In The Swallowing Dark at Inis Nua, Action is Subjugated to Storytelling

Jessica M. Johnson and Walter DeShields in The Swallowing Dark at Inis Nua. (Photo by Kathryn Raines)

There’s a lighter, cigarettes, and even a small on-stage fire in The Swallowing Dark at Inis Nua. Yet I’m afraid the metaphor that kept coming back to me as I watched Lizzie Nunnery’s earnest but inert play is a watched pot. The ingredients seem to be good, and now and then there was a promising whiff. But ultimately, the whole thing doesn’t get above room temperature. Read more »

In Carousel at Media, Life Lived Fully in a One-Horse Town

Joseph Spieldenner and Maxwell Porterfield in Carousel at the Media Theatre.

As you enter the theatre and hear the distant strains of a calliope, take a look at the stage. What you’ll see there, in Matthew Miller’s set design for Media’s Carousel, is a distillation of this small-scale but often imaginative and satisfying production, directed by Jesse Cline.

The visual world is fragmentary, even impressionistic. A lone carousel horse stands in for the thing itself, amplified through projected images. On either side of a metal arch are sepia photographs, evoking a 19th Century New England coastal town—in particular, its factory. There’s a sense of nostalgia, but not the picture-postcard kind—we perceive instantly that life here is hard-scrabble. The joys need to be celebrated when and where they can. When they can’t find joy, something else must keep them going. Read more »

In Arden Theatre’s Cabaret—Garter Belts, Nipples, and Oh, Yes… Nazis

John Jarboe and the ensemble in CABARET at the Arden Theatre. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

Wilkommen back, Cabaret… though it seems you were only just here. Indeed, it’s been less than six months since the last tour docked briefly at the Academy of Music. The Arden’s version is in some ways better than that one, and less good in others. But for the most part, it founders on the same problem—it’s a Cabaret designed to shock with its louche sexual openness, but which instead paradoxically seems less dangerous. Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day V: The Wake World Is O17’s Glamorous Swan Song

Maeve Höglund in The Wake World at the O Festival. (Photo by Dominic M. Mercier)

Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

A tragic realization hit me as I waited for the start of David Hertzberg’s dense, maddening, but also sometimes breathtakingly lovely opera, The Wake World: I am neither as fabulous nor as intelligent as I like to think I am. Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day IV, Part II: War Stories

War Stories at the O Festival. (Photo by Dominic M. Mercier)

Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

At the core of War Stories, a provocative pairing of two works (one Baroque, one contemporary), is a haunting new opera by Lembit Beecher, which receives its world premiere here in O17.  The title is ironic—I Have No More Stories to Tell You is, in fact, full of disquieting story fragments, drawn from lived experience as well as terrified reliving. Set in the present, war dominates the lives of three character, most of all Sorrell, a female soldier now back at home and suffering from PTSD. At night, she lies in bed—though her husband tries to help her, she is largely beyond comfort.  Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day IV, Part I: Sondra Radvanovsky in Recital


Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s
Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

A recital is not an opera, but let’s not get too sniffy. O17 is wisely embracing a wide range of musical experiences, and even the Met does the occasional recital. More important, stars are and have always been a major component of opera, and recitals can be an avenue to bring in high-wattage glamour that might not otherwise be available.

Glamour is something Sondra Radvanovsky certainly provided. In two gowns—one midnight blue-and-black, the other green, each with dramatic jewelry to match—she looked every inch the gorgeous diva, but her friendly, even self-effacing manner (she apologized for relying on a music stand, but she’s in the midst of Norma rehearsals at the Met) instantly won over the audience. Anthony Manoli was her supportive pianist. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: Simpatico at McCarter Uneasily Straddles the American Dream

Mierka Girten, Michael Shannon, and John Judd in Simpatico at McCarter Theatre Center. (Photo by Richard Termine)

Two things you’ll know from the first minutes of Simpatico—you are very much in a land that can only belong to Sam Shepard; and the McCarter/Red Orchid production’s director, Dado, knows how to put this darkly funny, tonally complex world on the stage.

All of this is great news for me, since Sam’s my jam. I’ve loved his work since I discovered it as a student living in suburban Southern California, a vast wasteland he understands as no one else does. Most of Simpatico is set there—and to a native, at least, the litany of place names (Glendora, San Dimas, Azusa, Cucamonga) toll like a mournful bell. Here is where America has gone to die.  Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day III: We Shall Not Be Moved

Lauren Whitehead in We Shall Not Be Moved at the O Festival. (Photo by Dominic M. Mercier)

Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

We Shall Not Be Moved is another world premiere—yet it will be chillingly resonant to Philadelphians old enough to remember the source material. I arrived here in 1990, five years after the MOVE bombings and fire that destroyed a neighborhood—but the incident still dominated conversation and the general political landscape. My office was just a couple of miles away, something I thought about often. Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day II: In O17’s Die Zauberflöte, the Magic is in the Technology

Rachel Sterrenberg and Jarrett Ott in Die Zauberflote at the O Festival. (Photo by Steven Pisano)

Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before, with O17—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

Another day, another challenge. Last night, I gave a quick and enthusiastic response to Elizabeth Cree, a world premiere work I’d never heard before. Tonight brought the comfort of familiarity, with Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in Opera Philadelphia’s home theater, the Academy of Music. This time, at least I’m on terra cognita—in fact, I taught the opera last week as part of a musical theater course.

Still, there’s nothing simple about Zauberflöte, which despite its fairy-tale tone dwells in ambiguities and big, dark questions. The musical demands are formidable. But it’s a great choice for O17, as the mythical setting (usually a fantastic take on ancient Egypt) lends itself to imaginative rethinking. Read more »

O Festival Diary—Day I: Elizabeth Cree

Daniela Mack and Troy Cook in Elizabeth Cree at the O Festival. (Photo by Steve Pisano)

Between September 14th and 25th, Opera Philadelphia will boldly go where few, if any, companies have gone before—a festival that brings seven events covering the broad spectrum of opera, and in some cases pushing it into the future. There are traditional works (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Academy), new voices (We Shall Not Be Moved, which adds hip hop and spoken-word to the mix), big stars (reigning Met diva Sondra Radvanovsky in concert), and unusual venues (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes). I’ll do my best to cover as many of these events as I can. You can also find more information about the O Festival on their website.

And so it begins—with an ominous tolling bell, and a death sentence. Well, it’s an opera, after all. But any sense that Elizabeth Cree will be predictable vanishes almost instantly. This world premiere by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd, moves across an astonishingly varied dramatic terrain. There’s a little Jack the Ripper, a dash of All About Eve, a touch of Lizzie Borden… and all of this framed by Victorian music hall merriment. Did I mention that there’s also discussion of the Golem of Hebrew legend? Oh, and Karl Marx shows up for a while. Read more »

« Older Posts