Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Drama Drop -

- The New York State Summer School of the Arts, a state-subsidized program that offers training in theater, dance, music and visual arts, may have to cut its budget by as much as half this year because of the state’s budget crisis. Who knew that this would be another casualty of the crap-tastic real estate market? The summer school program has been financed in recent years from the state’s Cultural Education Account, which also finances the New York State Museum, the State Library, the Archives and the Office of Public Broadcasting. The revenue for the Cultural Education Account is generated by fees levied by county clerks’ offices for the filing of title and mortgage records and we all know there aren't many of those records being filed. And FYI, the alumni include several prominent Hollywood figures, including Dan Futterman, Bennett Miller and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who met in the theater program in 1984 and collaborated 20 years later on the film “Capote,” which Mr. Futterman wrote, Mr. Miller directed and in which Mr. Hoffman played the title role.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Photo Is Worth...

Here are this week's Culture Pictures from the New York Times.

[Photo: Gregg Baker on his knee and Jessye Norman at center in a curtain call during "Honor: The Voice" at Carnegie Hall on March 23, In the back are, from left, Joseph Smith, Howard Atkins, Nicole Cabell, Harolyn Blackwell and Angela M. Brown. By: Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times]

Mozart Updated For The “American Idol” Age -

In a production called “Così Fan Tutte: Defining Women,” Underworld Productions Opera Ensemble invites audience members to vote for which characters should be married in the final scene. They vote by sending text messages from their cellphones. Cast members will then perform the chosen ending. You think I'm joking? Not so much.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Brewer is out.

Dramatic soprano Christine Brewer, who made her Met debut in 2003 singing the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos, is the cover story for April's OperaNews (April's online edition is not yet available). The article, titled "The Divine Miss B", is publicizing her Brünnhilde in both the first and second cycle's performances of Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, as well as a single performance of Die Walküre on April 6. The performances would have marked the first time that Brewer took part in staged performances of the operas.

No such luck. Salon is reporting that Brewer has withdrawn from the production due to the flare up of a previous knee injury. The knee injury was allegedly aggravated by the raked stage during rehearsals and now requires the 53-year-old soprano to undergo surgery.

It's really too bad. I was hoping that we would have been able to see our newest Brünnhilde "it-girl" in action.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Drama Drop -

There are all kinds of fun things today!

* It's about time someone has put into words what I've been thinking for ages now. As you may have seen in one of our previous posts, Mary Zimmerman was booed at the Met for her seemingly terrible staging of La Sonnambula. In an age when all you have to do is come out and belch the alphabet in order to get a standing ovation, Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal chews on this issue a bit: Why Not Boo? Even when it stings, it beats mindless applause ... or an obligatory standing ovation.

* If you've used an elevator in Chicago's Civic Opera Building in recent weeks, you may have noticed something different. The difference is the operatic music they've begun to pipe into the elevators. The towering edifice built to the glory of opera regales you with various recordings as you ride the Art Deco-style elevators in the 42-story office building. Well, why not? What were you expecting to hear in a facility co-owned by Lyric Opera of Chicago. But, when John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune decided to write a review of the elevator music he said the following:
"Make that trying to hear. On a recent afternoon I spent about an hour riding up and down in most of the Civic Opera Building's 27 elevators, sampling [Roger] Pines' playlist. Through the whir of the air conditioning system I could make out Luciano Pavarotti singing the aria "Recondita armonia" (from "Tosca"), but only faintly. Now, I know ghosts of famed opera singers are said to haunt the great old opera theaters, but these ethereal whispers of opera in the elevators aren't spooky. They're just dim and dumb."

* Anne Hathaway as Judy Garland? Hmmm. I can think of about 4 other people that I'd rather see playing her. But, clearly I am not a certain Mr. Weinstein. Variety is reporting that Anne Hathaway will indeed play Judy Garland in the Weinstein Co.'s stage and film adaptations of the Gerald Clarke-penned biography "Get Happy." TWC recently optioned the stage and film rights to the book, first published by Delta in 2001. Weinstein Co. Executive Ben Famiglietti said it is unclear which version would come first. The stage version would naturally be cheaper and quicker to produce, but some filmmakers could guide both, starting with a film. I'll be interested to see if the quirky Hathaway can pull it off.

