Print

Review: Jorge Martin's "Before Night Falls"

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

I always enjoy hearing about what's happening in the classical music and opera scenes in other markets. To that end, Post-Gazette senior editor Robert Croan contributes this terrific review of Florida Grand Opera's production of Jorge Martin's opera "Before Night Falls." Enjoy!

Review: Florida Grand Opera's "Before Night Falls" is a timely production

By Robert Croan 

MIAMI, Fl — It's nothing new for an opera to be a vehicle for contemporary political and social issues. Most of Verdi's early operas, for example, were thinly disguised metaphors for then-controversial ideals of Italian unification. Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" was based on a French play considered so seditious that it passed the censor only after its diatribes against government were altered to complaints against women's infidelity. In this honorable tradition, Jorge Martin's "Before Night Falls," the major event of Florida Grand Opera's 2016-17 season, hits on several hot-button issues of today: Cuba and the suppression of dissidents, freedom of speech, gay rights and torture, just for a start.

Mr. Martin, 58, is a gay Cuban-American whose parents came to the United States when he was five years old. His opera, premiered in Fort Worth in 2010 and now brought to the city with this country's largest Cuban audience, is based on the eponymous memoir by gay Cuban dissident writer Reinaldo Arenas. The story is already familiar not just from Mr. Arenas' book but also a superb film that starred Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp. The opera has some flaws, but there is enough in it that's musically and dramatically compelling to make it one of the more important works of this decade. FGO's general director and CEO Susan T. Danis deserves the highest praise for bringing important new repertory into every season since she took over in 2013. In 2018, she will produce Daniel Catan's "Florencia en el Amazones," another opera that has had success in cities with significant Latino populations.

The real-life Mr. Arenas fought in the revolution that put Fidel Castro into power, but Mr. Arenas' comrades turned on him when he came out against the Castro regime's oppression. Betrayed by his lover and by his closest friend, Mr. Arenas was imprisoned, tortured, humiliated and forced to recant publicly his anti-government ideas as well as his sexual orientation. Eventually, with the help of a straight homeless man, Lazaro Gomes Garriles, who admired his writing, Mr. Arenas escaped on the Mariel boatlift. He contracted AIDS in New York, at a time when the disease was an irrevocable death sentence, but lived long enough to write the memoir that has made him immortal.

The libretto, by the composer with Delores M. Koch, covers all the main points, although the first act is too long, and there's an episodic quality that impedes development of any but the central character. And the presence of two otherworldly characters, two female muses (Elizabeth Caballero and Melissa Fajardo), comes off as pretentious and holds up the action at crucial moments.

Mr. Martin's music is absorbing and listenable, changing idioms according to the plot and overtly incorporating the idioms of Strauss and Prokofiev, Latin dance and Copland's Americana. Conductor Christopher Allen brought out all sorts of unexpected details in Mr. Martin's shrewd orchestral palette. His vocal writing is admirable in clarifying the words (mostly English with some Spanish) in a big house, and his lines are inevitably singable. Most of the solo music is declamatory, however, with a sparsity of melody even in extended arias. One problem is that because Lazaro is declared straight, there are no opportunities for a love duet, which might have provided an extended lyrical outpouring.

The Fort Worth production worked well in Miami's elegant Arsht Center, Riccardo Hernandez's simple but attractive sets cogently enhanced by Harry Frehner's imaginative lighting and Peter Nigrini's striking projections. Director David Gately focused on individual emotional responses yet also managed the crowd scenes aptly.

This opera is a star turn for its hero, and Canadian baritone Elliot Madore proved himself an ideal protagonist. Handsome and sensitive, with a colorful, resonant sound that filled the theater and expressed the emotional gamut, Mr. Madore never flagged in a role that has him on stage for almost all the opera's three-hour duration. His stamina was all the more remarkable in view of the fact that the performance I attended (March 18) was the second of the run, a Sunday matinee immediately following the Saturday opening night.

The supporting singers were uniformly excellent: dark-hued tenor Dintar Vania as Reinaldo's teacher Ovidio, whose renunciation scene — shown on video — was harrowing; Calvin Griffin as Victor, a menacing friend-turned-persecutor; and most praiseworthy, bright-toned Michael Kuhn, a very human, ineffably sad Lazaro. The scene in which he administers poison to a willing Reinaldo to end the dying man's suffering was another emotional high point.

Robert Croan is a Post-Gazette senior editor.  

Correction appended: Michael Kuhn portrayed Lazaro. A previous version of this article listed an incorrect performer. 

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.
Print

"I puritani" at the Metropolitan Opera

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Post-Gazette senior editor Robert Croan recently visited New York and sends along this insightful review of the Met's production of "I puritani," by Vincenzo Bellini. Enjoy!

Pretty Yende thrives on short notice in Met's "Puritani" 

By Robert Croan

NEW YORK — Bellini's "I puritani" is an operatic rarity that can only fully make its point when performed by a high-powered cast of four magnetic star singers. For this season's revival, the Metropolitan Opera assembled soprano Diana Damrau, tenor Javier Camarena, baritone Luca Pisaroni and bass Alexey Markov. Except for Ms. Damrau, the lineup is not quite as starry as when this production, by Sandro Sequi, was new in 1976 — Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes and James Morris — but it's an impressive assemblage designed to draw aficionados of good singing.

Bel canto opera, essentially the serious works of 19th-century composers Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, relies on the beauties of the human voice above all other elements. Dramatic credibility, the meanings of individual words, even clarity of diction may be sacrificed on the altar of mellifluous melodies and vocal virtuosity. What action there is takes place between the arias and ensembles in longish stretches of recitative — musical declamation tailored to the rhythms of Italian speech. The melodies are incomparably beautiful, however, and with its generally excellent cast, this season's first-night "Puritani" was highly praised by critics and audiences alike.

