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July 31, 2012

Wolf Trap Opera to stage 'The Rake's Progress' by Stravinsky

If you missed Peabody Opera Theatre's production of "The Rake's Progress" last season, or if you want to discover or rediscover this unusual and rewarding work, consider a little trip to Vienna, Virginia.

Wolf Trap Opera Company, which can be counted on to enliven our summers with great repertoire, imaginative productions and promising young singers, unveils a new staging of the Stravinsky gem this weekend.

"The Rake's Progress" is a remarkably complex piece. Although the neoclassical music falls easily on the ears, there are intricate layers in the score, which has one foot in the 18th century, the other in contemporary times.

Same for the libretto, fashioned in extraordinarily rich poetic language by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

The story, inspired by William Hogarth's series of prints, "A Rake's Progress," the plot presents an allegory that has hardly lost its relevance or sting.

The would-be hero, Tom Rakewell, abandons his love and the kinder, gentler world of country life for the amoral enticements of the wicked city.

The director of the Wolf Trap production, Tara Faircloth, has written Tom "struggles to find meaning and purpose in a world that simply does not make sense anymore."

Who can't identify with that, especially these days?

The cast includes Corinne Winters (upper left) as Tom's aptly named sweetheart, Anne Trulove; Eric Barry (upper right) as Tom; Craig Colclough (middle left) as Nick Shadow, the Mephistophelian protagonist in this tale; and Margaret Gawrysiak (middle right) as Baba the Turk, the bearded lady who plays a curious role in Tom's descent.

Aaron Sorensen (lower left) as Father Trulove and James Kryshak (lower right) as Sellem the auctioneer are also in the cast. 

Dean Williamson will conduct. The stage designer is Erhard Rom, who has a quite a track record for ...

providing Wolf Trap Opera with visual stimulation (last month's high-tech, lots-of-flesh "Don Giovanni" reconfirmed that heartily).

Performances are Friday, Sunday and Aug. 11 in the Barns at Wolf Trap.

Here's a taste of the "The Rake's Progress," the opening scene from a 1990s Salzburg Festival production starring the great team of Dawn Upshaw and the late Jerry Hadley:



Posted by Tim Smith at 9:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens

July 30, 2012

Washington International Piano Festival features Van Cliburn gold medalists

With all the talk of gold medals these days, it seems like a doubly appropriate time to point out that two winners will be at Catholic University in Washington this week. OK, so they're not Olympic athletes, but they did have to display exceptional skills during a high-pressure, competitive event to win the gold.

The Washington International Piano Festival, which provides master classes and private lessons to participants from around the world, also offers several public concerts. Two of those concerts will feature gold medalists of the high-profile Van Cliburn Competition.

On Wednesday evening, the ...

Brazilian-born Jose Feghali, the top prize-winner at the 1985 Cliburn Competition, will play Schumann's "Kinderszenen," Debussy's "Suite Bergamasque," a Chopin Scherzo, pieces by Ernesto Nazareth (including "Odeon" -- I've included a video of Feghali performing it below; although you'll hear Cliburn announce that Feghali will play two works, only "Odeon" is on the clip).

Alexander Kobrin, the Moscow-born pianist who took the gold at the 2005 Cliburn Competition, will give a recital on Saturday afternoon. His program includes a Mozart sonata, Schumann's "Waldszenen," and the complete Etudes, Op. 25, of Chopin (I've included an Etude from Op. 10 to give you a taste of Kobrin's talent).

Check out the festival schedule for more concerts at CU, as well as the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.

And now for a few notes from the gold medal guys:


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

July 27, 2012

Hippodrome confirms 'Book of Mormon' for 2013-2014 season

First, the good news:

The Hippodrome Theatre has confirmed what could only be vaguely hinted at before, namely that "The Book of Mormon," the hottest Broadway musical in years, will play Baltimore.

The bad news:

Those singing, dancing Mormons will not hit the Hippodrome stage until the 2013-2014 season. But, hey, that's really not so far off.

The musical, which was created by the folks behind "South Park" and which won nine Tonys, starts its national tour this coming season. It will reach the Kennedy Center next July.

The dates for the Baltimore visit have not yet been finalized. Subscribers to the 2012-2013 Hippodrome Broadway Series will be first in line for the 'Mormon'-spiced 2013-2014 season.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Hippodrome

Trying to enjoy Wagner, guilt-free, and mostly succeeding

I adore Wagner's music, but, every now and then, I feel terribly guilty about it. And conflicted. Self-contradictory, too. Lately, the mix of enjoyment and queasiness really got to me.

It started with the weird story of Evgeny Nikitin, the Russian baritone who was supposed to sing the title role in "The Flying Dutchman" at Bayreuth, the festival/shrine in Germany that Wagner built to honor himself.

Nikitin withdrew (or was pushed out) a few days before Wednesday's opening performance after pictures surfaced showing a certain hideous symbol among his many tattoos. Yep, the swastika. (The picture here does not show the offending image. It's on his chest.)

Nikitin said he got the tats in his wilder young days when he was a member of a heavy metal band, as if that was justification. Didn't the Russians have a little trouble with the Nazis, too? Wouldn't a swastika be a really stupid thing for a Russian to decorate his body with?

Subsequent reports and images of the offending portion of the singer's chest confused the issue somewhat. Another design appears to have been placed over the swastika, as if in an attempt to obscure it. Whatever. The damage was done and, like any tattoo, will be awfully difficult to erase.

The issue just reminded everyone all over again about the hideous connection between Wagner and the Nazis, between the Nazis and Bayreuth, where Hitler was such a warmly welcomed guest.

I think the festival's decision to part ways with Nikitin was understandable and justifiable. Anything to avoid a scandal. But I know others will howl about over-reaction and hyper-sensitivity. I also imagine that ...

the baritone will eventually get his Bayreuth moment anyway, when things die down, as they always seem to do. (He's still scheduled to sing at all sorts of other opera houses, of course, including the Met.)

What bugs me about all of this is that it makes me have to think about the Wagner-Nazi connection all over again, just when I'm having so much fun plugging into live performances from Bayreuth (my online fave for this is Spain's RTVE).

I love doing (or at least trying to do) my work at the paper while in Wagnerian nirvana, trying not to add exclamation points to every line. I know that Lori, my nearest pod mate at the Sun, will invariably turn to me when she sees my ecstatic expressions and say, "Listing to that Nazi composer again?" But it's worse now that I have the image of Nikitin's ugly swastika in my mind.

