New Music Feed

"Dragus Maximus" by Heartbeat Opera at Roulette

by Steven Pisano

20181026-DSC01337(All photos by Steven Pisano)

Each fall, to kick off its season, the edgy Heartbeat Opera presents a combination drag and opera extravaganza, which also serves as a fundraiser. This year's production over the weekend at Roulette was called "Dragus Maximus: A Homersexual Opera Odyssey," directed by co-artistic director Ethan Heard and conceived with co-artistic director Louisa Proske.

Drae Campbell was Homer, who was the narrator for the evening. Peregrine Teng Heard (Ethan's sister) was the voiceover of Aphrodite, goddess of love, who guided and prodded Homer on his adventures encountering various mythological beings, each of whom sang an aria from an opera with some kind of connection to the action. Later in the show, Aphrodite was personified on stage by Wo Chan (also known as the drag performer Pearl Harbor).

John Taylor Ward, who starred in Heartbeat's production last year of Mozart's Don Giovanni, sang "Fra l'ombre e gl'orrori" from Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, dressed as the blinded Polyphemus. Dressed up as a life-sized house fly, Ward also paired with Jamilyn Manning-White, as Eurydice, in the "Fly Duet" from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld.

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4th Annual BRIC JazzFest

by Steven Pisano and Pete Matthews
181018 BRIC Jazz Fest Thursday - 6The 4th Annual BRIC JazzFest returned this past weekend to the BRIC House in downtown Brooklyn, with some 24 musical acts over three "marathon" nights, each lasting more than 4-1/2 hours. With their biggest lineup yet, all three nights were completely sold out, leaving people begging tickets at the door. Acts included everything from cabaret to big band, from horn-heavy ear blasting to quiet introspective noodling. And, with three stages going more or less simultaneously, if the music on one stage wasn't doing it for you, you could just go next door.

Thursday, Oct. 18

One of the best things about the BRIC JazzFest is getting to know new faces in the jazz world, and such was the case with alto player Lakecia Benjamin (pictured above), who kicked things off on the mainstage Thursday night. Benjamin is an extremely capable musician, known for her work as a side-woman with Gregory Porter, Stevie Wonder, and Alicia Keys. But with her own group, SoulSquad, Benjamin's outsized, ebullient personality hits you square in between the eyes. Blending James Brown-style funk with straight-up jazz, she had the whole room clapping along.   

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"The Mile Long Opera" on The High Line

The Mile Long Opera17Composer David Lang has never been comfortable with standards of music presentation. Thirty years ago, he - along with Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe - founded Bang on a Can for the express purpose of upending concert hall conventions. Instead of a neat two hour program with a 15 minute intermission, their Marathons run continuously from six to ten hours. And, Lang's music in particular seems to go our of its way to be subversive: among his recent works is a "symphony for broken instruments" (2017) and "harmony and understanding" (2018) for orchestra and audience. 

Four years ago, David decided to eschew the concert hall altogether with "crowd out" (2014), commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Berlin Philharmonic, and performed outdoors by "1,000 people yelling." He followed that up two years later with "the public domain" (2016), written for 1,000 singers (including your's truly) performing on Lincoln Center Plaza.

Now Lang, along with architect/designer Liz Diller, has come up with his third work for 1,000 performers, "The Mile Long Opera," which is being performed this week along the entire length of The High Line on the west side of Manhattan. (The final performance takes place tonight, starting at 7pm.)

I attended last Thursday's performance, and it is, first and foremost, an impressive feat of logistics and stage design - if you can call the High Line a stage. Some 40 professional and community choirs from around the city have been recruited to participate, comprising a patchwork as diverse as the city itself. There were choirs of Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Ukrainian, and Hispanic descent. There were baptist choirs, new music ensembles, women's choruses. Even Opera on Tap was there.

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"Proving Up" at the Miller Theatre

by Steven Pisano

Proving Up Miller Theatre-50_photo_by_Rob_Davidson(Photos by Rob Davidson for the Miller Theater.)

"Proving Up," the new chamber opera by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek, opened at the Miller Theatre Wednesday night, to an audience brimming with composers, singers, and directors in the contemporary NYC opera scene. A fellow photographer was overheard saying: "Screw the Met! This is the place to be" - a reference to the news earlier this week that the Met Opera has commissioned a new opera from Mazzoli based on George Saunders’s novel “Lincoln in the Bardo.”

Mazzoli and Vavrek are perhaps best known as the team responsible for 2016's "Breaking the Waves," based on the Lars von Trier film of the same name, which remains one of the standout productions I have seen in the last five years. But "Proving Up" - a co-commission with the Washington National Opera and Opera Omaha - proved to be something very different. Based on a short story by Karen Russell," it is a bleak, mysterious, and slow-moving work about the opening of the American West. In order to earn "free" land being offered by the U.S. Government via the Homestead Acts (known as "proving up"), settlers in Nebraska needed to abide by certain requirements, such as residing on the land for five years and making improvements to it. One of these "improvements" was that settlers install glass windows in their house. It is around one such window that this opera revolves.

The Zegner family has encountered many hardships. Two unnamed daughters (Abigail Nims and Cree Carrico) are dead and buried on the land, though they appear dramatically throughout the opera as mischievous symbols of death, reminiscent of the twin girls in Stanley Kubrick's film "The Shining."  Another older son, Peter (Sam Shapiro), has been seriously injured somehow. The youngest son, Miles, who is supposed to be 11, is played by a grown man (Michael Slattery). Late in the story, a mysterious stranger called "The Sodbuster" (Andrew Harris) appears, but he seems to muddy the story rather than add to it.

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