"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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Preview: Francesca Khalifa and Levi Vutipadadorn on Classical Thursdays

by Nick Stubblefield

Classical thursdays

A church in Bedford-Stuyvesant might not seem like the first place you'd expect to hear classical music, but that's where you can find the Brooklyn Center for the Arts, home to the Classical Thursdays concert series that kicks off its second season tonight with a pair of Mozart Concertos featuring string players from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. According to co-founders (and piano soloists) Francesca Khalifa and Levi Vutipadadorn, Classical Thursdays serves the Bed-Stuy community at large with low ($7) ticket prices and an intimate, welcoming space that encourages locals to congregate and interact with each other, both through the music and at a reception following each concert.

"We aim to provide an empowering and safe space where people of all ages, backgrounds, and socioeconomic status can come together," says Khalifa. "We believe that classical music is a universal endowment, and we aim to pass the care and passion for it to a community that is going through this delicate transformation process."

Khalifa and Vutipadadorn say that the community has responded positively to to the series. 

"While walking through the neighborhood and spreading the word about Classical Thursdays, we've had countless interactions with members of the community who are both shocked and excited to hear that there's classical music being offered in Bed-Stuy. Many tell us they've spent their entire lives in this area, and are greatly appreciative of our efforts. There's one instance in particular that sticks out, where a woman said to us, 'I know what you're trying to do here and our community desperately needs this, you're doing a great thing and we thank you!'"

Tonight's concert is at the Brooklyn Center for the Arts, located at 28 Madison Street in Bed-Stuy. Doors at 7p, concert at 7.30. Tickets available at the door or online. More info below.

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"Elizabeth Cree" at Opera Philadelphia

by Steven Pisano

 

"Elizabeth Cree" at Opera Philadelphia(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - "Elizabeth Cree," the new chamber opera by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell playing through Saturday at Opera Philadelphia, is the rare opera that feels way too short. I wanted it to fill the stage for at least an hour longer. Everything about this production is top-rate.

Based upon the lurid Peter Ackroyd novel, The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, the story revolves around the trial of a fictional music hall performer for the murder of her husband, John Cree (Troy Cook), a playwright and critic. When John first introduces himself - as a critic - to Elizabeth one night following a performance, she immediately tells him, "I forgive you."

In the murky darkness of the opening scene, we see a shrouded body twisting on a noose in the rafters, so we know how Elizabeth's story will end. But there are lots of other murders too, and who committed them - or why - is less clear.

Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack is the powerhouse lead. Whether singing an aria of her own or just standing there silently while others sing to her, Mack commands attention in a performance that is likely to lead to larger stages. (Indeed, it already has.) Alternately dressed as an ingenue, as a man who prowls London in the night, or as a proper Victorian wife in a splendid home with servants, Mack handles all the different aspects of the mercurial Elizabeth with complete mastery.

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