Live Music: Hall and Oates at The Greek Theatre

October 28, 2014

by James M. DeFrances

Los Angeles, CA.  No introduction? No problem…Daryl Hall and John Oates commenced their show Sunday night at the Greek theater in Los Angeles after Mutlu, the opening act, without any prior announcement. As a matter of fact at 8:45 they were exactly 15 minutes ahead of schedule. So early that the audience, expecting a 9 p.m. start, was abruptly surprised when the intro from the 1982 number one mega-hit “Maneater” boomed over the sold out amphitheater’s PA system. The lights were quickly brought down and Los Angeles was set for an evening of memories, Hall and Oates style.

Hall & Oates and their band

Hall & Oates and their band

The duo’s 16 song set seemed to go by “in the blink of an eye” exclaimed the woman seated next to me. Daryl Hall did most of the monologue in between songs and mentioned how happy he was to be back in Los Angeles, to which the audience affectionately cooed. Outfitted in black leather jackets and mirrored lens sunglasses, the famed chart topping partners in crime stood side by side on matching carpets at the apron of the stage. On the menu this evening were some songs they “hadn’t done in a while” according to Hall. These rarities included tunes such as “Methods of Modern Love” and “Las Vegas Turnaround.” Concertgoers remained seated until “She’s Gone,” when the majority of the crowd rose to their feet to sing and dance along.

Daryl Hall

Daryl’s voice was clear and present and possessed a rugged “been there done that” quality. His phrasing differed from the studio recordings in a way that gave the lyrics a new perspective.

John Oates followed Hall’s lead vocals harmonizing effortlessly on every song. His voice sounded warm and rich as if it hadn’t aged a day. Throughout the show he maintained a quiet demeanor, smiling and waving to the audience but never directly speaking to them instead leaving those responsibilities to Hall.

John Oates

John Oates

The show was slightly marred by microphone feedback which was audible on more than one occasion. At its worst the squeaky feedback simultaneously matched a note played by a keyboard synthesizer which gave everyone at the venue a quick laugh. The band however proved to be able to outshine any of the minor quirks of the evening. The six musicians behind Daryl and John played exceptionally well and their solos were fresh and exciting. After a long jam session at the end of “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” the band took a bow and left the stage.

But the audience wasn’t going anywhere, this much was certain. Just minutes later the duo and their band reappeared for the first of two encores and went on to play some of their biggest hits including “Rich Girl,” “You Make My Dreams,” “Kiss on My List” and finally ending the night with “Private Eyes.” Very attentive patrons would have also noticed that a pesky fan found her way onto the stage and made a beeline for John Oates during “Kiss on My List.” But all she managed to do was blow him a kiss before being escorted by security.

Hall & Oates

Hall & Oates

In the end, Daryl thanked the audience profusely for coming out and insisted that the fans “made it all possible.” He also mentioned his successful VH1/Palladia TV show “Live from Daryl’s House” and how that inspired him to open a new music venue called Daryl’s House in New York. The club is opening this weekend and Hall and Oates will christen it by playing the first show, which will be available on a free live stream on Yahoo music Friday night at 6. Although they are well into their 4th decade, Hall & Oates still seem to be in a world of limitless possibilities. They are two iconic musical pioneers who are still selling out large venues with ease. Sunday night’s show proved that their induction this year into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was well deserved. They have staying power and the audience CAN go for that!

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Photos by Bonnie Perkinson. 


Picks of the Week: October 27 – November 2

October 27, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

John Pisano

John Pisano

- Oct. 28. (Tues.) Guitar Night with John Pisano. Like all of John Pisano’s Guitar Nights, this week’s features a world class assemblage of players: in addition to Pisano, you’ll hear guitarist Barry Zweig, bassist Chris Conner and drummer Tim Pleasant. Viva Cantina.  (818) 845-2425.

