Saturday, January 28, 2017


Jazz Duo Shines in evening of adventurous, innovative music

By Dwight Casimere

Reed artist Branford Marsalis and jazz vocalese specialist Kurt Elling presented an inspired program of innovative and daring music in the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Both used their instruments to fullest advantage (yes, Elling uses a full range if vocal techniques that transform his voice to that of an instrument on par with Branford's battery of "axes."  The two proved that there is ample territory for growth and discovery in this idiom known as Modern Jazz.
Elling excels as both a composer and story teller. He especially shines in the jazz classics, such as Billy Holiday's I'm A Fool to Want You. His ending crescendo sent chillsdown the spine. A raucous encore of St. James' Infirmary best displayed the musical sympatico between the two artists, with Elling mimicking Marsalis's riffs on the soprano sax and Elling using the aid of his hands to create a 'talking' horn effect. It was a unique pairing of inspiring music that brought the audience to its feet in a thunderous ovation.

FEB 17-18

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Bartlett Sher's Dramatic Production Pairs Sizzling Duo as Hapless Lovers 

by Dwight CasImere

 Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau as Romeo and Juliette
 Vittorio Grigolo with the Capulets and the Montagues at a party that soon goes sour

Diana Damrau as Juliette

Photos: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

This Wednesday, January 25 at 6:30pm local time in theaters around the world, opera lovers will have an opportunity to witness one of the most sizzling pairings of onstage lovers in recent memory in Bartlett Sher's dramatic production of Charles Gounod's Romeo Et Juliette (Romeo and Juliet), starring soprano Diana Damrau as Juliette and tenor Vittorio Grigolo as Romeo. 

The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues in 18th century Verona takes on new flesh and blood in Sher's staging. "I tried to capture, not so much the exact time and place, but the feeling of a city, any city, with its tensions and feelings," Sher told Live In HD Host Ailyn Perez. " I wanted to convey the sense that this story could happen at any time, in any place."

Mission accomplished. The casting of Grigolo and Damrau as the hapless lovers is spot on. Both bring a visceral energy and stupendous vocal power and dramatic conviction to their performances. The chemistry between the two is electrifying. In closeup scenes, captured beautifully by veteran Live HD Director Gary Halvorson. The staging and choreography, which included some sultry and expressive dance scenes from Choreographer Chase Brock, served to heighten the sense of drama. The fight scene, orchestrated by Fight Director B.H. Barry, at the beginning of Act III, is among the most convincing presented on an operatic stage. The scene where Romeo stands over the body of the fallen Mercurio (Elliot Madore), is filled with pathos. The death scene at the Capulet's crypt is particularly moving, with brilliant singing from the principals. If you've already scene this production at the Met or at the Saturday, January 21 Met Live HD showing, it might not be a bad idea to take another opportunity to see one of the finest performances of the season. Encore Presentation, Wednesday, Jan.21 6:30pm local time. Next Met Live HD performance, Saturday, February 25 12:55pm. Kristine Opolaise stars in Antonin Dvorak's Rusalka.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


 The wines of Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino
 Cor Tonesi and his wines from La Mannella, including Peggianelli (below)

Wine Spectator Executive Editor Tom Matthews with Dwight Casimere (c)  and Marillisa Allegrini of Allegrini Estates

Col di Lamo wines

The Grand Tasting at Manhattan's Gothman Hall

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

The red Italian wine known as Brunello di Montalcino is one of the most celebrated in all of the famous wine region of Tuscany. It's lush flavors and aromas, from crushed red flowers to ripe red fruit and black cherries andd hints of vanilla spice, cinnamon and oak, are the perfect accompaniment to all things Italian, in terms of food, and invite delightful opportunities to drink in solitaire, with nothing but a bit of cheese, salumi or a light pasta to do with it. The win originated in the town of Montalcino, just south of Florence in the famed Tuscany wine region. The grape variety was thought to be an original, but careful research revealed that it was actually a type of Sangiovese, Italy's most prevalent indigenous grape, known now as Sangiovese Grosso. 
In 1980, the wine was given the coveted DOCG designation, making it one of Italy's most famous and expensive wines. Just one taste will justify the cost in your mind. 

The wine is being poured at celebrations around the country. In honor of the 50th anniversary, winemakers in the region released their 2012 vintage as a commemoration. Taste it now at fine wine shops, restaurants and wine bars in your local area. You'll find that it is flavorful, elegant and just plain wonderful!

Among the favorites to look out for are the terrific wines of La Manella, Col di Lamo, or any of the Montalcino's from the house of Banfi. 

