Opera Feed

Katherine Jenkins at the Café Carlyle

2016_04_12_Carlyle_03Photo: David Andrako

When you visit the Café Carlyle, just off the lobby of the historic Carlyle Hotel on Madison and 76th Street, you know you aren't just seeing any old cabaret show. The minute you're escorted to your seat underneath the famous murals by Marcel Vertès, you can feel the ghosts of Bobby Short, Eartha Kitt, Elaine Stritch and other legendary performers - both real and imagined - who've filled this surprisingly intimate room with song and laughter since 1955.

Last night, I paid my first-ever visit to the Café Carlyle. My guest and I was seated at a table right behind the piano, where we enjoyed a much-better-than-necessary three course meal, complete with wine. (Disclosure: both dinner and the show were compliments of the house.) A few minutes before showtime, the evening's accompanist, Jerry Steichen, took his seat at the piano and immediately struck up a conversation, no doubt intended to relax us both. "Let me know if either of you want to come up here and take a turn," he said with a devilish laugh.

"Only if you want to hear chopsticks," I replied.

"I don't think that's on the set list tonight." 

The evening's actual entertainment was provided by the Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins, who weaved her way to the stage through the tight rows of tables in a royal blue gown, careful not to catch her long, flowing trail. Jenkins, whose career has been spent mostly singing at soccer stadiums and arenas with the likes of Andrea Bocelli and David Foster, seemed right at home. And, with good reason: she told the audience she met her husband Andrew Levitas here on a blind date in 2013.

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Charlie Parker's Yardbird at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

Charlie Parker's Yardbird at the Apollo Theater(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Saxophonist Charlie Parker was one of the seminal jazz musicians of the twentieth century, whose fast and furious improvisational style was the source of bebop, one of the defining styles of the 1940s and 1950s. Like the blues great Robert Johnson before him, Charlie Parker's tragic early death at the age of 34 from a heart attack--almost certainly hastened by years of heroin addiction--sealed his legend as a musician who utterly changed music, and whose influence still lingers into today.

The new opera Charlie Parker's Yardbird, created in cooperation between Opera Philadelphia and the late, lamented Gotham Chamber Opera, imagines Charlie Parker after he has died but before he has passed on into jazz heaven. (The production closes tomorrow at the Apollo Theater.) Audience members take their seats before an onstage cadaver lying under a sheet, its feet boldly sticking out. 

Composer Daniel Schnyder and librettist Bridgette A. Wimberly have written a strong work, which possibly might have been even stronger if it was about an lesser-known musician. Because Charlie Parker is such an outsized figure in jazz history, and because he died with so much of his enormous talent unfulfilled, there is a natural curiosity to know more about this musical genius. But the pieces of the story we see on stage are sketchy, and while occasionally interesting, don't really give us deeper insights into the man or his music.

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“Angel’s Bone" at the Prototype Festival

by Steven Pisano

Top - Kyle Pfortmiller, Bottom - Kyle Bielfield, Jennifer Charles

(All photos by Cory Weaver.)

Angel’s Bone, presented by the unflaggingly innovative Prototype Festival and directed by Michael McQuilken, portrays the lurid tale of a suburban couple (Kyle Pfortmiller and Abigail Fischer) facing financial and marital distress who one day miraculously discover a Boy Angel (Kyle Bielfield) and a Girl Angel who have fallen out of Heaven and landed in their backyard.

It doesn't take long for this blessing to turn dark. At the wife’s blunt request (“Prune them!”), the husband holds high a gleaming meat cleaver and savagely severs the angels' wings. The couple then holds the angels prisoner in a clawfoot bathtub and exploits them by charging people for various services, including sex. The wife later entices the Boy Angel to impregnate her so that she can give birth to a human-angel hybrid. In the wife’s view, capitalizing on these innocent messengers of God is an acceptable way for her to finally get the life she feels she always deserved. 

The story is bold and daring, inspired by worldwide human trafficking, ranging from children sold for sex to indentured domestic workers. The United Nations estimates there are almost 30 million people in the world today living as slaves: a crisis in our midst. Unfortunately, composer Du Yun and librettist Royce Vavrek fail to explore this pressing issue in artistic terms. It seems to me that artists—writers, composers, filmmakers, painters, whatever—are uniquely equipped to help us understand or at least make us think about such issues by exploring their ramifications. 

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“Dog Days” at the Prototype Festival

by Steven Pisano

John Kelly, Lauren Worsham(Photo by Ellen Appel.)

War is everywhere. People are starving. The meager food rations air-dropped from military helicopters are not nearly enough to stave off hunger. All the animals, including the birds, have died. Or maybe they have all moved away, as if sensing that something even more terrifying than war is coming closer. Clearly, the apocalypse is at hand.

This might sound like a slight exaggeration of today’s front page reporting on Syria or Afghanistan or Iraq. But it is the very real, and bleak, world faced by the family in David T. Little and Royce Vavrek’s Dog Days, an electrifying and, to say the least, startling chamber opera which had its New York premiere at the NYU Skirball Center this past weekend, presented by Beth Morrison Projects as part of this year’s Prototype Festival. (It was originally produced in 2012 at Montclair State University.)

Dog Days is extreme. It is like being Tasered with a 1000 volts of electrical energy, straight to the brain. It won’t kill you. It will jolt you alive. But it does take a little while to get there. The first act at least partially tricks us into thinking this might be some peculiar variation on Beauty and the Beast. In the advertising for the production, it certainly looks like a quirky rom-com between a Man-Dog and a wide-eyed young girl. But if you took this bait, you are in for a shock.

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