February 25, 2013
February 20, 2013
Having succumbed at long last to a winter cold, I felt I would dedicate this Midweek Madness installment to my fellow sufferers. I suggest we all sing through our pain, with the help of Betty Boop and that profound ditty "I Got a Cold in My Nose." (Her performance makes me want to dig out "Funny Lady" again to hear Streisand's fun version.)
Grab a Kleenex and chime in:
February 18, 2013
Magdalena Kozena, the high-profile, Czech mezzo-soprano, and her equally high-profile accompanist, the Russian-born, Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman, chose a fascinating sample of repertoire for their recital Sunday night presented by the Shriver Hall Concert Series.
Four of the five composers on the bill came from the mainstream, but the works selected for this occasion did not.
In Mussorgsky's song cycle "The Nursery," which evokes the alternately animated, awed and mischievous mindset of a child, Kozena offered an abundance of colorful vocal touches -- even a nose-thumbing gesture for good measure. Bronfman articulated the subtly brilliant keyboard part with terrific flair.
The exquisite, often wry sound world of Ravel's "Histoires Naturelles" likewise found both artists doing finely communicative work, especially in the lovely languor of "Le Martin-pecheur."
Kozena's dark, evenly produced tone found another great outlet in the six songs of romance and nature from Rachmaninoff's Op. 38.
Bronfman likewise summoned expressive power every step of the way, digging into the richly woven accompaniment. Like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff frequently ended art songs with elongated codas for the piano, and these passages took on extra value in Bronfman's hands.
Bartok's earthy "Village Scenes," with their deliciously spiky rhythms, inspired another burst of vivid music-making.
All of this would have been enough to make the recital distinctive, but there as more -- the local premiere of "Three Melodies on a Poem of Ezra Pound" by French composer Mac-Andre Dalbavie, a work co-commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts, Carnegie Hall and Shriver Hall Concert Series.
The text, "The Unmoving Cloud" from Pound's "Cathay," has inspired a transparent, finely detailed setting from Dalbavie.
The vocal lines, sensual and elegant, convey the imagery of rain, loneliness, the comforts of nature and wine.
There are hazy hints of Debussy and Ravel along the way; even, in Melodie II, a touch of Rachmaninoff in the piano's dark harmonies. A keyboard motive that descends in the first song and ascends in the last provides a telling thread.
Kozena sang the music sensitively and articulated the English works more clearly than many a singer whose first language actually is English.
There was an affecting encore -- Schumann's "Wehmut" from "Liederkreis," which includes the line, "I can sometimes sing as if I were happy. But, in secret, tears well up ... no one feels the pains, the deep sorrow in the song."
Kozena produced her tenderest vocal shading of the evening here, reaching the lied's poignant heart, while Bronfman matched her nuance for nuance.
PHOTO OF MAGDALENA KOZENA BY MATTHIAS BOTHOR/DG
PHOTO OF YEFIM BRONFMAN BY DARIO ACOSTA
It looks like a full-fledged trend -- Baltimore theater companies adding performances of productions thanks to popular demand this winter.
First to announce was Everyman Theatre, which extended the run of "August: Osage County." Two more companies have likewise found themselves with hits.
Katori Hall’s "The Mountaintop" isn't for everybody, but this serious/humorous/surreal look at Rev. Martin Luther King's last night, April 3, 1968, has turned out to be "one of the highest grossing plays" in the 50-year history of Center Stage, the company reports.
Although the production, directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, still has to close on Feb. 24 as originally scheduled, an extra performance has been added that day -- 7:30 p.m. (Scheduling conflicts prevent a longer extension.)
Meanwhile, Annex Theatre, one of the city's young, intrepid troupes, reports that, "due to an extremely positive audience reaction," two more weekends have been added to its production of Peter Shaffer's "Equus."
The show, directed by Mason Ross, opened Feb. 7 at the H&H Building downtown and was slated to finish up on the 17th. It will instead continue there through the weekends of Feb. 23 and March 1.
(You may recall that the Annex Theatre had hoped to be in a new, permanent home on North Avenue in a renovated fast food place, but there have been delays in the renovation process.)
