WHAT FUN IS TO BE HAD ON THE INTERNET THIS WEEK?
There is a prevailing sense, in the arts and in the wider world (yes, there is a wider world) that we are trying to retrieve our pre-Covid lives. Tentatively, and fearfully, we are trying to remember who we were in those long-ago days when our lives were, ahem, normal. Did I really go to the theatre or concert hall or cabaret room four or five evenings a week? A snack in a favourite restaurant before the play. A leisurely dinner with a singer or actor after a performance. A quick morning coffee with a friend when the WiFi got stuck or when I did. Did I really go out at all? Another time, another place. All these are slowly starting up again but now, it’s different, because now we know what it’s like when the theatres are closed and musicians are idle and the thousands of us who earn our living in the entertainment industry have been out of work since March, so now perhaps we’ll appreciate what we had if we ever get it back. Who were we back then? I scarcely remember.
Carousel – Lincoln Center
There is almost as much disagreement about which is the best version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel online as there is about which is the best Sondheim musical. I would say that this Lincoln Center concert performance starring Kelli O’Hara who, along with Audra Macdonald (who introduces this broadcast) is currently one of the glories of the American musical theatre, is a contender for top spot. Is it as Time Magazine claimed, “the best musical of the 20th century”? Maybe. And who but Rodgers and Hammerstein would think to make a musical of a story about domestic abuse, robbery, murder and death? Actually, Puccini did but he was refused the rights. This complex story of love and mayhem is set in a fishing village in New England and the characters are poor, just scraping a living from the sea and the funfair.
Nathan Gunn is the Billy Bigelow in this miraculously sung production and he and Kelli O’Hara are surrounded by the finest of NY stage performers, including the great opera singer Stephanie Blythe. Musically excellent – the orchestra is the New York Philharmonic – and beautifully shot and edited, this video is a classic from the Live from Lincoln Center stable. This whole production is a class act. Even the ballet dancers are Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck from the New York City Ballet.
There is an argument to be made for the oft-repeated opinion that Billy’s Soliloquy when he hears that Julie is expecting his child is the greatest song ever written for the musical theatre. Well, there are a number of contenders for this one too but I’d say that both lyrically and musically it’s right up there and Gunn has the musical and dramatic chops to do it justice. It’s easy to get hooked and do nothing else for the rest of the day while you watch this. I did.
Cocktails with a Curator – Frick
Ingres's 'Comtesse d'Haussonville' is one of the most popular paintings in the Frick Museum and, when you’ve heard Aimee Ng’s enthusiastic description of it, her careful dissection of its beauty and technique, it will be, I believe, one of your favourites too. I love hearing art historians talk about their own passions and the Frick boasts several curators who have a talent for presenting their artworks in an accessible but also scholarly fashion. When most of us look at a painting we may appreciate the subject and overall beauty of what we see but chances are that we will miss many of the finer points that have been carefully included by the artist. A good guide, such as Aimee Ng, will fill in the details that we never noticed. This is a weekly series which started during lockdown and I’m hoping that it will continue until the Frick runs out of paintings. Or curators.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Richard Wagner. People either think he’s the greatest composer who was ever born (sorry, Mozart) or they don’t get it. His wide world of adherents is besotted with his music. Ask a Ring Cycle fan what it is they see in his operas and you won’t escape this week. Then there are the rest of us, opera fans to a man or woman, but turned off by the gods and goddesses, magical potions, soppy myths, idiotic heroes, and the faint taint of fascism that prevails through this supernatural odyssey. The music, often sublime, is not sufficient to ignore all these, at least for me.
But wait, there is one that’s not like this at all. Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg is a wise and warm-hearted comedy which tells a simple story about everyday life and people. The result is a work of tremendous humanity and truth – a musical celebration of art itself – and hugely enjoyable. If you want to understand why so many people love Wagner’s music this is the place to begin. It’s long, very long, directed by David McVicar who corrals his enormous cast, chorus and orchestra in the largest production Glyndebourne has ever attempted. It is this opera in this production to which I would direct anyone who thinks they do not like Wagner.
