Monday, November 29, 2010

Goodman Theatre: Streamlined "A Christmas Carol" cuts to heart of Dicken's fable

1. The Fezziwig's (John Lister & Susan Felder) preside over their annual Christmas party at their warehouse

2. Scrooge (John Judd) is visited by the Ghost of Jacob Marley (Anish Jethmalani)

3. Tiny Tim (Cameron Comforti) enjoys a rare moment of joy with his father, Bob Cratchit (Ron Rains)

4. Penelope Walker is fabulous as The Ghost of Christmas Present

5. John Judd is resplendent as Ebenezer Scrooge

Story by Dwight Casimere

Photos by Liz Lauren

Goodman Theatre of Chicago presents a streamlined version of “A Christmas Carol” in their 33rd year of presenting the repertory company’s annual Christmas gift to the city, which cuts to the very heart of Charles Dicken’s morality tale.

Sets are pared down and extraneous special effects are stripped away to expose the most essential elements. As a whole, the production lays bare the social and ethical truths that Dickens so cleverly hid beneath layers of plum pudding and Christmas Trifle in this Holiday evergreen.

Beloved Chicago actor John Judd (Magnolia at Goodman, The Dresser, The Butcher of Baraboo and Orson’s Shadow, Steppenwolf) makes his Goodman debut in the legendary role of Ebenezer Scrooge. He plays the garrulous character with an almost cinematic sweep that at once reveals Scrooge’s resolve to eschew the Christmas spirit, and the vulnerability and wounded-animal fear that lies underneath.

Chicago actor and director William Brown returns for the fifth consecutive year to stage this production. In many ways, this is his best effort to date and shows the benefit of his experience. Clunky sets of the past are dispensed and supplanted by a simple black backdrop highlighted with starry lights and artificial ‘fog’ rising from the stage floor. This allows the actors to move freely about, filling the stage with their magnetic presence. This serves to propel the story forward with lighting speed. From the opening strains of street musicians and carolers singing ‘Silent Night’ and Scrooge's declaration of "Bah! Humbug!" to Tiny Tim’s final “Good Bless Us, Everyone!” this is a Six Flags ride that goes from the heights of humor to the depths of human despair.

“A Christmas Carol” is a heartwarming and fulfilling experience that is must viewing for the entire family during the Holiday season. The production runs in Goodman’s Albert Theatre through December 31. For tickets and information, visit

Besides Judd’s spot-on portrayal of Scrooge, there are several other performances of note. “Carol” veteran John Lister infuses the delightful Christmas Eve dance-party scene at Fezziwig’s warehouse with an ebullience that is infectious. The onstage dancers and musicians make this lively scene the highlight of the evening.

Tiffany Scott returns in the role of Belle, which she also played in 2005. She gives a heart-wrenching performance. It is particularly so in the scene in which she breaks up with young Ebenezer, due to his single-minded focus on his career as a money-lender.

Penelope Walker lends a kinetic energy to the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present that lights up the stage. She is at her dramatic best in the scenes in which she uses Scrooge’s own words against him. In presenting the spirits of Want and Ignorance to an incredulous Scrooge, she retorts, “Are there no prisons? And the workhouses. Are they still in operation?” Regarding the prospect that the crippled Tiny Tim might die if Scrooge does nothing to help him, she says, again echoing his earlier, thoughtess words, “better that he die, and reduce the surplus population!”

Ron Rains, returning for his fourth year as Bob Cratchit lends a Chaplinesque physicality to the role that has the audience in stitches!

One of the most telling scenes occurs near the end, when Scrooge finds himself the brunt of a parlor joke at the Christmas Eve party held by his nephew Fred (Andy Truschinski, in his second season in A Christmas Carol). “And who is hurt by his selfish spirit?,” Fred asks his guests, rhetorically, “It is only Scrooge himself who is harmed.”

Anish Jethmalani returns for his sixth season as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, relishing in the role with scary grandeur. Eric Parks deserves a special ‘shout out’ for his Herculean effort as Ghost of Christmas Future. He is suspended above the stage in mid-air in his Darth Vader-like portrayal, completely shrouded in a claustrophobic costume, while silently conveying the eerie import of the scene’s message. (Yes, there’s actually a person inside there!)