PHOTO (Myxolydia Tyler, Shawn Hamilton in 'The Mountaintop') BY RICHARD ANDERSON
February 16, 2013
As Christmas 1914 approached, Benedict XV, who described the war as “the suicide of Europe,” pleaded for a Christmas truce. The military leaders refused, but somehow, at several points along the trenches, a surreal cease-fire broke out anyway.
That short, peaceful spell inspired the 2005 film “Joyeux Noel,” which focused on the experiences of some Scottish, French and German troops on a battlefield in Belgium. That film, in turn, inspired “Silent Night,” an opera by Kevin Puts, the Peabody Institute faculty member who received the Pulitzer Prize in music last year for this extraordinary work.
Opera Philadelphia is presenting the East Coast premiere of “Silent Night” at the Academy of Music in an impressive co-production with Minnesota Opera, which commissioned and unveiled the piece in November 2011. (The final performance is Sunday.)
Music history is not ...
As a person, Wagner was deplorable — vain, arrogant, manipulative, viciously and relentlessly anti-Semitic. As an artist, he reached the highest peaks. His importance to the evolution of Western music cannot be overstated; the fusion of intellectual brilliance and emotional power that propels his works cannot be overvalued.
The best way to appreciate this achievement is in an opera house enjoying a full staging of a Wagner music drama, but that opportunity is not going to arise in Baltimore any time soon. The BSO is offering the next best thing — a complete act from “Die Walkure” in concert form, with three excellent singers.
As a warm-up, there are samplings from “Tristan und Isolde” and “Die Meistersinger.” And warm was the word on Friday.
Conductor Marin Alsop emphasized the grandeur and humanity of the “Meistersinger” Prelude in equal measure. There was propulsion, but not haste, in her approach, and that helped the ingenious counterpoint in the score to shine through. The ensemble sounded sure and robust.
The BSO’s previous performances of the Prelude and “Liebestod” from “Tristan” over the past decade have been orchestra-only. This time, there was a soprano in the house to do the honors in the “Liebestod” — the opera’s soul-stirring conclusion, when Isolde, having lost her beloved Tristan, essentially dies of love.
As in previous performances of the Prelude I’ve heard her conduct, Alsop ...
February 15, 2013
"Shakespeare's R&J" examines the star-crossed lovers of Verona through the unexpected prism of a repressive, all-male Catholic boarding school. This brilliant and provocative work, created by Joe Calarco, first appeared in the late 1990s and has been widely performed since.
Calarco recently revised the piece, and that new version is receiving its North American premiere in a bracing, in-the-round production that he has directed with considerable flair.
The piece is wonderfully minimalist -- just four actors (the characters are unnamed), no set or costumes (save for preppy school uniforms), hardly any props (a long red cloth gets versatile use). The attention here is all on text and subtext.
The students are ...
February 14, 2013
It’s partly a traditional musical, with at least the thread of a plot — a woman who welds by day but would rather dance — and new songs that advance the storyline, more or less.
It’s partly a jukebox musical, with emphasis on the vintage songs that helped make the film so popular.
It also wants to be just a big old dance celebration, with kinetic routines breaking out at the drop of a cliche.
As the show bumps and grinds across the stage, it seems, above all, to have been created for those with short attention spans. Things never settle down long enough to allow for such silly little things as character development or dramatic tension.
You would think that with such a strong, recent example of how a need-to-dance movie can make a good stage musical — see “Billy Elliot” — someone might have wanted to give “Flashdance” a few layers thicker than the loose sweatshirt the lead character wears.
The flimsy premise of this tale could use some filling out and suspense — anything to pump up the journey made by Alex, the mill worker with the hankering for ballet lessons.
“Flashdance,” with a book by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary, is content to stay on the same superficial level of the original source material.
This would have been a good time to try out some fresh dialogue, for a start.
And lyrics? Oh, my. Alfred Tennyson must be chuckling in his grave at this howler: “It’s better to leap and fall than never leap at all.” (Robert Roth wrote the music and shares credit for the lyrics with Robert Cary.)