Faces at the national rollout of the 2013 Commemorative Vintage Brunello di Montalcino:

 Banfi  wines of the Brunello di Montalcino
 Francesca Martellozo of Bel Poggio winery
 Benyu Liu of Vine Universe

 Robin Shay of Allegrini Estates
 Poggio Al Ventu wines (below)
Fran ceso Pineider and Giovanna Neri (r) of Col di Lamo winery

Monday, January 16, 2017

Nando's Peri-Peri South African/ Portuguese Restaurant Opens in Hyde Park Chicago

After Stunning Success at Oakbrook Center Mall Nando's Celebrates Launch of New Hyde Park Restaurant

Free Peri-Peri Chicken for the People 

by Dwight Casimere

Just a day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Weekend, Nando's continued celebration of the Grand Opening of its sparkling new Hyde Park location at  1447 E. 53rd St. with an historic give-away that would have made the civil rights icon proud; on Tuesday, January 17, students, faculty and staff who presented a valid University of Chicago ID were able to enjoy a free spicy flame-grilled 1/4 chicken, chicken sandwich, wrap  or pita. January 17 will go down in the history books as the birthday of renowned Chicagoans Michelle Obama, Dwayne Wade and, yes, Al Capone. And now a new chapter is written. For Tuesday, January 17, will be the day Nando's PERi-PERi invites the University of Chicago to eat at Nando's new Hyde Park restaurant, for free.

Nando'sl officially opened its doors in Hyde Park-at 1447 E. 53rd Street-on Saturday, January 14. Nando's paid it forward that day by donating 100 percent of opening-day sales to the Kenwood Academy High School in Hyde Park, to help fund college visits for students at one of the best public schools in the city.

The lighting design and interiors of Nando make customers now that they're truly in for something special. Colorful intimate booths also add a special touch. Every Nando's is painstakingly designed and completely unique, with earthy textures and bright colors that reflect its sunny African-Portuguese heritage. With thousands of pieces of original works of art that are a constant reminder of where the restaurant came from, Nando's has become the largest collector of South African contemporary art in the world. Nando's new Hyde Park restaurant features one-of-a-kind South African artwork, too, including a corrugated-metal mural that was hand-painted in Hyde Park by South African street artist Kilmany-Jo Liversage.

Nando's has built an intensely loyal following, from London to the Loop, by providing fresh food in a relaxed atmosphere with friendly service. Nando's is known worldwide for its succulent PERi-PERi chicken, marinated for 24 hours, flame-grilled to perfection, and basted to the customer's preferred flavor and spice. 

The first Nando's restaurant opened its doors in 1987 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since then, the Nando's flame has spread to 23 countries on five continents. Nando's is known worldwide for its succulent PERi-PERi chicken, marinated for 24 hours, flame-grilled to perfection, and basted to the customer's preferred flavor and spice. It's equally renowned for its spicy PERi-PERi, the Bird's Eye chili pepper that indigenous Africans introduced to the Portuguese centuries ago.

Just a few months ago, Nando's opened a new location in Oakbrook Center Mall, right next to the new AMC Omni theatre on the upper level.

The star of the show at the this, the Hyde Park and every other Nando's location,  is the succulent,  flame-broiled PERI PERI chicken, which is marinated for 24 hours in fresh spices, and served with your choice of marinades and spices, including the PeriPeri pepper that is native to South Africa, where the Portuguese were first introduced to it and the fabulous flame-grilled chicken. The new Oakbrook Center Mall location is the tenth in the Chicago area, including one in downtown Naperville on Jefferson. The chicken is basted to the customer's preferred preference of spiciness. There's also a table with an array of pepper infused sauces from mild to super hot, that also be added to the dish by the customer. Besides the flavoerful chicken that can be served in halves, pieces, in wraps, salads,. or any variety of imaginative ways. The starters and sides are just as exciting and flavorful as the chicken. Start off the meal with the restaurant's signature starters, the spicy mixed nuts and spiced olives. That's just enought to get the taste buds excited for what's ahead...a plunge into the South African flavor forest of Peri Peri's signature marinated chicken. Whether bathed in your choice of heat, from mild lime and herb or mango and herb to regular to super hot peppers, then topped with a dazzling array of spicy marinades and toppings.

Nando's PERi-PERi made its U.S. debut in 2008 with the opening of its first location in Washington, DC. Nando's PERi-PERi now operates three dozen restaurants in and around Chicago, Washington and Baltimore. For more information, please visit, follow @NandosUSA on Twitter or Like Us at Nando's PERi-PERi USA on Facebook.