The efforts of Set Designer Todd Rosenthal, Lighting Designer Robert Christen, Sound Designer Cecil Averett and Costume Designer Heidi Sue McMath, all come together seamlessly throughout the production.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Met Opera: Verdi's Don Carlo a blueprint for Grand Opera

1. Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Philip and Roberto Alagna as Don Carlo in a father/son face-off
2.Russian mezzo-soprano Anna Smirnova as The Princess Eboli in her Met Debut
3. British baritone Simon Kennlyside as Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa
4. Marina Poplavskaya as Princess Elisabeth and Roberto Alagna as Don Carlo
5. King Philip (Furlanetto) and his wife, Princess Elisabeth (Poplavskaya) preside over the Spanish Court in Madrid circa 1560

Story by Dwight Casimere

Photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

New York—Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Verdi’s Don Carlo is a virtual blueprint for what constitutes Grand Opera. The production, directed by Nicholas Hytner, director of London's National Theatre, in his Met debut, continues through December 18th at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center and will be seen in movie theatres around the world Live in HD on Saturday, December 11 at 11:30am Central Time, 12:30pm Eastern.

Director Hytner described it aptly when he said, “Don Carlo is the quintessential Verdi opera.” It is a well-constructed opera that moves at top speed with all cylinders at full-throttle throughout its four hour and forty-five minute running time. There’s not a dull moment. Watching the performance live at the Metropolitan Opera House on opening night, I found my attention riveted to the spectacular performance of the superb singers and the unfolding dramatic action.

Conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin of Montreal, kept a tight reign on tempo and timbre, creating a sweeping orchestral panorama to support the epic action on stage.

Star French tenor Roberto Alagna, a Met favorite, led the all-star cast in the title role. His soaring voice and expressive demeanor added a sense of gravitas to the meaty role. He never lost his edge throughout the lengthy performance, displaying dramatic and vocal ‘chops’ that any fellow performer would envy.

The other cast members carried their roles with similar authority. Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya was luminous as Princess Elisabeth of Valois, the daughter of Henry II of France. Don Carlo, the heir to the Spanish throne and son of King Philip II, falls in love with her while negotiating a peace treaty between the two countries. His ardor is immediately dampened when he learns that her hand has already been promised to his father as part of the deal. While all around celebrate the end of the war, the two star-crossed lovers are devastated.

Don Carlo seeks solace at the tomb of his grandfather, Emperor Charles V,

where the emperor’s ghost confronts him. This apparition would figure prominently later. His friend, Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, sung forcefully by British baritone Simon Keenlyside, reminds Carlo of his commitment to the cause of freedom for the Flemish people who are oppressed by Spain, in the person of Carlo’s own father, the King. It was truly Keenlyside’s night. He gave a brilliant performance!

King Philip, sung by Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, gave perhaps the most inspired performance of the evening, particularly in the soliloquy at the beginning of Act IV (“Ella giammai m’amo!”), wherein he reflects upon his life of futile conquest and his loveless marriage. He consults with the old, blind Grand Inquisitor, sung in all his vainglorious splendor by Chicago-area bass Eric Halfvarson. King Philip’s entreaties to spare his son are rebuffed. The Inquisitor has sentenced Don Carlo to death for heresy and treason, telling the King that God sacrificed his son for the good of mankind and that Philip should therefore stifle his love for his son for the sake of the faith and the stability of the Church and Throne.

Russian mezzo-soprano Anna Smirnova makes her Met debut as Princess Eboli. She sang exquisitely, particularly in the duet with Don Carlo in Act III.

The stunning sets and costumes designed by Bob Crowley marked his debut at the Met. In conjunction with the lighting designed by Mark Henderson of London, he conveyed both the grandeur and the great tragedy of the historic events that underlay the action. The Inquisition scene and the soliloquy in King Philip’s study were the highlights, both visually and dramatically.

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, directed by Chorus Master Donald Palumbo, was an integral part of the success of this all-encompassing effort. Fight Director Rick Sordelet, Movement Coach Sara Erde and Assistant Stage Directors Gina Lapinski, Stephen Pickover and J. Knighten Smit deserve special mention for the coordination of the opera’s realistic fight scenes and well orchestrated staging.