We all know that Wagner died long before Hitler was born, so it is unfair to think of the composer as a prototype for National Socialist hero. But we all also know that Wagner was a rabid anti-Semite, and that he was the Nazi's musical poster boy, so it's hard not to consider some kind of guilt by association.

Part of me doesn't want to go that route -- the part of me that also embraces the artistry of Furtwangler, who led the Berlin Philharmonic throughout most of the Reich years; and Mengelberg, the Concertgebouw conductor who acted awfully pro-Nazi during the occupation of Holland.

I try to rationalize all of this by thinking that truly great artists can't make worthless art, no matter how black their souls may be. It's a naive view, I know.

When I was experiencing the rapture Thursday afternoon, listening to the live "Tristan" broadcast (is there anything more heart-racing than the love duet, more heart-stopping than the Liebestod?), I simply could not hear the evil in Wagner, only the genius. Sometimes I think I must be terribly flawed that I can do that so easily.

In the same way, I am always rooting for Daniel Barenboim and the few other brave musicians who have tried to break the barriers to performing Wagner in Israel, even though I know how painful and complex that issue is for anyone in that country -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- who survived the camps, who witnessed first-hand the Wagnerian soundtrack to the most evil chapter in the modern history of the human race.

I do not expect to come fully to terms with any of this. I just had to unburden myself now, before slipping my earphones back in to rejoin the Bayreuth Festival -- today is "Lohengrin." I hope to listen guilt-free, but that doesn't mean I won't think about all of that other, terribly dark stuff again. We all should, regularly. 


Posted by Tim Smith at 9:18 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Clef Notes

July 25, 2012

Midweek Madness: A swingin' summery song from (the original) January Jones

Since the whole country seems to be havin' a heat wave, a tropical heat wave this summer, I figured we could all use a beachy number for Midweek Madness. So here's the beachiest -- and bounciest -- I could find.

Let's have a great big welcome for the oh-so-talented January Jones (no, not that one), her bustin'-out calendar pinup girls and ...

the rest of that old gang of hers:

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness

July 24, 2012

On the Record: Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Symphony

One of the great success stories in American musical life is the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, which just celebrated its centennial season.

One of the contributing factors to that greatness is the 17-year tenure of music director Michael Tilson Thomas.

You just never know how the chemistry between an orchestra and conductor will turn out over the long haul, whether initial euphoria will give way to ennui (or vice versa).

And whether the inevitable bumps along the way in the relationship -- unpopular decisions about repertoire or personnel, displays of temper, workplace and contract issues, whatever -- will cause a serious or only glancing blow.

But something pretty cool happened right from the start of the union between SFS and MTT, and every indication is that the magic still happens on a regular basis.

There's a lot of recorded evidence of the synergy in San Francisco, thanks to the orchestra's own label, SFS Media, which has produced several Grammy winners. The latest CDs are devoted to works by ...

Beethoven and John Adams, recorded live in the ensemble's home, Davies Hall.

Collectors can argue whether we really need another recording of Beethoven's Seventh and the "Leonore" Overture No. 3, but I think most folks would gladly make room for the performances that Thomas leads with his ensemble.

What emerges clearly in the first seconds of the Beethoven disc is an orchestra that doesn't just play together, but thinks together, and a conductor who gives the musicians plenty to think about. Dynamics, for example, receive exceptional attention, so that even minute shifts have expressive impact.

Phrases are built organically, meaningfully. The smallest details of orchestration emerge with admirable finesse and color. The strings produce a seamless tone; woodwinds exude character; the brass have bite without turning edgy.

Thomas doesn't offer huge surprises interpretively, but nonetheless assures fresh experiences. There's a palpable tension throughout, even when, as in the coda of the overture, he keeps the tempo in check.

By the same token, although Thomas will not be rushed in the Seventh's relentless finale (I confess a preference for a hell-for-leather, Kleiber-style tempo), he still manages to generate plenty of excitement. Earlier, the conductor brings weight and impact to the second movement, without a hint of a heavy funereal tread.

The absorbing account of the symphony is aided at every turn by the orchestra's remarkably crisp articulation.

The Adams disc contains the snappy "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" and what may be the composer's most profound and stirring work, "Harmonielehre." The latter is a three-movement symphony, a journey of intellectual and emotional complexity, with an air of fantasy woven around the edges. Adams fuses minimalist devices with romantic expression to brilliant effect in this mesmerizing score.

Thomas, who has an innate appreciation for the pulse and prismatic coloring of Adams' music, leads a compelling performance, alert to every shift of instrumental light and shadow, every gradation of tempo. He taps into the soulful passages with great sensitivity, builds to climactic peaks with terrific drive.

The conductor draws stunning, fearless playing from the San Franciscans that may well make you feel like cheering as heartily as the audience.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:02 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes

July 22, 2012

Yekwon Sunwoo wins 2012 Kapell Competition at University of Maryland

Yekwon Sunwoo capped his two-week efforts in the 2012 William Kapell International Piano Competition and Festival with a bold, confident account of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3 Saturday night at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Center.

After about a half hour of deliberations, the jury gave Sunwoo the first prize.

In addition to the $25,000 award, the 23-year-old South Korean pianist won the audience prize, tabulated by ballots cast after the concerto round, which featured three finalists performing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

It was easy to hear the reasons for Sunwoo's success. He tackled the demanding concerto with technique to spare and, more importantly, ...

considerable richness of phrasing.

This piece can be played with greater eloquence than Sunwoo summoned, and certainly at slower tempos than he favored, but the vitality and sense of spontaneity in his delivery proved highly impressive.

The top prize is not determined by the final round alone, of course. I imagine that, like me, a lot of folks in the packed house (the concerto round is the money night for any big competition) did not hear the earlier parts of the contest. But I assume Sunwoo's qualities shone from the start -- that he also received the chamber music prize says a lot.

The $15,000 second prize was given to South Korean pianist Jin Uk Kim, a grad student at the New England Conservatory. He had the first slot in the lengthy finals evening, playing Brahms' Concerto No. 2.

Again, there was no question of technical prowess. Interpretively, his did not seem a particularly individualistic approach, but Kim certainly conveyed the concerto's potent combination of muscle and poetry. And his phrasing in the Andante was admirably nuanced (same for BSO cellist Chang Woo Lee's solo in that movement).

