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January 2022

"The Hang" by Taylor Mac at HERE

by Steven Pisano

The Hang, HERE Arts Center (All photographs by Steven Pisano)

If you haven't been following the career of Taylor Mac, you've been missing out on one of the most protean theater artists of our time. Winner of a MacArthur Genius Grant, International Ibsen Award and Pulitzer Prize nomination, Mac achieved wide praise for 2016's tour-de-force “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” not in the least because it was 24 hours long (with short allowances for food, drink, and bathroom breaks). One could fill stadiums with the number of people still kicking themselves for missing that show!

Now, Mac has brought a new opera, “The Hang” to HERE, written with the composer Matt Ray and directed by Niegel Smith. Originally scheduled to be presented as part of the cancelled Prototype Festival of new opera, “The Hang” is not as ambitious in scale as some of Mac's previous work, clocking in at a mere 100 minutes. But, as a celebration of live musical theater in all its bristling, visceral glory—music, lyrics, sets, make-up, and costumes—this “jazz opera" will make you ecstatic to be back in the theater. It is a love letter to the act of creation itself, and to how essential it is that we all “hang” together.

“The Hang” recounts the persecution and ultimate death of the famous Greek philosopher Socrates. But don’t be misled. This is not a classics lesson brought to life (even if knowing something about Aristophanes will elicit snickers from those in the know). What will delight you is the sheer, queer exuberance of this outstanding production.

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Preview: SongStudio Returns to Carnegie Hall

Isabel Leonard SongStudio Masterclass, 1/22/22
Photo by Pete Matthews/Feast of Music

After going virtual last year, Carnegie Hall's SongStudio returned live to the Resnick Education Wing this week. The Weill Music Institute's premier program for young vocalists, SongStudio offers singers and "collaborative pianists" (a.k.a. accompanists) a crash course in everything from stage presence to vocal diction, exploring both the classic and current song repertoire with an eye towards pulling the recital experience into the 21st Century. Led by renowned soprano Renée Fleming - who took over for the late mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne in 2019 - some twenty young singers and pianists have spent the week working with some of the brightest lights in opera and song, including Fleming, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard (whose masterclass is tonight.)

The weeklong program culminates tomorrow night with a recital in Zankel Hall, overseen by Fleming. Limited tickets for tonight's Isabel Leonard masterclass and tomorrow's recital are available for purchase on Carnegie's website or at the box office. If you plan to go, please take note of Carnegie's new policies to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you. 

New Year, New Leaf: Igor Levit at Carnegie Hall

Igor Levit at Carnegie Hall
Well, it's been a rough couple of months here in NYC. Just when we thought we were almost done with COVID-19, it came roaring back around Thanksgiving, shutting down bars, restaurants - and lots of live music. This month alone has seen the cancellation of both the PROTOTYPE opera festival (they say it's "postponed") and the Winter JazzFest Marathon (which is now the "Virtual Marathon," which started this week.) Not to mention seemingly half the shows I see listed on Ohmyrockness.

The city's opera and concert halls, on the other hand, have largely kept their doors open, which is ironic given the relative size of their auditoriums and potential risk of infection. Guess some folks like to freak out more about Omicron than others. (Full disclosure: I caught COVID just before Christmas, and experienced relatively mild symptoms for about a week. Thank you, Pfizer!)

One of those venues that's persevered is Carnegie Hall, which has navigated this year's various COVID-related travel restrictions by filling its three stages with soloists, chamber groups, and the occasional local orchestra. To be frank, it's not been a banner year of programming thus far. BUT, things are ramping up quickly here in 2022, with stalwarts such as the Vienna Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, and the Emerson String Quartet all set to perform in the coming weeks. 

Safety is of course a top priority at Carnegie, and was in clear evidence Thursday night by the line snaking around the corner of 57th and 7th to check ID's and proofs of vaccination. Fair warning: all tickets now come with a designated entry time and one of several designated entrances, though I'd recommend getting there at least a half hour before curtain regardless of what your ticket says. And, for God's sake, don't forget your mask!

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