This Premiere production of Don Carlo continues on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, through December 18, with a Met Live in HD transmission December 11. Tickets and information are available at or at

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kevin Mambo IS FELA! at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

1.Statue of Prometheus watches silently over Tony Award winner's post-party at Rockefeller Center's famed Lower Plaza

2. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith make a hasty late entry into the Tony Awards

3.The crush outside Radio City Music Hall on Tony Award Night

4. Lillias White-Tony Award nominee for Best Featured Actress in a Musical

5. Bill T. Jones talks with the media after winning the 2010 Tony Award for Best Choreography

New York—Kevin Mambo is the “hardest working man in show business,” channeling the high-octane personae of the larger-than-life African musician/social activist Fela Kuti in an extended run at Broadway’s famed Eugene O’Neill Theatre.

Fela! Is produced by actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith and hip-hop star Jay-Z. Sahr Ngaujah, who originated the role of Fela Kuti on Broadway, is currently starring in the London production at the National Theatre there.

Playing the demanding role eight times a week in a non-stop whirling dervish of a performance, Mambo embodies the spirit of legendary soul man James Brown, one of Kuti’s idols, as the musical quickly establishes at the outset. Brown bestowed the moniker upon himself and it quickly stuck.

Watching Fela! As I did at a recent matinee, is like sitting on a Fourth of July Fireworks barge when it spontaneously combusts. The fireworks are shooting in every direction, from the back of the house to the upper balcony! Drummers and dancers snake through the aisles and hover overhead in the side boxes. Video panels show scenes of the real Fela Kuti and his mother, Funmilayo Kuti, played with stunning vocal and dramatic power by soul singing legend Patti LaBelle, who brings a renewed depth and energy to the production after the Tony Award nominated efforts of actress Lillias White. Having seen both actresses in the role, LaBelle brings another dimension to the character of Funmilayo, elevating her to mythical, almost goddess-like stature with her supersonic voice and regal demeanor. Even as she exits the stage on waves of sound from a lingering high note, the power and majesty of her personae can be felt.

The most powerful and illuminating scene was the Purification Ceremony that opens Act Two. This is one of the most spine-tingling moments I have ever experienced on stage. The scene is bathed all in white, with the characters dressed in ceremonial white robes. The collection of dancers, includes the African Chanter in augthentic ceremonial garb. LaBelle as Funmilayo sits regally atop an elevated platform as if on a throne in Heaven. Fela/Mambo struggles with strained dance and acrobatic movements to reach the top to be blessed and bathed in her spirit. We struggle with him to reach his mother’s unattainable height.

The scene, which was masterfully created by Choreographer Bill T. Jones, is a near-exact depiction of the Yoruba Shan go Purification Ceremony, which I witnessed recently among members of Miami’s Cuban community, who practice the ancient African religion. Fela Kuti and the inhabitants of his nightclub/radical political sanctuary, the Shrine, also practiced the religion while celebrating his musical creation, Afro beat.

This is an explosive and riveting production that has the audience on its feet almost from beginning to end.

Fela was nominated for 11 Tony Awards. I was present at Radio City Music Hall on the night that Bill T. Jones won the Tony for Best Choreography, Robert Kaplowitz for Best Sound Design and Marina Draghici for Best Costume Design of a Musical. I also partied with them and the other Tony Award winners at the Tony Award Banquet in the famed Lower Plaza of Rockefeller Plaza under the watchful eye of Paul Manship’s high recognizable bronze statue of the Greek Titan Prometheus. It was a night to remember.

Fela takes an unflinching look at the harsh realities of a life of oppression under the corrupt military regime in Nigeria. It is also a celebration of the triumph of the human spirit. Sadly, the real Fela succumbed to Kaposi’s sarcoma brought on by AIDS and died at the age of 58 in 1997. The actors at Fela! On Broadway stood at the back of the theatre and took up audience donations for a Season of Concern to further AIDS research and offer assistance for AIDS victims.

FELA! Is a show that the entire family can enjoy. There were a number of families and groups of students in attendance at both performances I saw. It’s pretty strong stuff for younger children, but there’s plenty of joy behind the tears. For teenagers and up, it’s a real socio-political lesson in motion on stage. I guarantee their attention won’t drift once Fela’s Afrobeat class is in session!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Met Opera Live in HD: Don Pasquale a comic opera triumph for Anna Netrebko

Met Live HD Don Pasquale a comic opera triumph for Anne Netrebko

Story by Dwight Casimere

Photos by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

1. Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani as Norina and Ernesto

2. Mariusz Kwiecien as Dr. Malatesta, John Del Carlo as Don Pasquale

3. Mariusz Kwiecien as Dr. Malatesta

4. Matthew Polenzani as Ernesto

5. Anna Netrebko as Norina, John Del Carlo as Don Pasquale

New York--Anna Netrebko. That name alone tells you everything you need to know about the joys of the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Donizetti’s comic opera Don Pasquale, transmitted Live in HD November 13 at movie theatres worldwide, and scheduled for an Encore Presentation, Wednesday, December 1 at 6:30pm, local time.

