished musicians, many of whom have played together for years locally and beyond, Drucker is also a founding member of the Emerson String Quartet. 
Kenneth Weiss opened the concert with a lively account of Rameau’s “Overture to Dardanus” in his own transcription for harpsichord. Next, he soloed in an affectionate reading of Bach’s fifth concerto for harpsichord and orchestra. Drucker (otherwise leading from the concertmaster’s chair) then joined Laura Lutzke and Diane Bruce as vivid soloists in a concerto for three violins, strings, and continuo by Bach’s friend Telemann. 

After a perky “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from Handel’s opera “Solomon” by the ensemble, Drucker and oboist Keve Wilson were featured in a soulful rendition of Bach’s violin and oboe concerto. Maximilian Morel’s clarion trumpet closed the program’s first half with a thrilling performance of Telemann’s trumpet concerto in D Major.    

Intermission included two brief “intermezzi:” arrangements of the “Courante” from Bach’s fourth cello suite and the first “Allegro” from his second viola da gamba sonata played with elan respectively by violist Ronald Gorevic, and violist Liuh-Wen Ting with harpsichordist Weiss.   

Vivaldi’s concerto for violin and two cellos next showcased violinist Michael Roth and cellists Roberta Cooper and Alistair MacRae as animated soloists. Drucker and violinist Emily Daggett Smith then soloed expressively in Bach’s “double violin concerto.” And oboist Jessica Warren brought vibrant color to Telemann’s D Major oboe concerto.

The concert closed with an elegant version of Bach’s second orchestral suite, with, in Drucker’s words, its “perfectly proportioned and highly characterized dance movements,” and staggering virtuosity by flute soloist Judith Mendenhall. 

This two-and-a-half-hour feast for the ears of Baroque music lovers was further enriched by the Academy’s warm acoustics and exemplary program notes by Berkshire Bach Interim Executive Director Terrill McDade. Their next concert on February 11 is an organ recital by Renee Anne Louprette at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House in Housatonic, MA.