* I never thought in a million years that I'd ever, and I mean EVER, report on anything Zac Efron did or didn't do. But, here goes... Just days after Variety cited Zac Efron’s attachment to Paramount’s remake of 1984's “Footloose” as proof the Disney protégé was growing up (he's 21), Efron has reportedly dropped out of the film. Although the studio hasn’t confirmed Efron’s reported departure, sources close to the actor say that it’s part of an image revamp. “Zac wants to be in the business a long time — doing more musicals isn’t good for him long-term,” says one source close to the “High School Musical” star. Good luck with that Lil' Zac.

* And finally, the "Really? Seriously?" award goes to: [insert drumroll here] Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Conductor Paavo Järvi. It seems that Maestro Järvi will appear before a judge next week on a drunken driving charge after being arrested early Thursday by Fairfax police. Woops, friends, there's video!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Francesco Pace, founder of LA Opera, was a gentleman from the Old School-

Wilshire Ebell Theatre
Francesco Pace, founder of LA Opera and South Florida Opera, died on Friday after suffering from heart difficulties.

I had the pleasure of working for Maestro Pace on two occasions at South Florida Opera. Once was in a production of Cosi fan Tutte and the other was my first Scarpia in Tosca. Maestro Pace was a force and I have such wonderfully fond memories of working for him. His knowledge, advice and encouragement were not always given freely, but when you were priviledged enough to receive them, you knew you had earned it.

Maestro Pace's hospitality was unparalleled. He would often have casts over to his home for a homemade italian dinner (or two). These dinners were an event which always started with cocktails at the bar which he built, and moved into a few hours of truly interesting conversation and stories revolving around the birth of his beloved Los Angeles Opera, all the while progressing through more than a few courses of food. We were then sent back to the hotel to rest, with an invitation to come back for leftovers the following day - but, only if rehearsal went well. We all laughed, but knew he wasn't joking.

He was truly a gentleman from the old school. A one of a kind. He could be as hard as nails, but when you worked hard for him, he was never shy about showing his appreciation.

Maestro Pace was a furniture maker, by trade, who built furniture in Hollywood. His love of opera led to the formation of the Los Angeles Civic Grand Opera Assn. which began presenting opera on a shoestring, sometimes with only a piano, at a church in Beverly Hills in 1948. He made armchairs and cabinets for the Hollywood elite and for movie sets, they say, only to support his opera habit.

The company staged productions through the 1950s, performing at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre and in 1964 it presented the first opera in the brand-new Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one of four theaters that currently comprise the Music Center in Los Angeles.

Pace left the company in the mid-'60s when the board decided to make a permanent home of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which opened in 1964 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as its primary performing ensemble. In its new location, the company Maestro Pace founded staged only three operas. Shortly after its third production at the Chandler Pavilion, The Italian Girl in Algiers starring Marilyn Horne, the Company abandoned its own production projects and recreated itself as the Music Center Opera Association. After the reorganization, the company solely presented work by other companies, believing that the fledgling arts center could not afford to launch an opera company and build a world-class orchestra at the same time. For years, the Association brought opera from other cities to the Music Center. The lengthiest relationship was with New York City Opera, which brought productions to the Music Center every fall from 1966 to 1982.

Along the way, many local opera enthusiasts have played a role in developing what is now among the top five opera companies in the US. Back in Maestro Pace's day, as well as now, many of the opera's leadership and donors, included business leaders, entertainment executives, financiers and billionaires. But, getting the arias to the stage in the beginning required a tenacity that was rooted in a devotion to the art that Francesco Pace understood. It was in his blood. It's been reported that there had been as many as 20 attempts to start an opera company in Los Angeles since World War II, and Maestro Pace's was a rare success.

Maestro Pace continued to produce opera at South Florida Opera until illness made it impossible. Although his body limited him, he still attented the productions of other companies because nothing could stop this force of nature. Opera, after all, requires devotion and loyalty. Having worked for him, I know first hand that Maestro Pace possessed heaps of both.

