Review of John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once

Here’s my review of a Blu-ray recording of John Coltrane’s “lost album,” Both Directions at Once, as it appears in Audiophile Audition (www.audaud.com).

 

Coltrane: Both Directions at Once

I don’t get to say these words very often: here’s a review of the latest killer John Coltrane album!
Continue reading “Review of John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once”

The Sarasota Opera’s Manon Lescaut: Handling a Flawed Masterpiece

Much creativity and planning went into the Sarasota Opera’s stage settings, casting, and musical conducting.

Manon and Des Grieux in the Louisiana Desert

Manon Lescaut: Sandra López; the Chevalier Des Grieux: Matthew Vickers; Lescaut: Filippo Fontana; Geronte: Costas Tsourakis; Conductor: Victor DeRenzi; Stage Director: Stephanie Sundine; Scenic Designer: David P. Gordon; Costume Designer: Howard Tsvi Kaplan; Lighting Designer: Ken Yunker; Chorus Master: Roger L. Bingaman

Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut (1894) had much going against it from the start. His previous operas had been lukewarm forays, not exactly successes. A previous (and successful) version, Manon, had been completed just 10 years previous by Jules Massenet. Puccini kept changing librettists and in the end nobody even wanted their name on the opening program. He pared down the plot of Abbé Prévost’s novel Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut so much that even today, audiences scratch their heads over its awkward transitions and strange omissions. For some reason, he concentrates all of the gaiety in acts one and two, and all of the gloom in acts three and four.

But in the end, very little of this matters. Nineteenth century operas are rarely strong arguments for sterling plot creation. Later in life, Puccini did improve significantly, as any opera fan can see from his last and greatest opera Turandot (that of Luciano Berio’s ending, not Franco Alfano’s). The Sarasota Opera performance dives gleefully into ML’s optimistic first act and beautifully conveys the spirit of youthful infatuation. As Des Grieux, Matthew Vickers pours out his feelings beautifully in the famous soliloquy “Donna non vidi mai,” made famous by Enrico Caruso and attempted by every other tenor since. As Manon Lescaut, Sandra López sings her brilliant and joyous aria while living with the libertine Geronte,“Lora, or Tirsi.” The audience suddenly senses it’s not going to go on forever.

Much creativity and planning went into the three stage settings. While done in period style, the opening village street scene is kinetic rather than static, buzzing with life, and the resulting intrigue is exciting from the start. In Act II, as Manon luxuriates in her mansion with Geronte, the very walls cry out “nobility.” But the final act in the Louisiana desert (don’t ask how they got there) is most stunningly well designed. A huge twisted fallen tree in the foreground underscores the twists and turns that their love affair has taken and contrasts with the gloriously ruddy sunset behind them. Dense emotional expression is reached in the final duet between Manon and Des Grieux. In “Tutta su me ti sposa,” Manon succumbs to grief and despair, realizing how her selfishness has brought tragedy upon her and her lover. As Geronte, Costas Tsourakis is the right kind of vile and cursed scoundrel. Filippo Fontana’s Lescaut is convincing as an unreliable ally, shifting his loyalties back and forth.

The orchestra – through the tidy wand of conductor Victor DeRenzi – showed its skill in the Act III instrumental “Intermezzo,” which is one of Manon Lescaut’s most unusual features. Why does it even exist? Good question. Some believe that it abstractly conveys Manon’s sentencing and her transportation to Le Havre. Seems plausible. Toward its conclusion it grows tempestuous and seems to careen toward disaster. But it avoids tragedy and lulls us with a descending motif that deceptively shimmers with hope. However, as clever as the device is, it’s a bit subtle for the uninitiated. In later years, Puccini made sparse use of such lofty intermezzi (Suor Angelica, 1918). Perhaps he realized that straight plotting conveyed emotions more efficiently?

So is Manon Lescaut “grand opera?” Not quite. But parts of it are pretty good. In focusing on the show’s highlights, like the inherent spectacle of the lovers’ plight, the Sarasota Opera made us realize that its cracks & flaws, Puccini’s youthful “experiments,” were not really that big a deal.

