Sunday, May 17, 2015

South African Wines Seek New Inroads in the U.S.

National Restaurant Association Show a forum for new South African Wines


The South African Consulate in Chicago was the setting for a premiere presentation of the Wines of South Africa, a unique collection of food-friendly and affordable wines that reflect the terroir and taste of this unique, emerging nation.

"South Africa is a new country country politically, but it is actually one of the oldest commercial wine producing regions in the world, with a history that dates back more than 600 years." said Jim Clarke, Marketing Director for Wines of South Africa." In the 1600s, the members of the French court and the intelligentia extolled the virtues of South African wine, even thought that had some tremendous wines of their own production."

The wines, poured personally, in many instances, by the winemakers themselves, not only showed their mastery of such international grapes as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but indigenous grapes, such as Pinotage. considered the national flagship grape of South Africa.

The majority of wines presented are currently available in both the Chicago and New York markets and are beginning to fan out in distribution around the country.

"When we first started presenting South African wines to the wine-drinking public, we were initially told, 'these wines are fantastic, why haven't we heard about them!' We are now creating the answer to that initial response by starting an aggressive marketing and sales campaign that will put South African wines on the shelves and in restaurant cellars in every major market in the United States.

Among the standouts at the tasting, which also featured bites that reflected the local cuisine, were those from Seven Sisters Wines, develop by the seven sisters of the Brutus family from the tiny fishing village of Paternoster on the West Coast of South Africa. Evicted from their tranquil home at an early age, due to unfavorable circumstances, they vowed to return, reuniting to buy back the land twenty years later, with the goal of creating fine wines. The warm summers with their low humidity, the copious winter rainfall and the complex soil type dominated by the celebrated Malmesbury Shale and patches of Granite and Table Mountain Sandstone resulted in wines of complex, bright, fruit character and rich depth of flavor with rich floral aromas.

Each of the wines is named for a sister. For example,  Odealia is a naturally sweet white wine made from 100% Bukettraube grapes, a local varietal. It's a terrific accompaniment with a favorite dessert of as an aperitif or after dinner drink. Vivian is an elegant Sauvignon Blanc with tropical flavors and an underlying note of green pepper and sage. The wine pairs nicely with seafood, which is found in abundance off the coast of South Africa.


Ernst Gouws wines of Stellenbosch are a reflection of the family's heritage, dating back to 1694, when the first French Huguenots came to South Africa and the first Gouts (then called d'Gauche') began producing wines. In 1975, Ernst Gouts traveled to Europe to begin his tutelage under both French and German winemaster. Marrying his childhood sweetheart, Gwenda, he returned to South Africa and founded the winery that is he now runs with his sons Ernst Jr. and Ezanne Gouts-Du Toit and daughter Inke Gouts-Sandri, who are all pursued an education in winemaking in order to follow in their father's footsteps. The result is wines of a highly sophisticated character that reflect the finest wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rheingau. The wines have been recognized in this country by both Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator and reflect the winemaster oeuvre and dedication to the principals and methodologies of traditional European winemaking. Yet, the wines reflect the complex terroir and flavor that is unique to South Africa.

Ernst Gouws Chenin Blanc is a wine that is perfect for summer. Scents of baked apples, hints of kiwi fruit and the freshness of a sliced grapefruit or ripe honeydew melon, the wine is great with a light salad, grilled Bronzini white fish or lighly grilled shrimp or scallops. The Merlot, with its potpourri of black pepper, sun-dried tomatoes and hints of paprika and a toasty nose that belied its aging in new French limousine oak barrels was by far the most intriguing offering of the tasting. This is a marvelous expression of one of the noblest of all international grapes. Perfect with grilled meats, pizza or pasta, the wine would make a welcome guest at any backyard barbecue or garden party. With Ernst Gouts wines priced at $16-$24, they fit nicely into the weekend fun budget.

Women in Wine CEO Beverly Farmer presented an enticing array of wines from the Stellenbosch region created by a collective of women wine makers. "The tradition of women in winemaking actually goes back for several decades, with many women first coming into the industry creating wines side-by-side with their husbands, then many of them became widowed and continued on with the business of producing wines. That formed the basis for a tradition of younger women actively pursuing careers in wine and creating some truly outstanding wines that we're now brining to market."

