Die Agyptische Helena

Aida (in High Definition from La Scala in Milan)

Aida (Live in HD from The MET)

Aida (Live in HD from The MET - 10/06/2018)


Anna Bolena (at The Met)

Ariane et Barbe-Bleu (New York City Opera)


Armida (Metropolitan Opera )




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Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) at The Met

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Metropolitan Opera)

Benvenuto Cellini


La Boheme

La Boheme (Boston Lyric Opera)

La Boheme (Live in HD from THE MET)

Boris Godunov (Live in HD from The MET)

Boston Ballet's "The Nutcracker"

Boston Pops-"A Little Night Music" in concert

Boston Pops-"An American Salute"

The Boston Pops Christmas Concert- 2007

The Boston Pops Fourth of July Concert at the Esplanade on the Charles River

Boston Pops Opening Night (2011) with Linda Eder

Boston Pops- with Ricky Skaggs and Peter Cincotti, and their bands


BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA (at Symphony Hall - October 2018)

Bryn Terfel at the Met (Concert)

Buena Vista Social Club(Orquesta Ibrahim Ferrer)

Carol Burnett: An Evening of Laughter and Reflection (at Symphony Hall)



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Jesph Calleja at Jordan Hall (at The New England Conservatory)

Candide (at the New York City Opera)

Capriccio (New York City Opera)

Carmen (in a filmed 3D telecast from The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, London)

Cavellaria Rusticana and Pagliacci

Carol Channing (at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston)

Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci (Live in HD from The MET)

Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci (New York City Opera)

Cendrillon (New York City Opera)

Cendrillon (Live in HD From The Met)

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Peter Cincotti

CIRQUE DE LA SYMPHONIE (with the Boston Pops)

La Clemenza di Tito

Le Comte Ory (at The Met)

A Concert in the Vineyard (Westport River Vineyard & Winery)

Bill Cosby at The Opera House in Boston

Cosi Fan Tutte (New York City Opera)

COSI FAN TUTTE (Live in HD from the MET)

Crossing (American Repertory Theatre, performed at the Shubert Theatre)

Cyrano de Bergerac (at the Met)



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La Damnation de Faust (at The Met)


Dead Man Walking

DER ROSENKAVALIER (Live in HD telecast from The MET)

Dialogues of the Carmelites

Die Frau Ohne Schatten

Die Walkure (at The MET)

Doctor Atomic (Live in High Definition from The Met)

Placido Domingo's 40th Anniversary Concert in Los Angeles

Don Carlos

Don Carlo (HD telecast from The Salzburg Festival in Austria)

Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni (Metropolitan Opera)

Don Giovanni (at The Met)

La Donna del Lago(New York City Opera)

La Donna del Lago (Live in HD from THE MET)

Don Pasquale

DonPasquale(Metropolitan Opera)



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L'Elisir D'Amore (New York City Opera)

L' Elisir d'Amore (Metropolitan Opera)

Enrique Iglesias


Eugene Onegin (Boston Lyric Opera)

Eugene Onegin (Live in HD from The MET)

An Evening with Audra McDonald (at Symphony Hall in Boston)



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Falstaff (Live in HD from The MET)

La Fanciulla Del West (The Girl of the Golden West)


Faust (at The Met)


Faust (2005)


La Fille du Regiment (at The Met)

The First Emperor (Live Telecast from the Met)


Renee Fleming at Symphony Hall in Boston



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The Gambler

Gospel Jubilee (at the New England Conservatory)

23rd Annual Gospel Jubillee(2002)



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Hansel and Gretel (Live in High Definition from the Met)

The Hard Hat Concert at the Boston Opera House

Marilyn Horne & Barbara Cook at Symphony Hall ("Just Between Friends")



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I Capulleti ed i Montecchi






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La Juive






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Kathy Griffin

Harvey Korman & Tim Conway: Together Again

B.B. King's 80th Birthday Celebration (at Symphony Hall in Boston)



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Lebanese Singers on Tour (Fadel Shaker & Nawal El Zoughbi)

The Little Prince (New York City Opera)


Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia di Lammermoor (Live in High Definition from The Met)

Lucia di Lammermoor (Metropolitan Opera)

Luisa Miller

A Little Night Music

The Love For Three Oranges



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Madama Butterfly

Macbeth (at The Met)

Madonna- The Re-Invention Tour

The Magic Flute

MAHLER'S "SYMPHONY #2 in C MINOR" (Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall)

Mahler's Symphony #2 in C Minor, the
"Resurrection" (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

Manon (at The Met)

The Marriage of Figaro (New England Conservatory Opera Theater, at The Majestic Theatre)

The Marriage of Figaro (Live in HD from The Met)

Mazeppa (Metropolitan Opera)


All-Mendelssohn Program (Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall)

The Merry Widow

The Merry Widow (Live in HD from THE MET)

The Met's 40th Anniversary Gala

The Met's Opening Night Gala -2008 (Live in High Definition from The Met)

The Mines of Sulphur (New York City Opera)

Mostly Sondheim: Barbara Cook

Mourning Becomes Electra




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NEC Honors Orchestra: conducted by Skrowaczewski

Neil Diamond in concert at Fenway Park

New England Conservatory Philharmonia

Randy Newman

Randy Newman at Berklee


"NORMA" (Live in HD from THE MET)



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Opening Night of The Boston Pops (2014)

Opening Night of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (2014)

Opening Night of The Holiday Pops (2015)

Opening Night of the Metropolitan Opera (1999)

Opening Night of the Christmas Pops (2012)

Orfeo ed Euridice (at the Met)

"OTELLO" (Live in HD from THE MET)



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Patti Page

Les Pecheurs des Perles (The Pearl Fishers)


Peter Grimes (Live in High Definition from The Met)

Pink Martini at Berklee

Pink Martini with the Boston Pops

Pink Martini at Symphony Hall in Boston

Il Pirata

The Pirates of Penzance (New York City Opera)


Prince Igor (Live in HD from THE MET)

"PORGY AND BESS" (Live in HD from the MET)

I Puritani (Live telecast from the Met)



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Das Rheingold (at The Met)


Rigoletto (Live in HD from The MET)

"Rita" and "La Mamma"

Joan Rivers at  the Berklee Performance Center

Roberto Devereaux

Romeo et Juliette (Metropolitan Opera)

Romeo et Juliette-2007 Season (Metropolitan Opera)

ROMEO ET JULIETTE (Live in HD From The MET - 2017)

La Rondine (at The Metropolitan Opera, and Gala New Years Eve Dinner at The Grand Tier)

RUSALKA (Live in HD telecast from The Met)



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St. Cecilia Recital (at The Mother Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston)


Salome (Metropolitan Opera)

Samson et Dalila (Metropolitan Opera)

"SAMSON ET DALILA" (Live in HD telecast from The MET)

"SAMSON ET DALILA" (telecast from the Paris Opera Bastille to the Coolidge Corner Theatre)

"SHERLOCK'S LAST CASE" (Huntington Theatre Company)

Russell Sherman (at The New England Conservatory)

Siegfried (at The Met)

Sigur Ros

"SLEEPING BEAUTY" (HD telecast from Moscow)


La Sonnambula (at The Met)

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at Fenway Park



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The Tales of Hoffmann (Boston Lyric Opera)

Thais (Metropolitan Opera)

Tom Jones at the House of Blues in Boston

Tosca (Boston Lyric Opera)

Tosca (Metropolitan Opera)

Tosca (The Luc Bondy production at The Met)

"TOSCA" (Live in HD from The Met)

La Traviata (Boston Lyric Opera)

La Traviata (in High Definition from La Scala in Milan)

"LA TRAVIATA" (Live in HD telecast from The MET)

Tristan und Isolde

Il Trittico

Il Trittico (at the Met)

Il Trovatore

Il Trovatore (at The Met)

Les Troyens (The Trojans)

Les Troyens (live in HD from THE MET)


Turandot (Telecast from the Royal Opera House in London)

"TURANDOT" (Live in HD from The Met)



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Vanessa (New York City Opera)

The Verdi Requiem (Landmarks Orchestra, at The Hatch Shell on The Charles)

Il Viaggio a Reims

A View From The Bridge



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Werther (Live in HD from THE MET)



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Yeomen of the Guard (A "Bostonians" production at the New England Conservatory)


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The conductor, Stephen Lord, lifted his baton, and instead of the overture to Verdi's opera, he began the Star Spangled Banner, which I've never heard sung so beautifully by an audience of non-singers. Then, the opera began. The BLO chose to use the 4-hour French version of this Verdi masterpiece, and it was a wise choice. The production was a beautiful stylized one, filled with oversized statues of monks, and massive crosses, emphasizing the conflict between church and state, that is at the heart of the story. However, the big news about this production is the fact that the BLO has discovered a magnificent new, young Verdi soprano. Her name is Indra Thomas. Remember it, if you love opera; you'll be hearing from her again. (Some of the other singers that were discovered by the BLO in the past are David Daniels, Deborah Voigt, Patricia Racette, etc.)
Although Ms. Thomas shone above the others, as Elizabeth de Valois, ALL of the singers were excellent. If there was a weakness in the production, it was in the roles of King Philip II and the Grand Inquisitor. These two opposing figures must be giants, and terrifying in their confrontation scene. They weren't; all they were, was tall!
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With music that often reaches the emotional highs and lows of such composers as Berg and Ligeti, the Icelandic group "Sigur Ros" produces an unearthly sound that is part Philip Glass, part glacial noise, part Cirque du Soleil theme music, and part whale-sounds. Sounding ultra-modern and retro (harkening back to the sounds of Vanilla Fudge and the Parsons Project) at the same time, the group's music is haunting, hypnotic, and unforgetable. The lead singer, looking like a thin stalagmite in center stage, has a voice that is a combination of female chanteuse, industrial machinery, and one-man Gregorian choir. He bows his electric guitar as he sings. Although some of the music in this two-hour concert was repetitious, and some of it sounded like it was written to accompany an Epcot travel film on Iceland ("as we soar over the powerful and beautiful glaciers,") most of it was unusual, mood-setting and completely enchanting. I was surprised to see that a group with such a cult-like following (the concert was sold-out) brought out such a mainstream wholesome-looking audience. Maybe the freaks stayed home with the terrorists this weekend! Thanks for the invite Mike.
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New York City Opera has mounted a perfect production of this rarely-performed Bellini opera. Based on the Romeo and Juliet story, this difficult opera requires two bel canto voices that can do impossible things, and we were lucky enough to hear them. Mary Dunleavy and Sarah Connolly are not only perfect singers, but they look great too! If the City Opera management is wise (and it is,) its already dusting off some neglected masterpieces by Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, etc. to mount for these incredible artists. The sets and costumes for this production were designed by artist Robert Israel, who filled the stage with the simple, beautiful, and colorful work that could be found in museums that show his fine works of art. This is a hit in every department. I'm curious to see how it stacks up to the Met's production of another Bellini opera, "Norma," that I'll be seeing on Monday night. Stay tuned.
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OPERA REVIEW-(Metropolitan Opera)- "NORMA"
This one must have looked great on paper. A new production of Bellini's masterpiece, starring the world's reigning Wagnerian soprano, Jane Eaglen, with sets and costumes by minimalist, John Conklin. It became the hottest operatic ticket in town. What I saw tonight however, was a big disappointment. Maybe because I still have vivid memories of having seen Beverly Sills (with Shirley Verrett,) and Joan Sutherland (with Marilyn Horne) as Norma, Eaglen was a big letdown. Eaglen, who looks like John Goodman in drag, is too big to be believable as the Druid priestess who gives up everything for the Roman soldier who fathered her two children. In fact, the four leads were large enough to eclipse the ceiling-to-floor moon that dominated the production. It's so retro to see fat people on an opera stage today! The production by John Conklin (whose "Don Carlos" sets I liked in Boston) was a complete mess; it looked like it cost about $19.95!!! The sets weren't minimalist...they weren't there! As I said before, the beautiful music was sung and played well, but it wasn't a memorable night at the Met...and at the Met's prices, it should have been.
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Unfortunately, most productions of this treacherously difficult opera will be compared to the classic NYCO production with Beverly Sills many years ago. However, this new production at the City Opera is as good as it gets today. The beautiful stylized sets, costumes, and direction, place the Elizabethan drama in a theatrical setting, complete with neon lights, a theater marquee, identical costumes for all of the courtiers, and larger-than-life portraits of Elizabeth I everywhere. Against this backdrop, is played the love triangle of Queen Elizabeth, Essex, and the Duchess of Nottingham. Lauren Flanigan was as good an Elizabeth as is available today, but her struggling in the last half hour was evident. As I said, the role is treacherous. It's amazing how Sills sang it all so effortlessly 30 years ago, and acted up a storm as well. Oh, well!


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CONCERT" REVIEW- New England Conservatory's 22nd Annual Gospel Jubilee

If you missed last night's "Gospel Jubilee," you missed one of the rarest, most unusual, and exciting nights, in any concert hall, anytime...anywhere! Part '60s "love-in," part cathartic religious experience, part rockin' rock concert, part fantastic musical show, what happened in that theater last night was less a performance than it was an experience. Brilliant instrumentalists, preachers who said, meant and spoke directly to you, and that incredible 200-voice New England Conservatory Millennium Choir, tore the roof off of prestigious Jordan Hall. It was only minutes into the concert, when the performers got the audience to its feet (and kept it there for three hours,) shouting, singing, "praising the Lord," and just having a great time making "a joyful noise." It didn't matter whether you were a Baptist, an agnostic, a Catholic, a Jew, a Buddhist, or a Golden Retriever, you were on your feet because the music was overwhelming. This audience, the most diverse that I've ever seen in a concert hall of this caliber, was an important part of the experience, and the line between stage and auditorium disappeared...to everyone's advantage. The musicians (many with classical backgrounds) were inspired; the well-dressed audience was transported and anyone who was lucky enough to be there, will never forget it. I know I won't!

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"La Clemenza di Tito" by Mozart

A beautifully sung, and intelligently mounted production of a rarely performed Mozart opera. Even with three other excellent singing actresses on stage with her, Lorraine Hunt stole the show.

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"Platee" by Rameau

The only reason to drag this oddity out of its' 18th-century closet, is to give people like me, something to talk about. We can talk about the outrageous costumes by fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, or we can talk about the humorously vulgar and sometimes beautiful choreography by director/choreographer Mark Morris. But what is it? Is it a ballet with music, or is it an opera with dance? Actually, what it really is, is a freak, like its' main character Platee...a water "sprite" sung by a man, in the most hideous costume ever worn on an opera stage! See it if you must, but be warned, it's not "La Boheme!"

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OPERA REVIEW- "THE MERRY WIDOW" (at the Metropolitan Opera House)

First, to set the matter straight, "The Merry Widow" is an operetta (not an opera,) with much of the "plot" being told through spoken dialogue, like a Broadway musical. The fact that it has never been done at the Met before, is a tribute to the wisdom of past managements, who have restricted the operettas in the repertory to Strauss" "Die Fledermaus," and Offenbach's "La Perichole,"(both superior works.) The fact that it's being done NOW, is a tribute to the power of its' stars, Placido Domingo and Fredericka VonStade. The charm of this new production (and it IS charming,) comes from the beautiful music (which has never been sung better,) and an excellent translation of the very cheesy libretto. On the negative side is the hideous production, with sets that look like they were thrown together from the left-overs of Christmas spectaculars at Radio City! Over her long and wonderful career, Fredericka VonStade has always maintained the image of the "girl-next-door," never the diva. The role of Hanna Glawari requires a diva with a capital "D." The last time that I saw "The Merry Widow," was over at the New York City Opera where the Hanna was Beverly Sills (who was sitting a few boxes over from mine last night!) Now, THAT'S a diva! Therefore, with no larger-than-life Hanna, and with a charming but aging Danilo (Domingo,) there was little or no chemistry between the two mega-stars. That's fatal in "The Merry Widow." My opinion notwithstanding, the audience LOVED it!!

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OPERA REVIEW- "Tristan und Isolde"

Every 40 or 50 years, two Wagnerian singers come along, with the God-given talent and endurance to perform the most demanding roles in all of opera. Jane Eaglen and Ben Heppner have been singing these roles around the world in preparation for doing them at the Met...and now they're here. They are magnificent! Wagner wrote inspired music for two human characters as opposed to his usual helmeted gods and goddesses. Tristan and Isolde are real people with real passions. Their love story is universal, and their music soars. Eaglen and Heppner sing above the huge Wagnerian orchestra, and their voices fill the house. Amazing! The production, although stylized, is startlingly beautiful, but doesn't detract from the people in it. The opera is 5 hours long and when it's over, you feel that you've lived through a rare experience. Many people will SAY that they were in the opera house tonight; I'm glad that I WAS!(5-Stars) Back to Top

New York City Opera:  "Il Viaggio a Reims" This rarity by Rossini is almost never performed, possibly because it has ten principal singing roles requiring ten top singers. To New York City Opera's credit, they found ten new young, handsome/beautiful singers who fit the bill perfectly. The performances were magnificent; the acting was as good as the singing! The music, treacherously difficult for the singers, was a joy to hear. This one's a winner( 5-Stars) Back to Top

New York City Opera: "Ariodante" I hate Handel! In spite of the fact that I was bored to death for most of this 3-hour opera, due to the repetitive nature of Handel's style of music, I can appreciate that the singers were in top form singing the baroque music as well as it could possibly be sung, anywhere in the world. The costumes and sets were lavish; they kept me from nodding off.(3-Stars) Back to Top

Opening Night of the Metropolitan Opera: Although it may not be the exclusive affair that it used to be, the opening night of the Met is still an occasion for pulling out the tuxedos, the gowns, and the family jewels. Our group of seven (Vera, Lillian, Pat, Connie, Marty, Chris...and me, of course) looked splendid enough to cause heads to turn as we paraded through the plaza and up the grand staircase of the opera house to a sumptuous dinner at the Grand Tier restaurant. Surrounded by other formally-clad diners, under massive arrangements of flowers, with trumpeters on the staircases heralding the arrival of the ticket holders, this is a memorable event for even the most jaded of opera-goers. With everyone looking like a celebrity, it was hard to spot the real celebrities

(Mayor Giuliani, Bruce Willis, Barbara Walters, Calvin Klein, Jeremy Irons, John Glover, etc.)

The operas being performed were the famous twins, "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci" or "Cav" and "Pag" as they're known in opera circles.

"Cavalleria Rusticana" Why the new hot tenor, Jose Cura, chose to make his Met debut in an opera where the soprano always steals the show is unfathomable. His mentor, Placido Domingo, certainly knows better. What could he have been thinking? So, how was he? His voice, although not as big as that of Domingo or Pavarotti, certainly fills the house. He acts up a storm (very believable and athletic,) and he looks great!! Dolora Zajick, the Santuzza, blew the roof off.(5-Stars) Back to Top

"Pagliacci" Placido Domingo was a perfect Canio...believable as a tormented, jealous husband driven to the shocking double murder of the finale. His singing, in this role made famous by Enrico Caruso, was always wonderful. Speaking of Caruso, with this performance, Domingo broke Caruso's record for singing in the opening nights at the Met. Dwayne Croft sang the supporting role of Silvio beautifully, as though Silvio was the star of the opera. Veronica Villaroel was OK...nothing more. It's about time to retire this Zeffirelli production; it's starting to look a little shopworn!(4-Stars) Back to Top

After the performance, people seemed reluctant to let go of this magical evening, wandering aimlessly in the plaza, photographing each other in front of the fountain, or the soaring arches and massive Chagalls at the Met. We did the same!!



I love this opera, with its' flow of melody from beginning to end. With all of its' money, you would think that the Met could have come up with a new production of Mefistofele, rather than borrowing the tired Swiss one from Geneva that's been kicking around San Francisco and Chicago for the past 15 years. No matter; it still looks beautiful, and the voices were great. This is Samuel Ramey's opera, and he is the best devil around! Richard Leech matches him note for note as Faust. Surely the Met could have come up with a better Marguerite than Veronica Villaroel. I just don't like her voice...or her roly-poly looks! Let's hope that we don't have to wait another 25 years to have a new production of Mefistofele at the Met. (4-Stars) Back to Top

OPERA REVIEWS (2000-2001 Season)


What a pity that Beethoven wrote only one opera, because it's such a powerful and overpowering work. But instead of complaining, it's better to be thankful that we HAVE "Fidelio. "(One of my favorite composers, Gustav Mahler never even wrote ONE opera!) The Met has mounted "Fidelio" in a no-expenses-spared new production, set in a modern-day prison that could serve as a set for the TV show "Oz." The singers of the two main roles are as good as it gets...Karita Mattila and Ben Heppner. The conductor is James Levine. How wonderful it is to see it all come together in such a perfect way. This tale of freedom lost and freedom regained is a universal one, and Beethoven set it to magnificent music. This ranks up there with the Met's most memorable productions; truly exceptional(5-Stars) Back to Top

CONCERT REVIEW- Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn Terfel at the MET

Two of the most powerful voices in opera today, belong to two of the most charismatic personalities. On stage, the chemistry between them is magical, as it was in the unforgetable Met production of "The Marriage of Figaro" two seasons ago. Unfortunately, they haven't appeared together in an opera since then. So, this joint recital was a welcome event. And then Bartoli did what she's been doing a lot of lately...she cancelled! Olga Borodina a great mezzo and colleague at the Met, was

substituted. And then Borodina cancelled...it must be catching! Some good Met singers were rounded up at the last minute and substituted for the ailing divas, and ultimately, we did have a fine concert, but it wasn't the super-concert that we opera-lovers paid all of that money to hear. All in all, a big disappointment, but an enjoyable evening nonetheless.

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In this 13-year-old Franco Zeffirelli production of "Turandot," there is a scene that is the most spectacular scene on any stage in the world today. It's the "mother-of-pearl" Imperial Palace of China, with its blue on-stage ponds, crossed by white marble bridges, on which move hundreds of singers and dancers dressed in ivory and gold opulent costumes. The fact that this is opera at its grandest, is irrelevant to many of the tourists who flock to what has become one of New York's most popular tourist attractions! Luckily for opera lovers, the three main roles are being sung by three of operas greatest voices, Jane Eaglen, Angela Gheorgiou, and Richard Margison. I dare you to hear Margison sing "Nessun Dorma" without thinking of either the Three Tenors, or the World Cup!

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How do you mount a production of one of the most rarely performed operas in the repertory? Well, in this case, you take the music of Prokofiev, you dress it up in glorious sets and costumes by children's book illustrator Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are,) and coax the director, Frank Corsaro, to milk it for every laugh that you can get! The result is a Sendak blockbuster show, that could easily become a holiday classic, like "The Nutcracker," "The Wizard of Oz," or "The Sound of Music," even though it has nothing to do with any specific holiday. It's a feast for the ears and the eyes. Take the kids; they'll love it!

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By stripping away the trappings of 16th Century Spain, director Graham Vick takes the complicated and sometimes absurd plot of "Il Trovatore," and makes it its strongest feature. The story of twin brothers separated at birth and raised, on the one hand by gypsies and on the other by nobles, and who come together as adults to fight for the love of the same noblewoman, is now dramatic and often moving. But, Il Trovatore is all about the glorious music of Verdi and this was the strength of this new production. The magnificent singing of Delora Zajick as the gypsy mother of one of the brothers, was not a surprise. She's always outstanding. But to hear two singers who are not my favorites (Neil Shikoff and Roberto Frontali) as the brothers, do such a remarkable job, was really a surprise. Add to this the excellent singing of Marina Mechariakova, and you have an opera performance worthy of what Verdi wrote. The audience loved it, especially the people in the box next to mine...Mayor Rudi Giuliani and his guests, including the son of Placido Domingo. They were on their feet cheering! (The conductor, Carlo Rizzi was erratic, and some of the sets were bad, therefore not 5-Stars.)

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Why the prestigious New England Conservatory Opera Theater chose to perform their Donizetti double-bill at Northeastern University's Blackman Auditorium is a mystery, but after viewing these two obscure one-act "operas," it's an even greater mystery why they chose to perform them at all. Although the always fine Conservatory orchestra performs the charming and often beautiful Donizetti music wonderfully, the singers on stage are dreadful. Hasn't anyone told these aspiring young performers that even opera singers are required to act nowadays? What they were doing on stage is at the level of children dressing up in their mother's clothing, and performing in the backyard for their friends!

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 "Nabucco" at the Met

This early work by a very young Giuseppe Verdi, is famous for 3 things: (1) the well-known overture filled with recognizable melodies,(2)the even MORE well-known Hebrews Chorus, "Va Pensiero," which became the rallying cry for Italians during the revolution that established Italy's reunification as a country, and (3) the treacherously difficult music that Verdi wrote for the lead soprano...music that has destroyed the voices of several famous singers in the past. Why anyone would chose to sing the role of Abigaille is beyond me, but soprano Andrea Gruber tackled it and sang it beautifully. Let's hope that it hasn't destroyed HER voice. Along with the three historically famous things about this opera, can now be added a fourth with this new production...(4) one of the largest, tallest, revolving sets ever built for the enormous Met stage. It depicts the Temple of Jerusalem (in flames!) as well as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon! Stage designer John Napier (who designed "Les Miserables" for Broadway) did himself proud. This opera tells the story of the biblical Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco) and his conquest of Jerusalem. It requires some incredible singers and this new production had them. In addition to Andrea Gruber, there's the always dependable Samuel Ramey and Juan Pons, and two fine newcomers, Marianna Tarasov and Francisco Casanova (albeit a VERY fat Casanova!) They all handled the beautiful Verdi music perfectly. James Levine (looking very sick) conducted expertly.

