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Encompass New Opera Theatre Presents "Anna Christie" at Baruch Performing Arts Center

by Steven Pisano

20181003-DSC05805(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Of all the great American playwrights of the last hundred years, Eugene O'Neill has plumbed deeper and darker into the classic American identity than any other. Yet somehow, his work has not attracted composers who might turn his stage creations into operas. Perhaps they've thought there was little to offer on top of O'Neill's own symphonic and often operatic writing. (Personally, I've long believed that any number of Tennessee Williams's plays would make great operas, but that's another story.)

The Encompass New Opera Theatre is now presenting the world premiere of an opera based on O'Neill's early play Anna Christie at the Baruch Performing Arts Center through this Sunday, 10/21. Anna Christie won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922, but is probably best remembered in its movie version, where Greta Garbo first spoke on screen.

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"Frankenstein" and Other Works in Green-Wood Cemetery

by Steven Pisano

20181009-20181009-DSC04065(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The composer Gregg Kallor has an affinity for the macabre. His musical setting for Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" debuted two Octobers ago in the burial crypt of the Church of the Intercession in Upper Manhattan, and this last week selections from his opera-in-the-making based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein were performed in the catacombs of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Produced by Andrew Ousley at Unison Media in collaboration with the innovative On Site Opera, Frankenstein featured the baritone Joshua Jeremiah as the Monster, the tenor Brian Cheney as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, and the mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano. Music was provided by Kallor himself on piano and longtime collaborator Joshua Roman on cello. Sarah Meyers was the director. Although only three scenes of the work-in-progress were presented, it is clear that Kallor has grand plans.

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Carnegie Hall's Opening Night with the San Francisco Symphony, Renée Fleming and Audra McDonald

San Francisco Symphony Carnegie Hall Gala - 5Carnegie Hall opened it's 127th season last Wednesday with Michael Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony in a pops-style program that skewed heavily towards Americana and Broadway (with a little Liszt thrown in.) Which is precisely the sort of crowd-pleasing concert that the occasion called for, not unlike the all-Bernstein concert MTT programmed for the last time San Francisco opened the Carnegie season in 2008

The program was dominated by Gershwin, bookended by his visceral, dancey Cuban Overture (1932), and ending with An American in Paris (1928). In between, the orchestra played Liszt's Mephisto Waltz: a Romantic showpiece not quite rising to MTT's characterization of it as "incredibly daring."

The bulk of the program consisted of a selection of show tunes, sung by six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald and celebrated soprano Renée Fleming, who is working to establish her Broadway cred with her recent run as Nettie Fowler in Carousel and her new album, Renée Fleming: Broadway. 

McDonald played to her strengths with Gershwin's "Summertime" and "Vanilla Ice Cream" from Jerry Bock's 1963 musical She Loves Me, investing both with deep meaning and substance. Fleming began in familiar territory with the lilting Aria from Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (with SF principal cellist Michael Grebanier) before transitioning to "Fable" from Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza, which she said was "one of my favorite musicals." Her voice is still a miracle, penetrating and powerful, yet accessible and intimate. 

The vocal part of the program ended on a politically-charged note, with McDonald and Fleming singing a medley of Sondheim's "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods and Richard Rodgers "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" from South Pacific. "Seems appropriate for our times," McDonald said, a not-so-oblique reference to recent events. To drive the point home, they then offered an encore of Laura Nyro's 1969 anti-war rock anthem "Save the Country."

"I got fury in my soul, fury's gonna take me to the glory goal 
In my mind I can't study war no more.
Save the people, save the children, save the country now"

MTT, who will be stepping down as San Francisco Symphony music director after next season, has been appointed a Carnegie Perspectives Artist, and will be returning later this season with the Vienna Philharmonic (March 5-6) and his other ensemble, the New World Symphony (May 1-2), who will be performing two of Thomas' own works. As for Carnegie Hall, upcoming highlights include concerts by the Czech Philharmonic (Oct 27-28), the Mariinsky Orchestra (Oct 30-Nov 1), and recitals by pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard (Oct 25) and Yuja Wang (Oct 26).

San Francisco Symphony Carnegie Hall Gala - 15
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A New Organ for New York: The Miller-Scott Organ at St. Thomas Church

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"John taught me that... a pipe organ, breathing the living force of air, has a soul.” - Reverend Andrew C. Mead, former Rector, St. Thomas Church

Look around, and you might notice that New York City is living in a golden age of pipe organs. In the past decade, several significant instruments have been either installed or restored around the city, notably at Ascension Church, Alice Tully Hall, St. Paul's Chapel, and soon to come, Trinity Church on Wall Street. Add to that list the new Irene D. and William R. Miller Chancel Organ at St. Thomas Church, which was dedicated this weekend with a recital on Friday evening and a liturgical service on Sunday morning. The massive instrument, built by Iowa's Dobson Organ Company and originally conceived by St. Thomas' Organist and Director of Music John Scott, has been more than a decade in the making and is already regarded as one of the finest instruments in the country.

When Scott arrived at St. Thomas in 2004 after more than 26 years as organist at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, he quickly realized that the existing chancel organ - a heavily modified 1913 Aeolian-Skinner - was in severe disrepair and needed to be replaced. In so doing, Scott wanted an instrument that could perform the full breadth of the organ repertoire: everything from Baroque (Buxtehude, Bach), to Romantic (Franck, Vierne) to Modern (Messiaen, Ligeti, etc.)

More importantly, Scott wanted the organ's sound to penetrate the full length of the nave, in order better accompany parishioners in their singing of hymns. For this, a new case, filled with ornate carvings by woodcarvers Dennis D. Collier and Family, has been added to the north wall of the chancel, facing the original 1913 case on the south wall. In all, the new organ has 7,000 pipes over six divisions and 102 stops, reduced from the previous instrument's 8,905 pipes and 112 stops.

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