Vernon Henn of Thandi wines was on hand to introduce his delicate sparkling wines that are perfect for drinking on the patio. His wines provided a perfect in to an evening that was enhanced by the strains of South African music playing over the interoffice sound system as the party enlivened with the sound of glasses clinking as guests savored the taste of South Africa.
 Vivian Kleynhans Managing Director Seven Sisters wines
 Ernst Gouws, Founder, Ernst Gouws and Co.
 Karabo Letlsaka, Consul Political, South African Consulate General
 Sir Charles Stanfield , Esther Fillmore and Ron Lundquist, South African Consulate
 Nadine Smith-Clarke-Export Development Manager, South Africa, WESGRO-Western Cape and Cape Town tourism, trade and investment
 Below: Vernon Henn, Thandi Wines

 Women in Wine's Beverly Farmer




Sunday, May 3, 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MET LIVE HD CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA/PAGLIACCI DOUBLE BILL IN ENCORE PRESENTATION WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29 AT 6:30PM

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere
Photos courtesy Metropolitan Opera

MET LIVE HD ENCORE PRESENTATION Wednesday April 29, 6:30pm local time
Check theatre local theatre listings for location or visit metopera.org or fathomevents.com

NEW YORK---Opera lovers are in for a real treat when the Metropolitan Opera presents and Encore Presentation of its Live in HD transmission of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Rugerro Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. The new production from Sir David McVicar places the action in the same Sicilian Village, yet the operas take place in two distinct time periods; Cavalleria in the rustic village square atmosphere of 1900  Sicily'. when the region was virtually a Church-State to the free-wheeling post World War II years, where the setting for Pagliacci is a truck stop where a hapless vaudeville troop has set up shop.

The fact that Met super-sopranos Eva-Maria Westbroek (Cav) and Patricia Racette (Pag) sing the roles of the unlucky heroines  and heroic tenor Marcelo Alvarez takes on the dual roles of Turridu in Cav and the tragic clown Canio in Pag, makes this a performance that is not to be missed.

Fabio Luisi embellishes the rich music with just the right amount of flourish and drama and Rae Smith, who did War Horse at the Beaumont a few  years ago, provides convertible sets that effectively evoke the two time periods. Costumes by Moritz Junge, Lighting Design by Paule Constable and superb Choreography from Andrew George and the work of Vaudeville Consultant Emil Wolk in Pagliacci, make this an all-encompassing experience. Live HD Director, the award-winning television veteran Gary Halvorson (Two and a Half Men), give this Live in HD presentation a depth and polish that is noteworthy. Met superstar Susan Graham provides insightful questions for the backstage interviews with all of the principals, which further elucidates the experience.

Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci run through May 8 at the Metropolitan Opera. The April 25 matinee will be re-broadcast live in HD tonight at 6:30pm in theatres everywhere. Visit  metopera.org or fathomevents.com.


Monday, April 27, 2015

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL--"THE DIPLOMAT" HBO DOCUMENTARY HAS WORLD PREMIERE

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere April 23

NEW YORK--"The Diplomat, " an HBO documentary that will air in the fall in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords which ended the war in Bosnia, had its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. The film, directed by Holbrooke's son, David, presents a larger-than-life portrait of the career diplomat, whose brash style and uncompromising manner often set him at odds with the White House, to which he served as a diplomatic troubleshooter for fifty years. His mission and his legacy are as relevant today as they were during the crisis diffusions he brokered during his lifetime, as evidenced in a front page New York Times story that was published on the same day as the film's Tribeca premiere.

 The article detailed revelations from his personal diary that had remained secret until now. The diary revealed his personal dissatisfaction with the Obama administration and its refusal to pursue a tactical solution to U.S. entanglement in Afghanistan. In his personal view, he saw the president and his advisors as being driven by domestic political considerations instead of the larger international implications at hand. President Obama, according to Holbrooke's secret diary, turned a cold shoulder to his advice, instead relying on that of  White House insiders and the military.

