OPERA REVIEW: Le Nozze di Figaro — 231 Years Old, and Sassier Than Ever

Patrick Carfizzi, Lucy Schaufer, Brandon Cedel, and Ying Fang in Le Nozze di Figaro at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Kelly & Massa)

Patrick Carfizzi, Lucy Schaufer, Brandon Cedel, and Ying Fang in Le Nozze di Figaro at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Kelly & Massa)

Some days, I think the Act II finale of Le Nozze di Figaro is not only the greatest 20 minutes of music ever written, but also the greatest theater. I’m hardly a lone voice here—if there’s universal agreement about anything operatic, it could be that Mozart’s setting of Beaumarchais’ play is as close to perfect as art gets. And at 231 years old, it’s fresher, sassier, and more dazzling than ever.

What’s more controversial is how to do it. Is the emphasis comedic, or sentimental?… or, for that matter, politically pointed and angry? Should Figaro productions retain its 18th Century setting, or update it?  And we haven’t even touched on questions of musical style (Fast or Slow? To ornament, or not to ornament?). So, you see, there isn’t only one Figaro—there are many, and it’s reborn in each performance. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: Cabaret is Back Again… and Edgier than Ever

The 2017 National Tour of Roundabout Theatre’s Cabaret. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Kander and Ebb’s musical Cabaret is now 50 years old. It’s never been out of the spotlight, but at times of political uncertainty, the show takes on special resonance. We’re deep in one of those times now—though in fact, the presidential election has nothing to do with this tour, which derives from a 2014 Broadway revival that was itself a revival of a landmark production by co-directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall.

Part of Cabaret’s staying power is its theatrical permutability, a rare quality in a musical. Each new Hello, Dolly! looks pretty much like the last one—but every generation reinvents Cabaret along strikingly new lines. Harold Prince’s original defined the show as radical in 1966; six years later, Bob Fosse rebuilt it for his hit movie adaptation.  Read more »

THEATRE REVIEW: Old Meets New and East Meets West in The King and I

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Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana in The King and I at the Academy of Music.

Bartlett Sher, one of America’s busiest and most accomplished directors, has worked in every medium from straight plays to opera—but he’s won particular acclaim for two classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that he revived at Lincoln Center. Before The King and I (now onstage at the Academy of Music) came Sher’s revelatory South Pacific. What was notable from the start was Sher’s approach—first and foremost, to fundamentally trust the material.  He and his designers gave the show a beautiful frame; he also focused on the acting values inherent in both Hammerstein’s book and Rodgers music. Otherwise, Sher allowed the piece speak for itself, even when it creaked a little with age. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: More is More in The Bodyguard

Deborah Cox and Company in The Bodyguard at the Academy of Music.

Deborah Cox and Company in The Bodyguard at the Academy of Music.

Posted at the Academy of Music: Guest Alert! Strobe lighting, loud gun effects and lasers will be used during the performance. But hey, wait—they forgot the holograms, bad ‘90s hair, and big gay stereotypes!

And that’s just the beginning. Read more »

OPERA REVIEW: Tancredi had Pomp, Circumstance, and a Whole Lot of Voice

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Stephanie Blythe in Tancredi at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Kelly & Massa)

There’s a lot to be said for the old-fashioned pleasures.

Opera Philadelphia’s Tancredi was a throwback on several levels—starting with the work itself, one of Rossini’s first major successes. Tancredi’s plot (a political power struggle/star-crossed romance, set in the Byzantine Empire) and its rather sequential, stately dramatic structure are representative of early 18th Century style. Storytelling in opera would grow more nuanced and fluid over the next hundred years, but Rossini knew the power of virtuoso music—arias, duets, ensembles—to thrill an audience.  A similar sense excitement was very much present here at the Academy of Music. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: In If/Then – Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between

Jackie Burns and the cast of If/Then, now at the Academy of Music.

Jackie Burns and the cast of If/Then, now at the Academy of Music.

Here’s How It Starts: In Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s If/Then, now playing at the Academy of Music, the heroine — Elizabeth, recently divorced and at a personal crossroads — imagines her life on two different paths. In one, she’s Beth, a city planner rising in the ranks. In the other, she’s Liz (Liz-beth – get it?), who puts her career on hold in pursuit of romance with Josh, a doctor currently serving in the army.

If only even one of these roads led to a better show. Read more »

Theater Review: A Pleasingly Bittersweet Sound of Music at the Academy of Music

Kerstin Anderson (Maria) and the children in The Sound of Music at the Academy of Music.

Kerstin Anderson (Maria) and the children in The Sound of Music at the Academy of Music.