Bravo, Maestro! You will be missed.

[Sources: www.laopera.com & www.latimes.com]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Natasha Richardson 1963-2009

After the conflicting reports over the last few days, it's unfortunate that this had to be the outcome. Natasha Richardson, a gifted heiress to acting royalty whose career highlights included the film “Patty Hearst” and a Tony-winning performance in a stage revival of “Cabaret,” died Wednesday at age 45 after suffering a head injury from a skiing accident. MSNBC is reporting that Alan Nierob, the Los Angeles-based publicist for Richardson’s husband Liam Neeson, confirmed her death in a written statement.

“Liam Neeson, his sons (Micheal and Daniel), and the entire family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Natasha,” the statement said. “They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of everyone, and ask for privacy during this very difficult time.”

The statement did not give details on the cause of death for Richardson, who suffered a head injury when she fell on a beginner’s trail during a private ski lesson at the luxury Mont Tremblant ski resort in Quebec. She was hospitalized Tuesday in Montreal and later flown to a hospital in New York.

Family members had been seen coming and going from the New York hospital where Richardson was taken.

After watching what Lauren Bacall went through just to visit Richardson and her family, I don't fault Vanessa Redgrave, Richardson’s mother, for arriving in a car with darkened windows and through a garage when she arrived at the Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side about 5 p.m. Wednesday. An hour earlier, Richardson’s sister, Joely, arrived alone and was swarmed by the media as she entered through the back of the hospital.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Drama Drop -

* What is life with out a good revival?... Kurt Weill’s operetta “The Firebrand of Florence” was seemed doomed from the start when it opened on Broadway in March 1945. It closed a month later and (except for a few songs) was neglected until about 10 years ago. Vivien Schweitzer has reviewed a seemingly lively semistaged performance of the work at Alice Tully Hall. The operetta, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, is based on Edwin Justus Mayer’s 1924 play about the 16th-century Florentine sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (also the subject of an opera by Berlioz). Benvenuto escapes being hanged after the Duke of Florence frees him so he can finish a previously commissioned sculpture. Benvenuto then energetically woos Angela (his favorite model, whom the Duke also has a crush on) while the Duchess of Florence chases the wily sculptor. Oh, the DRAMA!

* Nothing raises $6.3 million like a good gala... As previously reported here at A Liberal's Libretto, the Met celebrated it's 125th Anniversary this weekend. The sold out celebration reportedly brought in $6.3 Million for the company, where star power and visual effects made for an entertaining evening. But, the star that seemed to shine brightest was that of tenor Placido Domingo who celebrated his 40th season since stepping in for Franco Corelli in Francesco Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” in 1968. In that time, the tenor has sung 45 roles and conducted nine operas at the Met. By the way, the stars weren't just on stage. Check this out to see a few who walked the press line.

(Photo Top Right: "The Firebrand of Florence": Nathan Gunn and Anna Christy with the Collegiate Chorale at Alice Tully Hall. By Erin Baiano for The New York Times Middle Left: Placido Domingo as Othello - Bloomberg News.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Drama Drop -

* "What evuh happened to the strong, silent type?"... Those who know me, know that I am a gigantic fan of The Sopranos TV show. I have all of the seasons on DVD and frequently return to them. Well - allegedly, at least according to the New York Times ArtsBeat, Sopranos creator David Chase is planning a new show for HBO. I am a little distressed by the fact that it is only a mini-series, but at least it's something. "Just when I thought I was out, they pulled be back in."

* "Someone get me Bruno!" ... Those who know me, also know that I have recently embraced the West Wing TV show with open arms. Thanks to my sister's DVD collection, I was able to watch all 7 seasons in a matter of weeks. I must say that it ranks up there with The Sopranos for me. I'm sad to report that the actor who played Bruno Gianelli, the political mastermind behind Jed Bartlet's re-election, has died. Ron Silver, a versatile actor who also won a Tony Award for his portrayal of an uneasy film producer in the original Broadway run of David Mamet's Hollywood satire, Speed-the-Plow, died March 15. According to the New York Post "'Ron Silver died peacefully in his sleep with his family around him this morning,' said Robin Bronk, executive director of the Creative Coalition, which Silver helped create". He was 62.