After witnessing performances live at Lincoln Center and again Live in HD at Cinemark Seven Bridges in Woodridge, Illinois, it is safe to say that Netrebko gives one of the most outstanding bel canto comedy performances in recent Met history. She somersaults, dances and sings with abandon in the reprisal of her celebrated portrayal of the irresistible romantic heroine Norina.

Chicago-area lyric tenor Matthew Polenzani is the lovelorn Ernesto, lighting up the stage with his plaintive, soaring portrayal. Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien gives a Johnny Depp twist to the duplicitous Dr. Malatesta, donning a jaunty fedora and shades and San Francisco native, bass-baritone John Del Carlo, a Met favorite, is captivating as the title character.

Austrian director Otto Schenk returns to the Met to direct this revival and conductor and Met Music Director James Levine puts forth a spirited effort in his first-ever performance of this scintillating opera.

“I just love Don Pasquale,” Netrebko said in a backstage interview during a break in the Live in HD movie-cast. “Most of the operas we do are so serious and so tragic. This one allows us to just be ourselves and let loose and have fun!”

That’s exactly what she and the other cast members look like they’re doing and the audience just follows along. There’s still time to get tickets for the Encore Live in HD presentation December 1.

A new production of Verdi’s Don Carlo is the next installment of the Met Live HD series, Saturday, December 11th at 11:30am Central Time, 12:30pm Eastern. For tickets and information, visit

Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte showcases youthful ensemble

Story by Dwight Casimere

Photos by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

1. Danielle de Niese as Despina

2. Nathan Gunn as Guglielmo

3. Isabel Leonard as Dorabella

4. Pavol Bereslik as Farrando, Miah Persson as Fiordiligi

5. The ensemble cast with William Shimell as Don Alfonso (c)

New York—Superb singing, imaginative sets and costumes and artful conducting made the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte ("All women are like that") a joy to behold.

The fireworks began in the pit, with renowned baroque specialist William Christie and his superlative conducting, in his Met Opera debut, finding just the right balance for Mozart’s elaborate score. He kept both the orchestra and singers in perfect synch throughout the performance, communicating with firm, yet sensitive gestures to both the musicians and singers. To the orchestra, he was their commander in chief. To the singers, he was both their guide and companion.

All four of the young singers who portrayed the sisters and their fiances were in their Met role debuts. At times, their perfectly matched voices soared over the orchestral line like so many seabirds gliding aloft with waves of sound acting as the wind beneath their wings. Bradley Brookshire’s confident Harpsichord Continuo playing also added an elegant accent.

Australian lyric soprano Danielle de Niese was ebullient as the crafty maid Despina. Swedish soprano Miah Persson’s crystalline voice as Fiordiligi sparkled with the luminous sheen of the Swarovski chandeliers that loomed overhead in the Metropolitan Opera House. American mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as her sister,Dorabella, projected a sweet innocence with her creamy, dexterous voice.

The male leads were equally impressive. Slovakian tenor Pavol Breslik and Met star baritone Nathan Gunn, were adroit as the disguise-donning dubious lovers Ferrando and Guglielmo.

British baritone William Shimell returned to the role of Don Alfonso, as the cynical bachelor who sets in motion the opera’s underlying scheme to prove that “all women are like that,” i.e. faithless and fickle. His deft portrayal kept the action grounded and acted as the sobering foil to the otherwise giddy proceedings..

The overall atmosphere of youthful folly and effervescence was maintained by Director Lesley Koenig. Sets and costumes by two-time Tony Award winner Michael Yeargan and lighting designed by Duane Shuler created the framework for this brilliantly conceived production to unfold. Cosi fan tutte continues at the Met through December 2. Millions around the world will have an opportunity to hear it live on the radio, with live broadcasts on Metropolitan Opera Radio on SIRIUS channel 78 and XM channel 79 on November 23 and December 2. For information, visit

Thursday, November 18, 2010

New York Philharmonic explores prodigious talent of Anne-Sophie Mutter and Mozart

by Dwight Casimere

New York—Violinist and Director Anne-Sophie Mutter’s performance with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in a program of Mozart and Rihm, was nothing short of stupendous. It will certainly rank as one of the landmark performances of the season.