I wonder if a campier course might have been more fun, given how brilliant, in its own crazy way, the stage adaptation of another dance-filled movie, "Xanadu," turned out. Oh well.
"Flashdance," expertly directed and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, may rely too much on nostalgia. The expected scenes from the film are recreated, though in a curiously dutiful fashion.
When the lithe and spirited Emily Padgett, who stars as Alex, removes a bra without lifting her sweat shirt, or gyrates while being doused with water, just like Jennifer Beals did in the film, it feels like she is merely following a to-do list.
There’s nothing remotely sexy about that bra business — Matthew Hydzik, as Alex’s boss-turned-boyfriend, Nick, looks like he’s watching the nightly news.
And the water number, used to bring down the Act 1 curtain, certainly looks fabulous (Klara Zieglerova’s scenic design and Howell Binkley’s lighting deliver plenty of sizzle throughout the production), but the whole thing is over in a splash. It feels tacked on, just a sop to the fans of the movie.
Superficiality does have its place in the theater world, of course, and there’s a certain guilty-pleasure element about this glossy vehicle, which tries so hard to entertain. (I still wouldn’t count too heavily on the show’s success if it ever makes it to Broadway — the Baltimore visit is part of a pre-New York national tour.)
In addition to the fluent stagecraft, the level of performing is high. Padgett manages to look fresh at the end of the two and a half hour musical, despite one frenetic dance after another (the choreography devised for her could use a bit more of the aesthetic and bit less of the athletic). She sings sturdily as well. If she can’t quite give Alex depth, she manages to give her some personality.
Hydzik glides smoothly through the role of Nick and, especially in the calmer numbers, proves to be a confident, stylish singer. He’s especially effective blending with Padgett in “Here and Now,” one of the more appealing songs in the score.
Not content to focus on one character’s journey toward artistic fulfillment, the show spends a little too much time with others. There’s Alex’s dancing buddy Gloria (a perky Kelly Felthous), who ends up in a sleazy club. And Gloria’s boyfriend, Jimmy (David R. Gordon), whose boy-meets-dream, boy-loses-dream, boy-gets-song progression proves only mildly diverting.
JoAnn Cunningham, as Alex’s wise old muse, Hannah, makes a valiant effort to give the character some depth, but she isn’t helped by the writers.
Supporting players make a considerable effort to spice things up. The ensemble of dancers/singers moves through its paces in polished form. But they would be better served by a few really grand production numbers, rather than an assortment of brief routines that often don’t have enough time to get off the ground.
On the plus side, “Flashdance” does deliver in the closing moments, when Alex finally gets her audition for the stuffy academy and the strains of “What a Felling” start to fill the house. There really is bit of a thrill at that point, but it’s just a little late.
Photo by Kyle Froman
February 13, 2013
The playwright’s vision conjures a world where North and South America have fused into a strange melange where languages and longings converge, or collide. The crudely hedonistic society that results comes with a violent undercurrent that some vague authoritarian power is ready to smash or exploit.
Amid the grime and slime of this cruel tomorrow, the old human impulse toward love and union can still break through, bringing with it the faintest tint of hope.
The intriguing, if not entirely persuasive, work has a little “A Clockwork Orange” in it, though with a Latin beat instead of Beethoven — a DJ spinning tracks, and official government lines, provides a connective soundtrack.
The staging, directed by Nathan A. Cooper, also suggests a touch of the vintage “Batman” TV series in the stylized fight scene early on (there’s even a baseball cap emblazoned with word “pow” on the brim).
With her Cuban, Spanish, Argentine and Croatian background, Svich obviously brings a keen perspective to issues of assimilation and alienation. “The Tropic of X” is all about identity — national, social, economic, and, most provocatively, sexual (gender-bending plays a major role here) — and how the things that define us can get pretty slippery.
What Svich doesn’t do is ...
With the season finale of "Downton Abbey" approaching on Sunday, I couldn't resist devoting one more Midweek Madness entry to the show -- the perfect addition to your paper doll collection:
I started at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, where the Music in the Great Hall series presented the Trio Cloisonne -- flutist Marcia Kamper, violist Karin Brown, harpist Sarah Fuller -- in a colorful program.