Taking the $10,000 third prize, and the top honor from a separate, volunteer jury, was American pianist Steven Lin. Judging by the hearty cheers he received when his award was announced, I'd say he must have a been a close second for audience favorite.

Lin's entry in the final round was Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a much shorter, and in some ways, less revealing work than the other two. But based on that performance alone, I'd have been attempted to give Lin the gold. His tone was unfailingly beautiful, his articulation extraordinary, as crystalline as could be in bravura bits, elegantly refined in legato lines.

Throughout the final round, conductor David Lockington provided more or less secure support for the soloists and drew poised playing from the BSO (not quite the BSO we are accustomed to seeing during the regular season -- lots of subs dotted the stage).

It's old hat, but worth noting again, that competitions do not necessarily produce star pianists. Few careers have been genuinely made by a competition triumph, so it is impossible to say what will happen to any of the 2012 Kapell finalists. But they all struck me as serious, sincere musicians capable of notable things.

Given that this quadrennial contest is named for one of America's greatest keyboard artists (Kapell's daughter was in the house Saturday), its prize-winners certainly deserve respect and a chance to reaffirm their worth in the years ahead.

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:59 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

July 20, 2012

Mike Daisey revisits 'Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs' at Woolly Mammoth Theatre

In a way, it has turned into "The Agony and Ecstasy of Mike Daisey."

He's the inventive monologist whose career skyrocketed when he created a riveting, scathing examination of the man behind Apple and the conditions in Shenzhen, the Chinese manufacturing metropolis where an enormous amount of high-tech equipment is made.

An unexpected thing happened on the way from Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, where Daisey's "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" had its first tryout two years ago and where it has returned for a summer run, to its much-acclaimed New York presentation, which opened last fall. The truth started catching up with the play.

By March, the author was forced to admit that ...

he had fabricated portions of the work dealing with Chinese workers. Some of the most compelling, supposedly eye-witnessed scenes did not happen the way Daisey described, including those about child labor and horrible accidents, and rifle-bearing guards at the massive Foxconn plant that produces Apple devices.

After a portion of the show containing the embellishments aired on the public radio show "The American Life," the podcast of that broadcast had to be retracted, an embarrassing episode for the program.

All of this caused quite a dust-up, in journalistic circles as much as theatrical ones. Fans and detractors of Daisey argued finer points of truth, responsibility, poetic license. In interviews and some public appearances, he vacillated between apology and defiance.

Now we know which side won. A few nips and tucks to the script, and Daisey is right back where he started, looking perfectly at home at Woolly Mammoth, which had arranged for a public forum for Daisey shortly after the controversy broke and which never wavered in its determination to put "The Agony and Ecstasy" back onstage.

(Remarkably, a specially priced performance on Aug. 4 will be followed by a conversation between Daisey and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who has expressed support for the play.)

Daisey is clearly in his element as he takes a seat at a glass table -- the only prop, save for some subtle lighting effects, in this production, directed by his wife, Jean-Michele Gregory -- and expounds for nearly two hours, rarely looking at the outline on sheets of paper in front of him.

The most disputed passages have been excised; a couple a brief allusions to the scandal have been added. Along the way, Daisey inserts a-grain-of-salt reminder to the audience: "I am a noted fabulist." Even more pointedly, he says: "I have a disgusting amount of control over the narrative."

What Daisey does not do is express regret or contrition. He is so sure of the essential validity of his observations about the products and the jobs Jobs created that he clearly sees no point in backing off or toning down. Curiously, Daisey avoids mentioning the death of the Apple guru, and still speaks about the man largely in the present tense.

The play remains a hearty assault on the mentality and methodology of Jobs and his company, as well as on the consumers -- Daisey willingly includes and roasts himself in this regard -- who just couldn't wait for the next Apple product, even when it wasn't an improvement on the last.

The look at super-geekdom provides some of the funniest material in the show. Just hearing Daisey imitate an early version of a dot matrix printer is, in its own crazy way, worth the price of admission.

A discussion of the evolution from iPod mini to iPod nano is likewise awfully amusing. And, in addition to assorted zingers (“Having an AT&T iPhone is like not having an iPhone”), Daisey offers entertaining and provocative versions of what went on inside Silicon Valley over the years.

Throughout, Daisey generates an odd kind of music with his voice, which covers an awfully wide dynamic range and is frequently punctuated, usually when you least expect it, with deafening, Lewis Black-like bursts of volume. It's all quite the tour de force for Daisey, a super-sized man with a healthy ego to match.

People who feel badly burned by what he did in the original play may not find much reason now to forgive or forget. In retrospect, it seems so unnecessary for Daisey to have fictionalized anything. He had plenty of damning stuff, as subsequent reportage by the New York Times and others verified.

In its revised form, this is still a strangely powerful, volatile work of polemical theater, a two-hour sermon on the dangers of a religion with gadgets for gods, and a consumer habit that requires an unseen army of poorly paid laborers in a far off country.

Don't be surprised if, after witnessing Daisey's intense performance, you wait a while longer than usual on the way out of the theater to grab your cell phone and check for those oh-so-important messages you might have missed.

"The Agony and Ecstasy" continues at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company through Aug. 5. 

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens

July 19, 2012

Three Kapell Competition finalists to perform with Baltimore Symphony Saturday

Last week, there were more than two dozen young artists vying for top honors in the 2012 William Kapell International Piano Competition at the University of Maryland. There are three now.

The last hurdle for the finalists is to perform works for piano and orchestra with the Baltimore Symphony, conducted by David Lockington, Saturday night at the Clarice Smith Center.

Jin Uk Kim, 28, from South Korea, will be the soloist in Brahms' Concerto No. 2. Kim is working on his doctorate at the New England Conservatory.

American Steven Lin, 23, a graduate student at the Juilliard School, will play ...

Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.

Another 23-year-old grad student at Juilliard, South Korean-born Yekwon Sunwoo (pictured), will perform Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3.

The jury -- Santiago Rodriguez, chair, from the University of Miami; Richard Egarr, United Kingdom; Ming Qiang Li, China; Cecile Licad, Philippines; Noriko Ogawa, Japan; Peter Roesel, Germany; and Stewart Gordon, U.S. -- will deliver its decision shortly after the music-making.