Review of Prokofiev’s Ballet Romeo & Juliet

An astounding Blu-ray disc of Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, featuring an energetic and talented cast.

 

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet

Here’s my review of a Blu-ray recording of Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, as it appears in Audiophile Audition (www.audaud.com).
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Jobsite Theatre’s Threepenny Opera’s Worth More Than That

Each new production of The Threepenny Opera is worth seeing. This one is no exception.

THE THREEPENNY OPERA. Opera by Kurt Weill, libretto by Bertolt Brecht. Directed by David M. Jenkins. Cast: Jennifer Casler: Bob the Saw / Ensemble; Colleen Cherry: Streetsinger / Betty; Spence Gabriel: Crookfinger Jake / Ensemble; Amy E. Gray: Jenny Diver; Jonathan Harrison: J. J. Peachum; Chelsea Hooker: Rev. Kimball / Coaxer / Ensemble; Chris Jackson: Macheath, “Mack the Knife”; Fo’i Meleah: Celia Peachum; Spencer Meyers: Streetsinger / Readymoney Matt; Giselle Muise: Polly Peachum; Maggie Mularz: Lucy Brown / Ensemble; Derrick Phillips: Tiger Brown; Alex Rivera: Smith / Walt / Ensemble; Olivia Sargent: Dolly / Ensemble; Katrina Stevenson: Molly / Ensemble; Ryan Sturm: Filch. 

Each new production of The Threepenny Opera is worth seeing. This one is no exception. Continue reading “Jobsite Theatre’s Threepenny Opera’s Worth More Than That”

Tales of Hoffman Taller Than Ever

Waste no pity on Offenbach because he has only one opera in the repertoire (and for dying before he could see it). This one’s a doozy.

Jacques Offenbach

TALES OF HOFFMAN. Opera by Jacques Offenbach, libretto by Jules Barbier. Cast: John Kaneklides (Hoffmann), Kathleen Shelton (The Muse / Nicklausse), Kelly Curtin (Olympia), Lara Lynn McGill (Antonia), Tara Curtis (Antonia’s Mother), Susan Hellman Spatafora (Guilietta). Stage Director: Karl W. Hesser; Dance choreographyer: Daryl Gray; Costume designer: Glenn Breed; Conductor and executive director: Mark Sforzini. Produced by St. Petersburg Opera.

Jacques Offenbach composed over 100 operas. But waste no pity on him because he has only one in the repertoire (and for dying before he could see it). Tales of Hoffman, based on three short stories by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, is immortal, right up there with (many of) Giuseppe Verdi’s operas. Any company that performs it must not only be faithful to its strikingly original music, but also tackle its adventurous staging. I’m happy to say the St. Petersburg Opera delivered the goods on both. And boy did it ever. Continue reading “Tales of Hoffman Taller Than Ever”

Tosca Slays at Opera Tampa

Time for blood & thunder, sex, jealousy & murder.

Tosca (Original Poster)

TOSCA. Opera by Giacomo Puccini, librettists: Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Cast: Lisa Houben (Tosca); Cesar Sanchez (Cavaradossi); Mark Walters (Scarpia); Kevin Thompson (Angelotti); Peter Strummer (Sacristan). Lighting design: Jimmy Lawlor; Stage Director: Jeffrey Buchman; Chorus Master: Robin Stamper, Conductor: Daniel Lipton. Produced by Opera Tampa.

Time for blood & thunder, lust, jealousy & murder. Continue reading “Tosca Slays at Opera Tampa”

Hidden Musical Treasures

You don’t find all exciting musical compositions on major labels like Universal and Sony. But you can find them elsewhere.

You don’t find all exciting musical compositions on major labels like Universal and Sony. But if you keep your eyes and ears open, you can find rare gems in compilation CDs put out by some of the minor labels. Continue reading “Hidden Musical Treasures”