Now serving as The Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-In-Residence for the 2010-2011 season, she has distinguished herself as a proponent of modern Classical music, with premieres of 13 works to her credit.

The program could have been called a dedication to child prodigies. Ms. Mutter was a one-time child prodigy, storied as desiring violin lessons as early as the age of five. The esteemed German composer Wolfgang Rihm, whose Lichtes Spiel: Ein Sommerstuck (Light Game: A Summer Piece) occupied the second position on the otherwise all-Mozart program, was only eight years old when he began producing his earliest works in his native Karlsruhe. By the time he reached his teens, he was studying with the heavyweights of musical modernism.

Mozart made his first appearance at the imperial court in Vienna at the age of six in the year 1762. Acknowledged as a keyboard virtuoso in his day, he was also an accomplished string player. His compositions for solo violin still stand as monuments. The evening’s program included Mozart’s Violin Concertos Numbers 1, 3, and 5. Ms. Mutter played them with gusto, affording them all of the vitality and urgency inherent their inception. Her cadenzas were played with flourish. Her directing established seamless connection with the orchestra. Her solo work stood out like shooting stars against the blanket of a nighttime sky.

Her command of both her instrument and the orchestra seemed effortless. The resulting sound was cohesive from beginning to end. As she turned to direct the musicians, there seemed to be a level of communication that defied definition. They were in complete synch. At times, they seemed to play as a single instrument. By the time the orchestra and soloist reached the final notes of the Rondeau of Mozart’s Violin Concerto N. 5 in A major, the music had reached a fever pitch. This was an exhilarating performance of the highest magnitude!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Michael Tilson Thomas explores many faces of Aaron Copland

by Dwight Casimere

Chicago--Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony and guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Orchestra’s regular subscription programs of November 4-6, presenting a program entitled “Music of Aaron Copland,” is as close as possible to a musical and spiritual heir to the composer who is considered, in the words of the great American poet Virgil Thomson, the “president of American music.”

Thomas, the ten-time Grammy, Peabody and National Medal of Arts winner, presented a stirring concert of
Copland’s music, spanning nearly three decades. The works extended from Copland’s youthful attempts at experimentation, to his use of music as a vehicle for social commentary, to his later period of quiet reflection and minimalism. Thomas is renowned as the premier interpreter of Copland’s music and, since the death of Leonard Bernstein, is considered the preserver of his legacy.

“Most of us know Copland in his middle period, the so-called ‘Populist Era’ of the late ‘30s through ‘40s, when he expressed the unique character of the American spirit through works such as Appalachian Spring. But he was so much more than that,” Thomas said in impromptu remarks before the start of the program. “In his twenties, he was what we’d call today a ‘radical,’ testing the bounds of music, almost venturing into the avant garde. At times, his music was almost confrontational, as he embraced the new voices of his time. Then, in his later years, he reduced his composition to the elemental essentials, using only quarter notes and half notes. In the Orchestral Variations, which you’ll hear later in this program, he reduces his writing to permutations of the same seven notes played over and over again. (The work is widely considered one of the landmarks piano works of the twentieth century and CSO Principal Piano Mary Sauer illuminated its ground breaking passages with authority.)

“In his later years, Copland was trying to explore the melodic perception of people who had no musical knowledge whatsoever. He asked himself the question, ‘what song would a woman pushing a baby carriage sing to herself?” The music was stripped of any pretense or ornamentation. It was a new, liberal view of music that embraced 12 tonality in this late period.”

With that, he struck the downbeat for Copland’s Quiet City, with CSO members Christopher Martin, principal trumpet and Scott Hostetler on English horn. Martin delivered Copland’s piercing elongated lines with a complete mastery of breath control and melodic progression. The long passages burned with intensity yet, he imbued the quieter passages with a haunting subtlety. Hostetler’s passages dovetailed Martin’s with similar aplomb.

The following piece, Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, was an absolute masterpiece! Written when Copland was just 23 years old, the work prompted the great German-American conductor Walter Damrosch to declare to the audience, when he premiere the work in New York, “ Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you will agree that if a gifted young man can write a symphony like this at twenty-three, within five years he will be ready to commit murder!” The drastic overstatement may seem a bit inappropriate by today’s standards but you get the point.