The final round begins at 8 p.m. Saturday

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

July 18, 2012

Modell Center at the Lyric announces 2012-13 season

Popular, propulsive musicals; vintage rock bands; a smattering of cirque and Celtic; an evening with Whoopi Goldberg -- all components in the 2012-2013 season lineup of the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric.

Two Broadway hits that have toured the region in recent years are on the list: The energetic Public Theater revival of the original rock music, "Hair" (March 8 and 9); and "Dreamgirls," a high-energy show very loosely based on The Supremes and other Motown groups (May 4 and 5).

In a bit of age-defying bravado, 60-year-old Cathy Rigby will be back in the air as the title character in "Peter Pan," the role that earned her a Tony nomination in 1990. The show is booked March 22 and 24.

Other productions on the schedule include ...

Cirque Éloize (Jan. 5 and 6), a widely traveled company founded almost 20 years ago; and "Lord of the Dance" (March 5), the Celtic show created by Michael Flatley that has toured extensively since the mid-'90s.

The season also offers a "Sesame Street" production (Sept. 7 to 9), along with concerts by Journey (Oct. 14), Aussie Pink Floyd (Nov. 13), and the Moody Blues (Dec. 1). Goldberg will perform on Nov. 3.

Holiday fare at the center will include presentations of "A Christmas Carol" (Dec. 15) and "The Nutcracker" (Dec. 21 and 22).

As previously announced, Lyric Opera Baltimore will stage "La Boheme" Nov, 2 and 4, conducted by Steven White, directed by Bernard Uzan. The cast includes Anna Samuil as Mimi, Eric Margiore as Rodolfo, Colleen Daly as Musetta, and Timothy Mix as Marcello.

The company will also offer "Rigoletto" May 17 and 19, as well as a concert of bel canto repertoire with piano accompaniment April 13.

Peabody Opera Theatre will return to the Lyric with a production of "Don Giovanni" Nov. 16 and 18.

For season ticket info call 410-900-1150.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:56 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens

Midweek Madness: Staying in a 'Mikado' mood

A charming Baltimore custom for more than four decades is the annual summer presentation of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta by Young Victorian Theatre Company. This year it's "The Mikado," which I think we can all agree is the greatest of the G&S creations -- OK, maybe not all can agree, but close.

The score is so packed with infectious tunes that I've had two or three bouncing around my head at the same time ever since Saturday night's opening night. So I figured I might as well share one of them for this Midweek Madness installment, especially since ...

I found a most unusual trio of singers to deliver "Three Little Maids From School Are We": Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore and Joan Sutherland. We're talking a whole lot of "girlish glee."


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Midweek Madness

July 17, 2012

Young Victorian Theatre Company offers exuberant 'Mikado'

Even folks usually immune to the charms of Gilbert and Sullivan -- such people are to be viewed with sincere pity (if not a little wariness) -- may find it hard to resist Young Victorian Theatre Company's exuberant production of "The Mikado."

Whatever ragged edges may crop up on the vocal and orchestral fronts, along with a few theatrical misfires, this staging at the Bryn Mawr School reflects well on Baltimore's intrepid champion of the G&S canon.

The boundless melodic invention of Sullivan's score emerges engagingly, especially in the brilliant Act 1 finale, which, for structural ingenuity and expressive intensity, can hold its own against anything by Donizetti.

And the production effectively honors Gilbert's nutty plot about thwarted love and governmental lunacy in Titipu (the Japanese trappings do not disguise for a moment the British targets). Gilbert still seems remarkably ahead of his time in how he manages to ...

get laughs even from talk of decapitation and being buried alive.

The insertion of contemporary references into the text, a longtime Young Vic tradition, strikes me as cleverer than usual this year, and not so awkward or intrusive, either. (How could BGE possibly go unmentioned?)

Three performers nearly walk away with the show.

As Ko-Ko, the tailor-turned-Lord High Executioner whose plans to marry the dishy Yum-Yum go awry, Colin Adams-Toomey is a winning presence, fully and deeply into character from the get-go.

He delivers lines with the assurance of a seasoned comic actor, producing all sorts of droll inflections. He relies perhaps a little too much on fluttery hands, but his supple physicality adds much to the performance.

If Adams-Toomey isn't the strongest singer in the cast, he knows how to sculpt a phrase -- the baritone's account of "Tit-willow" is particularly winning.   

Peter Tomaszewski, as the perpetually self-conflicted Pooh-Bah (Lord High Everything Else), likewise reveals quite a flair for comedy. He puts his warm, hefty bass-baritone to telling use throughout, shaping phrases with stylish flair and extracting something colorful out of nearly every syllable of text.

The role of Katisha, the Mikado's "daughter-in-law-elect," has to be the juiciest of G&S mezzo roles, certainly in musical terms. The assignment gets a terrific workout from Jenni Bank. She produces quite a deep, dark, penetrating tone, one that can extract the Verdian richness of the Act 2 recitative and aria, for example, and she gamely throws herself into the histrionic side of the character.

As the Mikado, a ruler with a yen to see more heads roll, Jarrod Lee is a little short on vocal heft, but he makes a vibrant contribution just the same. Melissa Mino is a charming, bright-voiced Yum-Yum, the maiden who finds it awfully difficult to marry her beloved Nanki-Poo. As that love interest, Jason Lee lacks finish, vocally and theatrically, but gets the job done.

Jason Buckwalter impresses as the officious Pish-Tush. He sings his Act 1 solo with admirably crisp articulation and finds many an opportunity to display his comic skills. The chorus sounds greatly advanced over years past, though not always comfortable handling stage business.

And speaking of stage business, there can be too much of it here. In a couple of scenes, director James Harp adds a heavy amount of extraneous shtick that draws attention from the main business at hand.

There are a few other odd choices (having a character repeatedly go up and down stairs or fold and unfold Japanese fans is not necessarily the best way to avoid static scenes), but Harp otherwise has things moving along in effective fashion.

New this year to Young Vic are surtitles, now commonplace in opera houses even for works sung in the local language. Given the intricacies of Gilbert's verses, and the tendency of many American singers to enunciate poorly, the surtitles are a good idea. I certainly don't remember as much laughter from audiences during the musical numbers in past Young Vic seasons.

I wonder if conductor Phillip Collister chose his propulsive tempos knowing that people could now follow the text more easily by reading it.

