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"Joan of Arc at the Stake" at New York Philharmonic

by Steven Pisano

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Photo by Chris Lee.

Oratorios are a tricky business. On the one hand, it can seem unsettling for a symphony orchestra to present an oratorio, which has a great deal of purely spoken dialogue not accompanied by music. And yet, because the drama is usually more suggestive than explicit, there is often not enough “action” for an opera company to produce it without it seeming skimpily staged. (Peter Sellars' St. Matthew Passion with the Berlin Phil was a rare exception to the rule.)

The New York Philharmonic’s final production of the season is Swiss composer Arthur Honegger’s 1930s oratorio, Joan of Arc at the Stake (Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher). This week's four performances have all been sold out for some time, presumably thanks to the presence of Academy Award-winning actor Marion Cotillard in the title role. Cotillard is spellbinding as Joan, the young “Maid of Orleans” who led France to victory in an important battle of the Hundred Years’ War, only to be captured and burned alive at the stake. Watching Cotillard's performance on Wednesday, I knew I was in the presence of something very special.

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Handel's "Orlando" at the Whitebox Art Center

by Christina Klessig

Orlando, Whitebox Art Center
Entering into the minimalistic Whitebox Art Center on Friday night was like stepping into a rehearsal space at Julliard, the only stage set an empty five seat park bench on risers. Seeing two donation boxes with small amounts of cash at the entrance raised some red flags about the quality of the production of Handel's Orlando I was about to see, but once the houselights went down, I knew this was going to be something special.

I was there for a preview of Handel’s 1733 opera Orlando, directed by R.B. Schlather. Schlather didn’t simply update the setting to modern times, he actively modernized the interpretations of Handel’s baroque lyrics to coincide with our modern day expectations of body language and communication. There was deep emotion in the acting, which allowed the strong vocal performances to wash over the space. Towards the end, the performance began to blur the lines between opera and performance art - perhaps not unexpected in a space that doubles as an art gallery. The orchestra could have used a few more rehearsals, but otherwise this was an intriguing reinterpretation of this nearly 300 year old masterpiece. 

The final performance of Orlando at the Whitebox Art Center is tonight at 7pm. A limited number of rush tickets are still available; more info available online


"Meredith Monk and Friends" at Zankel Hall

by Steven Pisano

Meredith Monk at Zankel HallOne thing is clear: Meredith Monk has a lot of friends—musicians who have both directly and indirectly been influenced by her work. And she has written a lot of music. So, it was only fitting that Monk, who is this season's Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall, was the subject of Sunday afternoon's “Meredith Monk and Friends” at Zankel Hall, celebrating her 50-year career (so far) as one of today's most widely admired musicians. 

This marathon concert lasted four-and-a-half hours, and hardly scratched the surface of her output. 1970’s “Dungeon” was performed with frenetic fury by John Zorn on a squawking, screeching, caterwauling saxophone while Cyro Baptista thumped methodically on a big bass drum. Other works were as current as the delicate a cappella “Cellular Songs,” which Monk and her famed Vocal Ensemble have been working on for the last several weeks. At age 70, Monk is clearly not content to simply rehash the past, but continues to look ever forward.

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"Lucia di Lammermoor" at the Metropolitan Opera

by Steven Pisano

Lucia di Lammermoor Metropolitan Opera

Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera’s current production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor doesn't really show up on stage until the third and final act, but when it does, scoot up to the front of your seat and listen closely, because there are some scintillating vocal fireworks about to come your way.

The plot is simple, if not very interesting. Lucia Ashton is tricked (via a forged letter) into thinking her true love Edgardo has found another woman, and then is forced by her brother Enrico to marry Arturo, a wealthy man she does not love, as a means to preserve her family’s fortunes. But hold on: she then psychotically flips out and murders the poor sap Arturo, on their wedding day. So maybe this will prove interesting after all....

One problem early on is that while the staging by Daniel Ostling is majestic, and poetically lit by T.J. Gerckens, it is way too outsized for the simple human interactions of the story. After all, even the grandest love stories are between just two people--but here the characters seemed crushed by their larger-than-life setting.

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