The highly unorthodox construction of the piece at times places the ‘solo’ organ in complete apposition to the orchestra, introducing minimalist themes that are expanded upon by, first the strings, then the brass, and finally the percussion sections in a succession of ebbing and flowing crescendos that were masterfully controlled by Thomas’s firm hand and exquisite sense of tempo.

The use of the harp and calliope to add sparkling tonal accents to the scintillating array of sounds created by organ soloist Paul Jacobs were further evidence of Copland’s genius.

In the final bars, Jacob’s organ playing invested the composer’s writing with a sense of gravity and deep expression that elicited heart-pounding emotion.

Copland’s beloved Appalachian Spring was the final piece on the program. It revealed yet another side to the composer's and Thomas’s aptitude. In his between performance remarks, Thomas noted that he had expanded the orchestration to Copland’s Orchestral Variations “under his direction,” referring to his association with Copland in Thomas’s formative years as a young composer.

The night’s performance of Appalachian Spring included middle passages, normally eliminated in performance, that interrupts the flow of the now-familiar Shaker melody ‘Simple Gifts’ (1848).

“Appalachian Spring was written at the height of the Second World War,” Thomas said in his onstage, introductory remarks, regarding the now-landmark piece that was introduced to the world as music for a ballet premiered by the great Martha Graham at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The piece earned Copland a Pulitzer Prize for Music. “There’s a disturbing portion of music that interrupts the Shaker melody that is like the composer telling a young couple, embarking on their lives together, that life will not always be a bed of roses. ; that there are trials and tribulations ahead. Then, what follows is the familiar theme that is peaceful, almost serene.”

In Thomas’s deft hands, the final strains of Appalachian Spring softened into a reverence that became almost a benediction.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spirit of young love permeates Met La Boheme

Story by Dwight Casimere
Photos: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
1. Takesha Meshe Kizart as Musetta
2. Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo
3.Edward Parks as Schaunard and Shenyang as Colline
4. Maija Kovalevska as Mimi
5. Vittorio Grigolo and Maija Kovalevska as Rodolfo and Mimi
New York--Youthful vitality and terrific singing energizes the Metropolitan Opera's returning production of Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. The opera is in an extended run at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center,New York through Feb. 25. Millions around the world will experience La Boheme this season on the radio and the internet through distribution platforms established by the Met with various media partners. Sirius Channel 78 and XM Channel 79 will carry Metropolitan Opera Radio performances on December 8,February 7 and 22. The February 7 performance will also be available via internet streaming on the Met's web site at  Two of opera's most celebrated young stars sing the roles of Puccini's star-crossed lovers. Thirty-three year old Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo is the impoverished poet Rodolfo in his Met debut through November. Young Latvian Soprano Maija Kovalevska is his fragile Mimi.Italian baritone Fabio Capitanucci is eloquent as the artist Marcello.
Franco Zeffirelli's production, a Met favorite since 1981, sets the action in an imaginative recreation of Paris's Latin Quarter in the 1830's. 
Conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli, in his Met debut,lifted Puccini's sweeping romantic score onto the stage right alongside the singers, making it a co-protagonist. Without use of the baton,he used arching,condor-like movements to dispense the composer's sparkling grace notes like fire flies against a nighttime sky.He shaped the swelling,heart-throbbing crescendos with the supple hands of a sculptor.
Tenor Grigolo sang the title role of Rodolfo as if he were revealing his personal emotional biography. The conviction in his voice and his graceful,yet purposeful panther-like movements across the stage recalled the screen performances of a youthful Pacino or present-day DiCaprio more than any operatic star in recent memory. Soprano Kovalevska could not have been a more touching Mimi. Her lost-soul cravings for love and connection reach out to the audience and draw them close to her consumption plagued bosom. They,along with Rodolfo, hope to rescue her from her impending doom.
La Boheme is without question one of the world's most beloved operas. When Rodolfo sings his opening aria, introducing himself to Mimi as,(paraphrasing)"a happy man, content with my dreams, my fantasies, my castles in the air," he elicits an immediate emotional response. The soul swells with joy and a feeling of emotional kinship. His unrealistic optimism and joie de vivre, even in the face of crushing poverty,is enviable. 
Similarly, the ensuing cafe scene set in the Latin Quarter,is a visual masterpiece with terrific staging by David Kneuss, lighting design by Gil Wechsler, elaborate costumes by Peter J. Hall and a lively performance by the superb Met Opera Chorus, honed by Chorus Master Donald Palumbo. The dancers and singers,particularly the young children, do an excellent job of establishing the festive air of the scene.
 The action of La Boheme is set on Christmas Eve, and its joyous feeling is intoxicating. It provides the framework for the dazzling entrance of the ravishingly beautiful African American soprano and Chicago native Takesha Meshe Kizart as Musetta in her Met debut. She sang and danced the famous Aria,"Quando me'n vo,"commonly known as Musetta's waltz, with flair,reeling off its dizzying high notes with abandon. She played the coquette with a natural air,devoid of diva-like affectation. Instead,she reached within to allow her simmering sensuality to emerge like the heat from a crackling Holiday fire.
La Boheme continues through February. Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova will make her Met debut as Mimi December 1.  The role of Rodolfo will be sung over its long run by three outstanding tenors who are Met audience favorites. Joseph Calleja will be in his Met role debut in a December run. Piotr Beczala, whose Spring 2010 Rodolfo opposite Anna Netrebko led to sold out houses and rave reviews, will take over the role on January 31. Then, Ramon Vargas, who dazzled Met Live in HD audiences in the role in 2008, steps into the role February 17. For tickets and information visit