– Oct. 28,. (Tues.) The Hagen Quartet. The much honored string quartet, which includes three siblings, makes a rare Southland appearance. They’ll perform quartets by Mozart, Shostakovich and Brahms. The Samueli Theatre in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

- Oct. 28. (Tues.) Julie Kelly celebrates the release of her new CD Happy To Be backed by an all star band featuring Bill Cunliffe, Joe La Barbera, Anthony Wilson and Bob Sheppard with guest vocalist John Proulx. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz

- Oct. 31. (Fri.) Something Cool: Celebrating Jazz Sounds of the Cool School. The Los Angeles Jazz Institute presents another of their immensely entertaining vistas of broad areas of jazz, This time the event encompasses four areas of cool jazz: Woody Herman and the Four Brothers sound: the music of Lennie Tristano and his Disciples; The Birth of the Cool and its participants; and West Coast Cool. The stellar list of participants is topped by the iconic Lee Konitz as Special Guest of Honor. The programs take pace at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel. Something Cool. The L.A. Jazz Institute  (562) 200- 5477.

- Oct. 30. (Thurs.) John Proulx Trio. Pianist Proulx is a prime instrumentalist. And he is now matching that skill with his engaging work as a jazz vocalist. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Oct. 30. – Nov. 2.) (Thurs. – n. ) The Los Angeles PhilharmonicMozart and Beethoven, Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program featuring Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

- Oct. 31. (Fri,) Bob Sheppard with the Pat Senatore Trio featuring Josh Nelson. In a week in which Southland music stages are filled with stellar instrumentalists, here’s one not to miss, with an up front saxophone stylings from Sheppard, and briskly swinging rhythm section work from Senatore’s Trio (featuring Nelson). Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Jackie Ryan

Jackie Ryan

- Nov. 1. (Sat,) Jackie Ryan featuring saxophonist Rickey Woodard. Although she’s one of the finest of vocal artists in the contemporary jazz scene, Jackie’s appearances in Southern California are far too rare. And she’ll be backed by Rickey Woodard’s fine tenor work. So don’t miss this one. A Jazz Bakery event at the Musicians Institute. (310) 271-9039.

- Nov. 1 & 2. (Sat. & Sun.) Helen Reddy. Australian-born Reddy was called “Queen of Pop” in the ’70s for her success in releasing hit songs. Two of the best-known are “I Am Woman” and “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.” She’ll no doubt perform those and more of her dozens of memorable hits. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Washington D.C.

- Oct. 29 (Wed.) Maria Muldaur. Singer Muldaur’s warm voice was one of the appealing sounds of the folk revival of the early ’60s, followed bv her ’70s hit single, “Midnight at the Oasis.” And she continues her work as a contemporary exponent of all forms of Americana and roots music. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

New York City

- Oct. 28 – Nov. 1 (Tues.. – Sat.) Ron Carter Nonet. Carter’s one of the most (perhaps the most) recorded bassist in history. But he’s not often recognized for his prime skills as a composer and arranger. Here’s a chance to experience those skills up close and personal. Birdland. . (212) 581-3080.

Kenny Garrett

Kenny Garrett

- Oct. 30 – Nov. 1/ (Thurs. – Sat.) Kenny Garrett Quintet. Grammy-winning alto saxophonist Garrett has cruised the challenging territory from bop to post bop to avant-garde, playing with Duke Ellington and Miles Davis along the way. In the world of contemporary jazz saxophone, he’s the real deal. The Iridium.  (212) 582-2121.

Paris

- Oct. 31 (Fri,) Spyro Gyra. They’ve been in the vanguard of fusion and smooth jazz since they first arrived on the scene in the ’70s. But their award winning recordings are also rooted in solid mainstream skills. Paris New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Berlin

Becca Stevens

Becca Stevens

- Oct. 28. (Tues.) Becca Stevens. Eclectic singer Stevens is often identified as a jazz artist. But her considerable abilities also include a convincing facility in pop and blues, often supported by her guitar playing, A-Trane Jazz. +49 30 3132550.