Debussy is generally credited with generating interest in this combination of instruments; his Sonata was featured on the second half of the concert, by which point I had moved down the road to another performance.
What I did get to hear was quite rewarding, especially Toru Takemitsu's "And Then I Knew 'Twas Wind." The title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem ("Like Rain it sounded till it curved/ And then I knew 'twas wind ..."); the music comes from a magical place where French and Japanese harmonic idioms seem to converge.
The players, all affiliated with the Baltimore Symphony, articulated the atmospheric score with ...
February 11, 2013
Instead of Feb. 17, the new closing date will be Feb. 24.
There are many reasons to catch this show, starting with the brilliant play that Tracy Letts wrote. In peeling away layer after layer of a heavily troubled Oklahoma family, Letts uncovers unsettling things about all of us.
Those uncanny insights into human behavior, not to mention a wonderful streak of humor, earned Letts a Pulitzer and Tony Award for "August."
Everyman's staging -- the Baltimore premiere of the 2007 work -- features an excellent cast headed by the wonderful Linda Thorson in her company debut as the messed-up matriarch.
There are extraordinary efforts as well from Nancy Robinette (another company debut) and such Everyman veterans as Deborah Hazlett and Wil Love, to mention just a few.
The all-out ensemble effort reaffirms Everyman's quality and value to Baltimore's theater scene, while the handsome staging shows off the company's new venue to great advantage.
PHOTO OF LINDA THORSON BY STAN BAROUH
February 8, 2013
On that occasion, Lintu led the ensemble in the most famous piece of classical music from his homeland, Sibelius’ “Finlandia.” For his return this week, the conductor is offering the second most famous — Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2.
From the first measures of that symphony Thursday night at the Music Center at Strathmore, Lintu signaled that his would be a brisk and bracing account.
Some conductors, at least non-Finn ones, take heaps of time to let this earth-colored, yearning-filled music sink in (think Leonard Bernstein). They may be off-base, but they can't help but conjure up dark forests and, of course, the forbidding peaks of mighty fiords.
Lintu let the sun seep continually into the score. There was a fresh breeze, too, behind his scherzo-like tempo for the first movement, not to mention his whirlwind pace for the actual scherzo later on.
The conductor hardly stinted on the symphony’s intense drama, though. The unsettled and unsettling second movement, for example, emerged with particularly effective tension.
Lintu kept the finale moving along. He still gave the grand, anthem-like theme its expressive due, even if, like Veda in “Mildred Pierce,” the conductor seemed to be saying, “But let’s not get sticky over it.”
Throughout the symphony, he called for telling nuances from the musicians, especially ...
February 7, 2013
The early music/period instrument group has an annual tradition of presenting a wintry program scheduled around or, as it turned out this time, exactly on the day of the biggest football game of the year.
Billed as SuperBach Sunday, the concert typically has a unifying theme. This one, which drew a good-sized audience to Towson University's Center for the Arts, found a particularly interesting hook.
It centered on the court of Frederick the Great and featured one of Bach's monumental exercises in contrapuntal ingenuity, "The Musical Offering," based on a slithery theme supposedly devised by the king himself.
Hard to believe that the revered monarch who could come up with such a harmonically challenging melodic line was the same guy who wrote the mundane march played on the first half of Sunday's concert. I guess even supreme rulers have their off days.
Still, it was fun hearing that ditty and the more substantive and elegant Flute Sonata No. 9, not to mention the fine Flute Quartet No. 1 by Quantz, one of Frederick's favored composers.
The Quantz work, in particular, inspired ...
February 6, 2013
BSO vice president of education Carol Bogash calls the project "the final piece in the BSO’s educational framework" and cites a McMaster University study indicating that "early musical training benefits children even before they can walk or talk."
