Opera Feed

"We Shall Not Be Moved" at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

"We Shall Not Be Moved" at the Apollo Theater(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

"We Shall Not Be Moved," which played at the Apollo Theater this week following its world premiere at Opera Philadelphia last month, is an urban opera that riffs on the history of the radical political group MOVE. Established in Philadelphia the early 1970s by John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart), MOVE is vividly remembered for several violent confrontations with the police - including a 1985 firefight that killed 11 MOVE members (including 5 children) and which destroyed over 60 houses.

Against this intensely violent background, composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and director Bill T. Jones have written a contemporary story of urban struggle. Five teenagers, who have veered in and out of trouble, find their school has been closed, so they squat in an abandoned house in West Philadelphia - which just so happens to be the former MOVE headquarters from the 1980s. The house is populated by peaceful ghosts dressed in gray sweatsuits who dance through the house and try to guide the teens.

But the teens have also caught the eye of Glenda, the local beat cop. She wonders why they are not in school during the day, and eventually their interactions escalate until one day the police officer accidentally discharges her gun and shoots one of the kids. The young people grab her gun, then hold her captive, not knowing exactly what to do now that everything has suddenly spun out of control.

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Matthew Aucoin's "Crossing" at BAM

by Steven Pisano

"Crossing" at BAM(All photos by Steven Pisano)

The Civil War may have ended more than 150 years ago, yet in many ways our country has never fully recovered. The recent protests over removing Confederate statues from public locations have shown just how shallow - and how hurting - the wounds from that episode in our history still are. To be sure, we've come a long way since the 1860s, but we are still a nation divided. Not Blue and Gray any longer, but Blue and Red.

If opera is generally thought to be drama writ large, then the Civil War could be considered the greatest opera in American history, with brother killing brother hand-to-hand, and thousands of soldiers dying in a single day. So it's interesting that the young composer Matthew Aucoin, in his 2015 opera Crossing, explores a more intimate side of the war through Walt Whitman's diary, in which he writes about volunteering as a wartime nurse tending to wounded Union soldiers. But while the setting is small, the themes in Aucoin's opera are timeless--love, faith, betrayal, life, death, transcendence.

Aucoin, 27, composes music of a very high caliber, writes his own literate librettos, and is one of the most respected young conductor/composers in the country. (Crossing, Aucoin's third opera, was written when he was only 25.) First performed at American Repertory Theater in Boston (Aucoin studied poetry at Harvard), Crossing is having its New York premiere this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the annual Next Wave Festival.

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A Berkshires Bounty: Opening Weekend at Tanglewood

Tanglewood - Feast of Music Jul 9  2017  3-33 PMLENOX, MA - I've been going to Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's longtime home in the Berkshires, almost every summer now for the past two-and-a-half decades. Those that have been to Tanglewood know that it is a special place, where the mix of manicured lawns, mountain vistas, and world class musicians make it one of the most satisfying places to experience music (not to mention some pretty elaborate picnics) in the world.

But, in all of those years, I've never made it up for the official opening weekend, which typically falls right after the 4th of July. Usually, these early concerts lean towards the pedestrian, featuring a flashy soloist performing under some second-tier conductor. (Tanglewood has actually been open since mid-June, mostly with a mix of pop and jazz concerts for the baby boomer set, including an annual appearance by local resident James Taylor.) 

This year, however, I was enticed by the early arrival of BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, who has expanded his presence at Tanglewood this year to some 10 concerts over four weeks. (11, if you count his participation in the Boston Pops' annual John Williams Film Night on August 19.) A promising development, to be sure, but with Nelsons about to take on the additional role of Kapellmeister (music director) of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, it remains to be seen if the trend will continue beyond this summer. 

Regardless, Tanglewood has always been about more than whomever's on the podium any given night. In addition to some two dozen concerts by the BSO in the 5,100 seat Koussevitzky Music Shed, a parade of world class soloists and chamber ensembles can be heard in the more intimate Ozawa Hall on most evenings. Then, there's the Tanglewood Music Center - Tanglewood's real raison d'être - which provides advanced training and performance opportunities for some of the world's top young musicians. In past summers, I've seen the TMC fellows perform everything from Wagner and Mozart operas under James Levine, to the U.S. premiere of George Benjamin's Written on Skin, in addition to chamber music and orchestral concerts. No matter where you turn, there always seems to be some kind of music happening at Tanglewood.

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Fresh Squeezed Opera Presents "Scopes" and "Prix-Fixe"

by Steven Pisano

20170616-DSC00185(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

You have to admire the courage of a composer of one-act operas. They probably have a better chance of winning Powerball or pitching for the Yankees than they have of staging a commercial run. Thank goodness, then, for the many small opera companies that have stepped in to produce these small-sized works.

Fresh Squeezed Opera is a small, but ambitious Nyc-based company founded in 2013 by Jillian Flexner, Maggie Rascoe, and Lee Braun. This past week at the IATI Theater, they put on two one-acts: "Scopes" by Spencer Snyder and George Gaffney, and "Prix-Fixe" by Kevin Wilt and Caitlin Vincent.

"Scopes," directed by Victoria Benson and conducted by Dean Buck, is about the famous 1925 trial we all read about in history class, with criminal attorney Clarence Darrow (Sean Patrick Jernigan) facing down orator and politician William Jennings Bryan (Joshua Miller) about whether it was legal to teach children about evolution in a state where the Bible was presented as literal truth. The reporting on the trial by journalist H.L Mencken (Melanie Leinbach) was a national sensation. The whole spectacle had the sensationalistic flavor of tabloid TV, despite the fact that TV hadn't yet been invented.

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