Copenhagen

Ernie Wilkins Almost Big Band. Featuring vocalist Charenee Wade. St. Louis-born saxophonist/arranger/composer Wilkins spent the last decades of his life in Copenhagen, where he formed a mid-sized band., Called the “Almost Big Band” it was big enough (12 pieces) to serve as a vehicle for his adventurous arranging and composing. Since his death, the Band has continued under the direction of Nikolaj BentzonJazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Milan

Stanley Carke- Oct. 30 & 31 (Thurs. & Fri.) The Stanley Clarke Band. Versatile bassist/bandleader Clarke has always led great ensembles of his own (when he wasn’t pairing up with Chick Corea). And he’s always been receptive to helping new talent along the way. This time out, his band features the impressive piano work of 16 year old prodigy Beka Gochiashvili from Tbilisi, Georgia. The Blue Note Milan.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

- Oct. 31 – Nov. 2. (Fri. – Sun.) Goastt (The Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger), featuring multi-instramentalists Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, was formed by Lennon (John Lennon’s son) and musician/model Muhl in 1908. But they consider Midnight Sun, released in early 2014 to be their first significant album. The duo also describe their working relationship as singers and songwriters as similar to the working relationship between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, The Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Opera: LA Opera’s “Dido and Aeneas” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

October 27, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Two opera tales of thwarted love: one, Dido and Aeneas, in which a heroic queen loses her lover and her kingdom; the other, Bluebeard’s Castle, in which a doomed aristocrat loses his bride and his salvation. Both operas constitute the very definition of tragedy, a form that the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “a play or other literary work of a serious or sorrowful character with a fateful or disastrous conclusion: opposite to comedy.”

The LA Opera served up these two stirring masterpieces in a double bill directed by Barrie Kosky of the Komische Oper Berlin. One, Bluebeard, stayed true to its tragic form, the other, Dido, was a puzzling foray into comedy.

Much has been made of the unusual pairing of these two short operas created over two hundred years apart. I found this decision an inspired one for they have much in common – most noteworthy being the glimpse of Eden shared by the lovers, Dido and Aeneas and Judith and Bluebeard, followed by banishment and despair. They seem two sides of an existential coin. And musically, they compliment each other – the transparent delicacy of Purcell coupled with the expressive vitality of Bartok. Why Kosky chose to subvert his thoughtful construction by reimagining the haunting Dido and Aeneas as a comic romp is perplexing.

The opera opens on the chorus and principals crowded together on a long white bench running the width of the stage. The bench is pushed to within a few feet of the proscenium with a pleated gray screen poised directly behind. Figures are arrayed in pastel colors and the house lights are up. So far so good. Then Belinda, Dido’s lady in waiting, sings, “Shake the cloud from off your brow.” With exaggerated hand motions, her head bobbing and eyes popping, a startled smile on her face, Belinda foreshadows all that is amiss with the concept. At every turn, Kosky directs his principals to act out broad comedy better suited for operas like Falstaff or Gianni Schicchi. Yes, Kosky entertains with the slapstick antics of Dido’s attendants who become a gaggle of sorority sisters rather than the concerned subjects of the noble queen. He has the audience roaring with the Sorceress and two witches (three countertenors replacing the traditional mezzo-soprano and two sopranos). And he elicits a laugh when Aeneas slams off the stage and out of the theater like a petulant schoolboy. But this staging goes beyond interpretation to become a misreading of the magnitude of Purcell’s tragedy.

“Dido and Aeneas”

Culled from Book IV, The Passion of the Queen, from Virgil’s The Aeneid, the opera, Dido and Aeneas, tells the tale of Dido, the proud queen of Carthage, who reluctantly gives her heart to Aeneas, a prince of Troy, only to be abandoned. Her great love lost, Dido dies broken hearted and, with her death, so too dies her kingdom. Musically, it is supremely beautiful, recounting a story of inconsolable sorrow, which permeates the score. Just listening to Dido’s Lament, “When I am laid in earth,” can bring on tears. It is one of the most moving arias in all opera. Kosky’s concept, though exhilarating at times, undermines the nature of the opera, draining it of pathos and its final catharsis. Dido and Aeneas are reduced to teenagers with a crush on each other, making Dido’s empire seem more like a high school corridor than the vast kingdom of Carthage. When Dido sings her Lament at the end of the opera, one is left curiously unmoved.