The Music Box Series will feature actress, dancer, storyteller and Baltimore School for the Arts instructor Maria Broom (pictured) as host of the 30-minute programs, which will be held Saturday mornings in the lobby of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
The concerts are designed to promote "musical, motor and language development through bouncing, clapping, listening, singing and other hands-on activities," according to the BSO's press release. There will be pre-concert activities as well.
-- "Birdie Melodies" April 13 (Mozart, Beethoven; emphasis on flute, violin, viola and cello)
-- "Great Big Animals" May 4 (Handel, Brahms, brass quintet)
-- "Life in the Water" (Schubert's "Trout" Quintet, et al.)
For ticket info, call 410-783-8000 or check out the BSO's Web site.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIABROOM.COM
OK, I admit it. While the rest of the civilized world was glued to the Super Bowl, the TV in our house was emanating the glow of period drama -- the irresistible "Downton Abbey" on PBS. (I still think the Most Valuable Player Sunday night was Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper who managed to tackle sexism, anti-Catholicism and smug-ism all in one fabulous game.)
For the benefit of those who have not yet caught onto the Downton phenomenon -- and even more for the benefit of those who have -- Midweek Madness offers this unique introduction/recap/documentary:
February 5, 2013
The company, which features young, up-and-coming artists in productions that typically generate musical and theatrical sparks, will concentrate on Italian repertoire for its 2013 season.
This being the Verdi bicentennial year, two of that composer's masterpieces will be featured:
-- "La Traviata," in a presentation with video-projected scenic design July 19 at the Filene Center; the National Symphony Orchestra will participate in this event, conducted by Grant Gershon;
-- "Falstaff," conducted by Dean Williamson and directed by Tomer Zvulun, presented in the Barns at Wolf Trap August 9, 11, 14 and 17.
Rossini's "Il Viaggio a Reims," conducted by Gary Thor Wedow and directed by David Gately, will open the season at the Barns June 21, 23 and 29.
Other events include another imaginative program organized and accompanied by pianist Steven Blier, this one called "Wonders To Wander To: Songs and Stories of Faraway Lands," July 6 and 7 at the Barns.
And company director Kim Witman will be at the piano to accompany what is billed as an "Aria Jukebox," with vocal artists singing audience-selected numbers, July 14 at the Barns.
Tickets to the Wolf Trap Opera season go on sale March 16.
February 1, 2013
Tortelier is back this week with a program that includes Mussorgsky's perennial "Pictures at an Exhibition" and a much rarer sampling of the Hindemith work list, the bracing Concert Music for Brass and Strings.
In between, some comforting Mozart -- Piano Concerto No. 27, featuring another welcome returning guest artist, Orion Weiss.
I had the most fun Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall during the Hindemith at the top of the concert. For one thing, this fascinating composer does not get much attention these days. For another, this particular score has ...
January 31, 2013
Harper, who was nominated for a 2010 Tony Award for her performance in "Looped" on Broadway, was hospitalized during rehearsals for the tour.
The actress, famed as the character Rhoda on "The Mary Tyler More Show" and its spinoff, has returned to Los Angeles, "where she will receive continuing treatment and medical care," according a statement from producers. The tour opens in Fort Lauderdale Feb. 26.
Harper said that the "play has been such a gift and it was my hope and intention to play this role again in the upcoming tour. But given my doctor’s recent recommendations, I must now put all my energy into getting well and renewing my strength."
Powers, whose extensive stage and screen credits include the hit TV show "Hart to Hart," makes a particularly apt choice as a replacement. "Looped" is set in a sound studio, where Bankhead has a great deal of difficulty recording ("looping") a line of dialogue for the film "Die, Die, My Darling." That 1965 co-starred Powers.
January 30, 2013
At the rate they're going, the Baltimore Symphony may change this week's program to Hindemith's Concert Music for Ravens, Brass and Strings"; Mozart's Concerto No. 27 for Ravens and Orchestra; and Mussorgsky's "Ravens at an Exhibition."
Meanwhile, BSO bassist Jonathan Jensen has written a new ditty, "Hail to the Ravens," set to a vaguely familiar tune. The opening lines:
Ravens fans all over Baltimore, Have just a single goal: To win the Superbowl. We'll watch them proudly, We'll cheer them loudly, And our loyal orchestra will cheer loudest of all!