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"La Boheme" at the New York City Opera

It's been ages since I saw this opera acted and sung by people who actually looked like 25-year-old starving Parisians! This cast was near perfect and I predict great things for two of the singers (both are Mexican.) Tenor Rolando Villazon (Rudolfo) and baritone Alfredo Daza (Marcello) are young, handsome, with powerful voices, and charming personalities. Remember their names. The director chose to move the action of the story up to WWI, and so we get a Cafe Momus with soldiers in uniforms and Act III set in and around a troop train with empty coffins banked on the station. It was very effective. A memorable production, beautifully sung AND acted.

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 "The Gambler" at the Met

This was the Metropolitan Premiere of Prokofiev's rarely performed opera (outside of Russia.) I was hesitant about seeing it, but then I told myself that Prokofiev could be beautifully melodic ("Romeo and Juliet" ballet; "The Love for Three Oranges, and "Peter and the Wolf.") I should have listened to my instincts. "The Gambler" bored me to tears. There isn't one piece of melodic music in the entire 2 1/2 hour opera. There's some drama in the Dostoevsky story, and the set design was striking, but all in all, not an enjoyable evening at the opera!

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OPERA REVIEW: "RIGOLETTO" (at the New York City Opera)

I knew that something was wrong when I realized that the chattering tourists from Montana (who were seated in my row,) were louder than the combined voices of the tenor (the Duke) and the baritone (Rigoletto) coming from the stage. The tenor, although tall, dark, and handsome, was an operetta tenor venturing into the world of grand opera. In the animal world, that would be the equivalent of a poodle trying to have sex with an elephant! The soprano (Gilda) had a decent enough voice, the minimalist sets and costumes were attractive, and the orchestra and chorus were very good. But all in all, this was not a strong production for the City Opera. Oh well, even a Rigoletto-lite is better than no Rigoletto at all!

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OPERA REVIEW- "Luisa Miller" (at the MET)
The Met's second new production of this season is certainly the hit of the opera season so far. In a beautifully traditional production, the sets (and costumes) by Santo Loquasto (making his debut here) are sumptuous recreations of Tyrolean Tudor castles, village squares, and inns. The singers (Marina Mescheriakova, Neil Shicoff, Nikolai Putilin, and Denyce Graves) are some of the best interpreters of the music of Verdi, that the Met has on its roster. They're reliable, they look good, and they even acted well. That's a lot to be said.  The conducting of James Levine, as always, was excellent. (I'm looking forward to his taking over for Seiji Ozawa as the new Maestro of our Boston Symphony Orchestra.) Score one for the Met!
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Close your eyes and it's 1950, you're in the world's largest nightclub, the Tropicana, sipping Cuba Libres, thinking of Ernest Hemingway, and listening to the elegant, passionate sounds of the Cuban big band, the Orquesta Irbahim Ferrer...the Buena Vista Social Club. This is the sound of pre-Castro Cuba, when Cuba was run by the dictator Battista and the American mafia, and it was the Las Vegas of the Caribbean. This was a time when "hispanic" meant something exotic and not something roughly woven into the fabric of our own country. If you saw the movie "The Buena Vista Social Club" (if you haven't, rent it!) then you know that this band is made up of men in their 60's and 70's and is fronted by 80-year-old singer Ibrahim Ferrer. Since the movie made them famous, they've become rich, touring the world, and appearing to ecstatic audiences in sold-out houses. They still play with elegance, passion, skill, and soul and could easily match anything done by people half their ages. We were in one of those sold-out houses last night at the Orpheum in Boston and it rocked! The audience, as diverse as anyone could imagine, loved it...as did we. (I only wish that I wasn't sitting behind a cow of a woman who jumped, rocked, and obscured the stage at times. She was the type who spent the day cleaning hotel toilets, and used this wonderful concert to let off steam.) All of the individual musicians (especially pianist Roberto Fonseco, trombonist Demetrio Muniz, bongo player Robertico Millionario and of course singer Ibrahim Ferrer) are stars, but when they come together , the effect is magicial.
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When the Met decided to replace its 35-year-old spectacular production of Strauss' "Die Frau Ohne Schatten," I was wary, because I love Strauss, and this was an historic and unforgettable production. Not to worry. The new production is even better than the original one. The sets, costumes and lighting (by Herbert Wernicke,) are magnificent, utilizing the full resources of the Met's stage machinery. But, the emphasis here, (as in the original,) is on the music, and the music of Strauss is served beautifully, by a perfect cast, and a super-conductor. The conductor is Christian Thielemann, the darling of the concert and opera world right now. He conducts brilliantly, and he looks like a movie star! The quintet of singers (Deborah Voigt, Wolfgang Brendel, Gabriele Schnaut, Reinhild Runkel, and Thomas Moser) couldn't be better. Not only do they sing up a storm, riding over the huge Strauss orchestra, but they know how to act as well. Watch their expressions as they sing and interact with one another...they know what they're singing about. The story, about an Empress who casts no shadow, is really an allegory about fertility and childbirth. But the story is just the framework on which to hang the difficult music, and those huge, imaginative sets. When the Met does it right, it's a glorious evening in the opera house.

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We're so lucky to have a world-class musical facility like the NEC right around the corner. An acoustically perfect gem, with musicians to match these incredible acoustics. Last night's concert was a perfect example of an excellent program...and a typical one. The Honors Orchestra made up of the graduating seniors, was conducted by noted composer and conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. They all performed brilliantly. The program opened with the mercifully short Media's Meditation and Dance of Vengence of Samuel Barber. Then, what followed was Schumann's melodic and powerful Piano Concerto in A minor. The soloist was Dizhou Zhao, a 3rd-year student from China, who won this year's piano competition. It was obvious why. He played the difficult music with no music in front of him, as though it were chop-sticks. Incredible! After the intermission, the orchestra  performed the beautiful Symphony No.4 in E Minor  by Brahms. It was like a tonic, if you had just had a stressful afternoon. All of this wonderful music, and I was in bed by 10:30pm!

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Last year, I attended my first Gospel Jubilee at the Conservatory and was overwhelmed (see my review of THAT concert.) Last night, I took two Israeli friends back to THIS year's Jubilee, and once again I was thrilled with this magnificent annual present to Boston audiences. Primarily a tribute to African-American church music, this concert becomes, for audiences of ALL races and religious persuasions, a hymn to life. As I said in last year's review, it is a combination of Christian church service, rousing choral recital, rock/jazz concert, preachers speaking directly to the needs of ALL people, and virtuoso piano recital. The audience is very much a part of the performance with its responses to the singers, hand-waving, and singing along with the performers. It was wonderful to see two Israeli Jewish men...my friends...on their feet applauding and shouting with the rest of the "participants" last night. One of the many things that amazes me about this event each year is the expert, brilliant piano playing of the accompanists. Each could be a concert soloist, and probably has been. As always, the 200-voice New England Millennium Choir tore the roof off of Jordan Hall...our acoustically-perfect little jewel of a concert hall. If you're anywhere near Boston next year at this time, don't miss the 24th Annual Gospel Jubilee concert. It's a night to remember.

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OPERA REVIEW- "DON GIOVANNI" (at the New York City Opera)

How do you make a new production of the Mozart masterpiece "Don Giovanni" appear fresh to a new audience? For one thing, you can hire a new director and tell him/her to thrill us with a fresh new way of looking at this classic. (Similar to what Peter Sellars did years ago when he set the opera in present-day Harlem; it worked beautifully.) Also, you can create exciting new sets and costumes. (The Met did this with its Franco Zeffirelli production; that also worked.) But, even with an exciting new director, and fresh sets and costumes, the voices must soar in this treacherously difficult opera. And soar they do at the City Opera, in this first new production of "Don Giovanni" there, in over a decade. Several artists were making their debuts in this production, most notably Peter Coleman-Wright as the Don, Alexandrina Pendatchanska as Donna Anna, and Nathan Berg as Leporello. Add the always-incredible Amy Burton (as Donna Elvira) to this group, and you have an ensemble cast made in heaven. I hope that somebody at the City Opera planned to capture this on video, because it's a production for everyone...even those people who hate opera. What could be more exciting than murder, seduction, and the flames of hell for the rapist Don Giovanni...all set to the glorious music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? Inspired!

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Great cities are often judged by their sports teams and their opera companies. Boston is a first-rate sports city, but a second-rate opera town. Stephen Lord's Boston Lyric Opera Company has not yet achieved the international acclaim achieved by Sarah Caldwell's late-great Opera Company of Boston, the birthplace of Beverly Sills' career. The latest BLO production is "Don Pasquale." This is the same production seen at Glimmerglass and the New York City Opera several years ago, the one in which the setting was moved to a commedia del arte company in the time of Moliere. BLO uses relative unknowns in its leading roles, some of whom have gone on to greater fame in other houses (Deborah Voigt, etc.) No one from THIS production will go on to achieve fame in the world's great houses, however, it is a very competent production. The story of "Don Pasquale" involves a foolish old man, who is embarrassed into doing the right thing for, and by, the young people around him. The Norina of Sari Gruber lacks the charm and vocal pyrotechnics necessary for this role, but she gets the job done. The males are better, especially the Ernesto of tenor Charles Castronovo. Pasquale and Malatesta are fine in the difficult patter duets written by Donizetti, in this, his most charming and comedic opera. No mad scenes here! Conductor Stephen Lord kept it all moving along, although at an uneven pace. I love this score, and it's always good to hear it live, even if it's not under the best of circumstances.

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The theater season that's about to come to an end in two months, has been a unique and unusual one for one big reason. Two of the best musicals have been one-woman shows: "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty," and "Mostly Sondheim: Barbara Cook." Last night, Barbara Cook brought her hit show to Boston for just one night, and she packed Symphony Hall to the rafters. For those of you who are not familiar with this 76-year-old song stylist, here's a quick refresher. She started out as a pretty and talented ingenue as the star of such Broadway classics as "Candide," "The Music Man," and "She Loves Me." When she ended her career on Broadway, she started a new career in the world of cabaret, and there she became its queen. As with other great song stylists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Barbra Streisand, Barbara Cook takes each song, and turns it into a 3-act play. Composers adore her because she sings their songs the way they meant them to be sung...every word is important to tell a story in song. Her current show consists mostly of songs written by Stephen Sondheim, and of songs by other composers, that he has said that he would have liked to have written! The adoring audience stopped the show several times with standing ovations. Try to see this show on Broadway if you haven't already seen it...it's a winner!

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OPERA REVIEW- "AGRIPPINA" (at the New York City Opera)

Handel is one of my least favorite composers, and his operas sound, to my ear at least, like the sung version of those hateful, repetitious Czerny exercises that I was forced to play as a young piano student. "Agrippina" is yet another one of his boring repetitious operas. To date, I've suffered through four of them, and I still haven't changed my opinion...I hate Handel! If you're still interested, this one has to do with Agrippina, the mother of Nero, and her obsessive plotting to put him on the throne, now occupied by her husband Claudius. With a mezzo soprano singing Nero, and two high-voiced counter-tenors in the cast, it sounded like the stage was filled with eunuchs! My apologies to any eunuchs who might be reading this review.

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Over the years, I've seen this Puccini classic staged in so many different ways, from the spectacular over-populated "all-of-Paris-onstage-at -the-Met" production by Franco Zeffirelli, to Baz Luhrmann's beautiful Australian Opera production where the action was moved from 19th Century Paris to Paris in the 1950's, to the New York City Opera's new staging, which is set in Paris in World War I, to the Broadway version of "Boheme," renamed Rent." How refreshing then, to see it performed traditionally, the way it was written! The Boston Lyric Opera has done a very respectable job making this tale of four young starving artists (the Bohemians of the title,) and their lovers, come to life in a meaningful way. But no matter how you juggle the plot or the setting, it's still the singing that matters, and here the Lyric has risen to the occasion, giving us 6 fine young singers, who also are fairly decent actors. They all look like their characters, and they sing and act the roles beautifully. If I had to find fault with anything in the production, it would be in the sets for Acts 2 and 3. They were much too stylized, and in Act 3, made no sense of where the action was transpiring. My friend, Pete, a first-timer to opera, said that he enjoyed the opera very much and would like to see another one. That's a great compliment to this production, and opera has a new recruit!

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Even though they're past their prime, the "three tenors" can still make opera companies do what they want them to do.  Like mount an obscure opera, just because it's easier for them to sing at this stage in their careers. Jose Carreras did that with Wolf-Ferrari's rarely-performed opera "Sly," at The Washington Opera, and Placido Domingo brought it to the Met, as his own starring vehicle . Well, is the opera any good? Yes, and no. Although the music is melodic, it's completely forgettable. While it would appear that the singers are singing their hearts out, nothing in the score is very difficult or challenging. As proof of this, Domingo was scheduled to conduct a full opera following this matinee performance. Something he could never do after singing something of substance. The story is somewhat interesting. A group of bored nobles kidnap a drunkard from a tavern, put him up in their palace, and convince him that he's the master of the house. The ending is tragic! Would I ever see "Sly" again. No!

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I love to hear ANY music at Symphony Hall because of its overwhelming beauty and perfect acoustics. However, the springtime Pops concerts at Symphony are to concert music, what fast food is to fine dining...fat-filled and loaded with calories, with very little quality in the contents. Tonight's concert was devoted to patriotic music...obscure and rarely performed Americana, by such composers as Morton Gould, Aaron Copland, Howard Hanson and Meredith Wilson. After listening to two embroidered versions of "The Star Spangled Banner,"and pieces entitled "Song of Democracy," "Amber Waves," "America, the Dream Goes On," and "The Promise of Living, from The Tender Land," it's easy to understand why they're rarely performed. There was even a new piece entitled "The Pledge of Allegiance," written and sung by an 8-year-old! Now, please don't get me wrong, no one loves America as much as I do, but having to listen to an entire evening of this trite and mediocre elevator music, is enough to make even a jingoistic patriot defect.

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CONCERT REVIEW- ENRIQUE IGLESIAS (at The Tweeter Center, formerly Great Woods)

I guess that one of the signs of aging is that you start to go to concerts of the children of people that you saw in concert decades ago. That happened to me last night. Years ago, I saw Julio Iglesias in concert. He was never a favorite of mine, but it was a birthday gift for my sister. What made the concert worthwhile was the surprise guest appearance of Willie Nelson, who at the time, had a hit single with Iglesias, called "For All the Girls I've Loved Before." Unfortunately, there were no surprise guests last night, (unless you count the wonderful opening act, "Soluna,") and we had to sit, on a night when the show started an hour late, through an entire evening of Iglesias and his saccarine-sweet Hispanic "everything-sounds-the-same" Pop crap! His appeal is mainly to pre-pubescent chicas who love everything about him, from his pretty face to his breathless voice. For them, he slinks and shimmies all over the stage like a gay matador. He's not as blatantly in-your-face commercial as the charismatic but now out-of-the-loop Ricky Martin, nor is he anywhere near as talented as the other Hispanic pop idol, Marc Anthony. Which makes him sort of a modern-day Julio Iglesias (where is he today?) Yikes, I've come full circle!

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OPERA REVIEW- "DEAD MAN WALKING" (at the New York City Opera)

"Overwhelming," riveting," "chilling," "devastating," and "emotionally draining," are words that are almost never used to describe a new American opera. But, in the case of composer Jake Heggie's opera "Dead Man Walking," they, and others describe perfectly the raw force of this new work. Based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, and the Sean Penn/Susan Sarandon film, it tells the story of the unusual relationship between a young convicted killer on death row, and his spiritual advisor, a naive nun, Sister Helen Prejean. From the opening scene, in which two naked teenagers are brutally murdered, to the shocking finale, depicting the execution (by lethal injection,) of Joseph Rocher, the opera is mesmerizing, as no other that I've ever seen. The music is perfectly suited to the material. Nothing sweet and hummable, but there are some beautiful melodic arias, duets, quartets, and even a sextette. Some enterprising producer should get the composer to take this to Broadway after it concludes its run of ten performances at the City Opera. It could run there for years! See it, if you can.

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OPERA REVIEW' "IL TRITTICO" (at the New York City Opera)

Two tragedies and a comedy make up this triple-bill of one act operas that Puccini wrote as his penultimate work. The New York City Opera mounted three beautiful productions of this rarely performed work. Two of the three operas, "Il Tabarro" ("The Cloak,") and "Gianni Schicchi," were being done so that their star baritone, Mark Delevan, could sing the starring roles in each. In the first, he was the Parisian bargeman who murders his wife's lover, and in the other, he is the hilarious Florentine conman, Gianni Schicchi. If he could, I'm sure that he would have loved to have sung the part of the tragic nun in the third opera, "Suor Angelica!" The first two operas are very dark, and, unlike typical Puccini operas, they are not very melodic. "Gianni Schicchi" on the other hand, is full of glorious melody and hilarious shtick, acted and sung to perfection by an ideal cast of singing actors. If you can sit through two hours of dark and brooding music, "Schicchi" is certainly worth the wait.

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Fire the director and ship him back to Italy. That would be a start in correcting what's wrong with this dreadfully embarrassing production of the usually indestructible "Barber of Seville!" Director Stefano Vizioli saw this as an adolescent, foolish slapstick comedy with BACKGROUND MUSIC by Rossini. The Rosina, the only singer on stage with a decent voice, looked more like Rosie O'Grady than Rosina of Seville. But the worst embarrassment was the tenor, Lawrence Brownlee. Now I don't demand that the tenor look like Brad Pitt, but he shouldn't look like Al Roker, the Today Show's weathermen, or even worse, Oprah Winfrey in drag! His tiny voice didn't compensate for his ridiculous appearance and his absurd acting. The bass who "sang" Basilio had a voice that couldn't carry beyond the third row. Maybe that was the fault of the orchestra, which played loudly and badly throughout, and even managed to botch up the usually foolproof overture. The character part of Berta, the old servant, was sung by a young woman who was directed to act like a slut from "Canterbury Tales." The Figaro, was sung by a baritone who was so lacking in presence and voice, that there were times that you forgot that he was onstage...and the opera is named for him! If you're forced to go, leave at intermission. The second act is so full of shtick that, at times, I couldn't even tell that there was music being played. I could go on, but why bother.

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OPERA REVIEW- "SALOME" (New York City Opera)

It's easy to understand how this shocking opera caused a riot, and brought police into the opera house, when it was first performed in Germany, in 1905. Even today, the shock value is still there. Taken from the play by Oscar Wilde, it's the story of the biblical "whore princess" Salome, and her relationship with her incestuous parents (Herod and Herodias,) as well as her sexual desire for the imprisoned John the Baptist. The music, by Richard Strauss, is overwhelming, and a trial for the singers, whose voices have to carry over the massive 100-piece orchestra required by Strauss. And carry they did! Especially the amazing Mark Delavan, as John the Baptist. Eilana Lappalainen as Salome, does not have a huge voice, but it's a fine one, and it's so nice to see a beautiful singer actually dance the erotic Dance of the Seven Veils, and make it believable and sexy. This production is set in a huge glass atrium filled with silver palm trees and dominated by an enormous staircase that curves up to the full height of the stage. The director moved the actors quickly and dramatically around this massive set, and the single act opera (1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission,) ended all too soon, with Salome being murdered, as she cradled the severed head of the Baptist in her groin! Don't bring the children.

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OPERA REVIEW- "IL PIRATA" (Metropolitan Opera House)

The question is, "why is this rarely-performed Bellini opera being given an expensive new production at the Met this season?" The answer is, because reigning opera diva Renee Fleming wanted to stretch her vocal wings in the area of bel canto...not her area of expertise to date. So how did she do? Although she sang beautifully, I was always thinking of the other sopranos who have sung this ornamented style so much better. Singers like Callas, Caballe, Sutherland, and Sills. Marcello Giordani who sang the tenor role, hit all the high notes (and God knows, there were lots of them!) but, at times, it was obvious that he was straining to do this. The opera itself, "a Sicilian melodrama," (isn't that redundant?) is very melodic and filled with beautiful visual stage pictures. However, the action is static, and the translation is old-fashioned and corny...maybe deliberately so. If you're a fan of Renee Fleming (and who isn't?) this performance is a must I suppose, and besides you'll see her in 5 elaborate and beautiful costumes...if that's your thing! Be warned, however, there's only one intermission in 3 hours.

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With some rare exceptions, like George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," Leonard Bernstein's "Candide," Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," and Frank Loesser's "The Most Happy Fella," I don't like any operas written after the last great opera composers, Puccini and Strauss, wrote their last works.; in other words, after about 1920. To my ears, anything written after that is just not melodic. Try humming an aria from "Wozzeck." William Bolcom has written this new opera, based on the Arthur Miller play, and it should never have been written! It adds absolutely nothing to what is already a classic...the play is already operatic. It's still the story of a family of Sicilian-Americans who live, and labor, on the docks of Red Hook in Brooklyn in the 1950's. The father, Eddie Carbone, is either too dumb or too emotionally involved, to realize that he's in love with the niece that he raised like a daughter. The rest is Greek tragedy. Bolcom has written only one memorable aria, "New York Lights," which could easily become a cross-over popular hit. The rest is just background music!

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OPERA REVIEW- "LES TROYENS" (Metropolitan Opera)

There are not too many opera companies in the world that can afford to mount a production of Berlioz' five-hour monumental spectacle, dealing with the falls of both Troy and Carthage, and which requires at least six major singing stars...plus the Trojan Horse! The Met has not only done it, but has created its biggest hit in decades. This is what opera is all about. The three stars portraying Aeneas, Cassandra, and Dido are required to sing some of the most difficult music ever written, sing it full out for long stretches of time, and act these parts with believability. The Met has these stars. A trimmed-down Ben Heppner (who lost 90 pounds) looks buffed, and sounds incredible in the demanding role of Aeneas. Deborah Voigt and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson as the women in his life, match, and often surpass him in power and emotional intensity. In this production, even the lesser roles are cast with stars (Dwayne Croft, Elena Zaremba, Gregory Turay, etc.) Director Francesca Zambello and designer Maria Bjornson (who died just before this, her Met debut,) have recreated the fall of Troy in all its terrifying splendor amidst stylized but dramatic and enormous sets. The burning of Troy, the suicide of the Trojan women, the entrance of the Trojan Horse, the Royal Hunt and Storm, the glory of the utopia that was Carthage, etc., are all there on stage. With James Levine and the finest opera orchestra in the world in the pit, the five hours passed much too quickly, and you're left at the overpowering finale, wanting more. For five hours, I forgot about Iraq, burning night-clubs, transplanted organs, and terrorists under the bed!

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The New York City Opera opened its Spring Opera Season last night, with Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music." Although it's neither Spring, nor is the Sondheim classic an opera, the night was a phenomenal success. The production was star-filled (Jeremy Irons, Claire Bloom, Juliet Stevenson, and Michele Pawk,) as was the audience ( Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Elaine Stritch, Barbara Cook, Polly Bergen, Marge Champion, James Naughton, and Sondheim himself.) This intelligent and thought-provoking musical, holds up beautifully after all of these years. In fact, the music and lyrics sound even more brilliant and creative than they did in the several times that I've seen it around the world, in the past. The credit must go to Irons, Stevenson and Bloom, who are magnificent. The story, based on Ingmar Bergman's film "Smiles of a Summer Night," concerns seven articulate Swedish aristocrats (and one maid,) in 19th Century Sweden, who become romantically and comically intertwined over a single weekend, and all to one of Sondheim's best, and most accessible scores. Theatergoers will be talking about this production for years to come.

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OPERA REVIEW- "FAUST" (Metropolitan Opera)

Angela Georghiou and Roberto Alagna, the husband and wife operatic duo, whose conceit and arrogance far exceed their good looks and talent, have once again screwed the paying public. Those of us who paid an exorbitant price to see this worn-out production of "Faust," simply for the "privilege" of seeing what the Alagnas could do with these roles, were shocked when they pulled out of the last two performances of the opera, "because of the war," and ran back to their home in France. They're now on my "you-know-what"- list of no-shows (along with Cecilia Bartoli,) whose performances I will boycott in the future. But now for the somewhat good news. Two good-looking young Texans, Emily Pulley and Marcus Haddock, sang in place of the missing Alagnas,  and they did just fine. James Morris was the Mephistopheles, a role that he can sing in his sleep. Although his voice has lost a lot of what it once had, he can still take on the devil! The production is a surrealistic mess, with rotating sets made to look like Gothic rock formations, with the church scene looking like it took place in the belly of a whale. It's no wonder that poor Marguerite was scared nearly to death! It's time for the Met to scrap this production and create a new one, possibly set in the 19th Century, where Gounod's music tells us that it belongs.