* It's my party and I'll sing if I want to... Last night, the Metropolitan Opera celebrated 125 year with a star studded gala. They also celebrated Placido Domingo's 40th Anniversary with the company. After what I thought was a tragically boring gala celebrating Joseph Volpe's departure, it would seem that they did a bang up job with this one. New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini was sure pleased. Click here for more pictures of the event.

(Photo Top Left: David Chase, right, with James Gandolfini on the set of “The Sopranos.” By Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
(Photo Middle Right: Ron Silver)
(Photo Lower Left: From left, Roberto Alagna, Angela Gheorghiu, Plácido Domingo, the conductor James Levine, Renée Fleming, Juan Diego Flórez, the associate director and set designer Julian Crouch and the costume designer Catherine Zuber at the Met gala on Sunday. By Ruby Washington/The New York Times)

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Here's a little story: Yesterday, we planned to go to MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) and when we arrived, there was a well controlled line extending from the front door, down the block and around the corner. But, the line moved incredibly quick and before we knew it, we were walking the MOMA for free. How? On Fridays between 4:00 and 8:00 pm, Target sponsors Free Fridays. That's right - admission is free and TONS of people know about it, which is fantastic.

You HAVE to check it out, if you can stand a little bit of a crowd.

A Picture is Worth...

Here are this week's cultural pictures from the New York Times.

(Picture: Jane Fonda as Katherine Brandt, and Zach Grenier as Beethoven, in Moisés Kaufman's "33 Variations," which is Ms. Fonda's first Broadway appearance in 46 years. The show opened on March 9. By: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

The Drama Drop -

In honor of the Metropolitan Opera's 125th Anniversary, today's Drama Drop is devoted solely to them.

* As the Metropolitan Opera will celebrate its 125th anniversary this Sunday, general manager Peter Gelb reflects on how he maintains artistic integrity in the face of a shrinking dollar. NY1's Roma Torre filed this report.

* At the same time that the Met celebrates it's 125 years, world-renowned tenor, conductor and administrator Placido Domingo is celebrating 40 years with the company. NY1's Stephanie Simon filed this report.

* And what about the singers of the future at the Met? Well, the Metropolitan Opera continues to train singers they expect will fill the shoes of current Divas and Divos. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed this report.

(Photo: John Glines)

Special thanks to NY1 for it's coverage.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Drama Drop -

* Planning a party can be difficult, but... When you’re running the busiest opera house in the nation, if not the world, a logistical nightmare you could do without is a one-night-only potpourri involving hand-picked stars in arias and ensembles from approximately two dozen repertory titles. But economics dictate fund-raisers regularly, so here is Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, one hell of a party for the company’s 125th-anniversary gala, which is set for March 15. Read more about it in the New York Times. Also read more about 125 years of the Metropolitan Opera at the Met's Minisite.

* A scene you're not likely to see at a Met gala is one from John Waters 'Pink Flamingos' - the Opera... It's not easy to live down a nickname like "The Pope of Trash". For the last 40 years, John Waters has been gleefully producing some of the weirdest, gutter-dredging films in American cinema, such as "Mondo Trasho," "Pink Flamingos," "Female Trouble" and "Desperate Living," peopled by drag queens and margin-dwellers and marked by outlandish plots and fantastic musical numbers. But his love of campy sex and tabloid mayhem is married with an intense appreciation for literature, history and high art. It makes perfect sense that he's currently trying to turn "Pink Flamingos" into an opera. "It would be a good opera," he says. "It's extremes of competition to see who can be the filthiest person in the world. It stars a fat lady. And, I've said it before, not only does she sing at the end, she does something else. If you think about it, it would work."

* Foreclosures abound... The Senator Theatre's bank has notified the city and the owner of the historic movie house that it intends to foreclose on the property. The Baltimore Sun reports that the North Baltimore landmark could stop showing films as early as next week and be sold at auction next month. Owner Tom Kiefaber had been in talks with the city to turn the long-struggling theater into a nonprofit community center that would offer a range of activities beyond movies. But a letter from 1st Mariner Bank informed Kiefaber of its intent to foreclose, potentially derailing the nonprofit plan. That's really too bad. This country could use a few more non-profit community theaters.