Friday, January 13, 2017

French Actress Isabelle Huppert is Surprise Golden Globe Winner for "Elle"

French Film on Controversial Subject of Rape Is Surprise Golden Globe Winner

by Dwight Casimere

Isabelle Huppert accepting the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Actress
Isabelle Huppert with Elle director Paul Verhoeven at the New York Film Festival
Photo by Dwight Casimere

Director Paul Verhoeven also won a Golden Globe for Director of the Best Foreign Film

Among the biggest surprises of the night at the Golden Globes was Isabelle Huppert’s win in the category of actress in a motion picture, drama for her role in the provocative  thriller “Elle.” The French actress beat out competition from Amy Adams, Jessica Chastain, Ruth Negga and Natalie Portman. Director Paul Verhoeven also won a Golden Globe for Director of the Best Foreign Film. The film has largely been snubbed by Hollywood because of its controversial subject of violent rape.

With a career that now stretches back more than 40 years, Huppert is widely recognized as one of the most formidable screen presences in the world, able to convey steely conviction, sensual ambiguity and a broken fragility in equal measure. Yet she had never before been nominated for a Golden Globe.
She made her reputation as a go-to actress for high-profile European filmmakers such as Bertrand Blier, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Michael Haneke. Arguably her best-known role up to now was in Haneke’s 2001 film “The Piano Teacher,” for which she won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival. She made her English-language debut in Michael Cimino’s ill-fated 1980 epic “Heaven’s Gate.” 



Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Dwight Casimere with Steve McQueen at the After Party for Black Perspectives

 Dwight Casimere with Director Steve McQueen at hte 52nd Chicago International Film Festival

Steve McQueen receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from Festival Founder and Director Michael Kutza  (far r.) and the Black Perspectives Committee Chairman (l)

CHICAGO--Academy Award-winning British director Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) received the Chicago International Film Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award, marking the 20th anniversary of Black Perspectives. As part of A Tribute to Steve McQueen, McQueen talked about his films, which include Hunger, a graphic depiction of the 1981 hunger strike by Irish Republican Army inmates, Shame, a stark portrayal of sexual addiction in modern day New York City, and, of course, 12 Years A Slave. All three films starred Michael Fassbender.

McQueen, a film school dropout from NYU's Tisch School, is also winner and seven time nominee of the Golden Globe, winner of the BAFTA, PGA and Turner awards. and was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services in the visual arts. He was interviewed at Black Perspectives by Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago.

Jacqueline Najuma Stewart interviews Steve McQueen at the Chicago International Film Festival

When asked how he came about the subject matter for 12 Years A Slave, McQueen explained that Twelve Years a Slave is based on an 1853 memoir and slave narrative by American Solomon Northup , which had been discovered by his wife. The book, as told to and edited by David Wilson, told the story of, Northup, a black man who was born free in New York state, details his being tricked to go to Washington, D.C., where he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. After having been kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana. 

The cover for the book narrative 12 Years A Slave by Simon Northrup

McQueen also discussed the casting of Lupita Nyongo in 12 Years A Slave. "She actually came to us through someone who I highly respected. Michael (Fassbender) has a place down in New Orleans, where I was doing research for the shooting in Louisiana, so we invited her to come down for a casting session. Michael had this huge loft space where I just let the two of them go. It was fantastic! I just got out of the way. Once they started reading the scene, it was like two cats fighting!"

The scenes from his other films were equally as ardous. "I tend to shoot very quickly. Everything for 12 Years A Slave was shot in just 35 days with a single camera. Likewise for "Shame" which was shot in 25 days, "Hunger," in just 22. I shoot my films almost in real time, which gives them a sense of urgency and reality," the great director explained.

One particular sticking point, he found, which lingered long after "Slave" reached its preeminence, was the talk of "slavery fatigue," particularly as referenced among black audiences. "How can anyone be tired of talking about slavery. Do people tire of discussing the Holocaust or the story of Anne Frank?"

Chicago Film Festival Founder Michael Kutza (center) with Board Members

Tuesday, January 10, 2017




Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--The Biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babyloanian tyrant King who turned from his pagan idol to the God of Jehovah after a devastating turn of events,in which his throne was in jeopardy, and returned the Hebrews to their homeland in Jerusalem, is one of history's most compelling sagas. Giuseppe Verdi turned the story into his first operatic hit. Metropolitan Opera's production, which was presented Live in HD for its final season performance, was a fitting highlight to the 2016-17 season, which marks the 50th anniversary year of the Met, and more than 40 years of outstanding service by its star, the remarkably nimble 76 year old Placid Domingo, this time performing as a baritone in the named title role and the indefatigable James Levine, the Mets Music Director, and the opera's conductor.