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Last night, the young Estonian conductor, Paavo Jarvi, brought the big sound of his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to our acoustically-perfect Symphony Hall, where it filled the majestic hall with sound...some if it magnificent, some perfectly awful! The first piece, a Boston premiere, was predictably dreadful, having been written in 1999. Nothing but noise for 20 minutes! The second piece, however, was magnificent. Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D minor was performed by Russian violinist Vadim Repin, and it was 40 minutes of perfect music performed brilliantly. This Siberian violinist is one of the greats. After the intermission, the orchestra performed the Shostakovich Symphony No. 10 in E minor. It was too long (one hour,) and only intermittently big and exciting. My mind wandered most of the time!

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CONCERT REVIEW- PETER CINCOTTI & HIS PIANO (Sculler's at the Doubletree in Boston)

The hottest new singing sensation on the New York club-scene right now is Peter Cincotti, who "flying in under the radar," so to speak, made his Boston debut last night, virtually unnoticed by our local media, at a one-night stand at Sculler's Jazz Club at the Doubletree Hotel. That his performance was sold-out is not surprising considering the fact that he's just come off of a 30-day completely sold-out engagement at New York's Oak Room, where celebrities were fighting to get in to hear him! Who is this guy who critics rave has inherited the mantle passed down from Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Mel Torme, to Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Feinstein? Not surprisingly, his repertoire consists of the immortal standards of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Harold Arlen, etc. What IS surprising is that this native of Concord, Mass., is only 19 years old. He must be channeling someone! In his 1-1/2 hour set tonight, he played (piano) and sang his way through many of the classics, giving them a distinctive sound, but his solo piano playing of "After You've Gone," was alone worth the price of admission. He's a true song-stylist but an even greater jazz pianist. Even the Muppet's " Rainbow Connection" sounded fresh and sexy! If he comes to your town, beg, borrow, or steal a ticket to see Cincotti; he's an incredible artist...AND he's an undergraduate at Columbia!

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OPERA REVIEW- "FLAVIO" (New York City Opera)

I approach each new production of a Handel opera with dread, because, to put it mildly, I'm not a big fan of Handel. I keep going to them with the hope that, one day, I will like one of them. In my opinion, the music in Handel's operas is dull, repetitious, and endlessly long. Here's what I hate about Handel: (1) the ridiculous plots; (2) the countertenors (men who have trained their voices to sound like women, like the Italian castrati of the 18th Century, who gained their high voices at an awful price!) (3) the ridiculous repetitiveness of the music, where singers will sing one sentence, and then repeat it four or five times in slightly different variations. If the repetitions were eliminated, a three-hour Handel opera would be only 20 minutes. This, I might be able to sit through! Otherwise, it's torture.

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Peter Cincotti made his debut with the Boston Pops last night, (as did Ricky Skaggs,) in a concert that was more like three separate concerts, and which never really came together as a cohesive whole. The first "act" of the concert consisted of Ricky Skaggs and his band in a half-hour set of Tennessee Blue Grass. It was foot-stomping and thrilling. The second "act" consisted of the usual Pops fare of light classical (the theme from "Silverado,") and classical (the Overture to "La Forza del Destino") pieces. This was also well done, although the brass tended to overwhelm the strings in the classical numbers. The third "act," and the reason that I came to this particular concert, consisted of Peter Cincotti (and his three-piece band.) Unfortunately, in the half-hour allotted to him, he only got to sing four numbers, all of which I had heard him perform when I saw him at Sculler's Jazz Club in his Boston debut last month. In this new venue, it was apparent that Cincotti is one of the most exciting talents to come onto the scene in years. It was also apparent that, being backed by a full orchestra ("This is the first time that I've played with an orchestra,") added nothing to a Cincotti performance. In fact, he's heard to better advantage in a cabaret-like venue, with just his extremely talented three-piece band, his piano, and his overwhelming talent. He was obviously impressed by being in Symphony Hall, and playing with the Boston Pops under Keith Lockhart. But the Pops drowned out his magnificent piano-playing at times, and even his distinctive soft-spoken singing voice sometimes got lost on the overcrowded stage. This will undoubtedly happen to him again next month when he makes his Carnegie Hall debut. My advice to Mr. Cincotti? "Stick to Cabaret where nothing gets between you and your audience."

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New technology has done a lot to improve the experience of attending the premiere 4th of July concert...the Boston Pops at the Hatch Shell on the Charles, in the dozen years since I last experienced this event. Twenty five "towers of sound" banked with speakers, now line the Charles River on both the Boston and the Cambridge side of the Charles River. Jumbotron screens are placed at strategic points in the crowd, bringing the sights and sounds of the concert to everyone there, and not just to the lucky 10,000 who arrived at dawn to get into the oval area directly in front of the Hatch Shell. However, at least one aspect of technology altered the concert and took something away from it. This year, for the first time, the concert was telecast to a national audience...and certain concessions had to be made. The concert had to stop for commercials for one! But, more importantly, the fireworks spectacular was pushed back to 10:30pm (from 10:00,) and all of the fireworks were unloaded at once, making for a grand show for the viewers, but leaving the "1812 Overture" without any fireworks at all. Certainly a first for Boston. But, I'm nit-picking. All in all, the concert experience was magnificent. People come to this famous event for different reasons. Some come for the incredible fireworks spectacular (and it was amazing, with fireworks that I've never seen before.) Others come to hang out with their friends (and it seems as though everyone in Boston was here in this crowd of half a million people.) But some, like me, actually come to hear the music as well, and on this score, the concert didn't disappoint. Some of the highlights of the concert were: rising young opera star Indra Thomas' powerful and inspiring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner (with the entire crowd coming to its feet as young people slowly removed their baseball caps,)  followed by what I thought was the most beautiful music of the evening, her singing of the "Ebben, ne andro lontana" aria, from Catalani's opera "La Wally." After this, conductor Keith Lockhart introduced the star attraction of the concert, and out marched the 400 voice Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and their voices filled the heavens with "God Bless America," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and, joined by country singer LeAnn Rimes, "America the Beautiful." A great day to be with friends...and to be an American!

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Because it was an historic event...the very first concert at Fenway Park...I would have gone, regardless of the performer. However, because the performer was Bruce Springsteen (and the E Street Band) rather than Brittany Spears, P Diddy, or some other "trash-for-cash" here-today, gone-tomorrow non-entity, the show was memorable, AND enjoyable. The huge stage was out in the outfield, opposite home-plate, and I had a great seat (a right-infield box,) in the direct line of vision with "the Boss." The aisle seat was raised above all of the on-field seats (which were on a special metal flooring to protect the outfield grass,) and there was no one seated in front of me, so I could actually sit throughout the 3-hour concert. The concert started promptly at 8pm (more or less,) when Springsteen and the Band marched  onto the stage, where he sang about 800 of his best songs for about 3 hours! Where does this man get his energy from??? He was all over the stage, non-stop, for the entire concert. The audience was filled with Boston celebrities, with people like Cam Neely and the Jordan's Furniture men sitting in and around me! They loved him. Has anyone noticed that Bruce and Steven Van Zandt are starting to look alike? Yikes! Clarence Clemons was as much of a presence as usual, and in general, I would have to say that everyone on stage seemed to be energized by the Fenway setting, the incredibly receptive audience, and the warm summer evening. In spite of all the beer, I didn't see one fist-fight! All in all, one of Springsteen's best concerts, and one of Boston's more memorable events.

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CONCERT REVIEW- "RANDY NEWMAN" (at the Berklee Performance Center)

Lately, the word "legend" has been carelessly tossed around. It used to mean someone who had accomplished a lifetime of  outstanding, high-quality work. Now, the term has been applied to people with names like Brittney, Christina, and Justin...people who have just recently achieved puberty. Randy Newman IS a true legend. Ever since the 60's, this rock/pop icon has been writing outstanding songs, and performing them to audiences of his select fans. These fans have included people like The Beetles, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, etc. Just a few weeks ago, I was talking to my cousins John and Kim, and we were wondering if Randy Newman would ever be performing again. Well, I'm happy to say that the answer is "yes" and I was lucky enough to hear him in concert tonight, at the Berklee Performance Center, a venue that's almost literally across the street from where I live! He looks older, with his full head of graying hair. But he still sounds the same...his voice is as throaty as ever. Once he starts to sing, you realize that people just don't write songs like this any more. The melodies are always deceptively beautiful. The words, however, are sarcastic, biting, brilliantly topical, hilarious, and often, heartbreakingly poignant. This man is cynical beyond the pain level of most people. He sang all of my favorites ("Short People," "The Great Nations of Europe," "Lonely at the Top," "Political Science,") and dozens more, for more than two wonderful hours. A truly memorable concert for all of us who were lucky enough to be there.

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I've seen fat "Lucias," glamourously thin "Lucias," and, in that ridiculous Met production, a "Lucia" who was directed to climb down a 100-foot-high wall of coffins, while singing the treacherously difficult music of the Mad Scene. But, I've never seen a visibly-pregnant one...until last night! When soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge found herself to be pregnant six months before her debut as "Lucia," the production-director was faced with a decision...replace her in the role, or incorporate her pregnancy into the part. He chose the latter, and judging from the results, it was the right decision. Now, Sir Walter Scott's fragile heroine Lucy of Lammermoor is even more fragile, and she has much more to lose when she thinks that she's been jilted at the altar by her lover, Edgar of Ravenswood! When her brother marries her off to someone else against her will, you can almost understand why she chopped her bridegroom to pieces on their wedding night! Almost! Miss Welch-Babidge sings like an angel, as do the other two leads, Cuban tenor Jorge Antonio Pita, and American Stephen Powell. This Lucia is beautifully sung and beautifully acted. In fact, Lucia's Mad Scene is the best one that I've ever seen. If there's a problem with this production, and there is, it has to do with the horrible sets and bizarre costumes. The set designs of Christine Jones seem to set this Scottish melodrama on a glacier in Antarctica, and the costumes of Constance Hoffman would be more appropriate in a Mad Max film or an "S & M" version of Macbeth. Both of these women are protegees of Julie Taymor. They've picked up her craziness, but not her genius. Now if we could just put those three lead singers into a Zeffirelli-designed Lucia, complete with tartans and kilts, that would be a production for the operatic history books!

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OPERA REVIEW- "ALCINA" (New York City Opera)

One Handel too many: we left at the intermission after Act I.

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A "diva" is an admired, mature, and distinguished prima donna ("first lady",) of the musical world, who, over a lengthy and successful career, has paid her dues to her profession and to her fans, who think of her as a goddess (the Italian word for goddess is "diva.") Brittney Spears, Mariah Carey, Beyonce Knowles and Christina Aquillera are not divas; they're sexy girls who can sing. Marilyn Horne and Barbara Cook ARE divas; Horne who retired from the world of opera after a lengthy international career, and Cook who retired from the world of the Broadway Musical Theater, and then re-established herself as a star of the world of Cabaret. They were united for this sold-out concert at Symphony Hall for the very first time, and it was a triumph. The tuxedoed and gowned audience (including people like Nathan Lane,) loved every minute of it. The program consisted of the musical standards of Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim etc. These are songs that are nearly 50 years old, and they're still being sung all over the world. When they were sung by Horne and Cook, separately and together, they sounded as fresh as though they had been written yesterday. Both women sang beautifully and told interesting and amusing anecdotes between songs. But this audience came to hear these women sing, and sing they did. One can only hope that someone was capturing this historic event on video or at least CD. If not, then only a couple of thousand people were the lucky ones tonight!

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Carnival in Rome; the casting of a major Renaissance bronze sculpture; the conflict between its artist, Benvenuto Cellini, and his powerful patron, Pope Clement VII. Those are the elements of the plot of this rarely performed masterpiece by Hector Berlioz. In fact, the last time that I saw the opera, was at its American Premiere, 30 years ago, when it was done by the then world-famous Opera Company of Boston, led by Sarah Caldwell, and starring Jon Vickers. The Met has pulled out all the stops for this current production...the first time that its ever been done there. Set designer George Tsypin, and his costume designer Georgi Alexi-Miskhishvili, have brilliantly created a huge, abstract, sculpture-like setting, that brings in major elements of Renaissance design...the dome, the arch, and the grand staircases that climb to the sky, and peopled that setting with creatively-costumed (and a few naked) carnival revelers. The cast is perfect, with Marcello Giordani hitting all those treacherous high notes as Cellini, and Isabel Bayrekdarien, as his Teresa. If you love the music of Berlioz, as I do, then the 3 1/2 hours will slip quickly by, and you'll come out humming the music of the beautiful Roman Carnival Overture. If you're not a Berlioz fan, then go to see the wild Cirque du Soleil-like production, directed by Andrei Serban in his Met debut. The brilliant coup de theatre at the finale (the casting and revealing of the giant full-size statue of "Perseus Holding the Head of Medusa,") is alone worth the price of admission...even at the Met's insanely high ticket prices!

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OPERA REVIEW- "LA JUIVE" (Metropolitan Opera)

To the best of my knowledge, I've never heard one note of music from this sadly neglected opera. What a pity. It's a magnificent work. The present new production at the Met (borrowed from the Vienna State Opera,) is a musically and dramatically exciting 4 hours in the theater. The  theme of the opera is anti-semitism, and the story is a romantic tale of forbidden love between the Jewess Rachel and the Christian prince Leopold, during a period of fanatical hatred of the Jews...15th  Century Austria. The current production is set in the present, for no discernible reason! Tenor Neil Shicoff (the son of a cantor,) was born to play the role of Eleazar, Rachel's vengeful father. His devotion to the role and the opera, was instrumental in getting the Vienna production (in which he starred,) brought to the Met. Now, that's clout! One of the reasons that "La Juive" hasn't been done at the Met since the days when Caruso sang it 80 years ago, is that it's difficult to cast, requiring five star-quality singing actors, and they're not so easy to round up in one production. The Met has done it. All five singers are magnificent. This kind of singing doesn't happen very often on one stage, even at the Met. The five stars are Neil Shicoff, Soile Isokoski, Elizabeth Futral, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Eric Cutler. Some people will find the sets and costumes jarring. I thought that they were perfect, with a steeply angled stage, separating the world of the Christians (all white, above,) from the world of the Jews (all black, below.) It's dramatic, effective, and it makes the director's point, starkly and visually.

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OPERA REVIEW- "SALOME" (Metropolitan Opera)

When "Salome" was first performed 100 years ago, it caused near-riots, and the Metropolitan's first production of the opera was shut down by the police, the day after its premiere! Today, 100 years later, it's still causing controversy. The story of the Judaen princess, Salome, who dances for her lecherous father, Herod, in order to obtain the severed head of John the Baptist, has a magnificent score by Richard Strauss, but what to do with that Dance of the Seven Veils. Sopranos who can handle the treacherous music, don't usually feel comfortable dancing the dance, AND singing. Let's face it. It's a strip tease. None of this presented a problem to the beautiful and talented Karita Mattila, who not only sings and acts the role perfectly, but also dances the hottest Dance of the Seven Veils that I'VE ever seen...ending up with her completely naked. She looks damn good for a 43-year-old! (Last night's performance was being filmed to be shown on TV. How will they handle the full frontal nudity?) Just once, I'd like to see a production of "Salome" set in its true biblical period, instead of in some modern-day no-man's land. The production at the New York City Opera looks like it's set in the lobby of Caesar's Palace in Vegas. At least the Met's production has huge stylized sane dunes! All of the rest of the singers were wonderful, but Mattila stole the show...in every way. The staid Met audience ROARED its approval!

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OPERA REVIEW- "DON GIOVANNI" (Metropolitan Opera)

To many people, this is the perfect opera...it has everything. Well, if that's the case, then this new production must be the perfect showcase for this opera. It has a true ensemble cast, made up of the Met's finest Mozarteans. Although the sets are stark, consisting of huge sliding brick walls and staircases, they move quickly, making for effective and fast scene changes (in what is already a very long night at the opera.) They certainly work better than the Zeffirelli mess that they replaced. But, this production is all about the singers and they are: Thomas Hampson (as an older, but crueler Don Juan,) Anja Harteros, Christine Goerke, and Hei-Kyung Hong (as his "donnas,") Rene Pape (a wonderful Leporello,) and Gregory Turay (as Don Ottavio.) It may be a cliche, but this is a true ensemble working together to tell the story of the slime-ball Don Juan, his conquests, and his downfall. The voices are superb, and the orchestra under Maestro James Levine, supports them beautifully. A perfect, although long, performance in every way.

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OPERA REVIEW- "TOSCA" (Boston Lyric Opera)

Because I took a young friend to see this opera, and it was his first opera, I tried to look at it through his eyes, and see and hear what HE was seeing and hearing. What I saw was a fairly pedestrian, provincial version of a "can't-fail" opera. The three main singers had weak voices that couldn't rise above the orchestra, especially in the key dramatic moments. The soprano...a large black woman...was unbelievable in the role of a glamorous, Italian opera singer. She was hammy, inelegant, and her butt was bigger than her voice. The tenor, whose biography says that he's a "decorated officer for the Miami-Dade Police Department," shouldn't quit his day job! The baritone was OK, but in the key "Te Deum" scene, he couldn't be heard above the big chorus on stage. So that leaves the sets and the orchestra. The first act set, with its ornate marble floor and scaffolding, could pass easily for the Church of Sant' Andrea della Valle. But the same set, with some additions and subtractions served as Scarpia's apartments in the Farnese Palace, and that damn same decorated marble floor was completely inappropriate on the stone roof of the Castel Sant' Angelo! What to say about the orchestra, which was being conducted by our Boston Pops conductor, Keith Lockhart, who was conducting his first staged opera in Boston. Let's just say that I've heard worse conducting from the Lyric Opera's own Stephen Lord. Although he moved the proceedings along, like a good traffic cop, at times he slowed down so much, to make it easier for the tenor and soprano to sing two of their showcase arias, that I thought that some members of the orchestra could have gone out into the alley for a smoke! So what did my friend think? He said that he enjoyed the performance very much, although he would have liked to have seen a more attractive Floria Tosca. So would I!

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OPERA REVIEW- "ERMIONE" (at the New York City Opera)
This rarely performed opera by Rossini (one of my favorite composers,) has a ridiculous story (based on Euripides' "Andromache,") bad acting, and beautiful and exciting music. It almost sounded like Handel, but much more melodic and memorable. (As you may know, I HATE Handel ! ) The opera calls for three tenors, a soprano, a mezzo, and a bass,  all of whom are required to sing some of the most treacherously difficult music that I've ever heard on an opera stage. The fact that they pulled it off is a tribute to the City Opera. Where do they find all of these talented and good-looking young people? (They've been doing it for years, since they were the ones who discovered Placido Domingo and Beverly Sills among countless others.) See this one if you can. It'll be hard to find again.
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This Marvin David Levy opera, based on the play by Eugene O'Neill (which is in turn based on Aeschylus' "Oresteia,) has a great story, great acting, great singing, and dreadful music. We left after the second act!
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Why would I chose to see Madonna again if I've already seen her "act" twice? For three good reasons.  (1) I was invited and didn't have to pay for the tickets. (2) We were sitting two rows from the stage in Section 2 (the Center section.) (3) We had backstage passes.  So, how was the show? Well, maybe it was because we were so close, that everything just seemed too large, loud, noisy and blinding. Kind of like the Radio City Christmas Show if you were sitting under one of the camels! There were lots of confusing images on the huge stage, including a strange reading from the Book of Revelation, and some mystical Hebrew letters on screens above the stage. Madonna has found religion. Can the Apocalypse be far behind? Madonna's career seemed to be passing before our eyes, in kind of a Las Vegas-style spectacular revue, starting at the "Vogue" stage, where she paraded around in her underwear, through a bizarre military dream sequence (with soldiers, and a cardinal, and a woman in a mini-burka!) through an even stranger segment involving a video of children around the world, to a grand finale with a bagpiper, a drum corps and Madonna and her dancers in kilts! Oh yes, music accompanied all of this!!! Maybe next time, she could re-invent herself as a singer.  Oh, by the way, we didn't use the backstage passes (we never do.) By the time we got backstage, there were hundreds of other people waiting in line with backstage passes as well. If we had waited in line for two hours, we probably could have shaken her hand. We used the time more productively, driving back to Boston.
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There's good news and there's bad news about the about-to-open, newly restored Boston Opera House. First the good news. In two weeks, the Thomas Lamb-designed classical Boston Opera House will be reopened, after 9 years (and 36 million dollars) of restoration work. The bad news? It's still not completed. Last night's "Hard Hat Concert-A Boston Vaudeville" was a shakedown concert to test the acoustics, and to give donors and workers an opportunity to "check it out." The program consisted of snippets of entertainment from some of Boston's finest cultural institutions, from the Boston Ballet, the Boston Lyric Opera, and the Handel & Haydn Society, to Boston's own comic, Jimmy Tingle.  It was an impossibly long program, one that threatened to run far beyond midnight. We left at intermission at 10pm (after the Boston Gay Men's Chorus sang a powerful version of "The Day After That" from "Kiss of the Spider Woman.) So, how's the House? Well, it looks incredibly beautiful. But then, it always did, especially during the reign of Sarah Caldwell (and the Opera Company of Boston) when she introduced her audiences to newcomers Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Placido Domingo, and especially Beverly Sills, who made the House her home during the '70s and '80s. The nearly 4000-seat baroque auditorium, fashioned after the great opera houses of Europe, has new seats, and the murals, columns, boxes and chandeliers are freshly painted and gilded with gold. The lobbies still require some more paint, marble and gilding, (and I'm not happy with the new carpeting, which must have cost millions,) but it could all be ready in time for the grand opening.  Buy your tickets now. The first occupant will be "The Lion King" and it's nearly sold out for its entire run.
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Based on only half of the evening's program! 

OPERA REVIEW- "DAPHNE" (at the New York City Opera)
Bravo, once again, to the New York City Opera, for scooping its big "sister" across the Lincoln Center Plaza, the Metropolitan Opera, by presenting the New York premiere of Strauss' one-act, rarely-performed opera, "Daphne." Like Strauss' other one-act opera, "Salome," "Daphne" is filled with soaring, majestic, music from beginning to end. It's at the end, however, in the incredible "transformation scene," where Strauss has written such overpowering music, that it pushes this obscure piece into the category of masterpiece. Elizabeth Futral shines in the difficult title role. She's beautiful, with a perfect voice to match her beauty. In the story, Daphne, a young girl who loves nature and is afraid of sex (!) is pursued by the god Apollo, and by her childhood friend, a young shepherd. When she rejects Apollo, he jealously kills the young shepherd who loves her. Out of compassion and guilt at Daphne's grief, the god transforms her into a laurel tree. Now there's a warning for the tree-huggers!
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Back in the day, when the words "diva" and "legend" still had meaning...used only to describe someone whose body of work exceeded all but a few in their chosen field...Patti Page was a true diva, and already a legend. Today, when the words "diva" and "legend" have become meaningless...often describing a teen-ager with one hit song...Patti Page, at age 76, is still going strong, performing her song-book of dozens of multi-million-selling hit songs, in selected venues around the world, to her still-adoring fans. She wasn't called "The Singing Rage" for nothing. She was the singer with the warm and inviting voice who topped the charts selling over 100 million recordings---making her the best selling female recording artist of all time. She has 15 certified gold records and her recording of "Tennessee Waltz," at 10 million sold, still remains the largest selling single record ever recorded by a female artist! But that's then, how does she sound/look today? GREAT!!! Backed by a real "big-band" sextet, Miss Page commands the stage for two glorious hours.
Those of you who know me well, know that I'm not big on nostalgia or dwelling on the past, but for two hours I sang along with every song (silently, I hope,) with a smile on my face, and tears in my eyes, fondly remembering memories that I thought were long forgotten. What a priceless experience!
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.....for the memories!

Just when I'm about to lose faith in young people (ages 18 - 21 ) today, because they've been so dumbed-down, (excluding my 20 close friends up here in Boston, of course,) I'm confronted with a situation where things begin to look promising again. Last night, I walked in and sat down in the jewel-like, acoustically-perfect Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory, and watched and listened in amazement, as 100 young people (21-years-old) performed some of the most difficult music ever written, and performed it as well as any high-paid member of any symphony orchestra in the world. These were the Seniors, who next year WILL be these members of the world's finest symphony orchestras. I hope they get paid a fortune! How lucky we are to have these students performing for us every night, and doing it FREE of charge! The program last night consisted of Schubert's Symphony #9 in C Major, and Prokofiev's Symphony #5 in B-flat Major, and what a glorious two hours of music it was. The conductor was Joseph Silverstein, the venerable former concert-master of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 20 years. I actually found myself humming Prokofiev as I was leaving the Hall. Prokofiev!!! 
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OPERA REVIEW- "THE MAGIC FLUTE" (at the Metropolitan Opera)
This is not one of my favorite operas. I find the plot ridiculous, and although some of the music is Mozart at his best, large stretches are not. In order to breathe new life into this old chestnut, the Met has hired Broadway and Hollywood's Julie Taymor ("The Lion King," "Titus," and "Frida,") to direct it, as well as create the costumes and her traditional large puppets. (The architectural sets are by Russian designer George Tsypin.) The result is a visual stunner, with large three-dimensional glass-like geometric sculptures, rotating on the Met's huge stage...a stage on which the singers share space with Taymor's large kite-like puppets, dancers on stilts wearing tall bird-heads, dragons manipulated by "puppeteers" dressed in black, and flying birds carrying "the Three Spirits." It's all very Cirque du Soleil, Asian looking, and magical, with many Kabuki influences. Does it work? Absolutely. Is it often distracting? Absolutely. A sold-out house seemed to love everything about it, with the singers getting curtain calls long after we had left the theater! My favorite singers were Evika Miklosa, making her debut in the difficult role of the "Queen of the Night;" Matthew Polenzani as Tamino; and Rodion Pogossov as Papageno. It's a long opera, and if you love Mozart, you'll probably love it. If not, there's plenty to look at on stage!
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Even if the music were removed from Poulenc's opera, this would stand as a dramatic piece of theater. The true story of an order of Carmelite nuns, who were executed on the guillotine in 18th Century France, has been set to beautiful music, by the 20th Century composer, Poulenc. It has, arguably, the most dramatic last scene in all of opera. The 16 nuns, stripped of their habits, are sent to the guillotine, one by one, as they sing a  beautiful "Hail Mary" chorus. As the blade loudly falls each time, the number of voices is reduced by one, until only one voice remains. The ensemble cast is flawless, and the sets and costumes added to the drama of this powerful piece of musical theater.
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CONCERT REVIEW- "CAROL CHANNING- THE FIRST 80 YEARS ARE THE HARDEST!" (at the Berklee Performance Center, of the Berklee School of Music, in Boston....just down the block from where I live!)