Monday, November 1, 2010

Met Opera Il Trovatore probes emotional depth of Verdi classic

by Dwight Casimere

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Metropolitan Opera’s current remounting of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore digs deeply beyond the beautiful singing and lush orchestrations to reveal the opera’s dense, emotional heart. Staged brilliantly by director David McVicar, who set the action during the Peninsular War in Spain from 1808-1814 when violent protests erupted in Madrid against the French when Napoleon installed his brother to the Spanish throne and incited a bloody uprising.

The inspiration for the sets by Charles Edwards and costumes by Brigette Reiffenstuel were inspired by the artist Francisco Goya’s graphic depictions of the bloody conflict in a series of etchings, “The Disasters of War” and the painting “The Third of May, 1808.” The show curtain for Il Trovatore is a detail from Goya’s 1821 painting “Pilgrimage to San Isidro,”
in which random faces reflect the anguish and suffering of war.

Stage Director Paula Williams and Choreographer Leah Hausman do an exceptional job of creating a sensation of movement throughout this highly charged production.

An earlier announcement that Ms. Racette was suffering from a cold, asking the audience’s indulgence, proved entirely unnecessary as she sang brilliantly throughout the evening with silvery top notes and sustained, spine-tingling crescendos.

From the opening notes of the orchestra, conducted by Marco Armiliato, a veteran of more than 200 Met performances, the sense of tragedy and foreboding in Verdi’s taut score, is evident.

As the curtain opens, Spain is in the throes of Civil War. The commander of the Royalist troops, Count di Luna, sung forcefully by Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic, is obsessed with Leonora, sung with inspired passion by American soprano Patricia Racette in her house debut. She, of course, is infatuated with thoughts of a young, rebel troubadour, Manrico, sung by the fiery Argentinean tenor Marcelo Alvarez in an electrifying performance. The count is determined to capture him. The two later duel, in a match choreographed with surprising realism.

The action quickly moves to the Gypsy camp outside Madrid, where Manrico’s mother, the gypsy Azucena, American mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti, in a show-stealing portrayal of both vocal and emotional power, nurses him back to health. She is haunted by the memory of the violent death of her mother, who was burned at the stake as a witch. Azucena exacts revenge by murdering a child whom she thought was the count’s infant son. It turns out that the child she threw into the burning pyre may actually have been her own, leading Manrico to doubt his own identity.

Count di Luna is seeking Azucena because of her subversive activities. At the same time, he is also seeking to eventually win Leonora at the expense of Manrico’s life and thus the tragic events of Il Trovatore are set in motion. Things come to a head when Di Luna’s henchman, Ferrando, Alexander Tsymbalyuk, in his Met debut, captures Azucena.

Audiences worldwide will have an opportunity to witness this thrilling production live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. The April 30 matinee will be transmitted to more than 1,500 movie theatres in more than 40 countries around the world, including Cinemark Seven Bridges in Woodridge, Illinois as part of the Met’s expanding Live in HD Series. For tickets and information visit