Kosky makes a directorial decision to overlay the concluding orchestral music with Dido, alone on stage, convulsively sobbing – a sobbing that goes on for about five minutes. I’m sure, for some, this is a startling piece of theater, but for me, it is an unforgivable distraction from the music and incomprehensible in light of the preceding comedy.

Paula Murrihy, as Dido, puts heart and soul into her performance, but her queen is never allowed the nobility of her role to shine forth. Musically, she brings a lovely luster to the upper registers, but one wished for more heft in the lower registers, which convey the core of Dido’s passion.

Paula Muorrihy as Dido and Liam Bonner as Aeneas

Paula Muorrihy as Dido and Liam Bonner as Aeneas

As Aeneas, Liam Bonner’s baritone is a thing of beauty. A knockout in last season’s Billy Budd, Bonner has all the gifts: a supple sound, skilled acting, an attractive presence, and personal charisma. His Aeneas shares the same fate as the other principals, however. Cast as a wayward schoolboy, he isn’t permitted to expand into the hero of Virgil’s Aeneid. Fortunately, his potent voice conveys the grandeur of his character.

John Holiday (center) as the Sorceress, with G. Thomas Allen (left) as the First Witch and Darryl Taylor (right) as the Second Witch

John Holiday (center) as the Sorceress, with G. Thomas Allen (left) as the First Witch and Darryl Taylor (right) as the Second Witch

Kateryna Kasper is a solid Belinda with a warm and beguiling soprano. As the Sorceress and her two witches, John Holiday, G. Thomas Allen, and Darryl Taylor bring the house down, but seem more like exiles from a Mel Brooks movie than the conspiring trio who precipitate the tragedy. In fact, they are so hilarious that someone should design a new production around them. Kosky’s strength in this piece resides in directing the machinations of the chorus. They move en masse across the stage and into the orchestra pit, creating tableaux worthy of heroic painting. Thanks to Grant Gershon, the chorus sings as an organic whole, interpreting the music as Purcell wrote it with crystalline purity.

Conducted by Steven Sloane, the LA Opera Orchestra, though marvelous in Bluebeard’s Castle, seems unsteady in Dido, lacking cohesiveness, resulting in a loss of clarity and transparency. It is with Bluebeard’s Castle that the orchestra shines, savoring the complexities of Bartok’s vigorous score, with its debt to Debussy and Hungarian folk music.

An opera written for two voices and large orchestra, Bluebeard’s Castle (also titled Duke Bluebeard’s Castle), is a mesmerizing portrayal of the strangled emotions of twentieth century man. Loosely based on the fairy tale by Charles Perrault, this Bluebeard doesn’t end as well. Abandoning her family and betrothed, Judith marries Bluebeard and enters his menacing castle, which harbors dark secrets. She thinks her devotion can save him from his agonizing loneliness, only to discover that by her ceaseless curiosity, she dooms them both. In more traditional stagings, Judith opens seven doors, each displaying in turn, Bluebeard’s bloodstained torture chamber, armory, treasury, garden, dukedom, lake, and finally the room his three former wives occupy in a kind of half-life.

"Bluebeard's Castle"

“Bluebeard’s Castle”

Kosky goes a different route, creating the contents of the doors out of various bodies inhabiting the stage. Judith pulls leaves out of Bluebeard’s suit jacket, symbolizing the garden; water pours out of the cuffs and coat of three actors perched mutely on stage (stand-ins for Bluebeard himself) symbolizing the lake of tears. All this takes place on a slowly revolving circular platform designed by Katrin Lea Tag, as Bluebeard and Judith bemoan the unfolding events. Kosky stays true to the character of the piece, succumbing to the tragic elements while interpreting the clash of husband and wife in his own terms. His duo is dressed in modern attire, beginning and ending their journey as a contemporary couple in turmoil, engaged in a Freudian battle of wills.

Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Claudia Mahnke as Judith

Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Claudia Mahnke as Judith

The flaw here, however, is that like Dido and Aeneas, Kosky abandons the noble, epic nature of his characters. Missing is the initial courtly restraint that lends pathos to Bluebeard’s solitude and the heroic to Judith’s mission to save him. Because Judith and Bluebeard seem frantically at odds from the moment we encounter them – two wounded and desperate animals – the drama has nowhere to go as the music builds to its inevitable climax. What we are left with is reduced to a domestic drama. Perhaps that is enough, but I longed for less Albee and more Shakespeare.