Some performers are so tied into the history of Broadway, that their names are virtually synonymous with the excitement, lights, and music of the American Musical Theater; names like Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, Eartha Kitt, and of course, Carol Channing. At 83 years of age, this crazy blonde is still kicking up those incredible legs, singing the songs that made her famous, and telling unforgettable anecdotes about her life in the theater. On last year's Tony Awards Show, she surprised everyone by leading LL Cool J in a rap version of the title song from her most famous musical, "Hello Dolly," thereby becoming one of the few performers who appeals to both the hip-hop and the hip-replacement generations! In her current one-woman show at the Berklee Performance Center, she captivated her audience, by once again becoming Lorelei Lee in "Gentleman Prefer Blondes," (the role that Marilyn Monroe played in the film version,) and her greatest creation, Dolly Levi in "Hello Dolly," (the role that Barbra Streisand played in the film version.) Those foolish Hollywood producers couldn't trust her to play on screen, the roles that she created on Broadway. She's still tireless, funny, and can sing her songs with a remnant of that husky voice that made her famous. But what she really does for 1 1/2 hours, is tell hilarious stories about herself, her famous friends, and her life on stage. Although at times, she forgets what she's saying, she's still a VERY funny woman with impeccable timing. I hope that I have the energy that she has, when I'M 83!!!

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OPERA REVIEW- "SAMSON ET DALILA"  (Metropolitan Opera House in New York)
Not much happens in "Samson and Delilah" action-wise, until Samson pulls the temple down on the Philistines in the last 5 minutes of the opera. But what the Saint-Saens opera lacks in action, it makes up for in three hours worth of often, very beautiful, melodies.  I had already seen this colorful, but absurd- looking production (designed by Richard Hudson, who did the sets for "The Lion King,") and my reason for seeing it again was the fact that one of my favorite tenors was singing the role at the Met for the first time. Jose Cura, bodybuilder, former professional soccer star, and now world-class tenor, was born to sing this role. He looks the part, and sings gloriously. Unfortunately for New York opera-goers, this is only the second time that he's come to the Met in 7 years! The beautiful Denyce Graves, with a voice to match Cura's, was his Dalila. The two of them tore up the scenery with their voices. It's too bad that they couldn't have torn up the sets, literally. Gaza looked as though it was made out of giant Cheetos!
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Even though I love the music of Tchaikovsky, "Onegin" is not one of my favorite operas. Although it has some pretty music in it, it's really only a two aria, one big ballet, opera, and if the ballet isn't done in a spectacular fashion, then it really takes away from the enjoyment of the opera. (For instance, when I saw it at the Met many years ago, the beautiful Polonaise ("the ballet") was choreographed by George Balanchine and danced in a sumptuous ballroom on stage.) I didn't expect anything that lavish at the BLO, but I certainly expected more than a few people moving in slow motion across the same damn unit set that was used throughout the opera! Haven't clumps of birch trees (as a symbol of Mother Russia) been done to death? Once again, the BLO was trying to sneak an opera through on the cheap. The plot of the opera deals with unrequited love, jealousy, and a duel in the snow in Czarist Russia, all of which was dispatched well enough by a fine cast of singers who could act a little, and were young and good-looking enough to be believable in their roles. (That's a first for the BLO!) But opera is about singing, and the singing here wasn't half bad. In the role of Tatiana, soprano Maria Kanyova handled the better of the two big arias ("The Letter Aria") well enough, and she looked the part of a young Russian girl who marries well! (Where's Anna Netrebko when you need her?) Baritone Mel Ulrich sang the anti-hero Onegin in such a boring way that I had hoped that he would have lost the duel rather than won it. Bass John Cheek sang the role of Prince Gremin, Tatiana's sugar daddy...a role that cries out for someone like Dimitri Hvorostovsky. Well, this is the Boston Lyric Opera and we can cry all we like, we'll never get the likes of HIM with this company. So there it is. Sort of a half-assed production of a half-assed opera. There's a sense of balance in there somewhere!
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The last time that I heard a concert of singers from Lebanon, if ever, would have been when I was in Lebanon 40 years ago! So, don't ask me about the details of THAT concert. As for the present concert, I was a guest of my friend Omar, who is Lebanese, and an aficionado of contemporary Lebanese singing. (He's so much of a fan, that he flew to Vegas a month ago to hear this very same concert at the Paris Hotel!) The concert, in a large banquet hall, was preceded by a dinner of fairly decent catering-hall food (although we had to wait two hours for the food to be served!) So, by the time the singing and dancing started (at 10pm,) I was ready to snooze. However, as soon as the music began, I was wide awake, because this is NOT "music to snooze to." The two singers were young, good-looking and filled with an obvious love of the music that they were singing. Their enthusiasm was contagious, as were the beautiful rhythmic melodies, which required no translation. The songs were so tuneful and bouncy, that you could sing them five minutes after you heard them. I want a CD of their songs. All of the songs were sung in Arabic, an ugly language when spoken (like American English and German,) but softened to a pleasant sound when sung. All the gutturals seem to disappear. What struck me the most about the concert was not the excellent singers, but rather the huge audience. The large room was filled to the rafters with people of all ages, who had driven from as far away as New York, and New Hampshire just for the concert, and yet they still had enough energy to dance in the aisles through the entire concert. Although there were not very many handsome men in the room, there was no shortage of beautiful women. Their grace, good taste, charm, and, yes, sexiness was overpowering. Watching them dance was hypnotic. Their dancing was filled with a playful sexiness, but it was always charming and tasteful. Both men and women moved together like ballet dancers who had been dancing together for years. I was bowled over, and didn't know where to look first. I've been to other concert/dances of different ethnic groups, and what was lacking here was the negative vibes stemming from horny, greasy men leering at hot women in the clothing of whores. Everyone here was polite and respectful to one another...especially all of the young people. (The women were gorgeous, hot and beautifully dressed.) Even the bouncers were polite, and yet they kept the crowds moving from in front of the stage. At our table was a young couple whose origin was Baghdad in Iraq (he was born there, as were her parents.) We struck up a conversation with them (she was HOT!) and although their English was difficult to understand, their words of confidence and hope about the future of their country were heartbreaking. All in all, this was an eye-opening learning experience, backed up by some of the best music that I've heard in a long time. I apologize for the length of this review, but I was truly moved by the entire experience. 
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Back in the day, when it was common to expect quality entertainment on TV on any given night of the week, in the areas of comedy, music, and drama, one of the foremost hours of comedy was "The Carol Burnett Show." A major part of the reason for the great success of this hour-long variety show was the comedy of comedians Harvey Korman and Tim Conway. In brilliant skits with Carol Burnett and on their own, they created comedy that is considered to be classic examples of some of the funniest entertainment ever written and performed. I'm laughing right now, thinking of some of those skits (e.g., the parody of "Gone With The Wind," "the Dentist," etc.) But that was a long, long time ago, and these guys are no longer young men. More to the point, are they still funny in old age, and without Carol Burnett. The answer is YES! Tonight's packed-house audience was rolling in the aisles for an hour and a half. Joining the two men in this comedy review was a female impressionist named Louise DuArt who does everyone, including Carol Burnett. After a couple of hilarious skits, Korman and Conway asked the audience for requests, and there were so many requests screamed out that they were almost unintelligible. They did "the dentist." If you've never seen this, it's a comedy classic involving an inexperienced dentist who keeps injecting himself with his own novocaine needle. At the end of the evening, in one of the skits, Conway said the word "ass," and it occurred to me at that point, that that was the first "off-color" word spoken the entire evening. It was a night of laughs that brought back a comedy genre that no longer exists on TV, and it's a great loss. 
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I can't understand why this opera isn't performed more frequently than it is. It's filled with beautiful music (duets, solos, choruses, and dances,) a tragic fairy-tale story, an exotic setting (Sri Lanka,) and in the current production, designed by funky British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, it's the most colorful stage production in New York at present.
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I can understand why this opera isn't performed more frequently than it is. It has none of the memorable arias that one has come to expect of a Puccini opera, it has a silly story, and it's long, long, long! The only thing memorable about the current production is the clever, evocative "gold-mining-town-in-the-mountains" set.
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CONCERT REVIEW- "PINK MARTINI" with the BOSTON POPS (in their 120th Year!)
I've been waiting for 8 years to see this group in person, ever since I was introduced to their music through their first CD, by a friend. It's impossible to describe their fabulous sound, so let me quote their web-site..." Somewhere between a 1930s Cuban dance orchestra, a classical chamber music ensemble, a Brazilian marching street band, and Japanese film noir." Go out and buy one of their 2 CDs and you'll see how terrific they are. I promise that you won't be disappointed. They've played at the Cannes Film Festival, the opening of the Bellagio in Vegas, and the opening of the Frank Gehry- designed Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, as well as all over Europe, Asia, and the U.S. Now, they've finally come to Boston and the Boston Pops. What a wonderful concert this was....one of the best that I've ever heard...and I've heard them all. Pink Martini is a 12-piece band, with a female singer. It's based in Portland Oregon, and it was created by a Harvard-trained musician. The sound is very contemporary, melodic, and the kind of music that makes you want to get up and dance, or just sit back and listen. People WERE dancing in the aisles...in Symphony Hall!!! Because the Boston Pops can be overpowering, and they were to some degree last night, when the 2-hour concert was over, (the Pops played some light classics in the first hour, and "Pink Martini" took the stage for the second hour, ) I wanted Keith Lockhart and the Pops to leave the stage so that "Pink Martini" could play for another hour. They're THAT good! Go out and buy one of their two CDs and you'll see what I mean.
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When you're as powerful as Placido Domingo is in the opera world, you can have two of the world's greatest opera houses put on a new production of a rarely-performed opera, just because you want to do it. Both the Met and Covent Garden have indulged this great tenor, and the results are disastrous. First of all, the opera is not very good. Composer Franco Alfano, (famous for having completed "Turandot" when Puccini died before having finished it,) has written a dull score that sounds like movie "background music." It's all forgettable a minute after you've heard it, even the big duets (the balcony scene and Cyrano's death scene.) The sets are pretty, but generic and derivative. Domingo, and soprano Sondra Radvanovsky look great, and they sing their hearts out. But I kept thinking, wouldn't it be nice if they were singing "Il Trovatore" instead of this mess?
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OPERA REVIEW- "FAUST"(2005) (at the Met)
Finally, the Met has got it right with this opera! Instead of the surrealistic mess that they've been calling "Faust" for the past decade, the Met has mounted a beautiful, realistic production of Gounod's masterpiece, cast it with an all-star cast (Roberto Alagna, Rene Pape, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Jossie Perez, and Veronica Villarroel,) and brought Maestro James Levine back from Boston to conduct it. It's a glorious event...the big hit of the opera season. Even though this story of the aged philosopher, who trades his soul to the devil for a few days of youth and love, is supposed to take place in medieval Germany, everything about Gounod's music says "France, France, France!" So, in this production, the fabulous sets and costumes are French, and there are French flags flying everywhere in the big, spectacular crowd scenes. It works beautifully. But this is a singing opera, and the Met has pulled out all the stops to give us the perfect cast. Alagna, for once without his dominatrix of a wife, is singing alone and in perfect voice. Forget all of the other Mephistopheles that you've ever seen or heard. Pape IS the devil. He's terrifyingly naked in the frightening Church Scene, and debonair in top hat, cape and tails in other scenes. Hvorostovsky is Valentin and, although it's not a big role, he makes it a big role. If you've ever thought that "Faust" is boring and too long, see this production. It's got everything!
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OPERA REVIEW: "CAPRICCIO" (at the New York City Opera)
Although Richard Strauss is one of my favorite composers, his last opera, "Capriccio" is not one of my favorite operas. It lacks the soaring melodies of his "Der Rosenkavalier;" the intricate plots of "Die Frau Ohne Schatten;" and the violent drama of both his "Salome," and his "Elektra." Instead, Strauss chose to set to music, a philosophical debate about what is more important, the words or the music. Gathered in a small theater in the sumptuous villa of a wealthy Countess, are the characters who are necessary to put on a musical play: the composer, the poet, the actor, the actress, the dancers, the singers, and the director. For 3 hours, they debate the merits of "le parole o la musica." In the case of "Capriccio," neither the words nor the music are especially memorable, and in this particular production, it's the set designer who steals the show! What didn't help matters was the fact that the leading soprano, Pamela Armstrong, wasn't powerful enough to belt out the music written for her...especially what should have been the powerful closing aria. The only other time that I saw this opera was at the Met several years ago, when the Countess was brilliantly sung by the glamorous Kiri Te Kanawa. Hard shoes to fill.
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OPERA REVIEW: "ARIANE ET BARBE-BLEU" (at the New York City Opera)
A dreadful evening at the opera. The music was terrible. The singing was provincial. The sets and costumes were dark and dreary. The story was incomprehensible. The plot involved Ariane, the new wife of Duke Bluebeard, who comes to his castle, only to find that his five previous wives are still imprisoned there. I know how they felt!
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OPERA REVIEW: "THE MINES OF SULPHUR" (at the New York City Opera)
A bad time at the opera. In spite of a thrilling story (a Gothic murder mystery,) good acting by believable singing-actors, and an intricate atmospheric set,  the music was so bad that I lost interest after the first act. Three renegades, who have just murdered the owner of a mysterious castle, are visited by a troupe of traveling actors, who proceed to reenact the murder that just took place there. The surprise "shocker" of an ending, was predictable. I wish that I could have predicted that this opera was going to be so bad. I could have stayed home!
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OPERA REVIEW: "ROMEO ET JULIETTE" (at the Metropolitan Opera)
The Met has chosen to put together a spectacular new production of what is basically a dull opera. "Romet et Juliette" has only one showpiece soprano aria, and none of the beautiful duets, trios, quartets and choruses of Gounod's more popular other opera, "Faust." The best things about it are the incredible sets and costumes, (which look as though they were reproduced from the pages of The Notebooks of Leonardo de Vinci) and the French singing sensation, Natalie Dessay...the most beautiful and believable 14-year-old-looking Juliette that I've ever seen on an operatic stage. She's amazing! Next to her, tenor Ramon Vargas (who is pretty good himself,) looks like her father (fleeting thoughts of pedophilia came to mind as I watched them together!!!)
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If you love the children's classic book as much as I do, then you'll certainly love Rachel Portman's operatic version of the story. It's completely charming. Don't miss it!
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I've always loved the blues, and B .B. King is the King of the Blues. This man has been recording for as long as I've lived, and he's influenced everyone from The Beatles and Tina Turner, to Eric Clapton and Elton John. So, how could I say "no" when a friend invited me to this celebration at Symphony Hall, just across the street from where I live. Needless to say, the concert was magnificent, with King playing his Gibson guitar ("Lucille") for over an hour, joined by his friends James Montgomery (James Montgomery Blues Band,) and Ernie Williams, who were even better than he was! King played, and sang, many of his old hits, including my two favorites, "You Don't Know Me," and "The Thrill is Gone." Our seats were close enough to be able to watch his fingers strum that guitar; what a sight! For the first few minutes of his set, you were conscious that you were watching an old man, part of the history of Rock and Roll (he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame many years ago,) but after a short while his energy took over, and he became a force of pure music...ageless. If only this were so, and he could be around for another 80 years!
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With the possible exception of "Eugene Onegin," I really don't like Russian opera. For me, all the beautiful Russian music is in its ballets, but there, the "arias, duets, trios,etc." are all danced rather than sung, and I really don't enjoy dance. In Russian opera, where everything is sung, there's never anything worthwhile being sung! The music is big, broad, even spectacular, but easily forgotten. Such is the case with Tchaikovsky's "Mazeppa." The only interesting piece of music is the Prelude to Act III, which is filled with references to the composers own "1812 Overture." All of the stars of this production are stars of the Kirov Opera, back in St. Petersburg, and its conductor, Valery Gergiev, is the director of that company. The story, well known to any schoolchild in Russia or Ukraine, concerns the real-life historic general, Mazeppa, who fell in love with a girl young enough to be his grand-daughter, with tragic consequences. The singers were all excellent, and the production was designed by George Tsypin. Although stylized, it was spectacular, with incredible lighting effects. This is definitely not something that I would want to see again, although I'm glad that I saw it once.
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The last time that I saw this wonderful Donizetti masterpiece, was when it was mounted as a new production for Beverly Sills as she was about to retire from singing. It was a glorious valentine to one of the greatest singers who ever lived. This new production was created to highlight the exceptional voices, the great acting ability, and the model-like looks of opera's two hottest young stars, Anna Netrebko (Norina) and Juan Diego Florez (Ernesto.) It was a different take on the opera, than the more sophisticated, elegant Sills production. This one was youthful, exuberant, funny, and the crazy comings and goings made more sense, when they were being done by "kids." The singing was magnificent. Both of the stars have light voices, but what they can do with them is amazing. Much of the time, they were singing this difficult music while running and climbing all over the sets...which, incidentally, were quite beautiful. The other two stars of the evening were Mariusz Kwiecien (Dr. Malatesta) and Simone Alaimo (Don Pasquale.) The conductor was Maurizio Benini, standing in for an indisposed James Levine. All in all a glorious, fun night in the opera house. At the prices the Met charges, all I can say is thank God the two stars were not sick!
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OPERA REVIEW: "LA TRAVIATA" (Boston Lyric Opera)

It's not that this production was bad; it's just that it wasn't very good. On the plus side, the soprano and the baritone sang well, and the conductor kept everything together. In addition, the sets, although extremely minimalist, were colorful and somewhat interesting (although I've never seen the Act II country-house scene set in the dead of Winter!) On the minus side, the acting, in general was amateurish, and the tenor was hopeless...too fat for his costumes, with a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time voice. His timing was so bad in the "Brindisi," that it was a horserace between him and the conductor. I'm not sure who lost; I think that we, the audience, did. The director (if there was one,) must have instructed the singers to face the audience when they had to sing, (in a style that went out of fashion decades ago,) and never mind who they were singing to, or with. In addition, whenever they felt any kind of emotion...they just sat down. I've never seen singers sit so much since the days when Pavarotti was immobile on stage, at the end of his career! I left before the beginning of the last act. I didn't need to see the soprano die; it would have been redundant!
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OPERA REVIEW: "TOSCA" (at the Met)

I've seen the magnificent Franco Zeffirelli production of "Tosca" at the Met several times...the one in which he recreates, almost literally, on the huge stage, the Roman settings for the story's three acts: the spectacular cathedral in Act 1, the ornate apartments of the Farnese Palace in Act 2, and the rooftop of the Castel Sant' Angelo in Act 3. So why see it again? In two words...Deborah Voigt. The once hefty blonde with the overwhelming voice, is now the "almost-two-hundred-pounds-lighter" slim blonde with the still overwhelming voice! Casting Voigt as the glamorous Roman singer Floria Tosca was a match made in heaven...who could resist? Not me. She was magnificent. She became Tosca, and when she was on stage (which was most of the time,) not even the overpowering sets could distract you away from her. Her voice soars over the orchestra, the chorus, the sets, the audience, and it would soar right out the back doors onto Broadway , if those doors weren't closed! The woman is glorious, and I'm happy to say that she was discovered up here in Boston, singing at our own Boston Lyric Opera. Run to see this one, if you can still get tickets.
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CONCERT REVIEW: "PINK MARTINI" at the Berklee Performance Center, Boston

All too infrequently, my favorite band of performers comes to town. Last night was one of those nights. During the afternoon, I tried to explain to some young friends who had never heard of "Pink Martini," what their sound was about. I must have failed, because one of them said that "it sounds like elevator music." That couldn't be further from the truth. At the concert, the cousin of the lead singer said, "call them a big band, that plays multi-cultural jazz." Well, that's closer. What they are is a group of a dozen accomplished musicians (some of whom are from Oregon, who met at Harvard,) led by a charismatic young woman, China Forbes. They start their concert with a rousing rendition of Ravel's "Bolero," in a dance-band arrangement, and then proceed to perform almost 3 hours worth of beautiful music...all with a beat that keeps you from sitting still. You want to get up and dance, or at least jump around and wave and clap your hands. I often feel like Don Quixote searching through the world of today's music, for something with MELODY. Here's melody with a capital "M." China Forbes sings bouncy, melodic, songs, in French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Japanese, and Arabic. Some of them come from old films ("Anna," "Never on Sunday," "The Man who Knew Too Much,") and some of them are just old top-10 songs from decades ago ("Que Sera, Sera.) In many of them, the band sounds like a house-band at a Cuban nightclub in the 1950's. In any case, they're unique and magnificent. Buy one of their two CDs and you'll see what I mean.
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Randy Newman is one of my favorite entertainers. He's 63,  fat, gray-haired, wears glasses, and can hold an audience in the palm of his hand like few other performers I know. A singer-songwriter (he's composed the scores for films ranging from "Ragtime," and  "The Natural," to the animated films "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life," and "Monsters, Inc.") he is a social satirist with one of the sharpest biting wits in music today. This true legend, could include among his fans, people like Elton John, The Beatles, Paul Simon, and Bruce Springsteen. If you're not familiar with his froggy voice and his melodic piano-playing, pick up one of his CDs like "Sail Away," and I guarantee, you'll be hooked. At last nights concert, he sang some of my old favorites like "Let's Drop the Big One," "The Great Nations of Europe," "You've Got a Friend in Me," and "Short People." He's won Oscars and Grammys and countless other awards and honors, but he's at his best just sitting at a piano on a bare stage, being sarcastic and beautifully hummable. I could listen to the man for hours.
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OPERA REVIEW: "COSI FAN TUTTE" (at the New York City Opera)
Even if you're not a big fan of Mozart, or of opera in general, you would probably enjoy this glorious new production because of its melodic score, the beautiful sets and costumes, and the young, talented performers who so realistically sing, and act, the parts of these unfaithful lovers....or are they unfaithful? The story is about two Neapolitan sisters and their lovers, who decide to test the love of the women, by disguising themselves as foreign soldiers, and trying to see if the women will be unfaithful. It's a believable story, but even if it weren't, the music is so wonderful, that it wouldn't matter if the singers were reading from the telephone book. The singers were all new to me, but I look forward to hearing all of them again in other roles.  The conductor was the 80-year-old Julius Rudel. My God, he's been around forever. A perfect new production for the City Opera, and a wonderful way for us to start off the new opera season at Lincoln Center.
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OPERA REVIEW: "L'ELISIR D'AMORE" (at the New York City Opera)

Director Sir Jonathan Miller has hit a bulls-eye with this charming new production. He has chosen to change the time and place of this Donizetti comic masterpiece, from the 19th Century Italian countryside, to an American diner in the Texas of the 1950's, and the whole thing works beautifully. The stage picture looks like an Edward Hopper painting, and it  comes complete with a Ford Fairlane convertible! Of course the music is magical, and it's sung by a cast of brilliant young singer/actors, who actually make you believe the crazy story. This is one to take the whole family to, even the one who can't spell opera.
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When the new General Manager of the MET, Peter Gelb, came on board, one of the things that he promised to do was to bring in more directors from Hollywood and Broadway, in order to breathe new life into the new productions each year. He's also been innovative in making young people aware of opera, and the MET, by having the opening night opera telecast live, on huge screens in Lincoln Center Plaza and in Times Square. Both were well attended by young people. The first of the new productions under his management, was this production of Puccini's glorious "Madama Butterfly." The director is Hollywood's Anthony Minghella ("The Talented Mr. Ripley," "The English Patient," etc.) The production being replaced by this new one, had realistic sets and costumes, with a full-size Japanese house and cherry trees, overlooking the harbor at Nagasaki. This one is presented as a Japanese play, completely stylized...no house, no gardens...but it is incredibly beautiful nevertheless. As far as the costumes go, it's a Japanese fashion show; simply breathtaking. But opera is about music and singing, not about sets and costumes. Here the production fell a bit short. The Cio-Cio-San (Madame Butterfly) was Cristina Gallardo-Domas, who certainly looked the part of a teenage Japanese girl, but I could think of lots of sopranos who could have sung it better. The tenor (Marcello Giordani,) playing her cruel American husband, and the baritone (Dwayne Croft) as the American Consul were perfect. The conductor was James Levine. In the long run, it really doesn't matter whether or not the critics like this "Butterfly" or not, it's become the hottest ticket in town. Just TRY to get in to see it! IT'S EASILY THE BEST SHOW THAT I'VE SEEN IN A THEATER THIS SEASON. IF I COULD HAVE GIVEN IT 6 STARS, I WOULD HAVE!!!
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If you saw the Letterman show last Wednesday, you saw the Met stars, the Met chorus, and the Met orchestra, perform the last scene of Act I of this "Barber of Seville" in its entirety. On the Letterman Show!!! This is another perfect example of how the new General Manager is trying to attract young people to the Met. (That, and lowering the lowest price tickets to $15.) This new production of "The Barber of Seville" hits its mark with every arrow. It's absolutely perfect! Visually, it's stunning, with stylized sets evoking the sun (and orange trees) of Seville. Vocally, it couldn't be better. With the finest Rossini tenor in the world, Juan Diego Florez (who looks like a handsome movie star,) Diana Damrau (a perfect Rosina...and hot,) the wonderful Peter Mattei (as Figaro,) and Samuel Ramey (a bit over-the-hill, but still good as Don Basilio,) you've got a cast that directors can only dream about. Speaking of directors, Broadway's Bartlett Sher ("The Light in the Piazza") has been brought in to direct this new production. If you're lucky enough to get a ticket, and this is your first opera, you'll be hooked. It's THAT good.
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OPERA (MOVIE?) REVIEW: "I PURITANI" (Live telecast from the Met)