Camilla George at Ronnie Scott’s
This Monday evening at 7pm, live from London’s legendary jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s, is a stream of the young alto sax player, newcomer Camilla George. Camilla’s music is a celebration of the jazz tradition, from its African roots through to its modern forms. It’s a fusion of African, Caribbean and modern jazz influences. And tonight her line-up is Dan Casimir on bass; Shirley Tetteh on guitar; Al MacSween on piano and keys; and Rod Young on drums. If you miss it live you can catch it later on Ronnie Scott’s YouTube channel.
Natalie Douglas - Singin' on the Wire - concert
My dear friend Natalie Douglas is one of the most endearing and versatile international cabaret artists. New York-based, she regularly performs here in London at the Pheasantry and she teaches and sings all over the world. She has done tribute shows of everyone from Nina Simone to Elvis Presley and she always manages to make their songs hers. She recently did this concert for Birdland which I missed and to my delight it is now available on line. Her ability to connect with her audience is unparalleled. Brian Nash on keyboard is more than an accompanist. With Natalie he’s an irreplaceable music director and arranger and well worth hearing. Get to know Natalie Douglas if you don’t already. You’ll thank me, even if you do have to pay $20 for a ticket.
Royal Ballet rehearsal
It seems that readers of this blog can’t get enough of the backstage atmosphere at the ballet no matter how workaday it appears to be. Here is some lovely footage of a Royal Ballet rehearsal of the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty. First Soloist Fumi Kaneko is being coached by former prima ballerina Darcy Bussell and Royal Ballet Director Kevin O’Hare.
Three Kings – Old Vic
Here’s another one we’ll have to pay for but I have a feeling it’ll turn out to be worth it. The Old Vic has commissioned a new play for Andrew Scott. According to the press release, Three Kings is about fathers and sons, the gifts and burdens of inheritance, and the unfathomable puzzle of human relationships. Stephen Beresford’s play will be streamed live, for five performances only, directly from the Old Vic stage with the empty auditorium as a backdrop. This is the world premiere of Three Kings, written for and starring Andrew Scott, who has been ill so this highly anticipated event has had to be delayed several times. September 3rd is finally the date of the first performances and you can buy tickets from this website.
Jim Caruso’s Pyjama Cast Party
Tonight’s Party features Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Siegel, Corinna Sowers Adler (a particular favourite of mine, a cabaret singer with a gorgeous creamy top to her voice), songwriters Debra Barsha & Sheilah Rae, singer/instrumentalist Danny Bacher, singers Darian Sanders and Mikaela Secada. Cast Party, the mother of all open mic night/variety shows has taken to the web, and it’s required watching for lovers of Broadway, jazz and cabaret. It’s at 8pm NY time and subsequently available on Jim Caruso’s YouTube and Facebook pages.
Facing the Unknown in Ancient Mesapotamia
Another of my curator buddies, this one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This curator’s presentation is a bit wooden but he certainly knows his stuff and I learned more about Ancient Mesapotamia in twenty minutes with him than in all of the previous 20 years. Of course, this is supposing that you, like me, actually want to learn something about Ancient Mesapotamia. If you do, he’s your man, without going all the way to New York.
Porgy and Bess – Metropolitan Opera
Several years ago, the Gershwin Estate authorised a disgraceful new production of George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s masterpiece Porgy and Bess. They called it a musical and changed all the original orchestrations and even the title. This is the version which is now licensed to play in theatres. The grinding sound you hear is that of George Gershwin turning in his grave. It should be pointed out that George Gershwin wrote 28 Broadway musicals and one show he called a ‘grand opera’, this one. He knew the difference between a musical and an opera and he knew what he wanted. Fortunately, because it is an opera house, not a theatre, the Met was able to revert to the original and this exquisite production, faultlessly sung, is the one we can access on this link and enjoy but only on September 3rd and 4th for free. The clapping sound you hear is that of George Gershwin, applauding from beyond the grave.
Ruth Leon is a writer and critic specialising in music and theatre.