Classical Feed

Heartbeat Opera's Modernized Versions of "Fidelio" and "Don Giovanni"

by Steven Pisano

  20180508-DSC03043(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Heartbeat Opera is one of a number of smaller opera companies seeking to maintain traditional opera as a vital force in the twenty-first century by reimagining works from the canon in edgy new ways that mirror the electric productions of contemporary operas put on by the likes of the Prototype Festival, Opera Philadelphia, and Nashville Opera. It is as if the folks at Heartbeat view Mozart, Donizetti, Beethoven, and so on, as being every bit on the current scene as David T. Little, Missy Mazzoli, Kevin Puts, and other contemporary opera-composing stars.

That can be a very exciting endeavor, producing traditional operas less as historical artifacts and more as essential works that still have meaningful relevance to today's binge-watching audiences. At the same time, for purists, it can be akin to heresy. Traditionalists are accustomed to turning a blind eye toward nips and tucks that trim bloated works from the past, but Heartbeat Opera goes further. Not simply content to apply window dressing to accommodate modern tastes and attention spans, they wrestle old operas onto the table, dissect them from the inside, then put all the parts back together in a way that sometimes stays true to the original and other times veers far astray. In many ways, the result is less an interpretation than a collaboration across time--the composers and librettists from two centuries ago paired with the theater artists of today.

As part of the 2018 New York OperaFest now playing through June all around town, Heartbeat Opera is presenting Mozart's Don Giovanni and Beethoven's Fidelio at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Both productions feature stellar young casts in exciting, stripped-down productions that burn brightly both musically and theatrically.

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A Music Center for the 21st Century: Miami's New World Symphony

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MIAMI BEACH, FL - When most folks plan their vacation to South Beach, Florida, they likely dream of days spent lounging around pools in stylish art deco hotels, or sunning along the long, wide strip of ocean beach. At night, they might grab dinner al fresco, then dress to the nines in an attempt to gain entry to some trendy hotspot where they can while away the hours dancing, prancing, or just lying around. When it's 80 degrees here and 30° back home, there are worse ways to spend a long weekend.

But, for those who think evenings in Miami Beach are confined to bass beats and overpriced cocktails, consider the New World Symphony, which turned thirty years old this year. I've been a longtime fan of this intrepid youth orchestra/academy, made up of 87 talented young musicians from across the U.S. and, increasingly, from around the world. Like Tanglewood, Aspen, and other post-conservatory programs, most come here to enhance their already-formidable skills in the hope of landing a position with a major orchestra. But instead of just one or two summers, at New World the fellows are given three years of all-expense-paid tuition, room and board - all just a stone's throw from the beach. Not a bad way to spend your post-college years. 

In prior visits, my experience has been limited to performances in the sparkling, Frank Gehry-designed New World Center, which opened in 2011 and remains the best small concert hall in America (second only to Gehry's Disney Hall in L.A.) But, after spending three days in South Beach sitting in on rehearsals, discussions, and performances, I've come to realize that what appears onstage at the New World Center on any given night is just one facet of a sophisticated, technologically advanced organization that over three decades has evolved from humble beginnings into a premier training ground for the musicians of the 21st century. 

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Ticket Giveaway: Alexander String Quartet Performs Music of Brahms and the Schumanns at Baruch

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The love triangle between Johannes Brahms and Robert and Clara Schumann has often been depicted in music, novels, and film. This week, the Alexander String Quartet appears at Baruch College's Rosalyn and Irwin Engelman Recital Hall with a three-concert series (April 25-29) dedicated to the chamber music of these three romantic composers, including string quartets, piano trios and quintets (with pianist Joyce Yang), songs (with mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich) and more. Tickets and additional info can be found on the Baruch College website

Feast of Music is giving away TWO PAIRS of tickets to each of the three performances (April 25 and 27 at 7:30 PM; April 29 at 5PM)

Here's how to enter:

1. Email with your name and preferred date  -OR-

2. Retweet our post with the hashtag #freetickets   

Good luck!

Julianna Barwick and ModernMedieval at the Ecstatic Music Festival

by Steven Pisano

20180419-DSC09597(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Since 2011, the Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall has presented collaborative concerts by performers and composers in the alternative and classical music scenes. On Thursday, Julianna Barwick and ModernMedieval teamed up for a night of ethereally beautiful vocal music.

Barwick revealed in her on-stage interview with WNYC's John Schaefer that she came to her style of music after several failed attempts at traditional pop music, which left her bored and unfulfilled until somebody introduced her to a loop pedal. Actual words are besides the point in Barwick's gorgeous vocals, which are all about sound. At one point, Schaefer asked her about Meredith Monk, whom Barwick said she admired but who she only came to know after she had been singing her own way for quite some time. (Monk is in her mid 70s, Barwick in her late 30s.) Barwick's singing is dreamy, crystalline, and pure--as you might expect from the daughter of a Louisiana pastor who started singing in church--but it is not at all spacey or annoyingly precious like many New Age singers. There is something deeply sacred about the music, even in its secular-ness.

Barwick's set ended with "The Harbinger," one of the standout tracks from her 2013 album Nepenthe. Barwick recounted how she has performed this majestic song dozens of times with different groups of back-up singers, ranging from a group of 10-yr-old boys to a group of teenage girls, each time the performance taking on a slightly different character. At the same time, she said that her loop pedal has allowed her to perform it many times alone. (One can only imagine the "Hallelujah Chorus" performed with such a gadget.)

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