Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mandy and Patti: Together Again for the Very First Time

I was so excited when a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to see Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone. A friend of a friend who didn't need the tickets had asked if she knew anyone who could use them. She had instantly thought of Courtney and I, but then started to have second thoughts because Mandi and Patti are not opera singers. . . um, Puh-shaw! These people are Broadway royalty. Evita, Sunday in the Park with George, Gypsy, The Baker's Wife, The Secret Garden, Les Miserables, Falsettos, Sweeny Todd. . . (ok, I had to look some of those up) but OMG! I was already thinking of spending actual money to see this concert, but decided against it because, well, have you looked outside? The sky is falling. Anyway, here were some tickets being offered to us for free. It's a sign.

So the next night, Courtney and I get all respectable lookin' and head down to Wilmington for the show. Our seats were way house right on the first balcony, but that was okay because the theater is not that large (1300 maybe). Piano and stringed bass are waiting stage right, and the stage has about twenty "ghost lights" (a lightbulb on a stand) strewn about. Lights go down. Musicians take their places and start into a pulsing vamp. . . and there they are sitting side by side singing "Another Hundred People" (Company).

I have to admit, it's a little surreal to be seeing in person people that you have seen on TV and heard on albums for most of your life. Surreal-good, not surreal-weird. The concert was set up very much like a classical recital (or even one long song cycle per half) in that there was not really any pause between songs. If there was any talking, it was the scene that surrounded the song that was to be sung. This made for very much a montage-y kind of feel, which normally annoys me, but in this case it seemed to be the most efficient way to get as many songs in as possible with their context. That, and you have some of the most wonderful performers around, so they make it work.

They had some extended sections of particular musicals which was great including the main love scene from South Pacific ("A Cockeyed Optimist", "Twin Soliloquies", "Some Enchanted Evening"), and selections from Evita (big surprise), Merrily We Roll Along, and Carousel. It was great to see some real actors do the South Pacific, and thinking "oh, that's what that scene is about" all the while sheepishly remembering my 19-year-old attempts at Emile de Becque. Carousel is probably my favorite musical of all time, so I was very pleased to see that programmed at all.

Other highlights included "Getting Married Today" (Company) with Patti LuPone spitting out some of the fastest and funniest patter I have ever heard live. Amazing. Mandy Patinkin taking over the room with a fierce "Franklin Shepard, Inc." (Merrily We Roll Along) and then moments later singing a touching and (yes, I'll say it) poignant "Somewhere That's Green" (Little Shop of Horrors).

So, for the most part I loved it. In fact, in almost every part I loved it. But I can't let my vocal snobbery lie. Patti was having some vocal issues. She was consistently flat in her middle chest voice. My guess is that she was tired and/or was dealing with her health. Two of her numbers listed in the program were not performed. And Mandy, well, Mandy has a voice technique that is unique to him. And honestly I'm glad for that, because I don't know that I would like it if there were a whole lot of Patinkin wannabes running around and going into falsetto every chance they could.

But hey, it was a wonderful show. A wonderful evening of theater and music, and has made several lasting memories for Courtney and me. What more could a theater-goer want?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Notes on Rossini's Stabat Mater

So, I have put up on the blog a list of the performances that are coming up in an effort to fulfill the first directive of the blog (i.e. keep people informed about the performing I am doing). This box will be updated when necessary/when I get more performance opportunities. I am also thinking that I would give a little background and personal observations about these pieces in this space. So without further ado. . .

The first entry is a concert of Rossini's Stabat Mater, which is a wonderful and surprising work. If you are going in looking for The Barber of Seville, you may be a bit disappointed. This is a solemn and reflective piece, much more like his opera serio masterpiece William Tell. This piece was written late in Rossini's life, after he had all but retired from composing. Rossini was requested by a Spanish clergyman to compose this piece in 1831, to which Rossini consented but under condition that the score should never leave the posession of the clergyman and that it never published. Unfortunately for Rossini, a few years after the piece was finished the clergyman died, and his heirs wished to sell the score. After a court battle, Rossini retained the rights to the score, however "the cat was out of the bag." Rossini was persuaded to have the score performed publicly in Paris in 1842, which was received with overwhelmingly enthusiasm.

The piece is based on a poem of unknown authorship, though it has been traditionally attributed to Jacopone di Todi (d. 1306), an Italian lawyer who, after his wife's death, became a lay member of the Franciscan order. Though we are unsure of the authorship, what is clear is the Franciscan emphasis on the understanding of the suffering and death of Jesus. The text begins with the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, watching her son die on the cross. It goes on to be a prayer to Mary asking that she may allow the petitioner to suffer along with her at the foot of the cross, that the petitioner might learn to love Jesus more fully. This text was adopted by the Catholic mass in the late 15th century, but was removed at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) because it's origins were not biblical. But it was reinstated by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727, and standardized in the late 19th century by the reforms associated with the Monks of Solemnes. Many settings of this text have been made by notable composers such as Pergolesi (1736), Hayden (1773), Verdi (1898), Szymanowski (1926), and Poulenc (1950). The conductor of the Sydney Symphony, Gianluigi Gelmetti, says of this piece: "The manner in which Rossini uses this splendid, vigorous and powerful text in such a 'human' fashion--in the strong and beautiful meaning of the expression--is something extrordinary. The Mother suffering at the foot of her Son's a universal expression of humanity--grief, affection, distress, hope--that today just as yesterday belongs to everyone."

The concert will be given by the Westminster Presbyterian Church Choir under the direction of Paul Fleckenstein, who will also be our orchestra at the keys and pedals of the organ. Diana Milburn (sop), Noel Archambeault (sop), and Neil Darling (ten) will be the soloists (along with yours truly). It should be a good time (er, a somber, reflective time anyway).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A-one, and a-two, and a. . .

So, I'm trying something. I am not sure where this is going, but I am curious.

The intent is threefold. The first is to answer all those friends, and family members, and friends of family members who say, "Brian, you don't live anywhere close. What's happening with you? What is going on in your life? Where are you performing? What are you performing? Can you get me free tickets". . . okay, they don't ask all those things. But there are people in the world who are regularly interested in what I am doing. And so I have set up this blog to be the first and last word in what is happening with my performance schedule and my life as a performer. You're welcome, Nancy Moore. :)

Secondly, I have to admit, I have been inspired by my friend Derek and his blog here, and my friend Jason's blog for his family here, and the blog for the cutest baby on the internets, Julian Roth, and frankly a number of others from various good people I have met in my life. And I thought, heck, if they can put together a blog that well, I can certainly put one together poorly.

Finally, as implied above, this is an experiment, and I am excited about it. I am not sure what I will write (excuse me--blog) about, though I imagine there will be posts about music in general and my life as an opera singer and neo-natal academic. There could be posts about current events, and my grave concern for this country. I can only assume there will be posts about my lovely wife (pre-approved by herself, of course), and/or learning to live on the right-hand coast where "go down the shore" means "go to the beach," and other such nonsense. But, whatever the reason, I am excited to share these things with whomever wishes to spend the time to read them.

So, thank you for stopping by. I'll do what I can to post on at least a semi-regular basis. And, I hope to see you back some time.