He pushes some of the score a bit too hard, obscuring Sullivan's melodic felicities and making it tough for singers to get the words out clearly. It's not so easy on the orchestra, either, which sometimes struggles to keep up and hold together. Still, the production certainly gets a spark from the electric charge on the podium.

All things considered, then, this "Mikado" earns -- in Gilbert's delicious phrase -- "the Japanese equivalent for 'Hear, Hear, Hear.'"

This is the last season Young Vic will be located at Bryn Mawr, the company's home since 1989 (the previous 18 years were across the street at the Gilman School). General manager Brian Goodman writes in the program book that he has "no idea where we will be for our 43rd season of Gilbert and Sullivan with 'HMS Pinafore' next year." 

Wherever it lands (I wish it could be in a theater with a proper orchestra pit), Young Vic is bound to remain a welcome presence each summer.

"The Mikado" continues through July 22.


Posted by Tim Smith at 9:17 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens

July 14, 2012

BSO, Bach and the Brandenburgs prove to be potent draw

You've heard this song before, but I might as well try another chorus: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra should offer a solid dose of classical fare every summer.

Sure, it's the time of year when pops fare is more the norm with orchestras across the country. And, yes, the BSO has had trouble selling some summer classical events in the past.

But, as Friday night's marathon of the complete Brandenburg Concertos at Meyerhoff Hall proved (at least to me), there is still plenty of room for the BSO to do besides something besides play John Williams film scores and back up tribute bands.

There was a very good turnout for this Bach event, which was a late addition to the originally announced summer season. And the audience sure sounded like it was fully engaged in the experience of hearing all six Brandenburgs in a single evening.

I found myself thinking again that there just has to be a market for a nice little series of summertime greatest hits-type programming -- how about three evenings devoted to the kind of music that makes you fall for classical in the first place? Instead of pops, popular classical -- there's a big difference.

If Bach can do so well here on a July night, surely an evening that features, say, ...

Handel's "Water Music" would be a hit, too -- as well-loved as that work is, you don't get a chance to enjoy a live performance by a top-notch orchestra every day. And that's just to keep with the baroque theme.

You know it wouldn't take long to put together a short series of programs filled with great, highly popular stuff that would be fun for the orchestra and fun for listeners. Hard to believe it's just not feasible from a marketing, or any other, standpoint.

But enough of my annual kvteching. What about Friday night?

Each of the concertos was led by a BSO string player -- concertmaster Jonathan Carney or associate concertmaster Madeline Adkins for the concertos with violins, principal violist Richard Field for the fiddle-less No. 6.

Fuzziness of articulation and loss of cohesiveness cropped up from time to time. And, while fast movements typically flew by (the finale of No. 3 may have set a speed record), some of the slow movements felt a little draggy (the Adagio in No. 6, for example, seemed far from "ma non troppo").

That said, this was still a good showing by the BSO -- a chamber-sized version thereof. There was a consistent warmth to the playing all evening, a sense of everyone onstage fully relishing Bach's melodic spark and contrapuntal brilliance.

Solo highlights (in order of appearance) included oboist Katherine Niedleman's lyrical phrasing in No. 1; the sweet blending of Adkins and flutists Marcia Kamper and Genevieve Briggs in No. 4; Andrew Balio's crystalline trumpet playing in No. 2; and Lura Johnson's no-holds dash through the extensive harpsichord cadenza in No. 5 (she was a sturdy, stylish collaborator all night).


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:55 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes

July 13, 2012

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato on the art of being yourself

Would-be opera singers of any voice type -- and hair color -- need to read and take to heart the advice that stellar mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato gave on her Web journal to a young singer.

The question that prompted the advice was about, yes, hair color -- whether a blond mezzo can have more fun, or ...

find career options limited.

DiDonato uses the occasion to discuss all the truly important stuff of being a vocal artist, and she does so with rare grace, insight and charm. I can't remember the last time I found so much wisdom packed into a Web page (except, of course, for the last time I pontificated on some weighty subject).

"A letter from the heart, to you wonderful, aspiring young artists out there!" is fabulous stuff that will no doubt be flying all across the cybersphere for a long time. It's a keeper.

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

July 12, 2012

More theater season lineups: Iron Crow, Single Carrot, Theatre Project

Looks like lots of provocative theatrical experiences around here for 2012-2013.

Theatre Project marks its 41st season with productions by several companies, several of them in residence.

Iron Crow Theatre, which focuses on works that spring from an LGTB perspective, will produce a three-play series there.

Megan Gogerty's "Bad Panda" offers a take on non-traditional families -- complications ensue when one of the last two pandas on earth falls for a gay crocodile.

Daniel Talbott's "Slipping" digs into teen angst as a vulnerable high-schooler from San Francisco ends up in Iowa with a crush on a classmate.

The 1920s Midwest setting of Jordan Harrison's "Act a Lady" allows for an unusual case of role-reversal as a group of men don 18th-century drag to put on a play.

Other local companies spending significant time at Theatre Project in the new season include ...

Dreams & Nightmares Aerial (DNA) Theatre, The Generous Company and In-Flight Theatre.

Visitors on the lineup include Double Edge Theatre, performing "The Grand Parade," a mix of aerial flight, puppetry and music inspired by Marc Chagall paintings.

Theatre Project will again be the place for the High Zero Festival, Peabody Chamber Opera, contemporary dance presentations, and more during the coming season.

Single Carrot Theatre will open its '12-'13 activities with a work that you might expect from Iron Crow -- Caryl Churchill's "Drunk Enough to Say I Love You." This brief play uses the dynamics and tensions of a gay couple to make points about the relationship between the U.S. and Britain.

Single Carrot member Aldo Pantoja's "The VIP," about the effects of a 1996 mass hostage-taking in Peru, will receive its premiere.

The season also includes the U.S. premiere of "The Tropic of X" by American playwright Caridad Svich, who, takes a futuristic look at (in her words) "immigration, exploitation, intersexuality and globalization."

The Single Carrot season will close with the premiere of another company-generated project, "A Sorcerer's Journey," inspired by the mystical writings of Carlos Castaneda.


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre

July 11, 2012

Midweek Madness: Sliding with Yvette

Honest, I have nothing against the accordion. And I think it's great that the American Accordionists' Association is holding its annual festival and competition this week right here in dear old Baltimore.