Bass-baritone, Robert Hayward, and soprano, Claudia Mahnke, embrace their roles as the tragic couple. Musically, they prove a compelling pair, illuminating Bartok’s short melodic phrases as the orchestra weaves its magic spell and thunders towards Bluebeard’s final secret.

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Photos by  Craig Mathew courtesy of LA Opera.

To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  


Live Music: Robert Davi at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 24, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air. Robert Davi was back at Herb Alpert’s elegant Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. at the top of Beverly Glen last night. And, as always happens in his performances, he spent most of his program demonstrating his belief in the Great American Songbook as “America’s Shakespeare.”

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

Davi, whose acting career began in a film starring Frank Sinatra, has been one of the most convincing Sinatra-influenced vocal stylists for most of his career. But, unlike the growing cadre of Sinatra wannabees, he’s never been an imitator. Inspired by Ol’ Blue Eyes, he has instead invested the lyrical expressiveness and rhythmic swing of the style with his own considerable interpretive skills.

As he did Thursday night at Vibrato. Backed by a solid, six piece band led by his music director, pianist Andy Waldman, Davi offered a program mixing Sinatra classics with an intriguing range of tunes from a variety of other sources.

For many responsive listeners, the Sinatra songbook items – “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Just One of Those Things,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “That Old Black Magic,” “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “The Best Is Yet To Come” and “That’s Life” among them – were the high points. And there’s no disputing the fact that they were brought vividly to life within a Sinatra framing shaped by the Davi imagination.

Roberto Davi and his band.

Roberto Davi and his band.

Other songs were equally persuasive: a warmly intimate reading of “Moonlight In Vermont”; a stunning medley of “Old Man River” and “River Stay Away From My Door,” thoroughly displaying the rich timbres of Davi’s mellow baritone voice; a Broadway stage-worthy version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns”; and a rendering of “New York, New York” deeply touching the heart of every former New Yorker (including this one) in the room.

Robert Davi walking the room

Robert Davi walking the room

Davi enhanced lengthy segments of many songs with tours through Vibrato’s forest of tables, using a wireless microphone to create an informal, living room setting. And he was typically humorous, as well, often jokingly arguing with some of his show biz friends in the crowd about the correct identities of various songwriters. In one especially amusing segment, he recalled meeting “Russia’s Frank Sinatra” during a concert program in Russia. Imitating what he heard, Davi sang “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else” with what can best be described as a hilarious Russian accent.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

As he has done in past performances, Davi also sang “The House I Live In,” from a mid-’40s short film, featuring Sinatra. The film, rare for the time, offered powerful opposition to Anti-Semitism and racial prejudice. And Davi, always a strong supporter of the best characteristics in American culture, underscored the song’s contemporary value at a time when those characteristics are most needed.

In sum, Davi’s performance was a virtual seminar in how to bring imagination, creativity, musicality and the sheer pleasures of entertainment to a beautifully expressed evening of song. And it was done so well that it aroused – for this listener – a feeling I’ve occasionally had at past Davi performances: the desire to hear his extraordinary skills at the service of a even wider repertoire of songs.

Among the possibilities: more works by the incomparable Alan and Marilyn Bergman; more songs by Leonard Bernstein; and Davi is more than versatile enough, as well, to find some offbeat musical riches in the singer/songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s.

That said, Davi’s performance was another musical night to remember. And when he returns to the Vibrato stage, we’ll be there once again, packing the house, along with his legions of enthusiastic fans.

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Photos by Faith Frenz


Live Brazilian Music: Teka at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 22, 2014

By James M. DeFrances

Bel Air, CA. Teka Penteriche’s performance at Vibrato last Sunday night had the approval of everyone in the crowd, including veteran crooner Tom Jones.