I'm not sure how to review this live telecast from the Metropolitan Opera House. Do I review the telecast, which was shown on one of our local movie screens in High Definition, or do I review the actual opera performance, starring the glorious Anna Netrebko? I'll see if I can do both. As part of the Met's new General Manager Peter Gelb's campaign to make opera more accessible to "the masses," 6 of this season's performances are being telecast LIVE to hundreds of High Definition movie screens, in theaters in America, Canada and Japan. We attended the performance yesterday of Bellini's "I Puritani," starring the beautiful Russian soprano, Anna Netrebko ("Audrey Hepburn with a voice,") and tenor Eric Cutler, (who looked and sounded like a young Placido Domingo.) The telecast was excellent. Clear HD picture on a big screen. You could come and go at will, although no one left during the performance, only during the intermissions. The theater audience applauded along with the opera house audience. We brought popcorn and iced coffee into the theater, and dressed in sweats!!! The intermissions were the best part of the afternoon. Before the opera, Beverly Sills chatted with  opera-broadcast moderator Margaret Junthwait; "Bev" was hilarious. These two could become a new comedy act. During the first intermission, soprano Renee Fleming interviewed Anna Netrebko in her dressing room; two charming, beautiful, and talented sopranos just chatting. She also interviewed her again AFTER the Mad Scene.  During the second intermission, Sills introduced scenes of some of opera's historic mad scenes. Lots of camera views live backstage, of stars leaving the huge stage, after they sang the act (Netrebko clowned it up a lot...very funny,) stage crews taking down and putting up sets. All very "inside." The whole performance started with a 5 minute introduction by Peter Gelb. You really felt part of something special. The opera itself was GLORIOUSLY sung, especially by Netrebko and Cutler, who looked and sounded magnificent. The production was a 30-year-old production, with sets, costumes, and direction that looked a bit worn and tired. We're going again next week to see the World Premiere of Tan Dun's "The First Emperor," with Placido Domingo. Why not check to see if these live telecasts are being shown in one of YOUR neighborhood theaters?
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OPERA REVIEW: "THE FIRST EMPEROR" (Live Telecast from the Met)

Our second live telecast performance from the Met, was the opera house's sold out hit this season, "The First Emperor." This multi-million-dollar production brings the best of China's movie industry into the opera world, to give life to Chinese composer Tan Dun's most ambitious work. The opera is directed by the movie world's  Zhang Yimou ("House of Flying Daggers," "Hero,"etc.) with sets and costumes by Fan Yue and Emi Wada ( "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.") I generally stay away from contemporary music, because of its lack of melody, but this was too big an event to miss. After all, aside from the major "Chinese connection, " Placido Domingo was playing the lead role of Emperor Qin, China's first emperor...the one who built the Great Wall and created that army of terra cotta soldiers to guard his tomb. Surprisingly, for this tenor who has sung dozens of roles, old and new, this was the first role written for him for a World Premiere at the Met. So, how was it? Well, it looks big and colorful. But, how does it sound? To my Western ear, the music was ugly, dissonant and offensive. Not a note worth listening to a second time. Taking away the music, what's left? A pageant, a spectacle, like the Radio City Christmas Show without the Rockettes! In fact, the Met already has quite a few spectacular productions like "Turandot," "La Boheme," and "Aida," that are every bit as spectacular as "The First Emperor," and THEY have glorious music from beginning to end. Today's opera was all style and no substance. I'm certainly glad that I didn't spend $350 to see it at the Met. Now that would have been a tragedy of operatic proportions!
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Richard Strauss is one of my favorite composers, and I've seen and love, just about all of his operas, especially "Der Rosenkavalier, "Salome," and "Die Frau Ohne Schatten." This opera about Helen of Troy hasn't been done at the Met in 80 years, and it was only dragged out of mothballs, because Deborah Voigt wanted to sing the role, and nowadays, what Miss Voigt wants, she gets. Well, it's lucky for us, the opera-going audience, because this opera is magnificent, especially in this new magical production mounted by the Met. This is a David Fielding production (he directed it and created the unbelievable sets and costumes,) and based on this production alone, I would call the man a genius. The visual images were stunning, matched beautifully by the incredible singing of the two female leads, Deborah Voigt and Diana Damrau. These women blew the walls out of this building, and that's not easy to do , when you're singing over a 100-piece Straussian orchestra in the pit! Forget about the story, it's unimportant. The reason to see this production is to hear Voigt and Damrau singing over the waves of beautiful music coming out of the pit, and to see the Met stage come alive with imagery not seen in a long time, if ever. I can't recommend this production highly enough.
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There are very few events that are more elegant and lavish, than a "Gala" at the Metropolitan Opera House. This one was to celebrate the Met's 40th year at Lincoln Center. For this evening, the management chose to give us three fully-staged acts of three separate operas, starring the two "rock stars" of the current opera world...the beautiful, sexy Anna Netrebko, and the handsome, charismatic Rolando Villazon. The three acts were: Act I of "La Boheme," the Sant Sulpice act of "Manon," and the second act of "L'Elisir D'Amore." They were perfect choices, showing off the voices of these hot young singers at their best, in three of the Met's most colorful productions. Joining them in smaller roles were Mariusz Kwiecien, Samuel Ramey, and Paul Plishka. What a magnificent night it was at the Met...glorious singing on stage, and beautiful people in gowns and tuxedoes in the audience. Bravo!
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This performance of this rarely seen Rossini opera was disappointing on so many counts. Where do I begin? The opera is rarely performed, because it requires 7 stars with excellent voices to sing the difficult music. In this performance, only 3 of the 7 were singing beautifully. The rest were phoning it in, especially the soprano (who I had heard before, doing a fine job in another Rossini opera.) She was awful, and could barely be heard past the 10th row of the orchestra. Then there were the sets and costumes, some of the ugliest that I've ever seen on this stage. In this story about nature, instead of the highlands of Scotland, the sets looked like dirty piled-up Lego blocks! The costumes (mostly kilts,) were dark, and updated to a vague 19th Century (for no reason whatsoever.) The story, based on Sir Walter Scott's narrative poem, "The Lady of the Lake" (where the hell was the lake in this production?) was so absurd, that it might have been more successful had it been played for comedy. In fact, the audience laughed at times, when the story was meant to be tragic! Much of this was the fault of the incompetent director, Chas Rader-Shieber (is that a real name?) The other night, I walked out of a college production of "Guys and Dolls" which was better directed than this mess. If you want to hear Rossini this season, walk across the Plaza to the Met to see their incomparable production of his "Barber of Seville." That's a smash hit. This one's a loser!
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When this glorious production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta finishes its run at Lincoln Center, it should pack up its wildly colorful sets and costumes, its perfect cast, and head down Broadway a few blocks, to the Theater District, where it could run forever. It would be a smash hit there, as it was here. It's a perfect family show for everyone. Recruiting two Tony-award winning leading men from Broadway, Marc Kudisch ("A Little Night Music," "The Apple Tree," "Chitty,Chitty,Bang,Bang," etc.) and Mark Jacoby ("The Phantom of the Opera," "Ragtime," etc.) to play The Pirate King and The Major General, respectively, was a brilliant idea. They're hilarious, they look great, they can act, and they sing well enough (on this opera stage, where everyone is amplified for this production only.) The comedy begins even before the story starts. Lillian Groag, a genius of a director from Argentina, has created a slapstick little skit to be played out on stage, while the overture is playing. It has the audience rolling in the aisles, and it sets the comic tone for this over-the-top production. In this version, everything is satirized, from sex to opera, and the singing-actors are brilliant at poking fun of everything, while singing and dancing as well as anyone in any Broadway show down the street. Of course, the familiar Gilbert and Sullivan score is melodic, clever, funny , and has withstood the test of time beautifully. This is musical comedy gold, and it shouldn't be squandered. Come on producers, put this show on Broadway!
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It's the largest production ever to be mounted on the Met's vast stage. Yes, even larger than Zeffirelli's spectacular productions of "La Boheme," "Turandot," and "Tosca"...those operas by Puccini, that have been bringing tourists to the Met just to SEE them. "Il Trittico"("The Triptych") is Puccini's collection of three short operas, given here all on the same evening, as they were thirty years ago when I last saw them at the Met, with Teresa Stratas playing all three of the operas heroines. It's difficult to round up a starry cast for ONE opera, let alone THREE, but the Met has done it here in this festival casting, conducted by James Levine. In "Il Tabarro" ("The Cloak,") the dark and brooding love triangle that ends in murder on the banks of the Seine, Maria Guleghina and Salvatore Licitra sing the ill-fated leads. The set for this opera...a large barge docked under a bridge on an embankment of the Seine...has got to be seen to be believed! In the tragically sad "Suor Angelica" ("Sister Angelica,") a nun kills herself because of the death of her illegitimate child. Barbara Frittoli is brilliant as the nun, and Stephanie Blythe is equally brilliant as her cruel, aristocratic aunt. Their big scene together is a tour-de-force for both stars. Even if you never heard of the third opera, "Gianni Schicchi," you will know the famous aria "O Mio Babbino Cara." Find it and listen to it. I'll bet you know it! This opera features an ensemble cast of some of the Met's best singing actors, including Stephanie Blythe once again. It's the age-old story of greedy relatives fighting over the will of a dead relative. It's hilarious! The set for this one is the bedroom of a Florentine villa, which opens up to a view of all of Florence. Magnificent. With these voices, and these sets, it looks as though the Met has another smash hit on its hands. This one should be bringing those tourists in for decades to come. Let's hope that they enjoy the music as much as they enjoy the sets!
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I never really cared for this 18th Century opera by Gluck, for a few reasons. I don't like music of the Baroque period, and in my opinion, this is a one-aria opera...the aria being "Che Faro." This new production, directed by choreographer Mark Morris, goes out of its way to eliminate the ancient trappings, and uses a modern-day look, and a countertenor, David Daniels, in the role of Orfeo, taking over the role planned for Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who died just before rehearsals began. (In Gluck's time, this role and many others like it, were written for, and sung by castrati, those Italian men who gave up "a great deal" for their art. If you don't know what I mean, look up the word "castrati." When the castrati died out, these roles were then sung by women, who had virtually the same voice.) If you're familiar with the legend of Orpheus in the Underworld, you know that it's the story of a man who goes to hell to bring back his wife. Unfortunately, he makes a big mistake on the way back! Even though I just can't wrap my head around the countertenor voice (it sounds too fake to my ear,) all three leads...David Daniels, Heidi Grant Murphy, and Maija Kovalevska...were wonderful. The sets...stylized ceiling-high walls and descending staircases...owe a great deal to the spectacular lighting effects. The conductor was James Levine. This exciting new production has changed my mind. It's much more than a one-aria opera, and in this production, it's absolutely spellbinding. But I still can't get used to the countertenor voice!!!
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OPERA REVIEW: "LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR" (at the Metropolitan Opera in New York)
When all of the fine arts...music, art, literature and drama...come together gloriously, on one stage, on one night, it's a magical, unforgettable experience. That happened Friday night. The opening night opera this season was a new production of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," based on Sir Walter Scott's gothic murder tale, The Bride of Lammermoor. Although I liked the realistic approach taken in the old production, this new one, directed by the renowned theater director, Mary Zimmerman, is absolutely brilliant. The imposing sets are atmospheric and foreboding, and you can certainly feel the moors of Scotland and a sense of impending doom from the opening curtain. But the reason for doing this new production, was as a vehicle for the brilliant French coloratura, Natalie Dessay, who was an actress before she was a singer, and it shows. She sings like an angel, and acts up a storm, especially in the treacherous Mad Scene...where Lucia has just murdered her husband in their marriage bed. Both Zimmerman the director, and Dessay the singer, have decided that Lucia is mad from the minute the opening curtain goes up, and Dessay plays it that way, perfectly. Dessay is surrounded buy an all-star cast, with Marcello Giordani as Lucia's lover, Edgardo; Mariusz Kwiecien as her scheming brother Enrico; and John Relyea as the best Raimondo, the family minister, that I've ever heard.  I love just about every note of this melodic opera, and this incredible cast made it sound as though we were hearing it for the first time. This is the best acted "Lucia" that I've ever seen, and it's one that you should rush to see, even if you hate opera. It's already the hottest ticket in town. Bravo!
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OPERA REVIEW: "ROMEO ET JULIETTE" (at the Metropolitan Opera in New York)
I had already seen this production at the Met, a couple of seasons back,  when it was a new production. (Check out my review of that production...www.NicksReviews.com.) The only reason that I went to see it again this season, is because Anna Netrebko, one of my favorite sopranos, was now singing the role of Juliette. (In the original production, it was sung by Natalie Dessay, this season's "Lucia.") Anna Netrebko is a phenomenon, because, not only does she have the voice of an angel, but she's hot! Really guys. (Check her out on her website at www.annanetrebko.com and then click on Photo Gallery.) Needless to say, she was a perfect Juliette, all girlish and innocent, and looking not a day over 14. Her Romeo was a replacement for an ailing tenor, and to our surprise the replacement was Marcello Giordani, who we had seen the night before as Edgardo in "Lucia." Doesn't this man ever rest??? All of the singers were excellent, but either I was tired or this opera was, because I didn't enjoy it as much as I did a few years ago. The conductor was Placido Domingo, who is still a better tenor than he is a conductor, but he did a fine job. The sets and costumes of what was a new production a couple of years ago, are opulent and surrealistic, in a very Renaissance Italy kind of way. Lots of inlaid woods, and soaring skies that look like something out of the notebooks of DaVinci or Galileo. A perfect setting for two of the Met's best-looking, and best-sounding stars.
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I've seen these most famous operatic "twins" so many times, it's hard to pick out the definitive version. Certainly the spectacular Franco Zeffirelli production at The Met still ranks at the top of the list, even though it's decades old. The New York City Opera team, specifically, director Stephen Lawless and set & costume designer Ashley Martin-Davis has come up with another take on these very realistic operas. They've decided to do these verismo masterpieces in the style of the Italian cinema of the 1940's and '50's...the Golden Years of Rosselini, Visconti, Fellini and Bertolucci.  If you're not familiar with the plots, "Cavalleria Rusticana" ("Rustic Chivalry,") deals with love, jealousy, an unwanted pregnancy, and murder, in Sicily on Easter Sunday. "I Pagliacci" ("The Clowns") deals with love, jealousy, a troupe of traveling players, and murder, in Calabria on the Feast of the Assumption. All of this to some of the most beautiful music ever written. Ah, so Italian!  But something went very wrong with this production. The "Cavalleria" would have been perfect, had it not been for the fact that the the two male leads were very weak. However, the excellent new young soprano, who was making her debut, Irina Rindzumer, almost made up for her weak supporting men. Keep your eye on her. She's going places. It'll probably just be a short trip, across the Plaza to the Met! The "Pagliacci" was a disaster from beginning to end. Everything about it was bad...bad singers, bad actors, bad sets, bad costumes, bad wigs!
4-Stars for "Cavalleria"
0-Stars for "Pagliacci"

When I told my friends that I wanted to see a "WITCH" for Halloween, they thought that I said "BITCH," so they bought us all tickets to see Joan Rivers at the Berklee Performance Center. Now, just in case you don't know it, I HATE Joan Rivers and her equally horrible daughter. They are ugly, vain, mean-spirited bitches. However, as opposed to those other bitches/witches, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan, Joan Rivers does have a talent. She is smart, and can make you laugh, if you're into that Don Rickles kind of sniper humor...and she DID make us laugh all night! No one is spared from her verbal barbs. She would attack Jesus if she could find something funny to say about him. Opening for her, was some flamboyantly gay guy with a puppet! But once Rivers came on, she delivered a non-stop attack on everyone and everything. How can you not like someone who has so much "hate" in her? Especially when she hates all of the things that WE hate??? She made us laugh OUT LOUD for an hour and a half. Her humor is politically INCORRECT, and I love that about her. Her general attacks are aimed at old people, handicapped people, Jews, lesbians, rich people, etc. Her specific attacks are aimed at EVERYONE, from Hilary Clinton, Madonna, Lindsay Lohan and her daughter Melissa, to Mother Teresa and Helen Keller. She even had some hilarious things to say about 9/11!!!!! What I really loved about her, is the fact that so much of her humor is self-deprecating. She refers to herself as "that 185-year-old Jewish bitch." OK, Joan, I'm sorry. I don't hate you anymore. I just hate the character that you "portray," when you're interviewing people on the red carpet. Stick to stand-up comedy. You're a genius at insulting people.
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In the operatic world, two equally charming operas are based on the fairy tale "Cinderella." One is the Italian bel canto opera "Cenerentola" by Rossini, with its treacherously difficult music for tenor and soprano, and the other is the less-famous, French opera, "Cendrillon" by Jules Massenet.  Ah, leave it to the French to try to improve on what is already perfect! Massenet and his librettist Henri Cain, have taken the charming, youthful, and energetic French fairy tale, Cinderella, as told by the collector Perrault, and added enough irrelevant, melodramatic elements to render it as depressing as "Pelleas and Melisande," and as heavy as Wagner! Luckily, this  outrageous and colorful production, which updates the story to a pop-art setting in the 1950's, is so tacky, glitzy, and campy, as to almost restore the comic and fantastical balance. Almost. The music, such as it is, is sung beautifully by the two leads, French soprano Cassandre Berthon, in her City Opera debut, as Cinderella, and Frederic Antoun, also making his debut, as her Prince Charming. They're young, they're good-looking, and they sing up a storm, in this production, which could easily have become a holiday tradition in this opera house, much like "Hansel and Gretel" and "The Magic Flute" at the Met, and "The Nutcracker" right here at the State Theatre....had it not been so DAMN boring and depressing! Stick to the Rossini, Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Disney versions of "Cinderella." This one's a downer.  
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OPERA REVIEW: "VANESSA" (at the New York City Opera)
When this "new" opera had its premiere at the old Metropolitan Opera house, it was hailed as the quintessential American opera, up there with Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess." It received the Pulitzer Prize, and composer Samuel Barber was  seen as the worthy successor to Strauss and Puccini. It made a star of its leading lady, Eleanor Steber, who stepped in for Maria Callas, who didn't think that the part suited her, and she declined to play it. Then, after this successful season at the Met, it disappeared from sight! With a cult following that refused to give up on this beautiful opera, it has surfaced this season, in a lavish new production shared with the Dallas Opera Company, and starring the exciting Lauren Flanigan as Vanessa. Like Dickens' Miss Havisham, Vanessa lives a lonely and shuttered existence with her mother and her niece, waiting for her long-lost lover to return. When a man does return, she clings to him seeing a chance to reclaim the past...even though the man is not her lover, but rather his son! The Oedipal question arises, is it also HER son? The lush score is old-fashioned, in the best sense of the word, in that it's melodic and lyrical, and not like most of the atonal garbage written for the operatic stage in the latter half of the 20th Century. You'll actually remember some of the haunting melodies after you leave the opera house, especially the beautiful quintet that is the dramatic finale of the opera. An interesting piece of trivia about this production, is that the legendary Metropolitan mezzo Rosalind Elias, who sang the role of Erika, the niece in the Metropolitan premiere 50 years ago, sings the role of the mother in this production. She's still got a damn good voice. Anyway, it's a wonderful production of a great opera, and I hope that New York doesn't have to wait another 50 years to see it again.
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During this holiday season, when everything is so arrogantly and stupidly "politically correct," and people are afraid to even say the word "Christmas," it's so refreshing to attend a concert devoted entirely to the songs, stories, poems, and even segments of an opera, about Christmas. The prestigious Boston Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Keith Lockhart, along with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, filled Symphony Hall with the music of Christmas, beginning with "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and ending with "White Christmas." In between, there was a reading from one of the Gospels about the birth of Jesus, excerpts from Gian Carlo Menotti's Christmas opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors," a reading of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" ("A Visit From St. Nicholas,") and a Christmas sing-along. The highlight of the night was a special arrangement of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," sung by the Tanglewood Chorus, using music from everything from "Swan Lake" to "Oklahoma!" It was great fun. Thank God for conservative Boston. Christmas still survives here!!!
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OPERA REVIEW: "HANSEL AND GRETEL" (Live in High Definition from The Met)
I don't know why people were taken by surprise by the incredible success of these High Definition broadcasts of operas live from the Met, into theaters all around the world. Who wouldn't want to pay a mere $20 to see a live opera from the Met, beamed directly to their neighborhood movie theater? The one that we saw today was Engelbert Humperdinck's Wagnerian-like "Hansel and Gretel," the most successful fairy-tale opera ever created. I'm a purist when it comes to my fairy tales, but in this production, which takes the idea of food as its dramatic focus, each act is set in a different kind of kitchen. Surprisingly, it works. It works largely because of the fantastic singing and acting abilities of the three leads...Christine Schafer as Gretel, Alice Coote as a very believable Hansel, and Philip Langridge, in a huge fat suit, as The Witch. I agree with the critic who said that "the fat suit made him look like a combination of Julia Child and Mrs. Lovett (from Sweeney Todd.") Although I missed the huge gingerbread house of the Met's old production, this one has a different kind of impact...one that I'm sure that all of the modern-day, weird children watching, will love! However, it's such a ghoulish and frightening production, that I'm sure that those very-same children will have nightmares for a month! I can't end this review without mentioning the reason for going to any opera...the music. Humperdinck wrote a huge, lavish score that was obviously influenced by Wagner. It may not be what you expect when you go to an opera based on a fairy tale, but it's spectacularly beautiful and unforgettable. We loved it.
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Bill Cosby has been rejected by some in the African-American community for admonishing them for the terrible job that they've done in raising their children...who often go on to "careers" in crime. For every black who rejects Cosby, there are hundreds more, in both the black and white communities, who praise him for saying in public, what everyone else is thinking. He is a role-model, and always has been, for both blacks and whites. He has earned the right to be angry, and to preach publicly if necessary. In any case, there was no preaching at this one-man show. The man is still one of the funniest men in show business, and along with performers like Chris Rock (who has also spoken out very forcefully against the criminalizing of black youths,) can cross racial lines, and make everyone in the audience howl with laughter. He's come a long way since his days as Dr. Huxtable on TV, when he and Felicia Rashad set the standards for decent family life, for families of all races. His comedy is very much "of  today" and not a throw-back to his TV days. He covers topics such as: all aspects of "the battle of the sexes," from Adam and Eve to Mr. and Mrs. Cosby; colonoscopies; an hilarious visit to the dentist, involving trying to speak while anesthetized, etc. Everything he says is funny, but told with such ease and professionalism, that he appears to be winging it for 2 hours and 15 minutes. The man is ageless (at age 70,) and probably could have gone on for another 2 hours. I don't think that we would have minded at all!
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OPERA REVIEW: "PETER GRIMES" (Live in High Definition from the Met)
I had never seen the opera Peter Grimes before, nor had I ever heard any of its music, so I decided that I wouldn't see it in the opera house for the first time, but rather on one of these High Definition live telecasts at my neighborhood theater. At least if I hated it (as I usually do any operas written in my lifetime,) I wouldn't be out a fortune for the ticket! So, after my morning workout at the gym, I walked over to the theater to meet my friend Priscilla, for an afternoon of opera. "Peter Grimes" is the story of a social outcast, a possibly insane fisherman in a Victorian village, called The Borough, in 1830's England. His young apprentice boys keep dying, and the gossiping villagers blame him. The music, written by Benjamin Britten, is not the soaring melodies of Verdi, or the sweeping sentimentality of Puccini, but rather a beautiful, subtle music that paints pictures of the sea, and draws you in to the drama of the tragedy unfolding. The difficult lead role was sung by Anthony Dean Griffey, in such a brilliant performance, that he might have to sing it forever. The rest of the cast, including Patricia Racette, and the Met's chorus at its best, were as good as Griffey. The only sour note was the hideous set, a giant wooden wall, filled with windows and doors (the village,) that stretched to the top of the stage, pushing all of the action to the front ten feet of the Met's cavernous stage, leaving the rest of this giant stage unused and wasted. The direction, by Broadway's John Doyle ("Company" and "Sweeney Todd,) was perfect. I loved this opera, and today's performance.

