Archive for March, 2010

PostHeaderIcon A Marriage In Heavenly Song

FigaroLyric Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro” is ending the 2009-2010  season on a triumphant  high note.  It must share top honors, however in my view, with the earlier production of Leos Janacek’s tale of sexual and social repression, “Katya Kabanova” that featured an outstanding vocal and gripping dramatic performance by Karita Mattila.  I cannot remember ever attending a more viscerally emotional opera at Lyric.

I had been anticipating this revival of the Peter Hall production, most recently staged in 2003-04, ever since seeing the dream cast Lyric had assembled.  While Kyle Kettelson sang Figaro with full-bodied tone and authority, “Figaro” is an opera that revolves around the leading female roles—Susanna, Figaro’s fiancée who is also being pursued by Count Almaviva, the suffering Countess who gains her revenge and Cherubino, the Count’s young male page who has the hots for every woman he sees, in a superb reverse gender portrayal by Joyce DiDonato.

None of the ladies disappointed as consummate singing actors. Their signature arias were perfect in every detail with special praise for soprano Anne Scheanewilms, the Countess, and her achingly beautiful “Dove Sono”. Unfortunately, Ms. Schwanewilms has withdrawn from remaining performances due to a bronchial infection.  Her replacement for the final six performances, starting March 15th, will be soprano Nicole Cabell.

While Figaro, Bartolo and the Count weave a tangled web of lechery, jealousy, vanity and suspicion, it is, says Lyric dramaturg, Roger Pines, “the women’s guiles, wiles and wisdom (that) save face and restore faith” in the wonder of love. The opera, which dates from 1786, seems quite modern in its focus on the frailty of le relations between the sexes that still rings true.

Lost in all the comic tomfoolery is any recognition that the libretto, based on Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais’ play of the same name, was initially seen as deeply political. The opera premiered three years before the bloody French Revolution.  It raised official disfavor for both its portrayal of class conflict between the Count and Susanna, the Countess’ maid, and for exposing the Count’s boorish behavior to public ridicule. Depicting the shortcomings of the aristocracy was viewed with serious disfavor.

But politics takes a back seat to Mozart’s magical score. And stage director Herbert Kellner kept the action moving briskly, precisely the right tempo at which to play this Mozart confection. The three-and-a-half hour performance breezed by and I left the theatre feeling giddy and lighthearted.

Seven more chances (through March 27) remain to catch this utterly winning production. For tickets, go to www.lyricopera.org.

PostHeaderIcon Food/ Wine + Art +Talk = Salon

Baum_Pile_Up_3Americans harbor a love/hate relationship toward art. They love it abstractly (or when reading the latest auction prices) and pack museums on weekends. But they hate that art is so baffling and beyond their intellectual reach. They hate that they never took art history in college that might guide them now. So, they pause in front of a work for 15 seconds or less, don’t read the labels, form an instant “Stop” or “Go” reaction and soon leave the museum as perplexed as when they entered.

What if you could view art in a casual, non-threatening environment with other art enthusiasts and actually talk to the artist? Plus do so over a meal with wine and interesting tablemates. That’s the idea behind “The Salon Series”, a concept that artist John Coyle Steinbrunner and restaurateur Tom MacDonald had several months ago.  What started as a one-shot event has turned into a regular Sunday series that is held every two weeks at Bluebird, an appealing gastropub at 1749 North Damen.

I joined about 35 fellow diners on February 21st at 7 p.m. After spending 45 minutes mingling and chatting up the mostly 20s and 30s crowd (I skewed the age spread significantly) during the wine reception, we chose tables and MacDonald, who also owns Webster’s Wine Bar, described the 3 course meal and the wines he had matched with each course. Talk and wine flowed freely, putting the crowd at ease, loosening our tongues while preparing us to engage the art.

The featured artist, Leslie Baum, had hung three large canvases (all entitled “Pile Up”) on the brick walls. While on a trip to the ancient Cambodian city of Angkor, she visited many of its impressive temples but was inspired to paint the pedestrian potsherds and “weird arrangements of rubble” left by tourists.

At about 9 p.m., Steinbrunner, acting as curator, introduced Leslie’s work. He called her a “real painter’s painter” since her paintings are as much about the process of  paint-making as about the canvas’ subject matter. He said her works “map out routes and leave you to wander within them forging connections and branching off in unique ways—picking up and examining rocks or chuffing the dust with your shoe.”

He engaged Baum in conversation about her “mark-making technique” and then it was time for the audience to have its say. Yet, tongues failed to wag as freely as over dinner. An unwanted guest, “Mr. Intimidation”, entered the room. However, several fearless souls and some of Baum’s artist friends offered intelligent remarks.

Baum is a highly accomplished artist with a definite vision of her craft. She has shown in many exhibitions and been featured in shows at Bodybuilder and Sportsman, Heaven and Tony Wight Galleries. As I exited, she was exhibiting a portfolio of truly marvelous watercolors. Her mastery of form and color (she says she’s “a colorist following in the footsteps of Matisse’) are also on display in the paintings and drawings that can be viewed at www.lesliebaum.net.

To find out about the next Salon Series, contact Bluebird at 773/486-2473 or  Steinbrunner at jc@thesalonseries.com.

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