Have just a single goal:
To win the Superbowl.
We'll watch them proudly,
We'll cheer them loudly,
And our loyal orchestra will cheer loudest of all!
The song has now been immortalized via YouTube, filmed by BSO contrabassoonist David Coombs. (Can the San Francisco Symphony's response be far behind?)
Get your rah-rahs out and chime in with Jensen and his buddies from the orchestra (Madeline Adkins, Ellen Pendleton Troyer, Ken Goldstein, Angela Lee, Peter Minkler, Kristin Ostling, Owen Cummings, Michael Lisicky); vocal soloist Mark McGrath and backup singers Wendy Baird, Dyana Neal and Jim Knost.
Sorry, Midweek Madness fans, if you thought you could escape the all-Ravens-all-the-time atmosphere these days by clicking your way here.
How could I possibly ignore this fever (try as I might)? Not with reminders like this one, put together by Douglas Buchanan, a bass in the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and choirmaster of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
He managed to combine Ravens mania with Anglican choral traditions to produce what has to be the most offbeat entry yet in the ever-rising clamor of local pride. So here, recorded in lovely Old St. Paul's, is Buchanan's "Ravenlican Chant," a devout work in three sections: Preambule, Rules of Overtime and Ravens' Fight Song.
If this doesn't clinch the Super Bowl, I don't know what will:
January 29, 2013
The San Francisco Symphony was just asking for trouble when it posted a photo on its Facebook page of percussionist Trey Wyatt percussionist about to inflict major damage on a defenseless Raven symbol with some mighty big cymbals.
So the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra responded quickly with ...
With a lead gift of $50 million from the center's chairman, Baltimore-born David M. Rubenstein, the building venture, being designed by Steven Holl Architects, will see pavilions for classrooms, multipurpose facilities and rehearsal spaces rise on the property just south of the Kennedy Center, toward the Roosevelt Bridge. It's the biggest expansion since the center opened in 1971.
In a nice retro touch, the project will include ...
January 28, 2013
Here's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Marin Alsop with her gutsy suggestion for a winning Super Bowl play (BSO PHOTO). Looks like a surprise pass to the double basses will do the trick:
That chord, which launched a transcription by Tivadar Szanto of Bach's G minor Fantasia and Fugue for organ, was articulated not just with terrific force, but a delectable richness of tone as well.
Hamelin, justly famed for his technical prowess, seemed to be saying: Who needs a pipe organ to make this music shake the place?
He offered myriad dynamics; he articulated the trickiest of passages without the slightest trace of effort; he delivered expressive impact with every phrase.
You could same the same for the rest of the program, which celebrated the full range of the piano (made you feel a little sorry for those pianists who have gravely decided to focus squarely on the sacred Mozart-Beethoven-Schubert canon).
Hamelin's evident delight in every one of the 88 keys could not have been more obvious than in ...
I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).
Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog
- Clef Notes and Drama Queens is morphing into new blog
- Midweek Madness feels the pain of cold-sufferers
- Mezzo Magdalena Kozena, pianist Yefim Bronfman give recital at Shriver Hall
- Center Stage adds performance of 'Mountaintop'; Annex Theatre extends 'Equus'
- Opera Philadelphia offers East Coast premiere of Kevin Puts' 'Silent Night'
- The Baltimore Symphony delivers vivid Wagner program
- Signature Theatre stages brilliant, bracing 'Shakespeare's R&J'
- 'Flashdance -- The Musical' has flash, dance, little substance
- Single Carrot Theatre breaks in new digs with 'Tropic of X'
- Midweek Madness just can't get 'Downton Abbey' out of the mind
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Stephanie Powers fills in for ailing Valerie Harper as Tallulah in 'Looped' (1)
David Tate wrote: I love Stephany Powers she is so Gr... [more]
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Midweek Madness feels the pain of cold-sufferers (1)
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The Baltimore Symphony delivers vivid Wagner program (3)
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Katori Hall's play about MLK gets effective production from Center Stage (1)
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