Tribeca gave the film all of the world-class pomp and circumstance it deserved. A Red Carpet reception preceded the screening with a discussion and Q and A after the movie, hosted by Yahoo International Editor Katie Couric.

The film in many ways, was an effort by the director to come to terms with the difficulty of being raised in the shadow of a man who was larger than life in the public eye, but never more than a distant, shadowy figure in his own life. Like so many children of the famous, the image of his father is far different than the public's perception. At one point, we see the director break down in tears as one of his interview subjects reveal to him his father's dying words. It is a moment that rivets the film.

Richard Holbrooke was a larger-than-life figure and a maverick. He fit none of the normal molds hat shaped others in the diplomatic corp. He spoke his mind and was not above using threats to achieve his goals. David Holbrooke even said during his post-screening interview with Couric, that he considered called the film "The Undiplomat." In spite of his confrontational manner, the elder Holbrooke  garnered the respect of many of the dictators he came up against.  In negotiations to end the war in Bosnia, his tough tactics to bring warring parties to the bargaining table earned him the begrudging respect of the hard-nosed dictators on both sides, even the privilege of calling one of them by his nickname.

The documentary spans the nation's troubled wartime landscape of the past half century; Vietnam, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. It  also goes behind the scenes to reveal the often bare-knuckled wrangling that went on in the Oval Office and in  the private meeting rooms that line the corridors of the State Department and  Capitol Hill.

 Revealing interviews from Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Al Gore, Diane Sawyer, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, General David Patraeus, General Wesley Clark, journalist Roger Cohen and others, further unwrap the onion-skin layers of Holbrooke's muti-faceted mercurial personality.

Holbrooke's single-mindedness and confrontational style served him well in the political arena of the last century, but with the arrival of President Obama and his cool-hand-Luke personality and poker face, Holbrooke's hubris was an unwelcome commodity. His frequent attempts to gain a private audience with the President regarding Afghanistan were often rebuffed. The one meeting that did occur resulted in a minor affront to Holbrooke's ego, when the President insisted on calling him "Dick."  "Call me Richard," Holbrooke offered. "My wife prefers it that way. The obvious tongue in cheek reference to their shared experience with strong-willed wives completely escaped the humorless Obama and only served to increase the icy impasse between them.

Ever the dedicated, career diploimat, Holbrooke died, in cowboy parlance, with his boots on. A last ditch effort to meet with then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in yet another vain attempt to gain the ear of the  President on Afghanistan was truncated by sudden illness. Rushed to the hospital in the throes of cardiac arrest, he later died from complications of  surgery to repair an exploded aortic artery at the age of 69.

Richard Holbrooke's life as chronicled in the documentary "The Diplomat" is more than an effort of a son to capture the legacy of his father.  It is a detailed chronicle of the inner workings of a foreign policy that continues to place the leadership of the free world in the cross hairs of demagogues.
 Director David Holbrooke at Tribeca Film Festival with Katie Couric

 HBO documentary producer Stacey Reiss and his subject
Below: Richard Holbrooke in action in The Diplomat

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Met Live HD La Donna del Lago (The Lady of the Lake) Rossini's homage to "Beautiful Singing"


Rossini’s La Donna del Lago—Met Premiere


U.S. Encore:Wednesday, March 18, 2015 at 6:30 pm local time
Canada Encore:Saturday, May 9, 2015 at 12 pm local time
Monday, May 11, 2015 at 6:30 pm local time



by Dwight Casimere

 Joyce DiDonato is vocal eloquence personified in La Donna del Lago
Met Opera Photos/Ken Howard

Wednesday night, March 18,2015 is a night that lovers of bel canto opera will mark as one of the high points of the current Met Live HD opera season. That is when they will have witnessed one of the great performances of the Met's first production of Gioachino Rossini's La Donna del Lago (The Lady of the Lake). The opera is an homage to Bel Canto, the art of beautiful singing and the Metropolitan Opera's new production starring Joyce DiDonato in the title role and Juan Diego Florez as the Scottish King who pursues her, is a brilliant capsulization of everthing the composer had in mind. DiDonato is captivating as the red-haired maiden, torn between her sense of duty to fulfill an arranged marriage to Roderick, the leader of the rebels, and her true feelings, her love for Malcolm, a loyalist. She is renowned for her portrayal of bel canto roles, and this may be one of her finest performances.