* Even though he's president... Barack Obama still has a few things to learn. Like - never stand in front of the prima donna, not even during a singing of Happy Birthday. This birthday bash, for Ted Kennedy, took place at (Where else?) the Kennedy Center. Singing "Happy Birthday" were mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, mezzo-soprano Frederica Von Stade, folk singer James Taylor and down center stage was America's newest baritone, President Barack Obama. See for yourself:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Drama Drop -

* Is this a "take back"?... Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, is now dismissing the fact that the Met has mortgaged the two original Marc Chagall paintings which hang in it's lobby, saying “We don’t think it’s a major event.” I don't blame the Met at all. In fact, I applaud the Met for doing what it has to in order to survive. With its endowment, once $300 million, down by a third, and donations slowing to a crawl, the Met is facing horrendous deficits next season. It's too bad that in our country, this situation is becoming the rule rather than the exception. Doing what he must, Mr. Gelb has instituted 10 percent pay cuts for the staff and said he would seek to negotiate with the company’s unions for cost reductions. As previously reported here at A Liberal's Libretto, the Met has made several cuts and adjustments to next season's lineup. I tell y'all, it's survival of the fittest out there. Darwin would be proud.

* What a tough crowd... It seems that Mary Zimmerman is having a difficult time at the Met. By several accounts, Ms. Zimmerman's direction of the newest production of La Sonnambula is questionable at best. Associated Press reports that the "Met Opera makes a travesty of La Sonnambula", while Bloomberg says "Zimmerman, who usually works in theater, showed little sensitivity to the delicate psychology of early-19th-century bel canto opera when she staged “Lucia di Lammermoor” last season. This show is far worse." The real proof was in the curtain call. See for yourself:

(Photos: L, Getty Images. R. Marc Chagall at the unveiling of his paintings at the Met in 1966 - Eddie Hausner/The New York Times)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

If I Ran the NEA...

I just saw this wonderful little piece on the LA Times Culture Monster blog called If I ran the NEA. By going to that part of the blog, you'll see pictures of well known, and not-so-well known, artists and celebs. If you click on a picture, you'll get that artist's or celeb's take on what they would do as the head of the NEA. My favorite is from one of the top three people on my "Can We Be Friends?" wishlist, Rachel Maddow:
"The arts are critical to my admittedly totally chauvinistic goals for my country: I want the United States to have the biggest economy in the world, the best standard of living, a healthy population that shoots at each other far less than we do now, systems of governance and justice that are both envy and inspiration to the world, and I want our athletes and artists to be total international badasses. If I ran the NEA, I'd double down on this part of the NEA's mission: "to bring the arts to all Americans." If our artists are going to be badasses, we need to tap all our potential pools of artistic talent, we need to cultivate a national expectation of artistic literacy, and artists need jobs doing and teaching art. My NEA would fund arts education in every juvie, jail and prison in the country -- creating those art jobs, probably slashing recidivism, making our big dumb prison system slightly less pointless, and maybe someday paying off down the road in the form of the next American international art star."
Rachel, you rock! I couldn't agree more!

(Photo: Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles Times)

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Drama Drop -

* You can't spin this one... It would seem that the Met may have larger money troubles than previously reported, and who DOESN'T in this economy? In a last ditch effort to raise some capital, the Metropolitan Opera has mortgaged the great paintings that hang in the front lobby of the building. The Marc Chagall paintings titled The Triumph of Music and The Sources of Music, were commissioned for Lincoln Center when it was new. Now, they're collateral for cash. Erica Orden of the New York Times reports: "Met spokesman Peter Clark confirmed the news, saying that “the Met has had a long-term loan for a number of years which relied on cash holdings as collateral. The Chagalls are now being used as partial replacement collateral in order to free up some of the use of the cash.” (A source says the Chagalls were appraised at $20 million.)"
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