I am, however, one of those unfortunate souls ever so old enough to recall the days when the instrument wasn't taken too seriously, thanks largely to some pretty tacky accordionists, so it took me a while to view the accordion in a better light.

I love the fact that the accordion is now getting more respect and more exposure, in a wide variety of musical genres and performed by serious musicians of all ages. Turns out it's really cool after all.

That said, I couldn't resist sharing a ...

less substantive moment in accordion history for this installment of my global cyber-sensation, Midweek Madness. Here's the lovely, unflappable Yvette effortlessly gliding through "Sliding" ("En glissant"), captured for posterity on a scopitone, a 1960s jukebox-with-video:


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:06 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Midweek Madness

July 10, 2012

More season announcements: Great Hall, Pro Musica, Community Concerts

The 2012-2013 music season is shaping up nicely. The latest evidence comes from these three long-running Sunday afternoon concert series:

Music in the Great Hall will mark its 39th season with an exceptionally strong lineup, the strongest I can remember in recent years.

Of particular note is an appearance by the always-impressive duo of revered pianist Leon Fleisher and his wife, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher. They'll be heard on April 28 in one of their signature pieces, Ravel's "La Valse," on a program of four-hand and solo repertoire.

The Bryant Park Quartet from New York will open the season Sept. 9, joined by BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney and Great Hall artistic director Lura Johnson in a performance of Chausson's lush, infrequently programmed Concerto for piano, violin and string quartet. (UPDATE: Though more frequently programmed in Baltimore, I should have added -- the Chausson work will be performed in March in a Shriver Hall Concert Series presentation.)

Speaking of the BSO, the orchestra's ...

principal cellist, Dariusz Skoraczewski, will collaborate with Johnson in a program of Schumann, Chopin, Franck and George Crumb on Oct. 7.

Trio Cloissonné -- the unusual combination of flute (the BSO's Marcia Kamper), viola (the BSO's Karin Brown) and harp (Sarah Fuller) -- will perform music by Bax, Takemitsu and others on Feb. 10. And cellist Dmitry Volkov, winner of this year's Yale Gordon Competition at the Peabody Conservatory, will give a recital with the winner of last year's, pianist Yury Shadrin, on March 17.

Note that the Music in the Great Hall series will introduce a new concert time for the '12-'13 season: 2 p.m.

At Towson University's Center for the Arts, Pro Musica Rara will offer its 38th season of bringing period instrument performances to Baltimore. This is one of the unsung organizations around here, but one of the most valuable, providing a welcome dose of historically informed music-making each year.

Tenor Rufus Muller, with Christoph Hammer at the fortepiano, will open the season Oct. 21 performing Scottish folks songs arranged by Beethoven and Haydn on a program that also features violinist Cynthia Roberts and cellist Allen Whear, Pro Musica's artistic director.

The Nov. 18 program examines the romantic lives and letters of notable 18th-century celebs -- Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Haydn and Beethoven. Readings will be woven through a program that includes music by Gluck, Haydn and Maria Cosway (who had a brief, probably platonic relationship with Jefferson).

The reader will be TU president Maravene Loeschke; the performers are Whear, violinist Madeline Adkins and fortepianist Eva Mengelkoch.

Pro Musica's traditional SuperBach Sunday will be held Feb. 3, with an ensemble of period instruments performing Bach’s "The Musical Offering," based on a theme presented by Frederick the Great, and music from the court of that monarch. A work by the winner of Pro Musica’s 2012-13 student composition contest will also be played.

Wrapping up the season on May 12 is a program dubbed "Extreme Baroque," featuring recorder virtuoso Paul Leenhouts with an ensemble of Pro Musica veterans.

Community Concerts at Second will mark its 26th season of presenting free performances, a remarkable run.

Kicking things off on Sept. 23 at Second Presbyterian Church will be the C Street Brass, an ensemble formed at Peabody in 2007 and dedicated to exploring a wide-ranging repertoire. The justly famed Morgan State University Choir, led by Eric Conway, is slated for a concert on Oct. 21.

The series continues Nov. 4 with a recital by rising clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich, followed on Jan. 20 with a recital by the promising Lithuanian pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute.

The Amadeus Trio is set for Feb. 24. Gilad Karni, principal violist of the Tonhalle Orchester Zurich, will collaborate on a concert with the excellent pianist Michael Sheppard on March 17.

The final recital in the Wonderlic Voice Competition will be given April 21. And the Sunday afternoon series will close with a performance May 19 by the Bryant Park Quartet -- bringing things full circle (in case you weren't paying attention as your slogged through this post, the same ensemble will open the Music in the Great Hall season in the fall).

As always, Community Concerts at Second also offers a free Sunday evening series -- Chamber Music by Candlelight -- showcasing BSO musicians in a rich assortment of repertoire. This series opens Oct. 7 and has seven more events through April 28.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

July 8, 2012

Kapell Competition opens with recital by jury chair Santiago Rodriguez

The bar has already been set high for the 2012 William Kapell International Piano Competition, and the first round hasn't even started.

To launch the two-week event at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, the chair of this year's jury, Santiago Rodriguez, gave a terrific recital Saturday night, part of the keyboard festival that runs concurrently with the competition.

Rodriguez, the 1975 Kapell winner, offered a level of interpretive imagination and technical poise that ought to have been inspiring (and maybe a little intimidating) to any of the young contestants who will be vying for the $25,000 top prize this year.

Sure, there are pianists who can play faster or louder -- the primary goals of many a keyboard practitioner. But what you heard in this recital was, from start to finish, a remarkable dignity.

I don't mean it was reserved, stuffy, pedantic or anything like that. I'm talking dignity -- of musicality and bearing (Rodriguez is of the poker-face school, which some hyper-emotive younger players would be wise to emulate).

There was more than enough bravura along the way, but never in an indulgent manner. And the pianist, unlike far too many these days, always maintained beauty of tone.

OK, not always. There was one harsh, whomping attack just before the coda in ...

the finale of Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2. But that explosive articulation was a deft stroke by the pianist, aimed at fiercely underlining the angst running through this music.

There was another startling, electrifying touch in the third movement of Chopin's Sonata No. 2, when, as the Funeral March theme returned, Rodriguez intensified the bass notes to bring out the evocation of solemn, pealing bells. I can't remember ever hearing a pianist make such a bold and telling statement in that particular spot.