The new production is headed by Scottish director Paul Curran and is based on the lengthy narrative poem of the same name by Sir Walter Scott. Scott's writing is also the inspiration for Lucia di Lammermoor, which premiered at the Met on St. Patty's Day. In the pit is conductor Michele Mariotti, who hails from Rossini's native Pesaro, Italy. Perhaps that explains his firm grasp of Rossini's spirited material.

Daniela Barcellona, with her rich, mahogany toned mezzo voice, brought a special nobility to the 'pants role of Malcolm (the male characters all wear kilts, a sort of plaid skirt for men). Her love duet with DiDonato was particularly arresting. There's even a kiss at the end that was genuinely touching. John Osborn had a ringing heroism in his voice that really brought the role of Rodrigo to life. Juan Diego Florez was ever the dashing and impassioned tenor as the king in disguise. He tossed off the most difficult vocal runs as if they were written just for him. Oren Gradas portrays Elena's father Duglas D'Angus with appropriate gravitas.

DiDonato as Elena, displayed her distinctive dramatic chops. When  she is called upon to present herself to her betrothed, she wordlessly conveys her sense of conflict and trepidation. "The ladies silence speaks eloquently," one of the characters said of her during the scene. Truer words were never spoken.

 The sets and costumes by Kevn Knight evoke the atmospheric environment of medieval Scotland, while the lighting design by Duane Schuler and projection design by Otto Driscoll, work in concert to create the Romantic era's fascination with civil-war conflicted Scotland. One particular scene, which depicts severed heads mounted on staves, brings a forboding clarity to the uncertainty and brutality of the time. "The same is true today," was the spontaneous comment of one of my seat mates in a veiled reference to the current ISIS terror.

Vocally, everyone holds their own and that is the sole reason this opera works so well. The plot takes a back seat. I didn't even bother to read the subtitles. Doing so distracted from the beauty of the vocal performances and believe me, they'll have you begging for more, even with a three and a half hour run time. Visit metopera.org or fathomevents.com for tickets.





Goodman "Two Trains Running" Revival A Centerpiece to Citywide Celebration

by Dwight Casimere

Goodman Theatre's revival of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson's "Two Trains Running" is the centerpiece of a citywide celebration of his genius. the production, directed by Resident Director Chuck Smith, runs through April 12 with the citywide retrospective "The August Wilson Celebration, running through April 18. Celebration Curator Chuck Smith, along with Wilson's widow Constanza Romero, actor/director Ron OJ Parson and Northwestern University's Dr. Harvey Young, partner with more than 20 theatres, schools and organizations to feature free concert readings of Winson's nine other "20th Century Cycle" plays, educational seminars ,discussions, poetry readings and more. For more information, visit GoodmanTheatre.org.

Goodman had a more than 20 year association with August Wilson and is the first theatre in the world to produce all 10 pladys in the "20th Century Cycle." Goodman produced the Chicago premiere of "Two Trains Running" in 1993 and the production is at the heart of the overall celebration. "Two Trains" presents a microcosmic view of the larger civil rights movement. Set in 1969 Pittsburgh in the al-Black Hill District, it reflects the personal aspirations of its everyday residents against the backdrop of the sweepiong goals of the civil rights movement. The local numbers runner, a recently incarcerated petty thief, an upwardly mobile funeral home director, an addled but lovable local ne'r-do-well and a heart of gold waitress who is both emotionally and physically scarred, all gather together in Memphis's (Terry Bellamy) home-cooking diner to gossip about the goings-on in the neighborhood and ponder the impact of the swirling sociological firestorm and its impact on their lives of poverty and hopelessness. It is a heady mix, full of both majesty and misery. Each character has his or her cross to bear and a story to tell; Memphis and his flight from racist opression in the South and his fight against the northern city''s equally oppressive eminent domain laws, Sterling's (Chester Gregory) struggle to repatriate himself into society after being incarcerated for a petty crime (one of the most pressing issues in the black community today, Wolf's (Anthony Irons) daily quest to somehow carve out dignity and self-worth even in his dispicable role as a numbers runner, the pathetic Chaplineque figure of Hambone (Ernest Perry. Jr., who  hopes to redeem his dignity in a dispute over a ham with a local grocer and deli owner and West (A.C. Smith), the bellicos owner of the local funeral home who clings to his own self-absorbed code of fractured business ethics as a shield against the decay and economic injustice around him. Wilson's mastery of ethnic dialogue elevates even the most crass references...particularly the persistent use of the "N" word, to sheer majesty. The lines are almost Shakesperean in their pathos and alliteration.  Memphis's (Terry Bellamy) soliloquy in the second act, in which he decries the  shooting death of a black youth by a white police officer is eerily prophetic and relevant, in light of the current swirl over the Ferguson shooting.

