Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Tempest Met Live In HD is a stunning original


Composer conducts new production, directed by Robert Lepage

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere
Photos: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

 Simon Keenlyside as Prospero with Isabel Luna as Miranda
 Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Miranda, daughter of Prospero
 Bass Alan Oke as Caliban
 Coloratura soprano Audrey Luna as Ariel
 Acrobatic dancer Jaime Verazin performs aerial stunts as Ariel
Simon Kennlyside is a commanding Prospero

NEW YORK—With brilliant staging, sets and costumes and emotionally riveting conducting by the composer at the podium, Metropolitan Opera’s new production of “The Tempest” promises to be the most successful work of the 2012-2013 season.

Seen in the theatres around the globe in Met Live in HD, The Tempest, directed for the Met by Robert Lepage and for Live in HD by television’s Gary Halvorson,

With stunning genius, director Lepage chose to set the opera within the confines of the citadel of the opera world, backstage at La Scala, which is, coincidentally, located in Milan, the home of the ousted eccentric Duke Prospero. Prospero, recreates the opera house of his homeland on the remote, stormy island to which he has been expelled for his sorcery./ Sung with almost creepy cunning by the vocally chilling baritone Simon Keenlyside, Prospero appears as a tattooed madman who manipulates people’s thoughts to the point of altering their surroundings. In that respect, he is like the omniscient general manager of a fantastic opera company. Kym Barrett’s costume,  depicts him as a tattooed, slithering wild man with a Vegas/Elvis slither running down his spine.

Ade’s score is dense, dark and complex, yet it holds your attention from beginning to end. “I’ve never sung so many difficult intervals in my life!” confessed mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, who sang the role of Miranda, Prospero’s daughter in a backstage interview with Met superstar and Live In HD host Deborah Voigt. Keenlyside and Leonard carried their substantial roles with authority and aplomb. The most vocally challenging singing role, however, went to coloratura soprano Audrey Luna as the spirit Ariel. Although aerial artist Jaime Verazin performed the majority of the actual acrobatics, Luna was still required to do some considerable maneuvering well-above stage level. In addition to the demanding, stratospherically high arias that tested even her ravishing, cosmic voice, she was required to be suspended,  almost Cirque du Soleil-style, while singing punishingly high, staccato intervals. All this while wearing a rather bizarre jagged-wing costume. The overall effect was a bit disconcerting, but her phenomenal singing made it a focal point of the opera.

If there were an opera Oscar for Best Performance while performing impossible aerial stunts, Ms. Luna would be the hands-down winner.

Bass Alan Oke lent an air of dramatic gravitas to his supernatural character Caliban.

It’s not often that an opera composer gets interviewed backstage during a Met performance and even more rare, the fact that that he is also the conductor of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in the pit. Thomas Ades appointed himself well, with deeply moving declamations of his own score. The orchestra never sounded better and seemed to reach a depth of emotion that even surpassed the superlative work it did during last season’s Ring series, also directed by Lepage.

Ades was just 32 when his work had its premiere at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in 2004. In the past eight years, there have been no less than four original productions of his work, a feat almost unequaled by any other modern-day work. His music is rich and powerful and the libretto by Meredith Oakes presents Shakespeare’s poetry in a manner that is both accessible to modern audiences and pleasing to the ear with its poetic symmetry which more approximates the rhyming lyrics of modern-day songs than the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare’s time.

“This is something I’ve wanted to realize almost since childhood,” Ades confided to backstage interviewer Voigt. “I first saw The Tempest as a child, growing up in England. I always had in the back of my mind, from the moment I started studying music, that I would somehow set his work to music myself and re-imagine it in my own way.”

For all intensive purposes, he has achieved that goal and beyond!

The Tempest will appear in a Met Live HD Encore Wednesday, November 28 at 6:30pm local time and in a Canada Encore Saturday, January 12 at 12 p.m. local time. 

Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito is the next Met Live In HD Presentation Saturday, December 1 at 12:55pm. Check local the listings for times and theatre locations or visit fathomevents.com or metopera.org.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gilberto Gil: Voices of Latin America Festival at Carnegie Hall



NEW YORK--A capacity audience at Carnegie Hall on a chilly November night, hard on the heels of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, attested to the tsunamic power of the Brazilian musician and cultural icon Gilberto Gil. Isaac Stern Auditorium was filled to capacity, with every Brazilian in a 500 mile radius in attendance. Gil dazzled, danced and discoursed through a kaleidoscopic journey through his more than 50 year music career, beginning with such favorites as Fe Na Festa, Three Little Birds and Casamento da Raposa. A devotee of forro, the pop/folk music of his native northeastern Brazil. He was inspired by its creator, the legendary Luis Gonzaga and was later influenced by Joao Gilberto and Jobim and the lilting melodies of the bossa nova.  Gil's intermissionless, more than two hour performance touched upon them all before breaking it all wide open with a medley of Bob Marley hits and reggae, which brought the audience to its feet and had them dancing the samba in the aisles. Carnegie Hall will never be the same!

