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Posts Tagged ‘Leonard Bernstein’

A lean month once you take out 10 days in Scotland and 6 days at the Olympics or Paralympics as either volunteer or spectator!

There was a pair of Proms – Bernstien’s Mass and Elgar’s The Apostles. The former is a favourite rarely performed so much-anticipated (particularly as almost all of the vocal and orchestral inputs were Welsh!), but I’m afraid it didn’t quite live up to the anticipation. The weak link for me was Morten Frank Larsen in the key role of ‘The Celebrant’ . There were no weak links in The Apostles where Mark Elder, The Halle and all six soloists shone in this underrated oratorio.

At Sadler’s Wells Theatre, I caught the last performance of the revival of Matthew Bourne’s 9-year-old Play Without Words, a dance piece based on the film The Servant, with a terrific jazz score. It was as good as I remembered, sexy slick and truly unique.

British Design 1948-2012 (so good, I wanted to steal a lot of the 50’s-70’s stuff!) and Heatherwick Studio (which by the time I got there included the prototype for his extraordinary Olympic cauldron). The post-war years really did produce iconic designs and the exhibition captured the best of it in almost every form. Thomas Heatherwick works across a lot of forms and his exhibition was simply enthralling. Has there ever been a more inventive designer?

Portrait of London at the Wandsworth Museum showcased photos of London in general and the borough of Wandsworth in particular and it was fascinating. I took in their permanent collection for the first time and was particularly delighted to see them covering the late 19th century tradition in Earlsfield of electing a ‘fool’s mayor’; somehow that feels so up-to-date!

A trip to a multi-story car park in Shoreditch was an unusual experience, specifically to see the 16 BMW Art Cars over six floors, painted by the likes of Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Liechtenstein et al. A quirky, interesting diversion rather than spectacular art, unlike the Bauhaus – Art as Life show at the Barbican Art Gallery which was an extraordinary review of the impact of this short-lived design ‘movement’. Covering everything from architecture, fashion, painting, sculpture, graphics, toys, furniture and performance, their influence was so much more than you’d ever imagine could be achieved in just 14 years.

RGS Travel Photography Exhibition looks like becoming as much of a tradition as the International Photography Exhibition in Edinburgh – and has exactly the same impact of making me feel inadequate as a photographer. I love the way that here they exhibit many of them in the open air and the fact it specialises on travel makes it even more up my street.

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Still unsure that this rare Bernstein revival will find its way into the West End, off I went to Woking to be sure not to miss it. Yet another very good decision!

I don’t think there’s been a production here since 1986, when Maureen took the role now taken by Connie Fisher. It does require a cast of 24 and a decent sized orchestra , but that isn’t a good enough reason for a 25-year hiatus. This touring version of Wonderful Town started out as a joint venture between two Manchester institutions, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Halle Orchestra.

Bernstein had such range, writing symphonies, an operetta, chamber operas, ballets, film scores, choral works, song cycles, chamber pieces and a mass for 200 performers (getting a rare outing at the Proms this year) as well as his musicals, to which he brought a classical sensibility and blended it with jazz, swing, ragtime and ‘pop’. 

Wonderful Town (NYC, of course) tells a simple story of  Ohio sisters Ruth and Eileen coming to New York City – the former trying to make her name as a writer and the latter in showbiz – and their adventures as they meet exploitive landlord Mr Appopolous (before he became the owner of the Walford launderette, obviously), neighbour Helen & her giant baseball player boyfriend Wreck, nerdy Walgreen manager Frank, seedy newspaper owner Chick, sleazy club owner Speedy, editor and love interest Bob, Brazilian sailors and a lot of  policemen, all Irish! Having such a diverse range of characters facilitates a whole load of musical comedy set pieces on streets, at the port and in apartments, clubs and police stations. Comden & Green’s lyrics are witty and the score is even better than I remembered.

Simon Higlett’s simple uncluttered but colourful design enables this to flow seamlessly. Braham Murray, not particularly known for musicals, and choreographer Andrew Wright make a great job of the staging and dancing, which is fresh and uplifting. There are so many highlights, from the opening street scene (very Guys & Dolls) through a port-side conga, Irish dancing in the police station (with a nod to Riverdance) and a modern ballet to some excellent club numbers. We no longer have the Halle in the pit, but the 17-piece band is a cut above, somewhat refreshingly without a synthesiser in sight.

It would be hard to imagine a better cast show. Every single role is brilliantly played. I was one of those who thought Connie Fisher was a major new talent and its great to report that she’s put her vocal troubles behind her, dropped an octave or two, turned into a redhead and revealed a natural talent for comedy to add to her natural charm and vocal prowess. Lucy van Gasse is just as good as her more dipsy blonde sister and Michael Xavier again shows us how good he is at these romantic lead roles. There’s a handful of lovely performances in smaller roles – Tiffany Graves and Nic Greenshields are great as the neighbours and Sevan Stephan,  Joseph Alessi and Michael Matus are a fine comic trio as landlord / artist, newspaper baron and club owner respectively.

This really ought to come into town and if it does, I’ll be back. A real treat.

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MORE OPERA

Simon Boccanegra isn’t an obvious choice for an opera in concert (not enough arias), but as it’s running at Covent Garden with Domingo in his first baritone role, how could The Proms resist. When he walked on stage I thought we had a substitute – this was not a 69-year old man! When he opened his mouth this extraordinary sound emanated – a unique baritone-tenor hybrid. He was wonderful, but wasn’t the only reason for being there. The ROH orchestra and chorus made a glorious sound and the other soloists were great (I particularly liked Joseph Calleja’s Gabrielle and Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Fiesco – what a wonderful name), but it was the Proms unique atmosphere (which had previously hit a peak at Domingo’s debut in Die Valkure) which made it so special; it was electrifying and the performers enthusiasm and excitement was palpable. At the end, the now dead Boccanegra (Domingo) failed to stand up and there were some expressions of panic on and off stage until he did – judging by the subsequent reaction, methinks he was playing a joke with his colleagues; delicious!