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OPERA REVIEW: "CANDIDE" at the New York City Opera
I love this musical masterpiece by Leonard Bernstein, and I must have seen it at least a half-dozen times, in various guises, and in various places, from Broadway theaters to opera houses. When it was originally produced on Broadway, it was mounted in such a lavish, spectacular production that it would be prohibitive to duplicate it today, except possibly in Las Vegas, or in one of the Arab Emirates. Now, there's a thought! Needless to say, I loved that original production. Since then, it's been scaled down in story and setting, but the glorious music has always remained intact. This version has been making the rounds ever since Hal Prince directed it on Broadway quite a few years ago. It sets the Voltaire story in sort of a traveling circus, and it used to work.  Now, unfortunately, the story and the translation have been dumbed-down even more than usual to the point of silly camp. The comedy has always been broad and satirical, befitting a story by the great Voltaire, but it was always clever and intelligently witty. Now, it's just stupid. But it's the music and the singers that must take center stage, and the evening's enjoyment rests on how good they are. In this production, the music has been "re-thought" and transposed to other than the original settings for which it was intended, and the singers are not very good, and I believe that they were miked, which is sacrilegious in an opera house. The singers were brought in from Broadway and TV, and they're just not up to what one expects in an opera house. All in all, a very disappointing production of a masterpiece. You might enjoy it if you've never seen it before, but I would recommend buying the original cast CD from the first Broadway production (starring a very young, very slim, Barbara Cook!)
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This telecast from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, celebrated Placido Domingo's 40 years of singing opera, in what was once a no-man's land for opera! Forty years ago, a young tenor from Spain, made his debut in Los Angeles, with the touring New York City Opera, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, he's not only still singing in Los Angeles (along with everywhere else in the world,) but he's also the General Director of the Los Angeles Opera Company...which started out as a joke, but is now quite respectable. This concert celebrates his tenure with the opera company. Singing with him was the soprano Patricia Racette, and the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra was conducted by James Conlon. Similar to the Live in High Definition telecasts from The Met, this telecast was shown in movie theaters around the country today. Luckily, one of the theaters was in Cambridge. Whoever chose the selections chose wisely. Both Domingo and Racette, individually and together, sang arias and duets that were not from the usual run-of-the-mill operas. We got to hear unfamiliar arias from "Le Cid," "L' Arlesiana," and "Maravilla," as well as the "standards" from "La Boheme," "Carmen," "Tosca," etc. All were sung beautifully. They even sang some Broadway songs from "Follies," and "West Side Story." We got to hear not one, but two overtures from the L.A. Opera Orchestra...the overtures from "Die Meistersinger," and "La Forza del Destino.  I can't say that there was a dull moment in the entire 2 hour concert.
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As this theater and opera season draws to a close at the end of May, the three biggest hits were not in the Times Square theater district, but rather, uptown at the Lincoln Center theater district. The hits are the perfect revival of "South Pacific," and oddly enough, two operas at The Met..."Lucia di Lammermoor" and "La Fille du Regiment." Coincidentally, the two operas were written by the same composer, Donizetti, and star the same soprano, Natalie Dessay. Now to my review of "La Fille du Regiment."  This Laurent Pelly production of the comic opera, originated in England, and was brought to The Met, by the innovative new General Manager, Peter Gelb. Of course, the music is wonderful, and the two stars sing it to perfection, but what makes this production so unique, is that it's hilarious. Stars Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez are not only great singers (two of the best in the world,) but they're also great actors. So, under the guidance of master director Laurent Pelly, they make this silly plot the funniest show in town. But opera is all about the music, and this Donizetti masterpiece has some of the most glorious music ever written, including the showpiece aria for the tenor which includes nine high Cs! Florez knocks it off as though it was a piece of cake! All in all, this is one of the best shows in town. It's too bad that, because of the heavy schedules of the stars, it can't move down to Times Square, because it would play there for years!
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Shakespearean director, Adrien Noble, was brought in to breathe new life into this Shakespeare-based, Verdi opera. He set it in a Stalin-like totalitarian regime, and it worked very well. Lots of blood on all those military uniforms! But the Verdi opera is about the magnificent Verdi music, and that music shone through the bloody plot, and made it as chilling as the Shakespeare play. The three new stars Carlos Alvarez, Hasmik Papian, and Joseph Calleja were new to their roles this season, taking over from the first cast which played the parts at the beginning of the season...and only Joseph Calleja "knocked it out of the park." Watch out for him; he could be a young Pavarotti!. These roles require as much good acting as they do good singing, and only Rene Pape as Banquo (held over from the first cast,) acted in a believable manner. The others overacted.  I love the music in this early-Verdi opera, and I've never heard it played better, with James Levine hopping down from Boston to conduct the Met orchestra. Unfortunately, I've heard it sung, and acted, much better. The sets were minimalist, but very effective, and very bloody! Only Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene made no sense, as Papian was forced to walk along, on top of a row of chairs, while singing this difficult music. I had a hard time concentrating on the music, because I was worried that Lady Macbeth was going to fall, and break her ass! A great opera, given a fine new production, but I would have liked to have heard the original cast.
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When I heard that the Pops was going to do a concert version of one of my favorite musicals of all time, Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," I was very happy, and when I heard that it was going to star the two stars of last season's Broadway hit "Grey Gardens," (Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson,) I ran across the street to Symphony Hall and bought two tickets. I don't usually like to hear anything serious being done by the Pops (all those drinks and food being served, and noisily eaten while the music is playing,) I figured what the hell, it's better than nothing. It certainly was! Maybe the crowd was more respectful because of the nature of the piece, but it was easy to enjoy the beautiful singing, in spite of the hustle and bustle of the audience. Ebersole and Wilson were absolutely perfect as Madame Armfeldt and her daughter Desiree. Was it a perfect production? No. One does miss the elegant sets and costumes usually associated with this classy musical (although the women were beautifully gowned, especially Ebersole,) and the supporting cast wasn't equal to the three leads. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, nevertheless, and because I live just across the street from Symphony Hall, I was able to get home in time to watch the second half of the Celtics-Lakers game, and to see the Celtics pull off the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history!
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OK, I like Neil Diamond. Big f_______ deal! I'm not one for nostalgia, but I've been enjoying the music of this old-timer (nearly MY age!) and attending his concerts for decades. Why? Because he's entertaining. He sings his heart out for over two hours, with no need for fillers. The music he sings consists of his entire songbook, filled with his standard classics. Once each summer, the grande dame of ballparks hosts a special concert. To date, I've seen The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Jimmy Buffet there. We have lots of other venues for big concerts in and around town, but Fenway Park is special. It's also special for Neil Diamond for another reason. One of his classic hit-songs, "Sweet Caroline," has inexplicably become the theme-song for the Boston Red Sox. I don't have a clue why, but that's probably why he was invited to be this summer's headliner at Fenway. The crowd was completely mixed. There were old-timers and teenagers, white bread Beacon Hill types and people who generally prefer rap concerts, people with jackets (why I can't imagine on such a beautiful warm summer night,) and bleacher types wearing Red Sox paraphernalia. You get the picture. The point is, EVERYONE was enjoying this hard-working, talented entertainer. I was singing along (silently of course) to just about all of the songs, while others were singing along out loud. It was that kind of a night. Great fun.
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Last night was one of those magical evenings. Six of us sat at a picnic table, on the large grassy area behind the General Store at the Westport River Vineyard & Winery, and listened to a wonderful guitarist play foot-stomping bluegrass music, as we looked out over acres of grapes on their vines leading up to the hills beyond, under a wide-open sky as the sun was going down. The Westport River Vineyard & Winery, is one of those places, just one hour out of Boston, that is so completely surrounded by its own environment of grape-growing, that one feels that you could be anywhere except near a big city. The atmosphere is completely rustic, with no signs of civilization anywhere visible. It could have been Napa, or Burgundy, or even the less hilly parts of Tuscany. We brought our own food (Spinach and Feta Pouches, Arancini, Chicken, Caprese Salad, Apricot Hamantashen, Cookies, etc.) and we bought our wine at the General Store. Westport specializes in its whites, so that's what we drank. They were excellent. The guitarist Kenny Richards, a Jerry Garcia look-alike, played for two hours, and he was the perfect background music for our dining, drinking, and conversations. A beautiful late summer evening, made magical, by wine, fine food, good company, and song. Let's not forget the incredible setting. Over the next two weekends, a Shakespearean troupe of actors will be performing "Twelfth Night" in the same setting. That should be perfect!
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CONCERT REVIEW: "THE VERDI REQUIEM" performed by The Landmarks Orchestra
It was a cool, but beautiful, late Summer evening. The venue was The Hatch Shell, on the Esplanade, on the banks of the Charles River. Our hosts for the event, were conductor Charles
Ansbacher, and his wife, Swanee Hunt, former ambassador to Austria, and one of the oil-rich billionaire Texas Hunts! First there was a cruise on the Charles, and then a buffet picnic set up as a "private party" on the lawn in front of The Hatch Shell (fresh shrimp, lobster sandwiches, salads, and homemade brownies.) No hot dogs and cole slaw for Charles and Swanee! After the picnic, we were set up on lawn chairs in a private area just in front of the Hatch Shell, and then the music began. We were there to hear one of my favorite pieces of music, The Verdi Requiem. Only that would keep me from going home from the gym to an early bed-time! For most of the evening, Ansbacher conducted a well-played, and sung, Requiem. The chorus was the fine Chorus Pro Musica, and the soloists were two of Boston's favorite singers, Robert Honeysucker (my God, the man must be 100 years old, but he's still in fine voice,) and soprano Barbara Quintiliani, having pitch problems, but still sounding good for most of the evening. The other two soloists, new to me but wonderful singers, were young Armenian tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan, and mezzo Mary Westbrook-Geha. The Requiem, if you're not familiar with it, is short (1 1/2 hours,) but as dramatically powerful and melodic, as the best of Verdi's operas. I love it, and it was well served last night. Bravo Ansbacher, and the Landmarks Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists!
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P.S. Stop asking your well-heeled, and well-educated audience for funds, Maestro. Your wife is a billionaire, for God's sake! Sounds like John and Cindy


Bravo, once again, to the Metropolitan Opera's  General Manager, Peter Gelb, for initiating this groundbreaking series of live, high-definition performance transmissions, direct from the stage of the Met, into movie theaters around the world. This season, the number of live telecasts is up to 11 operas, and the number of theaters showing them around the world is 800. More than likely, one of your neighborhood theaters has been outfitted with the necessary high-definition huge screen, and  acoustical sound required. This is the third season of these wonderful telecasts, and the first season in which the Opening Night performance was shown. Last night's Opening NIght Gala was not a single opera, but rather three separate fully-staged acts of three different operas, to showcase the talents of the internationally famous soprano Renee Fleming. The operas and acts performed were Verdi's  "La Traviata" (Act II,) Massanet's "Manon" (Act III,) and Strauss'  "Capriccio" (Final Scene.) Joining Fleming were stars Ramon Vargas, Thomas Hampson and Dwayne Croft. For those of you who were lucky enough to see these opera singers in a couple of these roles at The Met, as I was, in past seasons, you'll know how wonderful this evening was. The singers were glorious, and the audience loved them, both at the actual Met, and in my neighborhood theater, where I was lucky enough to see them. Seeing an opera live at your neighborhood theater, is no substitute for seeing it at The Met itself, but it sure saves a hell of a lot of time, energy, and money (I figure about $1000, including the ticket, hotel room for the weekend, train down, and meals.) I paid $20, and it was just a 20-minute walk from where I live! Now, THAT'S a deal!!!
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CONCERT REVIEW: RUSSELL SHERMAN at The New England Conservatory
Looking very frail, the old man, dressed all in black, sat down at the Steinway and played one of the most treacherously difficult, and overpoweringly beautiful pieces ever written for the piano. The piece was the one-hour long "Twelve Transcendental Etudes" by Franz Liszt. It was a short concert (only one hour,) but it blew the roof off of Jordan Hall, and the full house responded with a standing ovation that lasted for long after I had left. A perfect way to open the concert season at the NEC...and it was FREE!
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Some of the grand opera houses of Europe have noticed the phenomenal success of The Metropolitan Opera's Live High Definition broadcasts of operas, into 800 neighborhood movie theaters all over the world, and they decided to get in on the act. For this, their first season, three opera houses are involved: LaScala in Milan, The Salzburg Festival in Austria, and La Fenice in Venice. When I heard of this, I immediately bought tickets for the first presentation, Franco Zeffirelli's new production of "Aida" from LaScala in Milan. The cast includes Roberto Alagna, Violeta Urmana, and Ildiko Komlosi. The conductor is the great Riccardo Chailly. Because it's a Zeffirelli production, you can expect the sets and costumes to be elaborate, detailed, and spectacular...and of course, they were. Everything else about this production, is up to the standards set by what is arguably the finest opera house in Europe, and a worthy rival to The Met. The singers are the best in the opera world; the sets and costumes are as good as money can buy; and the orchestra is one of the best in the world. There are no major intermission features (star interviews, backstage tours, etc.) with just one short intermission. This takes away from the package, but it makes the time spent in the theater shorter. However, when you're watching such a glorious broadcast, who needs shorter? If any of these broadcasts, from the Grand Opera Houses of Europe, are being shown in a theater near you. I recommend that you give it a shot, even if it's your first opera.
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This is the second broadcast that we've attended this season, at the Coolidge Corner Theater, of an opera from LaScala in Milan. This time the opera was "La Traviata," and the stars were Angela Gheorghio, Ramon Vargas, and Roberto Frontali. The conductor was Lorin Maazel, and the director was Liliana Cavani. We're very lucky, here in Boston, to be receiving both the Live HD telecasts from The Met on Saturday afternoons,, and the HD broadcasts from the great European Houses as well. Since these telecasts started, I've been seeing twice as much opera each season as I usually see. Anyway, this lavish production was beautifully sung by a wonderful cast, (the acting was pretty bad, though) and the LaScala orchestra responded beautifully to conductor Lorin Maazel. The sets and costumes looked elegant, opulent, and highly detailed on the incredibly sharp HD screen at the Coolidge Corner. Theater owner Joe Zina has completely redone the theater in order to get these cash-cow productions, with the new screen, new surround sound, and even comfortable new seats. The tremendous success of the Live from The Met telecasts into neighborhood theaters, has made everyone want to get a piece of this lucrative cake. Bravo!
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 OPERA REVIEW: "DOCTOR ATOMIC" (Live in High Definition from THE MET.)
Generally, I can't stand any operas that were written in my lifetime! With one or two exceptions, they usually sound like a lot of dissonant noise (is that redundant?) So, when I heard that this new opera by composer John Adams ("Nixon in China") was going to be one of this season's new productions, I decided to skip the trip down to New York to see it "in person," and instead see it at my local movie theater, as part of the Live in High Definition Series, thereby saving about $1000. That was a great idea, because the opera sucked! It's the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb....and a madman! Great idea for an opera plot, right? Are you kidding??? The story is dreary, the sets were ugly, and the music is easily forgotten. The whole thing is dark and depressing, both figuratively and literally. There isn't a melodic piece in the whole opera, and I'd be perfectly happy never to hear another note of this score again.
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Offenbach's "Les Contes D' Hoffmann" is one of my favorite operas, because it's so damn melodic, and because, when it's well sung and acted, it's extremely dramatic and mesmerizing. Hoffmann, a real-life poet, was a drunk, but he wrote beautiful stories. He also had the bad luck to fall in love with women, who were snatched away from him under unusual circumstances. The Boston Lyric Opera has never been one of my favorite opera companies, because their productions usually seem second-rate and provincial to me, with a few rare exceptions. However, they've been lucky enough to discover young local talent that has often gone on to greater success at The Met and in Europe. Tonight's soprano falls into that category. First of all, she sang ALL of the three heroine's roles last night...a feat that I've only seen done once before when Beverly Sills did it. (Anna Netrebko will be doing it at The Met next season.) But I digress. To get back to last night's production...it was a mess. First of all, Georgia Jarman who sang the three heroine roles, was up to the task, and she's quite beautiful. She did well as the first two heroines, but when she got to the third and most interesting one, she was hindered by a costume that made her look like Eragon's dragon, rather than a famous prostitute in Venice. The tenor who shall remain nameless, could barely sing one act, let alone five. The sets and costumes were, in a word, hideous. The conductor was the Boston Pops Keith Lockhart, who did little more than hold it all together...and thank God for Offenbach's beautiful music. In short, my feelings about the Boston Lyric Opera still hold. It is second-rate and provincial!
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When I saw Robert Lepage's spectacular production, "KA" at the MGM Grand in Vegas several years ago, I was astonished to see how the latest technological advancements in video and stagecraft, could transform a huge stage, into another world. Then, when I heard that Peter Gelb, the new General Director at the Met, had hired the same Robert Lepage to create Wagner's "Ring" next season, and Berlioz' "La Damnation de Faust" this season, I knew that we had the right man running the Met. "La Damnation de Faust" is really an oratorio, and it's rarely fully staged because it's simply too difficult to create the many spectacular scenes required. Robert Lepage and his amazing staff have done it! Horses race across the stage; Faust sinks into the deep sea, twisting and turning as he falls out of his boat; trees wither and die before our eyes, etc. In this magical production, the voices don't always match the incredible special effects. Marcello Giordani is somewhat weak as Faust, who sells his soul to the devil to save his lover. Susan Graham is moving and excellent as the doomed lover, Marguerite. John Relyea is the devil, and he's not up to his usual elegant singing and acting. I'm just nit-picking; this is a big hit for The Met. See it if you can. Now, let me say something negative about these incredible interactive video special effects. Although they work beautifully in this relatively static opera, I wouldn't want to see them used for every production. For one thing, they're very restrictive, pushing all of the action onto vertical scaffolding on the very front of the Met's huge stage. The Met's cavernous main stage, two side stages, and lower stage are not utilized at all. Let's hope that Robert Lepage rectifies this when he designs The Ring.
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OPERA REVIEW: "YEOMEN OF THE GUARD" (A Bostonians Production at The New England Conservatory)

A New England Thanksgiving tradition is the annual Bostonians production of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. This year's show was the "Yeomen of the Guard," the most opera-like of all of Gilbert & Sullivan's works. It was presented in a semi-staged production, with a full orchestra in Jordan Hall. The singers, none of whom were familiar to me, were all excellent, as was the playing of the score by the Bostonians orchestra. I won't even begin to attempt to summarize the convoluted plot, except to say that it all takes place in and around the Tower of London, and involves switched and mistaken identities. In other words, a typical Gilbert and Sullivan plot. It was lots of fun, and a grand way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.
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OPERA REVIEW: "THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO" (New England Conservatory Opera Company)
Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" is often called "the perfect opera." Although it's not MY favorite opera, I can understand why it's often given this high praise. It contains some of Mozart's most beautiful music, and it has an intelligent, sophisticated book by the poet Beaumarchais. When it's sung and acted well, it can come close to achieving perfection. The action of the story takes place in Seville, at around the time of The French Revolution and the plot centers around the conflict between the aristocracy and its servants. Figaro, valet to the Count Almaviva is about to be married to Susanna, the personal maid to the Countess. Unfortunately, the Count wants to exercise his rights to have sex with the maid, on the eve of her wedding. No one, except the Count is happy about this! As this is a production of the New England Conservatory, one comes to expect a high level of performance from these college-age students, who upon graduation, will move on to the world's great opera stages and concert halls. They certainly didn't disappoint. This was a first class production, in spite of the fact that all of the performers, singers and musicians, were in their twenties! Good luck to all of them. I'm sure that I'll be paying hundreds of dollars in a couple of years, to see them at The Met.
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The last time that I saw "Thais," was 30 years ago at The Met, when it was put on as a favor to Beverly Sills, the reigning diva of the time. When divas of this caliber want an opera mounted for them, it's done. Hence, the present production of "Thais" (borrowed in these economically troublesome times, from the Chicago Opera,) which was put on for, and stars, Renee Fleming. It fits her like a glove, and she sings beautifully, and looks great in it (in costumes designed for her by French couturier Christian Lacroix!) The plot of the opera is about a famous monk, and an equally famous prostitute in 4th-Century Egypt. The monk, Athaneal, knew her when they were younger, and sets out to reform her now. Tragically, as he becomes more sinful, lusting after her, she becomes more saintly, and eventually enters a convent and actually does become a saint after her death...the French St. Thais. But, we don't go to the opera for the plot, do we? The music, by Jules Massenet, is lush, exotic, and romantic. The highlight of the score, is the haunting instrumental piece "Meditation," played by a solo violin between two scenes of Act II. It's unforgettable (I'm still humming it,) and the violinist who played it...first violinist David Chan...received a standing ovation during the final curtain calls. The two other stars of the evening, Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson, sang their hearts out, and looked like two handsome movie stars. It's a beautiful, albeit long (3 1/2 hours) evening of opera. Unfortunately, it's a wonderful treat that only comes around once every 30 years!
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OPERA REVIEW: "LA RONDINE"at THE MET (and GALA DINNER afterward on The Grand Tier)
New Years Eve at The Metropolitan Opera is a very festive occasion. There's an opera, in this case it's Puccini's "La Rondine," there are the celebrities in the audience and often on the stage as well, and then there's the Gala Dinner on The Grand Tier of the opera house, following the performance. All in all, quite a special event. Let's start with the opera. "La Rondine" is not considered top-drawer Puccini, as are "La Boheme," "Madama Butterfly," "Tosca," and "Turandot." But, when it's done right, it comes off as a charming, albeit light, opera. More of an operetta. You'll definitely come away humming the lovely "Dream of Doretta" aria. The husband and wife team of Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna starred in it, and are big enough box-office draws to get it put on in the first place. In this production, the action is moved up to the 1920's in order to display some beautiful Art Nouveau sets and costumes. It worked; they're quite beautiful. The two singer-stars were on their best behavior (usually they're spoiled "brats" who often cancel at the last minute. I've been burned by them...twice!) Last night they sang beautifully, although I found their acting more in keeping with lovesick teenagers than mature adults. The plot is "La Traviata" with a relatively "happy" ending. No heroine dying of consumption here. After the opera, many of us moved to the beautifully decorated Grand Tier for a magnificent New Years Eve Dinner celebration. The tables were covered with silver tablecloths and large silver trees dotted the room. In the middle of the table was a giant white snowball. The meal, of course, was wonderful. It seemed that all of the celebrities who were in the audience were also at the dinner. I'd need another whole e-mail just to list all of them (movie and Broadway stars, politicians, business tycoons, etc.) The beautifully-gowned woman who sat next to me, and was drunk when she came in, kept hitting on me. She was THAT drunk! It was a grand, grand occasion. A great way to spend a New Years Eve in the most exciting city in the world on New Years Eve!
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CONCERT REVIEW: "ALL-MENDELSSOHN PROGRAM" (Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall)
I'm very lucky to be living right across the street from the magnificent Symphony Hall here in Boston, because on a cold wintry night as it was last night, it's so easy to run across the street and listen to two hours of beautiful music, played by one of the world's greatest orchestras, and conducted by one of the world's greatest conductors. The program last night was a program of music by Felix Mendelssohn, and it consisted of the Hebrides Overture, The "Scottish" Symphony, and The "Italian" Symphony. The conductor was Kurt Masur. Of course, everything was played to perfection and it was a joy to just sit back, close your eyes, and let that lush music just wash over you. It always amazes me how perfect the acoustics are in Symphony Hall, where every sound on stage is carried to every seat in the house, as though you were listening to the music with your own private earphones...but so much better! It was also enjoyable to see so many young people attending the concert. I can only hope that they enjoyed it as much as we did.
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Last season, when I saw the new production of this opera at The Met, I thought that it was absolutely perfect. The singing (especially that of Natalie Dessay as Lucia,) the direction (by Broadway's Mary Zimmerman,) the sets and costumes, and the acting, all couldn't have been better. When it was announced that the opera world's glamorous "rock stars," Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon, would be singing the lead roles this season, I immediately bought tickets to the HDTV live telecast from my neighborhood theater. When we walked into the theater we were confronted with the first disappointment. Rolando Villazon was sick and would be replaced by new Polish tenor Piotr Beczala. I never heard of him! The second disappointment happened when Anna Netrebko made her first entrance. She was chubby! If you've never seen Anna Netrebko before, let me tell you that she's glamorous, model-thin, beautiful, and sexy hot. She had a baby in September and I guess that she came back to work too soon. More importantly than her excess body fat, is the fact that she lost a few of her high notes. Get it together Anna, FAST! Get rid of the pudge and get those notes back. The good news is that the new tenor is phenomenal...a real find. He's tall, good-looking, and with a voice that could drown out everyone else on stage...and he can act.  Hang on to this one! The other roles were sung by the always excellent Mariusz Kwiecien, a hold-over from last year's cast, and Ildar Abdrazakov, a fine bass, and new to me. The intermission features, always fun, were handled by Natalie Dessay, last year's Lucia. Stick to the singing Natalie! The production is still a great one. I recommend it, even to those people who are new to opera. It's so dramatic, it'll blow you away.
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Don't laugh until you've seen this guy perform in person! I've seen them all, from The Beatles, The Doors and The Stones, to Billy Joel, Elton John and Neil Diamond, up to Madonna, Springsteen and Coldplay, and Tom Jones is as good a performer as the best of them. The new House of Blues Music Hall/Restaurant/Souvenir Shop is the largest House of Blues complex of its kind in America. It's a beautiful, huge theater, and the sound system is remarkable. That said, let me say that we were standing through the entire performance! (The whole Orchestra floor and Mezzanine levels are standing room only.) The fact that I didn't mind this at all, is a tribute to Tom Jones, and the excellent show that he puts on. He sings many of his "golden" classics like "It's Not Unusual," "What's New Pussycat?" etc., and lots of new songs as well. The man has more energy than lots of performers half his age, and his charisma is very powerful. I was happy to see that the audience was multi-generational, and all were very obviously enjoying the show. They don't make Senior Citizens the way that they used to! See him if you can. You'll really enjoy it.
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Enrico Caruso once said, "it's easy to put on Il Trovatore. All you need are the four greatest singers in the world!" In the reality of the present-day opera world, The Met has done just that. If not, they sure came close. Marcelo Alvarez, Sondra Radvanovsky, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Luciana D'Intino fit their roles like well-worn gloves, and they sang their hearts out in this, arguably Verdi's most melodic opera. It's beautiful music from beginning to end. To make this twisted story of gypsies, murder, mistaken identities and fratricide believable, the Met uses its enormous turntable to keep the action moving swiftly from scene to scene (beautiful settings inspired by Goya,) thereby eliminating one intermission, and shortening the entire evening by at least one half hour. I'll drink to that!
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The plot of Bellini's opera, is no more preposterous than any other opera-plot, but director Mary Zimmerman thought that it was, so she decided to restage it. Instead of the usual setting of a village in 19th Century Switzerland, it's now set in a modern-day rehearsal hall, where an opera company is rehearsing an upcoming production of "La Sonnambula" ("The Sleepwalker") It's all very Pirandello, and surprisingly it works. In spite of a few directorial mistakes, I loved it. However, when the stars are the glorious Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez, the director could have set the whole damn thing in Outer Mongolia, and it still would have been a magnificent, unforgettable production. Both singers were in top form. Enough said.
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The main reason for taking this opera out of mothballs, and giving it a new production for its debut at The Met, was because one of the world's greatest conductors, Riccardo Muti, wanted to conduct it as the vehicle for his own long-overdue debut at The Met. Needless to say, he was brilliant, giving this early Verdi rarity, an unexpected fresh sound. The excellent singers (Ildar Abdrazakov, Violeta Urmana, and Samuel Ramey,) rose to his high standards. The only sour note were the sets and costumes. Whoever decided to hire the architects, Herzog and de Meuron, designers of the "birds-nest" stadium at the Beijing Olympics, made a big mistake. Their sets were monumental but ill-conceived. There were only two sets: one, a stage full of concrete rubble, reaching from the stage floor, all the way up to the high stage ceiling, (Rome in ruins??) and a high wall of dark green foliage of every conceivable type. The first looked like a Vegas hotel after it had been imploded, and the second looked like a dense rain forest. The costumes by Prada (yes, THAT Prada,) looked like a cross between The Gap, and an S & M sex shop! What were they thinking? Close your eyes and listen to the beautiful music.