Gil's concert was the first installment in the Voices of Latin America festival at Carnegie Hall that runs through December 11 and expands out into a city-wide festival in New York, celebrating Latin America's music and arts. The festival is curated by some of the guiding lights of Latin American music and culture, who will also be among its participants, including the brilliant conductor Gustavo Dudamel and his Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (Dec. 9,10&11), Samba legendPaulinho da Viola (Nov. 28) and Latin jazz piano titan Chucho Valdez (Dec. 4). Another piano great, Danilo Perez, performs Dec 4 & 8. The festival will feature musicians, singers and dancers from the entire spectrum of Latin American music. The festival makes a pre-Holiday trip to New York an absolute must. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Coltrane Alumni, Proteges Celebrate Genius at Jazz At Lincoln Center

John Coltrane Festival: Jazz at Lincoln Center
The Genius of John Coltrane
McCoy Tyner: The Gentle Side of John Coltrane

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere October 27, 2012

New York---Narrowly avoiding the devastation of Hurricane Sandy by just a day, Jazz at Lincoln Center presented a comprehensive tribute to The Genius of John Coltrane in a weekend-long festival that featured Coltrane alumnae, protégés and a host of brilliant young saxophonists inspired by his daring creativity.

The evening began with an absorbing chamber-jazz concert headed by legendary pianist, McCoy Tyner, a Coltrane mainstay from the glory days of Tranes stellar quartet, along with Coltrane protégé Gary Bartz, accompanied by Miles Davis alums Jack DeJohnette on Drums and Dave Holland on Bass. Held in the intimate Allen Room of Jazz at Lincoln Center, overlooking the sweeping panorama of Columbus Circle and Central Park, and entitled The Gentle Side of Coltrane, the quartet explored the tenor giant’s mastery of the ballad, as exemplified in such evergreens as “I Want to Talk About You” and the hauntingly reverential “Naima.” Composed in 1959 in honor of his first wife, Juanita Naima Grubbs, the composition first appeared on the groundbreaking album “Giant Steps.”  Saxophonist Gary Bartz, who revealed at a festival
Listening party for his new album “Coltrane Rules,” that he first met  Trane at the age of 14 at his father’s club in his native Baltimore, gave a fittingly energized rendition of the timeless classic.

 A Chicago Reuinion Backstage at Jazz at Lincoln Center with Richard Muhal Abrams (l), founder of AACM and Jack DeJohnette (r)

Gary Bartz in solo flight (middle photo) and at his John Coltrane Festival Listening party for his new album "Trane Rules"

By contrast, Tenor Saxophonist Joshua Redman and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, minus Wynton Marsalis, gave a rollicking, roof-raising tribute to The Genius of Coltrane in a free-wheeling exploration of all of the original compositions and interpretations of the music associated with the acknowledged tenor master. Redman displayed the dazzling ‘chops’ that revealed him to be one the heirs apparent to the great one. Equally as meteoric were the solo performances of members from the entire saxophone section, including Victor Goines and Walter Blanding on Tenor Saxophone, Ted Nash on Alto and a particularly revelatory solo turn by Joe Temperley on Baritone Saxophone.
Pianist Dan Nimmer laid down a solid foundation for the fast-paced proceedings and displayed flashes of brilliance in his solos along with some riveting solos by Bassist Carlos Henriquez and the explosive drummer Ali Jackson, recalling the thunderous Elvin Jones of the original Coltrane Quartet.

It was a soul-stirring performance that gave deserved praise to one of the heroic voices of modern jazz.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jack DeJohnette opens "Gateway" to Grammy-winning past at 70th Birthday Celebration

Jack Dejohnette opens “Gateway” to gloried past at CSO 70th Birthday Celebration

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

CHICAGO—Jack DeJohnette, 2011 NEA Jazz Master and Grammy winning drummer, lauded as one of the most important musicians of the last 40 years, celebrated his 70th birthday in his hometown of Chicago, in a concert that reunited his 1975 Gateway album collaborators, Dave Holland on Bass and the equally celebrated John Abercrombie on guitar. All three have deep interconnections throughout their brilliant careers. Besides their historic Gateway recording, they also have connections through various musical tributaries, including live performances and/or recordings with the legendary Miles Davis and orchestrator Gil Evans. The lyricism and musicality of each of the musicians was evident both individually and collectively as DeJohnette explored original works by himself and his sidemen/collaborators. A special treat was a solo piano performance by DeJohnette, during which he revealed a little known fact known by only those who knew him in his earliest days as a journeyman-musician in his native Chicago, where he was best known as a pianist. The solos he played were crystalline in their perfection and belied traces of the delicate impressionism of Claude Debussy and the adventurous harmonics of Stravinsky.

Born in Chicago in 1942 on the South Side, home to many jazz legends such as Lionel Hampton and Nat “King” Cole, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and others, DeJohnette fostered his career on the crest of a mountain of jazz legends. A graduate of Englewood High School, where this journalist was privileged to be a friend and fellow classmate, DeJohnette went on to New York to complete his education and, more importantly, embarked on a musical matriculation with the greatest names in music, most importantly, Miles Davis, in 1968, where he would participate in the historic recording Bitches Brew, acknowledged as the most ground-breaking jazz recording in history.

(The author backstage at Symphony Center with Grammy Award-winning NEA Jazz Master Jack DeJohnette. The two attended Englewood High School and the first year of college together before embarking on divergent careers in journalism and music.) 

That foundation of accolades was confirmed in this night’s concert at Symphony Center, consisting primarily of original compositions by each of the participants. The lyricism and creativity and overall spontaneity of each of the musicians were evident throughout. Their playing was more like a chamber ensemble than a traditional jazz trio, achieving more through quiet listening and organic response than the conventional explosive jazz solo romps that serve to accentuate individual virtuosity over collective harmonization. This was a meeting of the minds of three jazz masters, who sought to convey their unanimity of thought through individual expression. It was an experience that consumed the soul and invited the listener to participate as an involved witness. The effect was both engaging and satisfying on a deep level that was both sensual and psychological. Its overall impact will be felt by those who heard it long after the final percussive echoes that reverberated into the far reaches of Symphony Hall.