Teka

Teka

The smooth sounds of the Brazilian born singer-guitarist and her New Bossa Band filled the air of Herb Alpert’s cozy and elegantly appointed club in Bel Air. Her song choices too were apparently just what the doctor ordered for the late night weekend patrons in West LA.  Over a glass of white wine and a bowl of the club’s extraordinary Cream of Mushroom soup I too was able to experience first hand what everyone had told me about,

Teka is sensational. Her set list offered a wide variety of Brazilian jazz with songs sung in both Portuguese and English. Teka’s arrangements and adaptations are uniquely her own and her voice and the band synced up the way every band hopes for. Highlights of the evening included her renditions of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classics — including a beautifully done version of “Aguas de Marco” and the song that the audience seemed to appreciate the most “Summer Samba” the crowning achievement of Brazilian composer Marcos Valle.

Teka and her New Bossa Band

Teka and her New Bossa Band

She was backed superbly by her New Bossa band – saxophonist/flutist Doug Webb, pianist Tom Zink, bassist Randy Tico and percussionist Kevin Winard.

Teka and her husband Paris had to make quite the trip down from Santa Barbara but it was a trip well taken as the audience was ready for more, even at the conclusion of her second and final set. Many audience members purchased a CD from Teka’s collection of albums as they left the club – a solid indication that her performance was a hit!

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Photos by James M. DeFrances.


On Opera: Director Barrie Kosky in Conversation with LA Opera’s Christopher Koelsch

October 19, 2014

 By Jane Rosenberg

Ebullient, outspoken, and intelligent, Barrie Kosky, artistic director of the Komische Oper Berlin, and stage director of LA Opera’s upcoming production of the double bill Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle presented his concept of this unusual opera pairing during a conversation with opera president, Christopher Koelsch at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday. (This is the first in a series of live streaming conversations on the LA Opera’s website – a welcome addition to the Opera’s continuing efforts to offer insights into their productions as they do with their regular pre-performance talks).

Barrie Kosky

Barrie Kosky

If you were lucky enough to see the LA Opera’s production of The Magic Flute in November of last year, then you may know that Kosky, along with his collaborators Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt, were the team responsible for this clever and visually arresting re-imagining of The Magic Flute. If Kosky brings the same level of ingenuity to Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle then the audience is in for a remarkable evening.

Conductor Constantinos Carydis conceived of the unconventional pairing of the two operas and though Kosky acknowledged that the operas, written more than two hundred years apart, are from two entirely different sound worlds, there are narrative parallels and psychological truths common to them both. Both deal with obsessive love, loneliness, loss, and on a spiritual and intellectual level: the theme of arrival and departure. Aeneas arrives in Carthage, gains Dido’s love, only to leave again, unknowingly destroying the woman he loves and the empire she rules. Judith arrives at Bluebeard’s Castle, only to find herself trapped in a nightmare world of secrets and unable to leave.

Favoring Minimalist stagings to allow the emotional power of the music and the performances to provide maximum heft, Kosky, in one of his many moments of humor, called himself an “Opulent Minimalist.” Certainly, his production of The Magic Flute gave the audience a very crowded visual field, however, the structures supporting the video projections were simple. For him, and certainly visual artists would agree, Minimalism entails distilling things to their essence.

The essence of Bluebeard, in Kosky’s staging, is not about the architecture of the doors and walls in Bluebeard’s castle; but about the primacy of the performer and the human voice. In the narrative, Judith’s curiosity compels her to open door after door, looking for a way to let light into the enchanted, dark world of the castle. In this new production, set on a slowly revolving white circle, the doors and walls are replaced by bodies harboring those secrets, in a very clever and compelling piece of staging. Emotions are raw and exposed – a veritable Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in Hungarian – as Kosky explained to his amused audience.

Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Claudia Mahnke as Judith in a scene from "Bluebeard's Castle," presented in 2010 at the Frankfurt Opera

Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Claudia Mahnke as Judith in a scene from “Bluebeard’s Castle,” presented in 2010 at the Frankfurt Opera

For Dido and Aeneas, fragility seems to be the essence of the unfolding tragedy for Kosky: the fragility of Purcell’s score, the fragility of life, and the condition that Dido finds herself in – trapped between the needs of her court and her love for Aeneas. Kosky jokingly urged everyone to bring a box of tissues to cope with the raw power and emotional catharsis of Dido’s final aria and ensuing death.