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The only other time that I saw this opera, was decades ago, across Lincoln Center Plaza from The Met, at The New York City Opera, where it was mounted for the young baritone Sherrill Milnes (now old and retired, like me!) I don't remember it having such beautiful music, or being so damn long! This time, the reason to see it is Simon Keenlyside,  who is the perfect singing actor. He could play the role without the music...he looks so good, and acts so well. Throw in a great baritone voice, and you've got the complete package. Coloratura Natalie Dessay, who was scheduled to play Ophelia, had to pull out of this production, due to illness. She was replaced by Marlis Petersen (unknown to me,) who was go good, that Dessay wasn't missed. That's saying a lot. James Morris and Jennifer Larmore were Claudius and Gertrude, "the incestuous lovers." Once again, the sets were a mess, but this time, the costumes were appropriate. Come on guys, get your act together. Swallow your pride and hire Franco Zeffirelli to design all of your new productions, before he dies. He's not getting any younger!
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This 200-year-old opera has never been done at The Met before! There's only one reason to put on a production of "Armida," and that's if an opera company has a soprano with enough cojones to want to sing the demanding role with its treacherous coloratura. Renee Fleming is that kind of a star, and she hits it out of the ball park! The opera also requires seven (!) tenors. The Met has put together a field of second-string (and maybe third in some cases) tenors, to be able to sing the roles. In any other opera house, they'd be the best, but here they're only second best. Especially the lead tenor, Lawrence Brownlee, who I've never liked since his days with The Boston Opera. There, he was short and fat and his voice couldn't carry past the third row. He's lost a lot of weight, but his voice is still so light, that he spends all of his time singing front and center, even though he's being chased all over the stage by the seductress/sorceress, Armida. My God, couldn't she do better than this? The sets and costumes are OK, nothing more. Oh, by the way, there's a 15-minute ballet half-way through. Should The Met have given "Armida" its Met premiere, and spent a fortune on this new production? Absolutely. The music is gorgeous, and it belongs at The Met. Brava Fleming!!!
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One of The Met's biggest mistakes was to scrap the spectacularly beautiful Franco Zeffirelli sets and costumes ("all Rome on the stage,") and replace them with the Luc Bondy production, one of the ugliest in the Met's history. Now the action seems to be taking place in a brickyard (apologies to my friends who own brickyards!) With only six more performances to go, The Met has changed its entire cast, replacing it with three of the greatest singing actors in the world...Patricia Racette, Jonas Kaufman, and Bryn Terfel. It works. With such outstanding acting, coming from these incredible singers, who cares about the hideous sets and costumes. All eyes and ears are focused on the stars. In any case, bring back the Zeffirelli sets and costumes, and put these stars in them.
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Magnificent. That's about the first word that comes to mind when describing this concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, my first BSO concert of the season. The single piece on the program was Mahler's Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, known as the "Resurrection," and it was conducted by the BSO's fully recovered (we hope) Music Director, James Levine. This 1 -1/2 hour symphony (without intermission) also called for the services of the full Tanglewood Festival Chorus, with soprano Layle Clare, and Mezzo Karen Cargill (you'll be hearing more from her...she's incredible.) The whole performance was overwhelming. I'm still transported to some other place. Don't ask me where! We're so lucky to have both the Boston Symphony here (right across the street from where I live,) as well as the two conservatories...the New England Conservatory and the Boston Conservatory, where FREE performances are given every night (and they're both just down the block.) I've already seen two excellent symphonic concerts at the New England Conservatory, and it only opened for the season two weeks ago. (In case you're wondering where those reviews are, I don't review free events.) Anyway, to get back to the Mahler, all I can say is that I can't wait for Levine to conduct his next Mahler symphony next week. He's conducting all 10 of Mahler's symphonies this season and next. That's an incredible feat for a normal conductor, let alone one with all of the health issues that Levine has had recently. He looks and sounds great!
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Were it not for conflicting doctors orders (surgeon said I could go to New York, cardiologist said I shouldn't,) I would have seen this performance at the Metropolitan Opera House, where I had a ticket. Instead, we saw it in the luxury of one of our DeLuxe Theaters (the one at Patriot Place,) where complete meals and drinks are served to you while you recline in your ultra-comfortable seat while watching the performance on a large high-definition screen. Although I enjoyed the experience, I didn't enjoy the opera at all. Mussorgsky wrote an opera that only a Russian could love! The singers were magnificent, especially Rene Pape, the German bass-baritone who sang Boris, in an otherwise all Russian cast, all of whom were excellent, as was the conducting of Valery Gergiev. The problem is the music. For two of the four acts, it was dreadful...dark, dull, brooding, and monotonous. I almost fell asleep in my comfortable lounge-chair! Not helping any were the horrible sets. Nowadays they're called minimalist. I call them cheap! In an opera that should be as spectacular as "Aida," there was barely anything on the stage. I've seen this in performances where the sets and costumes were overwhelming, but appropriate to the epic story (especially at the Bolshoi in Moscow, and even in previous productions at the Met,) but this one looked like the sets came from Filene's Basement!
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Once you got over the fact that you were going to have to watch this presentation  wearing 3D glasses, this was a fairly traditional, albeit excellent, production of "Carmen," presented by The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London, and shown in select cinemas worldwide. This was a straightforward production, with no gimmicks like updating the story, etc. Directed by Francesca Zambello against imposing blood-red sets, the story played out in traditional fashion, although there was an almost Zeffirelli-like attention to details, with chorus members acting like distinct characters with something to do in that large crowd on stage. The cast consisted of young unknowns...unknown to me at least. Watch for these young stars, Christine Rice (Carmen,) and Bryan Hymel (Don Jose) in the future. They're going places. They can sing and they can act. One thing that I noticed about the audience. They were dressed for a baseball game, rather than an opera at The Royal Opera House (in shirtsleeves, etc.) I suspect that they were a rehearsal audience, let in free, for the filming of this 3D presentation. Just an observation. Did I mention that the use of 3D was highly effective, adding another dimension to this opera presentation (no pun intended.)
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With a silly, ridiculous plot, some of Rossini's less memorable music, and requiring three of the world's greatest bel canto singers, it's easy to see why this opera has never been done at The Met. Yes, it's its Metropolitan premiere, although it was written 180 years ago. But through the clout of tenor Juan Diego Florez, who rounded up two of his bel canto colleagues, Diana Damrau and Joyce Di Donato, and asked the Met's management to mount a new production for the three of them, it was given its Met premiere. Under Bartlett Sher's stylish direction, it comes across as a colorful opera-within-an-opera, a vaudeville right out of Chaucer. The plot involves a horny Count, who disguises himself as, first a hermit, and then a nun(!) in order to seduce his neighbor, the Countess.  The singing by the three leads is, of course, glorious. All three stars shone last night! I'm sure that the music, especially the beautiful Act II trio, after a few hearings, will prove itself to be as brilliant as Rossini's own comic masterpiece, "The Barber of Seville." This trio, by the way, was staged on a giant bed, with the three main characters groping and fondling each other in a comic "menage a trois" sex scene! The sets and costumes were colorful, stagy, and fun, especially the "storm" in Act II, which allowed us to go behind the scenes to see how a storm was created back in earlier days. But, all in all, this obscure opera is all about the singing, and that was absolutely wonderful.
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It's magical. It's acrobatic. It's spectacular. It's musically brilliant. No, it's not "Spider Man," or "Cirque du Soleil." It's the new production of Wagner's "Das Rheingold" at The Met. The first of Richard Wagner's cycle of four operas entitled "The Ring of the Nibelungs," this new production is almost overwhelmed by the spectacular, brilliantly engineered, gigantic set, designed by Robert Lepage ("KA" in Vegas!!!) It twists, turns, raises and lowers itself, producing some of the most exciting visual images on Broadway. The music, of course, is the work of a genius and it's brilliantly Wagnerian. It's sung by a great cast of singing actors, led by Bryn Terfel as Wotan, and Stephanie Blythe as his wife, Fricka. I won't even begin to summarize this complicated story about the gods and goddesses, and the messes they get themselves into. Think "Lord of the Rings," with some of the most glorious music ever written. It took Richard Wagner four operas to tell his complete story. The next opera in the cycle is "Die Walkure" (my favorite,) which premieres in a few weeks with an all-star cast. I'll be seeing it in May. Stay tuned for my review.
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One of the surest signs that Spring has finally come to Boston is the return of The Boston Pops to Symphony Hall for their Spring season. Gone are the Orchestra seats, and in are those tiny tables for four, where food and drinks are served while the Pops dishes up a night of light classics under the baton of Keith Lockhart. The majority of the Boston Symphony Orchestra players have moved out to their summer home...Tanglewood in the Berkshires. The rest make up the Pops. Opening Night began with the usual Reception where food and drinks are served in the Dining Room, prior to the concert. Broadway and Cabaret star, Linda Eder, was the featured artist, and she sang a program of songs made famous by Judy Garland. The first half ended with a sing-along from "The Sound of Music," and also featured other favorites from what's come to be known as The American Songbook. The audience loved it, and so did I. I was humming the songs all the way home, right across the street!
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There are not many opera houses in the world that could assemble a cast of five of the world's greatest opera singers and in a treacherously difficult opera, conducted by a great conductor in his swan song to the world of classical music. The Met did it last night! The five singers (Deborah Voigt. Jonas Kaufmann, Stephanie Blythe, Bryn Terfel, and Eva-Maria Westbrook) sang, and acted, their roles to perfection, especially Kaufmann and Terfel. Is Jonas Kaufmann now the world's greatest tenor? My vote is in with a loud YES! In this second of Wagner's "Ring" operas being performed this season, the Met is once again using the multi-tonned, 50 million dollar set nicknamed "The Machine" by the cast and crew. After seeing these two operas, I'm not sure if it's worth the millions. There are some stunning effects created by "The Machine," especially the underwater scenes and the walk over the Rainbow Bridge to Valhalla in "Das Rheingold," and the forest and mountaintop-on-fire scenes in "Die Walkure." But given the millions spent to create these scenes, couldn't they have been done, and possibly even done more effectively, by a set designer with great creativity and imagination? In any case, we're stuck with it for two more "Ring" operas and for God knows how many years to come. But the music; ah, the music. That will remain, and as conducted  by James Levine, conducting the greatest opera orchestra in the world, it was pure magic...all 5 1/2 hours of it!
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This six-hour masterpiece, is the third opera that I've seen in this new production of Wagner's Ring Cycle at The Met, and I've really grown to dislike the look of it, intensely! The Met paid a fortune to lure Cirque du Soleil's wonder, Rober Lepage, away from Vegas, and to have him create his engineering "marvel," nicknamed "the Machine" on the reinforced stage of The Met. What the giant structure does is to restrict the singers to performing in a narrow space of no more than about 20 feet. This, on one of the largest opera stages in the world! Thank God, the singers (Jay Hunter Morris, Bryn Terfel, Eric Owens and Deborah Voigt,) were all wonderful. A note to the General Manager: get rid of this new production! Melt down the giant set and sell it for scrap. Bring back the old production, which was realistic and beautiful, and give the singers plenty of room to perform the epic deeds of their characters!!!
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Donizetti wrote three operas about queens..."Roberto Devereaux" (Queen Elizabeth I,) "Anna Bolena" (Anne Boleyn,) and "Maria Stuarda" (Mary Stuart.) This one deals with the fall and death of Queen Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry VIII's six wives. It's the first time that the opera has ever been performed at The Met. When it opened this season, it starred Anna Netrebko, one of opera's greatest sopranos. I chose to wait until the young singer, Angela Meade, took over the role this past week. I had heard a lot about her, and I wanted to see for myself. She's absolutely wonderful! Very old school. Her voice is incredible...what a range. Unfortunately, she's a bit on the heavy side. The voice is so good, that one tends to overlook the fat! The production is all grays, and a bit boring to look at, but the music is beautiful...bel canto at its best, as sung by Meade, Ekaterina Gruberova, Stephen Costello, Tamara Mumford, and Ildar Abdrazakov. It took 180 years for this "queen" to reach the Met. Let's hope that we don't have to wait as long for "Maria Stuarda!" (It's coming next season.)
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This is the best production of "Don Giovanni" that I've ever seen! Everything about it was perfect...from the ideal cast of singing actors (Mariusz Kwiecien, Luca Pisaroni, Ramon Vargas, Barbara Frittoli, Marina Rebeka, etc., to the beautiful and inventive set and costumes, to the direction by Shakespearean director Michael Grandage, to the excellent conducting by the Met's new principal conductor, Fabio Luisi. Everything about it rang true. The singers were all believable in their roles. They looked their parts, and sang like the experts that they are. It was like seeing the story of the seducer Don Juan, and his crazy women, for the first time. Even the Mozart music sounded fresh and new. All in all, the Met's best new production this season. See it if you are in New York, and can get tickets.
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This was the most magnificently sung and acted, and the most poorly directed, visually hideous production of "Faust" that I've ever seen! It was magnificently sung because it was sung by three of the world's greatest singers (Jonas Kaufmann, Rene Pape, and Marina Poplavskaya.) It was poorly directed by Des McAnuff, a Broadway director making his Met debut, who chose to set this classic tale (of the old philosopher who sells his soul to the devil,) in an atomic bomb laboratory! Absolutely absurd, and in complete contradiction to the music and the story. This happens all the time lately, and can be blamed on the Director of the Met, Peter Gelb, who thinks that, by bringing in flashy directors from Broadway and Hollywood, who don't trust the music, and therefore impose ridiculous ideas on the piece, that they can breathe new life into the opera. I have news for them. Opera has been around for hundreds of years and it's doing very well. If a new director can enhance the opera and make it better by his/her direction then that's fine. But if the director is just showing off and, in the process, destroying the production, then that's unacceptable. Get rid of these directors, Mr. Gelb!!!
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for the singing
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for the direction, sets, and costumes


Comedy Concert at The Wilbur Theater in Boston: Kathy Griffin
In this two-hour one-woman show, Kathy Griffin is dirty, vulgar, tasteless, viciously gossipy, totally uncensored and uninhibited...and hilariously funny! She trashes everything, from her vagina to God. She tells celebrity-smashing stories about some of the usual easy targets like Ryan Seacrest, Kim Kardashian, Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace, Barnie Frank, etc. She describes ex-Kardashian "husband" Kris Humphries, as a big special needs person, and refers constantly to her own mother as a comic alcoholic. Her audience is overwhelmingly gay and lesbian, and she plays to them. They obviously worship her. So how does she get away with spouting all of this venom on stage, and not be so offensive as to be booed off the same stage? Well, believe it or not, it's just that while she's saying all this shit, she's so nice! You just can't help liking her. I know we did.
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This new Laurent Pelly production of the Massenet opera, "Manon," stars three of the Met's hottest young stars...Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, and Paulo Szot. Not only do they have magnificent voices, but they are also beautiful and handsome, respectively. They're perfect for these roles. Manon is the original "material girl," starting out as a 15-year-old headed for the convent (where her parents were sending her for being too "high-spirited,) and after running away with a stranger, becoming a courtesan, living with one rich lover after another. As I've said, the three singers sing the beautiful music lavishly, and act so realistically, that the whole production flirts with an "R" rating, especially in the very hot seduction scene in church! After singing one of the most beautiful love duets in all of opera, Netrebko and Beczala "get it on" in a bed that's inexplicably located in the church! Which brings me to the scenery. It's drab, gray, minimalistic and not at all in keeping with the lavish, colorful story of two lovers (a whore and a priest) in 19th century Paris. But that's what the Peter Gelb management is giving us...cheap-looking, inappropriate sets that undermine the magnificent singing done in front of them!
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What a wonderful way to start the opera season...with the magnificent music of Donizetti, sung by four of the world's greatest singers ( Anna Netrebko, Matthew Polenzani, Marius Kwiecien, and Ambrogio Maestri,) in gorgeous sets and costumes that looked like water-color illustrations in a gigantic picture book. The opera is a charming light romantic comedy, and the singing actors did a perfect job of conveying this. My only negative criticism is with the director Bartlett Sher, who insisted on adding elements of the Italian Risorgimento (Revolution) into an opera that doesn't call for it, in either the music or the story. A note to all new opera directors: trust the composers and their music, and leave your weird conceptual ideas in the experiment draw where they belong!
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I'm not really into ballet, but I don't think of "The Nutcracker" as a ballet, as much as it is an event to usher in the Christmas season, as well as an opportunity for every child in the city to have a small role in the annual spectacle! But of course, it is a ballet and one that pays the bills for the rest of the ballet season. This year, the world-renowned Boston Ballet scrapped the beautiful sets and costumes that they had been using for the past 17 years, and created an entirely new production. It's absolutely wonderful, in a retro, old-fashioned kind of way...with dazzling sets and colorful costumes. I wish that I knew more about ballet, so that I could truly judge the dancers, but to my untrained eye, everyone looked great...especially the dancers who danced the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince. At least no one fell over his/her own feet! For me, the main reason to see "The Nutcracker" is to hear the magnificent Tchaikovsky score. I could hum every melodic note of it, and you probably could too.
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Shoot the director! Once again, General Manager Peter Gelb has entrusted a new production of a classic operatic masterpiece, to an egocentric director who has no respect for either the story or the music of the piece. The story is very specific. It deals with the real-life assassination of King Gustavus III of Sweden at a masked ball at the Stockholm Opera House in 1792. What "director" David Alden gives us in this new production, is a bizarre dream-like story set in the 1930's and enacted by what appears to be a CIrque du Soleil troupe. It makes no sense whatsoever, and neither do the hideous costumes and sets (which consist of a gray stainless steel box with a ceiling made up of a huge fresco of the Legend of Icarus!!!) Completely absurd. This should have been performed as a concert, with no sets or costumes, because the singing is magnificent. Five of the greatest singers in the world, sing Verdi's incredible music as well as it could possibly be sung. The singers are Sandra Radvanovsky, Marcelo Alvarez, Kathleen Kim, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and the incomparable Stephanie Blythe. The count is going up on the number of operas that Peter Gelb has recklessly presented in devastatingly bad new productions in recent years...the entire Ring, La Traviata, Tosca, Faust, etc. When will it end? Get rid of Gelb, or get rid of these fake directors, or else the audiences will choose to stop spending $200-300 for a ticket, and stay in their own neighborhoods to see the operas on HD Live From the Met broadcasts in their neighborhood theaters...for $20. That's what I might do next season. Screw you Gelb, and your quack directors!
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for the singing,
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for the production (director, sets, and costumes.)


During the month of December, Boston's magnificent Symphony Hall transforms itself into a winter wonderland, with garlands and lights festooned everywhere, decorated Christmas trees in the lobbies, and large Victorian gaslights hanging around and above the orchestra. Tables replace the orchestra seats so that the audience may eat and drink during the performance, as they do all Summer. It's the perfect way to get in the mood for the holiday. Last night was Opening Night, and I was thrilled to see that there was nothing politically correct about the program. It began with "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and continued through the night with Christmas carols, both religious and secular, ending with a sing-along of Christmas favorites. There was a bouncy medley of Hanukkah songs to celebrate the holiday beginning this weekend. The traditional reading of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" was narrated by Bruins tough-guy Shawn Thornton, who did a great job. He managed not to punch maestro Keith Lockhart! Some of my favorite neighbors filled the adjacent tables. What a fun night!
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Seeing a live telecast of an opera from The Met in the comfort of your neighborhood theater, especially if the theater has a Cinema DeLuxe section, is a very doable option to trekking down to New York and spending a "fortune" on the ticket, the transportation, and a hotel. After having a fine lunch in the restaurant at the theater, we moved into the auditorium where the broadcast was about to begin. Settling into our large comfortable seats (just like first class seats on a good airline,) I noticed that the people around us were all eating their lunches right at the small tables at their seats, while watching the pre-opera features. Not good for a klutz like me! The opera itself was the old chestnut, "Aida." Everything about it was old-school, in a very positive way. The fat aging singers were good (Olga Borodina, Roberto Alagna and George Gagnidze,) but terrible actors. The lead, Liudmyla Monastyrska, had just made her debut a few weeks before, and was exceptional. She's big and fat, but with a powerful voice that soars over the other singers, the orchestra, and the chorus. The sets and costumes were exactly what I love: realistic, detailed, and in the case of this opera, spectacular. My major complaint about these Live in HD telecasts, is that the cameras get too close. Sometimes you need the distance you get in the opera house, to preserve the illusion. Some close-ups were painful to watch! Nevertheless, it's a very viable alternative to seeing the opera at The Met!
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The drama behind the scenes matched the drama on stage, when this revival of Berlioz' epic masterpiece, "LesTroyens," was revived at the Met after 10 years. At its first performance of the season, tenor Marcello Giordani, received terrible reviews from the media's opera critics, (and even from one of his co-stars!) for his singing of the role of Aeneas. He walked out, leaving the role behind. The Met management hastily brought in a relatively unknown young tenor, Bryan Hymel, who was singing the role at Covent Garden in London, as a replacement for another tenor, Jonas Kaufman! He's from New Orleans and is only 33. He was magnificent, and the audience and critics loved him. A star is born! He sang the role, as he will for the rest of the season, in the performance that we saw live in HD from The Met yesterday. This huge opera, runs for five and a half hours, and requires an expanded orchestra and chorus. The starring roles are demanding, but the Met brought in its top guns for the parts. Deborah Voigt sang Cassandra, the princess of Troy, who foretold the city's doom at the hands of the Greeks. Susan Graham sang the role of Queen Dido of Carthage, and newcomer Bryan Hymel sang the heroic Aeneas. All were incredible. The massive opera is really two operas in one. The first part tells the story of "The Fall of Troy," complete with the infamous Trojan Horse looming over the stylized set. The second part follows Aeneas to Carthage, and his love affair there, with the queen, Dido. The story is familiar if you've read The Aeneid by Virgil. The music is Berlioz at his best, and that's pretty damn good.
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The last production that I saw of "Rigoletto" at the Met, was set in Mantua, Italy during the Renaissance, as the composer, Giuseppe Verdi, and his librettist, Francesco Piave, intended it to be. Both were giants and knew exactly what they wanted. The sets and costumes were opulent, authentic, and beautiful. This new production is set in Las Vegas during the 1960's...the "Rat Pack" years. The director, Michael Mayer, inexplicably, intended it to be this way. He's a pipsqueak! A director from Broadway, who thinks that he knows more than the giants who created it. The music is still classic 19th Century Italian, and it's still sung in Italian. The juxtaposition between the music and the story is comically absurd. It just doesn't work. Thankfully, it's sung by a brilliant cast including Piotr Beczala as "the Duke," Diana Damrau as Gilda, and Zeljko Lucic as Rigoletto (who, instead of the hunchbacked court jester, is now a Don Rickles-like comic!) If General Manager Peter Gelb, insists on destroying every new production (he's already destroyed Tosca, Faust, Traviata, etc.,) why not just throw out the directors, and set and costume designers, and just turn the Met into a concert hall, with all operas being done in concert-form, without sets and costumes...and directors! I won't see "Rigoletto" again at The Met, until these garish Vegas sets are replaced by a new production, set in Mantua during the Renaissance. "La Donna e Mobile" is not "Fly Me to the Moon!"
5-Stars (for the singing)
0-Stars (for the production, direction, sets and costumes)


What a perfect way to start the opera season of live telecasts from The Met, with this magnificent new production of  Tchaikovsky's Russian masterpiece, "Eugene Onegin." It's a visually atmospheric production, with beautiful sets and costumes, and stars who can not only sing their parts perfectly, but act them as well. In fact, with the fine direction of English theater director  Deborah Warner, and her partner, actress Fiona Shaw, this new production plays like a Chekhov play with music. The stars who are so believable in their roles, are Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, Mariusz Kwiecien, and in the cameo role of Prince Gremin, Alexei Tanovitski...two Poles and two Russians. These are people who grew up reading and memorizing the Pushkin story in school, and so, knew all of the nuances of this tale of bad timing in love. The conductor was Valery Gergiev, another Russian, who holds the whole thing together, and keeps it moving so smoothly. The intermission features are always interesting, and the host this week was fellow opera singer Deborah Voigt. She did a fine job. However, I'm probably in the minority on this, but I don't like to see the sets for the next act being put together before our very eyes, and all of the hard work that it takes to do this. I like to have the illusion preserved, and see the completed set for the first time, when the curtain rises! I realize that I haven't told you the story of "Eugene Onegin," but so what. You can always read it. In any case, it's a beautiful production of a classic opera, and I'm certainly glad that we went to see it. By the way, we saw it at a Cinema Deluxe theater, where you can have a meal and drinks at your seat while you're watching the opera, and sitting in large comfortable seats, that are even more comfortable than the very comfortable seats at the Met. Now, that's luxury! I'm looking forward to our next four productions there.

