Two seasoned, enterprising professionals in the opera world has recognized this serious gap in our cultural life and have set in motion an ambitious plan to fill it: The Berkshire Opera Festival, which will present its first season in late August and early Spetember of this year. Jonathon Loy, General Director and Co-Founder is a Guest Director on the staging staff at The Metropolitan Opera and a 2002 OPERA America Fellowship winner. Brian Garman, Artistic Director and Co-Founder, is a distinguished conductor, who worked at the Seattle Opera between 2009 and 2014 in the pit and as Music Director of the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program. As you will learn in this podcast, both know the aesthetics, mechanics, and business of opera from top to bottom, and show every sign of creating and institution that will endure and be highly appreciated in the Berkshires.
The director of this year’s Festival of Contemporary Music, Steven Stucky, was a fine composer whose music occupies a centrist position in the American musical landscape, not only in his prominence, but equally due to his traditionally-oriented style. Stucky’s premature death last February at the age of sixty-six deprived this year’s festival of a director and the music world of a distinguished voice, but in the FCM programming his musical personality is apparent. Imaginative and resourceful, his music has an appealing surface, a familiarity of materials, and a clear and direct emotional appeal, speaking to the influence of mainstream American composers like Aaron Copland.
John Rando and Joshua Bergasse are ingenious at moving ensembles around a stage—be they orphan pirates, lovelorn young ladies or frivolous policemen. Pirates leap onto rope nets strung down from the top of the theater; they crawl down the aisles at our feet, swords in hand. Young ladies sidestep closely together as they pine in song for young men to be their husbands. Uniformed policemen hop onto each other’s backs or fall down onto the stage dominos style all the while delighting the audience into non-stop grins.
Aston Magna’s J.S. Bach concert in The Mahaiwe Theatre was a banquet of riches. The music itself ranged from abject woe in Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen to vaudeville hijinks in The Singing Contest of Phoebus and Pan. Where do I begin? The unique singing of Dominque Labelle arrests the senses. You must listen to it. Ulysses Thomas’s rich, aristocratic voice, Jesse Blumberg’s clear, actorly voice, William Hite’s beautiful, beautiful tenor, each spoke eloquently. Above all, the redoubtable Frank Kelley’s complete control of the act of singing, his exaggeration (wildly funny), his movement, and most wonderful of all, the subtle creativity of his timing, brought the house down. He is the complete package.
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is dark, dark musical theatre. A vengeful barber returns to Victorian London, slits the throats of those who have wronged him and with his accomplice turns their bodies into the stuffing of meat pies. Todd’s London is as menacing as he is …
“There’s a hole in the world
Like a great black pit
And it’s filled with people
Who are filled with shit
And the vermin of the world inhabit it …”
Something rather curious happens in the middle of Little Shop of Horrors now at the Colonial Theatre. Audrey II, the ultimate diva of human-eating plants, turns into a real-life drag queen.
Tennessee Williams, who was close to forty when The Rose Tattoo opened on Broadway in February 1951, had already enjoyed major success with three plays, and had won a Pulitzer, the first of two, for A Streetcar Named Desire. The Rose Tattoo earned him his first Tony. It rather swept them up, as the scenic designer, Boris Aronson, and the two lead actors, Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach, also won Tonys. This was a big moment for all of them—certainly a milestone in Williams’ career. Yet, when the director of the current production, Trip Cullman, says, in an interview published in the program, that The Rose Tattoo “doesn’t occupy the same place in the canon as The Glass Menagerie, or A Streetcar Named Desire, or even Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” we can accept it readily enough. Cullman envisioned his task as revealing its greatness. Indeed, the play hasn’t been revived very often. All the more credit to Mr. Cullman and to Mandy Greenfield, the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Artistic Director, for taking on the challenge and for realizing its greatness with such brilliance—an extremely difficult task, I’d say, first because of Williams’ mercurial, almost indecisive shifting from pathos to comedy and back again, and secondly because of the problems involved in depicting Italian-American characters and life not only on stage, but in fiction and in film.
This show was terrific, beautifully staged, a speed which benefitted the repetitive material, no nonsense, and some really wonderful performances. There were two outstanding young artists. Austin Lombardi led the show with blistering directness. He filled the silences with heat. He was relentless in his pursuits, and did all of this without exaggeration. His energy was almost tactile. Rebecca Brudner as his first wife Thea, used her beautiful voice intelligently.