The chorus, conducted by Chorus Master Donald Palumbo, was the first to take a well deserved curtain call. They were an integral part of the opera and sang magnificently in concert with the leads throughout. Their costumes and makeup were expertly applied and were especially impressive in the beautiful Va Pensiero chorus, in which the Hebrew slaves lamented their plight and expressed their desire to return to their homeland in Jerusalem. Met Live HD director Barbara Willis Sweete's cameras were used to their best advantage as they honed in on extreme closeups of the impassioned faces of the chorus members. Particularly poignant were the shots of conductor James Levine at the podium as he conducted the passage in a state of rapture.It brought an emotional tear to his eye after the first of two thundering ovations. 

Domingo was at the top of his form as the war weary Nabucco. Faced with the possible execution of his daughter and the loss of his throne, he is brought to his knees and, lying prostrate, pledged to turn from his pagan god to the One True God and to change his tyrannical ways. Previously, the character Nabucco, had gone temporarily mad and wandered in the woods. Domingo proved quite nimble in spite of his 76 years, getting down on all fours and groveling while singing in character, no mean feat at any age. 

Domingo began his early career as a baritone, but earned stardom as a tenor. You might recall him as part of the wildly popular international sensation singing team of the 1990s, The Three Tenors consisting of himself, the late, great Luciano Pavarotti and fellow Spaniard José Carreras. They are credited with bringing opera to a wider audience. That audience was certainly evident for all of Domingo's live performances at the Met, which were completely sold out. Perhaps the best opportunity to see Nabucco, even for New Yorkers, is at movie theatres this week. A Met Live HD Encore performance presents this Wednesday, January 11 at 6:30pm local time. Check your local listings for theatre locations.

All of the principals were in excellent voice and dramatic form. Liudmyla Monastyrska was chilling in the the tour-de-force role of Abigaille, Nabucco’s willful daughter. Jamie Barton was a silvery voiced Fennena.  Bass Dmitry Beloselsky  was also a commanding presence as Zaccaria. 

Read more here:

Diversity was also well in evidence for this outstanding production. Eric Owens, the Mets esteemed bass/baritone who stars in the this season's production of Kasija Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin,  serves as the knowledgable Live HD announced and backstage interviewer. His easy manner, familiarity with the material and friendly relationship with the performers was evident in his insightful interviews. Tenor Russell Thomas also reprised his Met Opera 2011 debut role of Ismaelle, with masterful effect. 

NEXT MET LIVE HD: The broadcast of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette will be presented live in select cinemas nationwide on Saturday, January 21 at 12:55 p.m. ET / 9:55 a.m. PT, followed by an encore presentation in select cinemas on Wednesday, January 25 at 6:30 p.m. local time. 

The electrifying team of Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau reunites for a new production of Gounod's opera based on the Shakespeare play. Damrau makes her role debut as Juliette in Bartlett Sher's new productioN. For more information, visit or fathom

Sunday, January 1, 2017



20th Century Women: Now in limited release beginning Weds Dec. 28. Opens nationwide January 20.

Film in World Premiere as Centerpiece Gala Screening of the 54th New York Film Festival

Story and NYFF photo by Dwight Casimere

 Annette Benning as Dorothea Fields and (r) Lucas Jade Zumann as her 15 year old son, Jamie
Annette Benning (second from right) with the cast of 20th Century Women and Director Mike Mills (second from left) at the New York Film Festival in October

NEW YORK--20th Century Women is director Mike Mill's third feature film, and like his previous film, "Beginner's," which earned an Oscar and a Golden Globe for its star, Christopher Plummer,  it is highly personal and autobiographical. The film is already generating Oscar buzz, particularly for its star, Annette Benning, as Dorothea Fields, a chain-smoking, free-spirited single mom in 1979 Santa Barbara, who enlists the aid of a a pair of forward thinking women,  her tenant, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a  24 year old photographer, who documents everything, including the mundane posters in her son's room,  and her neighbor, Julie (Elle Fanning), a 17 year old who enjoys a cozy, platonic relationship with her moody, punk music obsessed 15 year old son, Jamie (played with disarming charm and candor  by Chicago-area actor Lucas Jade Zumann).

 A brilliant ensemble cast, a killer sound track and a story line that Mills says is based on his experience growing up with his own mother, makes this an engrossing film that, in many ways, is a spot on portrayal of a set of characters in a specific place and time period . Its also a beautifully crafted example of a master filmmaker and storyteller at work. 

20th Century Women
from A24 Films
158 minutes
Limited release December 28
Nationwide release January 20