It might surprise The Sound of Music‘s legions of adoring young fans to learn that the show originally got mixed reviews. Oh, it was a commercial hit — and it took home a number of Tonys, including one for Mary Martin, the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein muse who created Maria. But several prominent critics sniffed at the show’s sentimentality. “Hackneyed,” wrote Brooks Atkinson, while Walter Kerr deplored that the creative team “was moved to abandon snowflakes and substitute cornflakes.”

You don’t need me to tell you that the naysayers had little impact. In the ensuing 50-plus years, the show has only gained popularity, and I’m convinced that audiences love The Sound of Music in part because it’s kitsch. A decade ago, Judi Dench brought down the house at a London gala, when she played — wait for it — Liesl. The hugely popular midnight movie sing-along shows are an exercise in camp. NBC’s live holiday telecast a few years ago was best appreciated ironically (could anyone possibly mistake the tiny AstroTurf mat where Carrie Underwood performed the title song for an alp?).

So the tricky question for directors and producers who revive The Sound of Music is — how do you get people to take the show seriously, when it’s not even clear that’s what they want? Read more »

Opera Philadelphia is All About the Ladies Next Season

Christine Goerke

Christine Goerke

The big news from today’s 2016-17 season announcement from Opera Philadelphia is pretty simple: It’s all about the ladies.

In fact, when browsing the full lineup for the upcoming year, the three main highlights can easily be boiled down to Opera Philadelphia’s casting of two superstar singers for 2016 and 2017, plus the premiere of a female composer’s new work. Here’s a breakdown of the leading ladies that will be taking center stage:

Christine GoerkeThe soprano caused quite a stir back in 2013 when she appeared as Die Färberin in the Met Opera’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, garnering massive critical acclaim which led the company to sign her as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Ring Cycle during the 2018-19 season at the New York venue. Goerke won’t be singing Wagner while in Philly, but she will star as the title role in Puccini’s final opera, Turandot, at the Academy of Music, September 23-October 2.

Read more »

5 Questions with Gabrielle McClinton

Gabrielle McClinton in "Pippin."

Gabrielle McClinton in Pippin.

The award-winning revival of Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin is heading to Philly’s Academy of Music later in February, featuring high-flying acrobatics created by Les 7 Doigts de la main throughout the production. The show also includes the memorable score and signature choreography in the style of the great Bob Fosse. But it may be the decision to cast a woman in the traditionally male Leading Player role that best sets the revival apart from the original. One of the actresses who has tackled the challenging part, Gabrielle McClinton, played the role both in New York and on tour. We caught up with McClinton to discuss her experience with Pippin, and how touring life is different than a steady one on Broadway.

Up until this revival, the Leading Player was always associated with Ben Vereen. How does the gender switch impact the role, if at all?
I don’t feel like it impacts it that much. I watched Ben Vereen on YouTube and was amazed by him, but when I went in for the role, if anything, it feels more awesome that a woman, especially an African-American woman, is doing it. She’s so strong and it is saying something that there is no difference between her and others.

I know that you went to Carnegie Mellon to study theater, so are you a Pennsylvania native? Is this your first time performing in Philly?
I’m from Los Angeles originally, but training at Carnegie Mellon was a really great experience. I performed in Philly at a press event at one of the local theaters, but this is the first time that I’m doing a full show. Read more »

REVIEW: Cold Mountain at Opera Philadelphia

Isabel Leonard and Jarrett Ott in "Cold Mountain."

Isabel Leonard and Jarrett Ott in Cold Mountain.

Most of the characters in Jennifer Higdon‘s first opera want to return to the literal Cold Mountain. However, at the end of the nearly three-hour show, which had its East Coast premiere with Opera Philadelphia on Friday evening, you’re left to wonder why. There’s no doubt that this operatic adaptation of the classic novel-turned-film sparks some sparks with a fabulous cast, but the overall pacing of the production makes you feel like you’ve been physically fighting in the drawn-out American Civil War depicted in the opera.

Part of that may very well have to do with the scope of narrative that’s trying to be covered here, told through a series of interconnected scenes and flashbacks. It’s almost too much: Gene Scheer‘s libretto is heavy and often times puts unneeded weight on both the action and the singers. The first act of Cold Mountain suffers tremendously from this, as the one huge stationary set piece (which eerily looks like the barricades from Les Miserables) doesn’t allow for the action to move beyond a small playing area.

Higdon’s score, while complex, layered, and interesting, often fell victim on Friday night to conductor Corrado Rovaris. The orchestra severely overpowered the singers, especially in act one, and there were multiple times when the top-notch performers could hardly be heard over the pit. Read more »

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