All of the performances are spot on with Chester Gregory as Sterling, Anthony Irons as Wolf, the huystler and Nambi E. Kelly as Risa and Ernest Perry as the lovable, bumbling Hambone, the most endelibe characterizations. "Two Trains Running" is a lovely play, that reminded me of the flowers I used to see growing the cracks of the sidewalks in the rundown Tenderloin district when I lived in San Francisco. Wilson's play proves that hope and aspirations and the healing and enduring power of love can triumph even in the ugliest of surroundings. It is a message that was powerful then, and is even more relevant now. Go see it. In fact, RUN! For rtickets and showtimes visit GoodmanTheatre.org.
Dwight Casimere with Chester Gregory who plays Sterling in Two Trains Running
Below: The brilliant ensemble cast of Two Trains Running-Goodman Theatre Production Photo/Liz Lauren

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Broadway In Chicago: First Wives Club in Top Pre-Broadway Form

by Dwight Casimere


The pre-Broadway opening of Broadway In Chicago's new production of "First Wives Club" at the Oriental Theatre (through March 29, for tickets, visit BroadwayinChicago.com) had all of the glitz and glamor of the Great White Way. Complete with a pre-curtain Red Carpet and a gaggle of local media and paparazzi outside and a packed opening night crowd inside, expectations were high and the musical action that unfolded onstage did not disappoint.

This is not Strindberg, or even Neil Simon, but this second attempt at a musical version of the runaway hit 1996 Parmamount Pictures revenge comedy makes for one thoroughly satisfying evening. Complete with a book re-written by TV powerhouse Linda Bloodworth-Thomason of 'Designing Women' fame (based on the hit novel by Olivia Goldsmith) and a 'soundtrack of our lives' score by Motown hit-makers Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier, this is a toe-tapping, uncomplicated romp that somehow makes the weighty subject matter of suicide and infidelity tongue-in-cheek fun.

Although its a little hard to shake the spectre of the powerhouse cast of the film version (Goldie Hawn, Beth Midler and Diane Keaton), the Broadway in Chicago cast, tony Award winner Faith Prince (as the sarcastic Brenda, Carmen Cusack (Elphaba in the national tour of Wicked and standby for the same role in the Chicago production) in the Keaton role of the sexually repressed Annie and local Jeff Award winner Christine Sherrill as the alcoholic diva Elise, hold their own in a fast-paced production, directed by Simon Phillips (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Musical).

There are plenty of stock sitcom puns (some groaningly telegraphed) and familiar Motown tunes ("Stop in the Name of Love," "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch") and sanitized sexual humor to hold your attention during the nearly two and a half hour (with intermission) production. There's even a sentimental moment or two (Whirlpool of Memories, One Sweet Moment)

The male characters don't get much to work with, but then, they're not intended to be much more than dart boards, with the exception of Patrick Richwood as the gay hair stylist Duane, who acts as the loynch-pin for the plot. He nearly steals the show!

The choreography by David Connolly keeps things moving at a nice pace and there are a couple of show-stopper songs (Payback's a Bitch, I am Duarto) that make it recommendable.
Through March 29. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com.