The Lion’s Face at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio was a depressing treat – a chamber opera about dementia! Elena Langer’s lovely music was beautifully played by the 12-piece ensemble (you could hear every detail of the clever orchestration) and all four soloists were very good. I loved the way the patient was a spoken role whilst all around him sung, illustrating very well what it must feel like living with dementia.

CLASSICAL MUSIC

Bernstein’s Mass is an extraordinary and original music theatre piece which I’ve wanted to see again since I first saw it at GSMD more than 25 years ago. It was the culmination of the 9-month long Bernstein Project at the Southbank Centre and there were more than 500, mostly amateur, performers. The Agnus Dei was particularly exhilarating and I was hugely impressed by the ‘street people’ many of whom were from the Guildford School of Acting. A very uplifting experience.

ART

Anthony Gormley’s exhibition at White Cube is half-and-half. The poor half is a bunch of geometric metal sculptures that appear to be rusting (and to me appeared to be pointless), then you go downstairs and in pitch darkness you walk around an extraordinary construction of interlocking metal frames painted fluorescent which seemed rather other-worldly.

The Sally Mann exhibition at The Photographers Gallery starts well with fascinating close ups of her children’s faces – then it gets rather uncomfortable with nude and semi-nude photos of her pre-teen children, then positively disturbing with pictures of decaying corpses. I’ll think twice before I follow a Time Out exhibition recommendation again!

The RA Summer Exhibition is the usual mixture of quality and tosh. The architecture room (bigger this year) was again my favourite – I just love those building maquettes – though I also liked David Mach’s 10 ft gorilla made from coat hangers, Bill Viola’s video of a naked woman being drenched in water and David Hockney’s landscape photos. Tracey Emin was top of the tosh…..again.

At the V&A they’ve asked a bunch of architects to design small buildings on the theme of retreat (1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces) and placed seven of them at various points around the museum. It seemed to me like a lot of money to spend for not a lot of return; it did absolutely nothing for me.

Lots of treats at the National Portrait Gallery with an exhibition of extraordinary photographs from the middle of the 19th century by London-based Frenchman Camille Silvy whose portrait business turned around a million copies a year, the annual BP Portrait Award exhibition (probably the best ever) and a small but greatpop art’ selection from Adam Katz

The annual Press Photographer exhibition is this year at the NT. Much of it is of course harrowing, but you have to admire the talent of these extraordinary people. I loved the photo of Prince William on his own in a large room looking sideways (longingly) at his grand-mother’s empty throne.

I’m not a big Henry Moore fan, but went to his Tate Britain exhibition with a visiting megafan. His early small scale work (from 1922 to 1930) is extraordinary, there’s another great period from 1937 to 1939 experimenting with thread and stone, and then there are some amazing war shelter and coal mining drawings from 1940-42…..but all that abstract stuff – two-thirds of the exhibition – leaves me cold I’m afraid. At the same venue Rude Britannia is a review of comic art from Hogarth to the present. It’s of course hit-and-miss, but there’s much to enjoy, most notably Hogarth, Gilray and more recently Spitting Image & Gerald Scarfe.

A visit with the Royal Academy Friends to the Garrick Club proved a real treat and one of their very best outings ever. Perhaps it was particularly ‘up-my-street’ because of the theatrical context, but it proved to be a treasure trove of 19th Century theatrical portraits brought alive by wonderful stories and anecdotes from the Club’s Francis (who should publish them – they were that good!). It’s a very ‘old school’ gentlemen’s club which has been beautifully restored on the proceeds of the sale of their 25% of the film rights to Winnie the Poo to Disney (which A. A. Milne bequeathed to them).

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RAM seems to be the only one of our major music / drama colleges joining in with the celebrations of the great man’s 80th, but boy did they do it in style.

I’ve always found A Little Night Music one of Sondheim’s least satisfying shows. The story is very conventional (for Sondheim) and the music – virtually all waltz – a little twee for my taste. The Menier started to change my mind last year with Trevor Nunn’s terrific production, but it was this one which was the real revelation. It really brought out the humour but contrasted it with more poignancy. I’ve heard Hermione Gingold, Judi Dench & Hannah Waddingham sing Send in the Clowns on stage, but only Alex Young in this production moved me to tears. Sarah Covey’s interpretation of The Millers Son was positively uplifting and there were fine performances from Becky Moult, Matthew Crowe, Daniel Cane and Michael Storrs. On a simple set, it was left to the gorgeous period costumes to provide appropriate style. Overall, the singing was better than the acting and the orchestra played the score like it’s never been played before, so a  musical triumph I think.

Assassins didn’t live up to my memories of earlier productions. It’s a highly original show – linking the assassinations / attempted assassinations of eight US presidents – but a hard one to pull off. This production seemed a lot darker, sometimes burying the black humour completely. It was staged well, but this time the acting bettered the singing and the band was too loud, losing a lot of the subtley in the music.

In between the shows, there was a wonderful cabaret of lyricists Comden & Green songs. They wrote the lyrics to more shows that any other Broadway writers, working with Leonard Bernstein, Jules Styne and Cy Coleman. The twelve singers & pianist more than did justice to their brilliantly funny songs and it was more treat than filler.

This musical theatre feast followed Saturday’s theatrical feast; the lack of aircon made the day more challenging, but a feast just the same.

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