The misty, eerie finale in the Chopin sonata also inspired a distinctive touch from Rodriguez. Instead of the expected fortissimo at the very end, he held back, producing barely a mezzo-forte, which created a most haunting effect.

The recital did not open is such striking fashion. Beethoven's "Pathetique" received a mostly reserved approach. Where others mine grand drama from the score, Rodriguez seemed more interested in maintaining taut control and balance.

The lyricism in the second movement of that sonata revealed Rodriguez's flair for phrasing with a vocalist's sensitivity, a quality also richly apparent in the D major Prelude (Op. 23, No. 4) by Rachmaninoff, "Mallorca" by Albeniz, and, as an encore, the gentle Spanish Dance No. 2 by Granados.

There was much to savor as well in the pianist's vibrant account of the "Capriccio espagnole" by Moszkowski, delivered with the kind of sparkling virtuosity and expressive nuance that recalled keyboard artists of long ago.

Rodriguez, who was on the UMd faculty for three decades before becoming chair of the piano department at the University of Miami a couple years ago, interspersed the music-making with disarming remarks to the audience about his program, the competition, the school and its priceless International Piano Archives.

He seemed genuinely happy to be back. Based on this rewarding performance, Rodriguez couldn't return to the Clarice Smith stage soon enough.

The preliminary rounds in the 2012 Kapell Competition start Tuesday; the final concerto round is July 21 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Festival highlights include recitals, master classes, seminars and more, featuring Leon Fleisher and Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, Gloria Cheng, Jeremy Denk, Anton Kuerti and others.  


Posted by Tim Smith at 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

July 5, 2012

Anne Cantler Fulwiler departs Theatre Project as producing director

This guest blog post comes from Baltimore Sun arts writer Mary Carole McCauley. -- TIM


Anne Cantler Fulwiler, who for more than a decade ran the Theatre Project with dedication and grit, has stepped down as that group’s producing director.

Though Fulwiler’s resignation became effective at the end of June, she said she will remain on the organization’s board for now to help with the transition.

And on Monday, she starts ...

a new job with an old friend: the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, where she will work in external affairs. Fulwiler previously was employed by the regional funding group in the 1990s as a program association.

Chris Pfingsten, who has served as Theatre Project's managing director for the past season, has been appointed producing director for the 2012-2013 season, the organization announced.

During Fulwiler’s tenure, she presented nearly 400 productions involving over 3,000 artists from across the nation and 17 foreign countries.

"It just felt like the right time in the life of Theatre Project for me to step down from this role," Fulwiler says in a press release. "It's been a truly amazing time.”

--Mary Carole McCauley


Posted by Tim Smith at 5:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens

Ritual, nudity and a lot of splashing in Single Carrot Theatre's 'Foot of Water'

It's possible, as you know, to drown in an inch of water.

So Single Carrot Theatre was taking a certain risk plunging into a "Foot of Water" -- an original work created by company members over the course of the past 10 months.

The result is pretty soggy.

There's potential in this look at sex through myth and ritual, but the almost acrobatically choreographed play doesn't quite add up to a cohesive, let alone freshly insightful, statement.

It's sort of a variation on "Spring Awakening," only without rock songs, spicy dialogue, a plot, humor, or the gays.

The Carrots got a lot of their inspiration from a workshop they attended on the methods of Jerzy Grotowski, which led them away from a "verbal, idea-based" approach and toward a style that is highly physical, symbolic and improvisatory.

Nothing wrong with departing from structure and convention, of course. The danger when going in this direction is that, ...

instead of something theatrically meaty, the product can start to look precious or pretentious, or both. That danger is not entire eluded here.

"Foot of Water," which closes this weekend, certainly has its rewards. Brevity, for one, coming in under an hour. This ensures a continual momentum as the action unfolds in, on and around the central prop -- a combo fountain/shower designed by Ryan Dunne and Cat Yard.

As for that action, it is largely focused on the arousing of sexual desire and its consequences, played out against the mythic power of the sea. Here, even the act of scaling a fish takes on erotic overtones.

Of love or even tenderness there is little. Most of the moves made by the four men in the play, each with close-cropped hair, have an aggressive edge.

You know right from that start that the men will start beating on things before long, not to mention chanting in some fashion. You know, too, that a fight is inevitable.

The cause of friction is a desire for Hylas (Alix Fenhagen), the central female figure, whose fixation on water and its comforting power is a leitmotif in the play.

(Intriguing that the woman should be called Hylas, since, in mythology, he was a male youth who was Hercules' constant companion until being pulled to his death by a water nymph. I didn't get the impression that any of this was being even subtly referenced here.)

The fight scenes bring the play closest to modern dance; there is something dance-like, too, about some of the activity in the shower and, especially, the pool of water used in the performance.

It may have been more effective to keep the entire show balletic, without any words spoken at all. Instead, a narrator figure (Jessica Garrett) periodically offers bits of information, vaguely poetic in character, and a few of the others utter lines along the way (Hylas: "It's not the journey I fear, but the destination").

The climactic point, so to speak, involves nudity, death and more ritual. There's an impressive solemnity to it all, but diffuseness as well. There's no sense of arrival at a destination, only a sense that the performance is over.

As usual, the Carrotts jump wholeheartedly into the work. Directed by Ben Hoover, the cast is remarkably cohesive, focused and uninhibited. Costumes (Heather C. Jackson), sound (Steven Krigel) and lighting (Riki Kim) are all deftly done.

In the end, though, "Foot of Water" isn't quite deep enough to whet the senses.

Performances continue through July 8.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre

July 4, 2012

Midweek Madness: Yankee Doodle marching to a different beat

Wednesday being a great big holiday, we don't really need the diversion of Midweek Madness, but what the heck?

Here, to get you into the swing of Independence Day is a burst of Stan Freberg, from his ...

classic comedy album "The United States of America, Volume One: The Early Years" -- his version of what happened one day during the Revolutionary War when a cool musician had a different idea of how "Yankee Doodle" should go:

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness

July 2, 2012

Guest blog post: Report from Washington Early Music Festival

Apologies for being late posting this guest blog review (there was a little storm in the area over the weekend that threw me off-course). --TIM

By Logan K. Young

One of the greatest things about classical music has always been its deference to history. In fact, it's this particular truth that’s enabled the Washington Early Music Festival to thrive for the past six seasons.