On Feb. 14, the night I attended, Ms. Damrau cancelled because of illness. Her replacement in the leading role of Elvira was 32-year-old South African soprano Pretty Yende, who did some quite spectacular singing on short notice. Ms. Yende has a substantial sound, capable of fine-spun legato and agile coloratura. While her overall performance lacked the dazzle and nuance associated with the older, more established Damrau, the younger soprano was an attractive figure on stage, and she rode Bellini's vocal hurdles with facility and grace.

South African soprano Pretty Yende stepped in at the last minute at the Met, replacing Diana Damrau (Gregor Hohenberg/Sony Music Entertainment)South African soprano Pretty Yende stepped in at the last minute at the Met, replacing Diana Damrau (Gregor Hohenberg/Sony Music Entertainment)

The standard formal design of Bellini's era was the slow cavatina, with a lyrical melody over a broken chord accompaniment, followed by a fast caballetta in dance rhythm showing off vocal fireworks of all sorts. Elvira's second act mad scene, "Qui la voce," is one of the grandest in the genre, matched only, perhaps, by the better-known mad scene in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." Ms. Yende did very well vocally, though she didn't always make the coloratura emotionally meaningful. Still, there's no question that this singer is a star in the making.

Ms. Yende was well partnered in duets and ensembles by Mr. Camerena, who tossed off tenor high Cs and D-flats with limitless security and aplomb. Mr. Pisaroni and Mr. Markov were both vocally accomplished and comfortable on stage, though not quite in the Damrau-Camarena class. Nonetheless, the rousing bartione-bass duet, "Suoni la tromba," brought the second act to an exhilarating conclusion. If none of the principals managed to make much of this work's theatrical elements, that may be at least partly attributed to the nature of the genre and of the opera itself. Revival stage director Sarah Ina Meyers relied too much on the original static choral tableaux, and gave the principals little more than stock operatic gestures and unimaginative movements to work with.

Robert Croan is a Post-Gazette senior editor. 

 

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.
Print

'Beauty and the Beast' director reveals Josh Gad's LeFou as Disney's first gay character

Written by Sharon Eberson on .

In an interview with the magazine Attitude"Beauty and the Beast" director Bill Condon has said that the character of LeFou, played by Carnegie Mellon grad Josh Gad ("Book of Mormon"; "Frozen"), will have "a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie."

2017JoshGadPoster280An openly gay character is reported to be a first for Disney and is a dedication to the late lyricist Howard Ashman, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Mr. Ashman died before the animated film premiered in theaters.

Gad was asked by a Twitter follower to confirm the reports, and he tweeted, "Beyond proud of this."

The live-action "Beauty and the Beast" opens March 17, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. Gad's LeFou is sidekick to the egomaniacal Gaston (Luke Evans).

"LeFou is somebody ... who's just realizing that he has these feelings," Condon tells Attitude. "And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that's what has its payoff at the end, which I don't want to give away."

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.
Print

"The Voice" semifinalist Josh Gallagher had the look, way back when

Written by Maria Sciullo on .

Fans of Josh Gallagher on "The Voice" have come to expect a certain sartorial image each Monday.

For starters, there's the black baseball cap (which now has its own Twitter account, btw). He sang one week without it, but come on, the hat is part of the image. Cresson, Pennsylvania's Gallagher might be country, but he isn't cowboy hat.

Then there is the vest, the button down shirt. His mother, Cathy Gallagher, recalled that when her son was 10, the kids in a local youth program put on a show for the parents.

"He wore a little vest and a button-down shirt... just like the one he wears now," she said. "He sang the Justin Timberlake part in 'Bye Bye Bye.'"

There's more to Gallagher's image than meets the eye, however. His father, Dan Gallagher, only half-joked that father, son and mother are all a bit superstitious. That's one of the reason Dad hasn't attended any of the live shows; if Josh is doing fine with his being back in Western Pennsylvania, let's not jinx it.

Before attending each show, Mrs. Gallagher said she slips a little bag of Fritos into her purse as a good-luck charm. And the young nephews of Josh's newlywed wife, Lindsey, gave him their own present.

"They took a pair of black crew socks, and wrote 'Lucky' on one and 'Sock' on the other," Mrs. Gallagher said, laughing. "He's worn them on stage every week."

"The Voice" is averaging 12.2 million viewers for its Monday and Tuesday night shows on NBC. Eight singers remain; four advance to next week's finals.

Mr. Gallagher sang "Danny's Song" Monday night, and had fun with Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright' as a duet with Sundance Head.

gallagherjoomla

 

 

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.
Print

Photo gallery from Wizard World Pittsburgh with Jonathan Frakes, Charlie Cox and more

Written by Sharon Eberson on .

Frakes

The second Wizard World Comic Con Pittsburgh saved it's big guns for the final day at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where Charlie Cox and Elden Henson (below) of Netflix's "Daredevil" and Evan Peters of the "X-Men" films and FX's "American Horror Story" joined a lineup including "Star Trek" stars Jonathan Frakes (above with fans) and Nichelle Nichols.

Frakes. who you probably know as Will Riker of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," is from Bethlehem, PA -- Eagles country -- but he did point out he went to Penn State with Franco Harris. 

Here are some more sights from Sunday at Wizard World:

 CharlieCox2

NinjaTurtles

 

 DowntonAbbeyJewelryDisneyArtDemo

DammitJanet

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.