It is this raw power that interests the director who asserted that opera as an art form should take the audience out of its emotional comfort zone. Opera “fundamentalists,” as he called those who insist on productions that hark back to their originals, miss the point. Opera isn’t a fixed form, with only one viable approach, but rather, like all theatre, an interpretive art form always open to investigation.

As for his working methods, he said: it all starts with choosing the right piece of musical theatre, then “riding the surfboard on the wave” of the music. After assembling a first rate cast, anything becomes possible, because he trusts great performers to draw out character and present human truths. A director, with a musical education, Kosky first plays through the score on the piano to digest the music, then listens to as many CDs as he can. Ideas emerge from the process. The rehearsal period is a long one as he and the conductor grapple with how sound should convey the meaning of the words of the libretto. One of the joys of his profession, he said, is directing the chorus. Rather than leaving them as a static entity, he prefers to move them into the action to create a deeper level of performance.

And how do you see the future of opera? Christopher Koelsch asked Kosky in conclusion. The director felt that every hurdle faced by an opera house was unique to each house and its city. But the fundamental issue was accessibility. It’s all about the ticket prices, he explained. Because opera is subsidized in Germany, the lowest ticket price at the Komische Oper is eight Euros. Subsidies allow Kosky to reach a broad audience and at the same time maximize the productions with full orchestra, full chorus, and top performers. In his view, opera is here to stay. It is the only theatrical form that links us to the ancient Greeks – to Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles; and because of that, we are linked to something primal… and one hopes, eternal.

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Photos courtesy of LA Opera.


Live Music: Dee Dee Bridgewater at Catalina Bar & Grill

October 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

I love Dee Dee Bridgewater. I don’t hesitate to say that in public because I know my wife loves her as much as I do. And we both love her even more after experiencing the remarkable performance she gave at Catalina Bar & Grill last night.

To say that what Dee Dee and her impressive quintet offered in their ten song program was dynamic is like describing an atomic bomb as just an explosion. She and her players – trumpeter and leader Theo Croker, alto saxophonist Irwin Hall, keyboardist Michael King, bassist Eric “E-Dub” Wheeler and drummer Kassa Overall – fit together like the workings of a fine Swiss watch. And they did so with a combination of sizzling spontaneity, hard driving swing and interactive inventiveness.

Eric “Dub” Wheeler, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Theo Croker, Kassa Overall and Irwin Hall

Blessed with a voice that soars effortlessly across octaves with an astonishing range of timbres, Dee Dee transformed each of her songs into a dramatic short story, delivered in a compatible musical setting perfectly illuminating every emotional twist and turn that she brought to her vocal narratives.

Dee Dee Bridgewater and Michael King

Dee Dee Bridgewater and Michael King

The range of selections was extraordinary: from “”Afro-Blue” to “A Foggy Day,” from “Blue Monk” to “Love For Sale.” With occasional in between stops at tunes such as “Save Your Love For Me” and “Living For the City.” But whether the source was Thelonious Monk or the Gershwins, Dee Dee found the heart of the song, in brilliant creative exchanges with her musicians.

I’ve already mentioned interactivity several times in describing this memorable evening, and with good reason. All singers value a strong linkage with their players.

Theo Croker, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irwin Hall

Theo Croker, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irwin Hall

But what took place between Dee Dee and her musicians could more accurately be compared to what has taken place in some of the classic instrumental ensembles in jazz history (think those of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the Modern Jazz Quartet). And, by the way, Dee Dee’s players – Croker, Hall, King, Wheeler and Overall – are not as well known as they should be.

Dee Dee wrapped the night by stepping down into the table area, cruising among the enthusiastic, hand-clapping crowd, singing Abbey Lincoln’s “The Music is the Magic of a Sacred World.” Occasionally bestowing hugs along the way, she concluded her magical music by inviting her listeners into her creative “Sacred World.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater and her players have one

more night to go at Catalina Bar and Grill. Don’t miss her one of a kind musical experiences. And when she asks you to get up and join her song, do it.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.

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