But what makes for an "historically informed performance"? For those unfamiliar with viols, mean tone temperament and the Doctrine of Affections, it can seem like a needlessly heady designation. In theory, any performance that’s not a premiere is inherently informed by history.

At the head of the information debate sits the notion that Bach's orchestra was indeed vastly different than the one Marin Alsop leads today. This idea may be held self-evident, but as in any argument of sound, there's bound to be a slippery slope.

For extremists like Canada's Tafelmusik, everything must go — down to the strings, themselves. It's gut, not hair (much less synthetics), that Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik's activist director, demands.

And let's not even get started on Sir Roger Norrington...

The truth is some ensembles are simply more "H.I.P." than others. And the really great ones, well, they study at least as much as they rehearse.

John Moran and Risa Browder's Modern Musick, celebrating its own tenth season in 2012, is one such group.

Moran teaches viola da gamba, baroque cello and performance practice at Peabody, where he co-directs the Baltimore Baroque Band with Browder, his wife. Both are distinguished graduates of the Oberlin Conservatory and the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland.

And Thursday night's concert at St. Mark's Episcopal on Capitol Hill proved just how well-read they are; every eye, and ear, was upon them.

Thankfully, Moran and Browder aren't nearly as dogmatic as some of their performance practice peers. To wit, their kind of grace made Modern Musick's all-Venetian program ("Venezia, mi amore!") truly resplendent.

Marco Uccellini's opening "Sinfonia boscarecie" (1660) remained effective, but not affected. There are some thorny chromatic passages in the middle movements, and Moran, Browder and second violinist Leslie Nero executed them with aplomb.

All evening, harpsichordist Adam Pearl's continuo realizations sounded ...

pitch perfect. Likewise, his solo reading of the first part to the second book of Girolamo Frescobaldi's "Toccate e partite d'intavolatura" (1627) was smartly rendered, but not pretentiously so.

The highlight of the program, Antonio Vivaldi's Trio Sonata in D Minor, Op.1, No. 12 (1705), found Moran, Browder, Nero and Pearl in grand consort. Again, the virtuosic violin writing was ably executed, and of course, all were historically justified. The Red Priest of Venice, himself, would surely have given this performance a blessing.

As with new music specialists, becoming "H.I.P." is essentially a lifestyle choice. And honestly, at the end of the colloquium, the gripe over how to hold a bow or where to seat the violas may never be settled.

Regardless, there's a certain kind of intimacy — a hushed candor even — that comes from four talented, learned musicians playing so deftly in a beautiful space like St. Mark's. Modern Musick's was a sound to savor, indeed.


Posted by Tim Smith at 2:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

Exceptional American soprano Evelyn Lear dies at 86

Evelyn Lear, the exceptional American soprano whose repertoire ranged from Mozart and Berg to Bernstein and Sondheim, died Sunday at a nursing home in Sandy Spring, Maryland. She was 86.

Her death comes six years after that of her husband of five decades, baritone Thomas Stewart. Each singer enjoyed a remarkable career; as a team, they were even more formidable and delectable, onstage and off.

Although both entered retirement, they never really left the music world. They put a lot of time and effort into the mentoring of young singers, for example, especially those with a potential for tackling the Wagnerian repertoire. The Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Emerging Singers Program, established through the Wagner Society of Washington, was a project that gave both artists considerable pride.

Miss Lear enjoyed getting back onstage long after her Metropolitan Opera farewell in 1995. I'll never forget one of those post-Met performances, when she portrayed ...

Madame Armfeldt in "A Little Night Music" for Houston Grand Opera Evelyn in 1999. That really was wonderful, vocally and dramatically. Every time I saw here in recent years, she spoke of how much she would love another crack at that role.

It was also fun seeing her in London in 1992 as Madame Dilly for a concert version of Bernstein's "On the Town" [please forgive earlier version that messed up this title -- see comments] conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.  

Like a lot of American singers, the New York-born soprano first made her name in Europe, where she triumphed especially as Marie in Berg's "Wozzeck" and in the title role of his "Lulu," mastering the complexities of the musical style and getting deeply into the complex characters.

In this country, she created the role of Lavinia in Marvin David Levy's "Mourning Becomes Electra" in 1967 and had major roles in the premieres of operas by Thomas Pasatieri and Robert Ward. Throughout her career, she enjoyed successes in the standard repertoire as well, especially works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Puccini and Strauss -- she was an especially incisive Marschallin in "Der Rosenkavalier."

Miss Lear even had a fling with the movies -- a haunting cameo as an opera singer in Robert Altman's 1976 film "Buffalo Bill and the Indians." Not many sopranos could say they made a movie with Paul Newman, and Miss Lear had some great stories to tell about that experience.

In 2000, just before turning 75, she performed at a Carnegie Hall charity event, "Artists for the Cure," singing Sondheim's "I'm Still Here" -- having survived a double mastectomy, Miss Lear had definitely seen "good times and bum times." 

In her later years, Miss Lear (like her husband) had some bittersweet feelings at times about a business that seemed to forget her, or a young generation that was clueless about her.

Once when my partner and I met her in the lobby at the Kennedy Center before a performance, we were talking when a college-level voice student I knew slightly passed by and said hello, so I introduced Miss Lear. The young woman smiled broadly and seemed so darned pleased. The poor dear was barely out of earshot when Miss Lear turned to us and said loudly, "She has absolutely NO idea who I am." We all shared a great laugh over that.

Miss Lear could also be wickedly funny aiming zingers at singers of any age who came up short in her estimation, especially those who added too many showy moves on stage or cheated on technique.

But the overriding message you always got from Miss Lear (as with Mr. Stewart) was a passion for the vocal art. She loved contributing to it, and you could feel that love in every note she sang. She was a great musician, a remarkably beautiful woman, and, as she was the first to admit, a damn good golfer (sometimes, I think she was proudest of the latter). She will be missed. 

On a personal level, I treasure the memories of all the social occasions that I got to spend with her and Tom over the decades in Florida, where they were living when we met, and in this area when they relocated to Montgomery County. Knowing them both was a rare privilege.

Here are just a few examples of Evelyn Lear's artistry. I couldn't resist including one one clip of her with Tom in a duet that captures the extraordinary bond they shared for so long:



Posted by Tim Smith at 10:41 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Clef Notes
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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

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 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.
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