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OPERA REVIEW: "TURANDOT" (Telecast from The Royal Opera House in London)

Luxury movie-going has come to the Boston area, in the form of the Super De Luxe Cinema at Chestnut Hill. Step off the escalator and take in the understated, but classy and elegant lobby, and just off the lobby, a branch of Davio's Cucina restaurant, where we chose to have our lunch before the opera telecast. I'm happy to report that Davio's signature Gnocchi dish is still excellent! After lunch, we proceeded into the auditorium and were ushered to our seats. I've never seen seats in a movie theater that were this luxurious. They're extremely wide, leather-comfortable, and with a touch of a button, leg and foot rests come up to elevate your legs. Each seat has a table attached, so you can have your lunch at your seat. The menu is extensive. But, on to the telecast. These telecasts from The Royal Opera House are brand new at this theater (this one was the first,) so there were glitches that have to be taken care of. For instance, the state of the art sound system has to be fully utilized. It wasn't for this performance. Also, there are no intermission features, that are so entertaining in the live telecasts from the Met. The opera itself was well done. An interesting production with good singers, none of whom I had heard of before! Of course, if you've seen the Zefferelli production of "Turandot" at the Met, anything pales in comparison. But it's not fair to compare. This was very well done, and very enjoyable. I certainly look forward to seeing something else in this theater. Check it out.

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Outside, the snow-flakes were falling, but inside the Cinema DeLux theater at Patriots Place, we were watching a dazzling, flawless new production of "Falstaff," live in high definition from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. It's still hard to believe that just a few years ago, what started as live telecasts from the Met in about 10 theaters in America,  has expanded to 6000 theaters in 60 countries around the world. In fact, more people saw "Falstaff" yesterday, than have seen this magnificent Verdi opera since he wrote it 100 years ago! Amazing. This new production was beautifully done, even though it continued the stupid and unnecessary trend of updating the story of the opera. Instead of being set in Tudor England, as Shakespeare and Verdi intended it, it was now set in 1950s London. Why? I don't know, but it didn't do any damage to the new production. The sets were beautiful and detailed, especially the perfectly detailed 1950s kitchen of the Ford household. Very "I Love Lucy!" The cast was perfection. A true ensemble, consisting of Ambrogio Maestri, Stephanie Blythe, Angela Meade, Jennifer Johnson Cano,  Lisette Oropesa, Franco Vassallo, and Paolo Fanale. The conductor was James Levine, returning to the Met after a two-year absence. He conducted from a wheelchair built onto an elevator on the conductor's podium. He looked very frail, but he conducted like Hercules! Ambrogio as Falstaff, and Blythe as Mistress Quickly stole the show, but as I've said earlier, everyone was perfect. They all sang and acted their parts brilliantly. It was obvious that there were some empty seats in the Opera House, in a performance that should have been sold out. Whether or not this was due to the bad weather in New York, or the fact that people are choosing to see these operas in the comfort of their local movie theaters at a tenth of the price, only time will tell. 

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4-1/2 hours is a very long time to sit and listen to heavy, unfamiliar, intense, Russian music. Unfortunately, most of it is repetitious, unmelodic, and yes, boring. This is not Tschaikovsky! Adding to my discomfort in viewing this at the otherwise very comfortable Cinema DeLuxe theater at Patriots Place, was the fact that there were only two scene changes during the entire opera...one a very large meeting room, and the other, a field of 12,000 red poppies. Give me a break!!! Let me throw in one positive before I resume listing the negatives. The cast, mostly Russians from the Met's top drawer of singers, sang the difficult music beautifully. Back to the negatives. The host, Wagnerian bass Eric Owens, was the worst host that I've ever seen on these telecasts. He was painfully nervous, stood rigidly not at all interested in what his interviewees were saying, and he spoke haltingly with teeth that appeared to be glued together. Was that a hanger still stuck in his jacket? Since I'm on a discussion of physical attributes, the two female leads were fat (a throwback to the old days,) and ugly. Those HD close-ups are cruel. Let me end on one other positive note. The act featuring the famous Polovtsian Dances was the highlight of the opera for me. The music here was melodic and familiar. It was borrowed for the Broadway musical "Kismet," and the music that became the 1960's hit "Stranger in Paradise," was a pleasure to hear again. The dancers were excellent, although they were hindered by having to dance in paths between those waving poppies. It became all upper body and flailing arms. Their feet were hidden by poppies!!!Oh well. The poppies were pretty!

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Every production of "Werther," if done correctly, is like the musical version of a beautiful French Impressionist painting...all stylized mood, emotion, and atmosphere. This was done correctly. The visuals were beautiful, with highly creative video projections enhancing the look of the three-dimensional picturesque sets. The look was stunning. But stunning or not, "Werther" is about the music of Massenet. If it isn't sung beautifully, it doesn't matter what it looks like. This was sung magnificently, by Sophie Koch, making her long delayed debut, as Charlotte, and by arguably the greatest tenor in the world today, Jonas Kaufmann, as Werther. They were supported perfectly by a fine cast of singing actors, who were directed by the brilliant stage director Richard Eyre. The three hours flew by, even with the three extra scenes, which were added to clarify and make the plot even more dramatic. They were very effective, especially the very realistic and bloody suicide scene. Unfortunately, the theaters all over the world, including ours, lost the feed from the Met during the last ten minutes of the opera. At least, we had already heard the best music in the opera. Anyway, this is an excellent production of a rarely performed opera. If you love opera, see it if you can.

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Close to a million people saw this live telecast of "La Beheme" yesterday, in 2000 theaters in 66 countries around the world. I was one of them. In addition to the drama about to unfold on stage, another drama played out off stage before the performance. Soprano Kristine Opolais had sung "Madama Butterfly" the previous night. She went home and didn't get to sleep until 5am. Then she received a call at 7:30am, from general manager Peter Gelb asking her if she could substitute for the soprano who was supposed to be making her debut, but was ill and couldn't perform. At first she screamed "no, no, no." But then she said, "Oh, why not?" So, she jumped out of bed, headed back to the Met, received some instructions about the very elaborate Met staging for this production, and then went on and made history. No other singer had done this in the Met's history! The rest of this beautiful traditional Franco Zefferelli production, went off without a hitch.  The production may be 33 years old, but it still looks beautiful...much better than some of the new productions that misguided general manager Peter Gelb has thrown our way! The Rodolfo was tenor Vittorio Grigolo who is a real showman. The Musetta was Susanna Phillips. All of the ensemble cast were first-rate. A truly traditional and beautiful "Boheme." Oh, just a footnote for the Bostonians out there. Soprano Kristine Opolais is the wife of our new conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons. She'll be our new "first lady" of the Symphony, when he comes on board in September.

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One of the surest signs that Spring has finally arrived in Boston, is the return of the Boston Pops to Symphony Hall. Last night was the Opening Night, and several of us crossed the street to enjoy the occasion. As always it was festive, filled with beautiful music, and it was an opportunity to mingle with neighbors. We had a table up front, as did some of our neighbors from the building. The program was a mixture of classics (Dvorak's "Largo from The New World Symphony",) and the light classics, ranging from Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, and John Williams to a New arrangement, by Chris Brubeck, of one of his father's famous jazz pieces, "Rondo al la Turk."  it was wonderful and fun. The second half of the program was taken over by guest artist Jason Alexander, who gave us a chance to see his Tony-Award-winning Broadway side, before he became famous on TV, for acting the role of George Costanza on "Seinfeld." He sang songs from "The Music Man," "Pippin," and the show that won him the Tony Award, "Merrily We Roll Along. It took him a while to warm up to performing in this famous Hall, but when he did, he commanded the stage. He seemed to be having as much fun as the audience was.  All in all, a perfect way to welcome Spring to Boston, on a truly glorious Spring night.

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CONCERT REVIEW: "ST. CECILIA RECITAL" (at The Mother Church of the Christian Science Church, in Boston)

The American Guild of Organists held its annual convention in Boston this week, and thousands of organists gathered from all over the world, to hear 200 concerts in churches and concert halls around the city. The week's events culminated in the grand concert, "The St. Cecilia Recital" at The Mother Church, The First Church Of Christ, Scientist, right across the street from where I live. How could I not go? The organist who was to perform the concert was 41-year-old genius, Stephen Tharp, who I was told, played as though "he was possessed by the devil." The church was packed as we walked in, but I was immediately struck by the fact that the huge organ (the largest single organ built by the Aeolian-Skinner firm) was hidden by a large movie screen. The audience was told that the screen would be removed AFTER so that they could come down and study the organ. I'm assuming that the screen was there so that the audience could study the organist and the organ in close detail, rather than having to stare at the organist's back while he was playing. Well, that might have been good for the audience of professionals, but hell, I didn't come to see a movie. I left after the first piece!

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if you were an organist in the audience. (1-Star) Back to Top for me!!!

OPERA REVIEW: "DON CARLO" (HD telecast from the Salzburg Festival in Austria)

This HD telecast came from the Grosse Festfielhause in Salzburg, Austria, where I was lucky enough to see the very same opera 28 years ago. Different cast of course! (The Grosse Festpielhausse is where the last scene of the movie "The Sound of Music" was filmed. It's the concert scene where the Von Trapp family escapes.) Anyway, the cast for this telecast was as good as it gets, led by Jonas Kaufman, Thomas Hampson, Anya Harteros and Marti Salminen. The Vienna Philharmonic was conducted by Antonio Pappano. The production, on the other hand was dreadful...minimalism at its worst. But it just goes to show that, even if the sets look like shit, and the direction is terrible, if the opera is sung beautifully, that's really all that matters. Did I really just say that? Me, who stays away from operas if the director screws it up. Yes, I will stay away UNLESS the opera is sung magnificently, and this was. The soprano looked like a matronly witch,  but sang like an angel. Jonas Kaufman, who looks and acts like a movie idol, inspired the rest of the cast to act at his level. Most did. So, the four hours flew by. It was that enjoyable. The music, of course, was Verdi at his best, and that's pretty damn good!

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The Opening Night of the BSO in Symphony Hall, is the official opening of "the season" in Boston. Last night it opened with a great flourish, because it was the Inaugural Concert of the Symphony's new Conductor, Andris Nelsons. Since James Levine left two years ago, the Symphony has had a succession of world-renowned guest conductors. At 36 years old, Maestro Nelsons has made quite a name for himself conducting the world's greatest orchestras. Now he's ours! There was an electricity in the Hall last night, starting with the Reception before the concert,  and many of the city, and state's, familiar faces were there, including, across the aisle from me, the surgeon who cut me open three years ago at the Brighams! Adding to the excitement was the fact that one of the two guest artists, Kristine Opolais, was the beautiful young wife of the Maestro. The other soloist was, arguably the greatest tenor in the world, Jonas Kaufman. What a strikingly handsome couple they made when they sang their only duet. The program consisted of an all-Wagner section during the first half, with soprano Opolais singing the "Liebestod" from "Tristan und Isolde." Whoever selected this treacherously difficult aria didn't do her any favors. It's out of her range. She's a Mimi, not an Isolde!  Kaufman was perfect, singing the "In Fernem Land" from "Lohengrin. The orchestra played the Overture to "Tannhauser' brilliantly. After the intermission, the second half was devoted to arias by Mascagni and Puccini, and the orchestra played the hauntingly beautiful "Intermezzo" from "Cavalleria Rusticana" and ended the program with "The Pines of Rome" by Respighi. A perfect program, and an exciting way to start Maestro Nelsons first season here in Boston. Bravo!

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CONCERT REVIEW: "PINK MARTINI" (at Symphony Hall in Boston)

Last night, my favorite singing group/band came to Boston for their annual sold-out concert at Symphony Hall. "Pink Martini" has been together for almost 20 years, and it seems that they keep getting better. Co-founders Thomas Lauderdale, and China Forbes (yes, of THAT Forbes family) met at school in Cambridge and started performing their unique brand of up-beat international music, as soon as they collected 8 other like-minded, incredibly talented musicians. Drawing inspiration from music from all over the world...crossing genres of classical, jazz, and old-fashioned pop...they appeal to people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and races. As Lauderdale says, "if the United Nations had a house band, we'd be that band." The one thing that their songs have in common is that they're toe-tapping, can't-sit-still-in-your-seat music. Because the group is constantly touring, singing with orchestras all over the world, and at major cultural events, they've become fluent in many languages. Last night, they sang in 9 languages, from French to Japanese, and including Farsi, Arabic, and Croatian. Many celebrities have sung with "Pink Martini" but their permanent guest artists are the Von Trapp Family Singers, the great-grandchildren of Captain and Maria Von Trapp  (yes, of THAT Von Trapp family!) They were wonderful, and an excellent addition to the "Pink Martini" family. Pick up one of their many award-winning CDs, or watch them on YouTube, and buy a ticket to their next concert, when they come to a city near you. You'll love them as I do.

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The opera season has begun for us, with this our first live in HD telecast of the season. This season, we'll be viewing the operas live from the Met, at the Cinema DeLux Theater at Patriot's Place, right next to Gillette Stadium where the Pats play. Our opera was Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro," ("The Marriage of Figaro.") This new production opened the Met season three weeks ago. All in all, it's a production with its pros and cons. The singing, of course, was first class, with a mixture of "old timers," (Ildar Abdrazakov, last season's "Prince Igor," as Figaro, Peter Mattei as Count Almaviva, and Isabel Leonard as Cherubino,) and new faces (Amanda Majeski as Countess Almaviva, and Marlis Petersen as Susanna.) Majeski is beautiful and has a glorious voice, but she needs to learn not to make faces with the all-seeing high definition cameras watching her. Petersen was a perfect Susanna. The set, which greeted the audience as we filed into the theater, is enormous, filling the gigantic Met stage from one side to the other, and reaching up about 30 or 40 feet into the rafters. It's built on the Met's giant turntable, so it revolves to reveal different aspects of the Almaviva palace, distractingly so, as it revolved during the famous Overture, in order to show the various rooms, and garden, where the upcoming action would take place. The set itself, is dark and enormous, made up of walls and walls of intricately carved lattice-like wooden panels. Very ornate, very Moorish, but very dark and oppressive. It looked more like a Turkish harem, than the palace of a Spanish nobleman! English director, Sir Richard Eyre chose to update the action to the 1930's rather than  the 18th Century, adding nothing new to the classic opera, but stripping it of its all-important revolutionary clash of the classes. Everyone in this version was a low-class pig, fondling everyone within reach, including themselves. But, after 3 and a half hours, you felt as though you had heard some glorious music being sung by great singers, and played by a great orchestra, under the direction of a frail James Levine...and that's really all that matters, isn't it?

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This operetta is a perfect antidote for the insanity on the news...murderous Muslims in Paris and self-indulgent protestors in Boston. It's a light piece of fluff...charming, colorful, and filled with waltzy melodies...sung with tongue-in-cheek perfection by a well-put-together cast. The plot, such as it is, involves the small Balkan country of Pontevedro (fictitious,) which is about to declare bankruptcy unless  its richest widow can be married off to a citizen, so as to keep her millions in her native country. She, on the other hand, is in Paris, enjoying the charms of THAT city, including its famous nightclub, Maxim's. Two Broadway stars are making their debuts at the Met with this production...Susan Stroman, as Director/Choreographer, and Broadway's favorite leading lady, Kelli O'Hara as supporting actress to the stars of the production. The stars, are the veteran soprano Renee Fleming as Hanna Glawari, The Merry Widow, and Nathan Gunn, as her on-again, off-again old flame. Both do a fine job, as does the entire cast, especially the dancers, who do a wicked can-can! The sets are colorful and old-fashioned in the best sense of the word. The Met orchestra, under Maestro Sir Andrew Davis,  plays its heart out, even though the music isn't Verdi or Wagner! Altogether, a delightful way to spend three hours away from the ugliness of the world out there.

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In the midst of our seemingly endless snowstorm, I put on my boots and trudged across the street to Symphony Hall, to hear a song recital by the world's prima donna, Renee Fleming, and her brilliant piano accompanist Olga Kern. What a beautiful duo! As Renee Fleming sang the songs of Schumann, Rachmaninoff, and Richard Strauss, one could close ones eyes and imagine that there were flowers and leafy trees outside, and birds were singing in these trees. For two glorious hours a sold-out house could imagine that it was Spring or Summer.  At this stage in her career, when the soprano is looking to do other things (directing, acting on Broadway, etc.) to replace the challenging roles that she's always taken on, her voice still sounds glorious. She's still singing less demanding roles at opera houses all over the world, at this, the height of her career. So if she does choose some form of retirement, she'll be going out on top. But, as far as this concert went, her voice sounded glorious, and the songs were sung the way they were meant to be sung. Olga Kern was the perfect accompanist, shining in one solo piece by Rachmaninoff, a fellow Russian. These two could take this song recital on the road, and play it in all of the great concert halls of the world.

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Once again, the snow was falling outside of Symphony Hall last night in this record-breaking Winter. Inside however, six-time Tony-award-winning singer/actress Audra McDonald warmed up her sold-out audience in a concert that was as close to perfection as any that I've ever seen. There she was, looking beautiful in a black and brown long gown, and with just a trio of brilliant musicians (piano, bass, and drums) she brought a program of songs to life, and made you hear them as though you were hearing them for the first time, as in several cases, we were. If you've heard her before, you know that she acts the song that she's singing, and makes every word a part of a short story. Songs that have become clich├ęs in the American Songbook sound fresh and new. Her charm and incredible voice bring the lyrics of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, and new young composers to life. Her Juilliard-trained voice can sing anything from pop music to opera, and make it all sound effortless. She's so comfortable on stage, that when she forgot some lyrics, she made a joke of it, and we were all in on the joke. When she introduced "Climb Every Mountain," she said that she was the darkest Mother Abbess ever to appear in the role, when she sang the part in the live telecast of "The Sound of Music." After several standing ovations, she said, "OK, I've got to go now and try to catch a plane to get back to New York tonight. My daughter has school tomorrow!" Audra McDonald is a genius. See her if you can.

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God only knows why this bel canto Rossini masterpiece is coming to the Met for the first time this season. Maybe the voices just weren't there to perform the vocal gymnastics required of the showy bel canto style. Or maybe no one cared enough to lay out the money necessary to put on a new production at The Met. Nevertheless, something happened, and here it is. The stars were aligned perfectly. Four stars that is, who are the world's best bel canto singers at the present time...Joyce DiDonato, Juan Diego Florez, Daniela Barcellona and John Osborn. The plot of the opera is very loosely based on Sir Walter Scott's novel, The Lady of the Lake, but in a true bel canto opera, the story doesn't mean a damn thing. Nor do the sets, costumes, and direction. All that's required is that the singers plant their feet firmly on the stage and perform treacherous vocal fireworks, and that they did. The action is so static, that they could have even performed this as a concert, and saved the money needed to put on a new production. In any case, it was an experience to see this rarity done to perfection, and even though I will probably never see it again, I'm glad that I saw it once. As one of my friends who attended this showing with me said, "this one is probably better just heard on the radio!"

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It's hard to imagine that this was the U.S. recital debut for this dynamic young tenor, who has won every major international music award, and who sings regularly at every major opera house in the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang on the live radio broadcast of "Lucia di Lammermoor" two weeks ago. Critics have called him "a young Pavarotti," and rightfully so. Last night, his powerful voice filled the acoustically-perfect Jordan Hall, in what was probably the shortest concert that I've ever heard...less than one hour, not counting encores! But in that short time, he managed to charm the audience, with his funny remarks between his musical selections. The regular program consisted of just ten songs and arias, and then there were some encores. He sang all of these beautifully, accompanied by the brilliant pianist Kevin Miller, belting the arias right out of the house. The audience loved him, and gave him standing ovations. I had to keep reminding myself that Calleja is still only in his 30's. What a career he has ahead of him!

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At 81, Carol Burnett still has it! She's charming, attractive, and a naturally funny woman. Her show, on the other hand, was a combination of the entertainingly funny, and the embarrassingly awful! The funny part consisted of her telling stories of her career, her life, and her TV shows, and showing vintage clips from the best of these shows. The awful part consisted of the audience members asking her questions. One would have thought that in a virtually sold-out Symphony Hall, there might have been at least one intelligent person asking a clever question. Instead, morons came to the mikes and spewed out nonsense about themselves and how much they loved Carol Burnett. Who gives a shit?

(4-Stars for Carol Burnett and her video clips; 1-Star for the audience-participation segments.)Back to Top


Two more magnificent Franco Zeffirelli productions have been scrapped, and have been replaced in the way of scenic design, by practically nothing. In "Cavalleria," where Zeffirelli gave us a realistic Sicilian village square on a sunny Easter Sunday morning, with a huge church towering over the square, the new David McVicar production gives us three ceiling-to-floor brick walls surrounding the stage, which is filled with dozens of straight-backed chairs! The "Pagliacci" keeps those damn walls, and adds some Christmas tree lights and a huge truck, which serves as a stage for the play-within-a-play. The effect in both, is stark and ugly. Why not just do them as concerts, and save all of the money spent on new sets and costumes? With cheapskate General Manager Peter Gelb running the show, we'll eventually come to that. So, putting aside the hideous sets and costumes (which in the case of "Cavalleria," looked like they were borrowed from a touring company of "Fiddler on the Roof,") we're left with the singing and the acting, which in the case of both operas, was as good as it gets! Marcelo Alvarez sang the tenor roles in both operas, a stunt that's rarely done...and he pulled it off beautifully. (I remember Jose Cura doing the same thing years ago.) His Santuzza in "Cavalleria," was the great singing-actress Eva Maria Westbruck, and she was perfect. The cuckolded husband, Alfio, was sung by George Gagnidze, who also sang the villainous Tonio, in "Pagliacci." Alvarez and Gagnidze were joined by Patricia Racette as Nedda in "Pagliacci." So, to summarize, what did we get in this new production of opera's most famous double-bill? Great singing and acting, and some of the ugliest sets that will haunt us for years, until a new Manager decides to replace them with God knows what?

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For the singing and the acting. Screw the sets!

OPERA REVIEW" "CROSSING" (for the American Repertory Theatre, performed at the Shubert Theatre)

Matthew Aucoin is the classical music world's favorite little 26-year-old boy genius. An undergraduate at Harvard, he was composing music from the minute he came out of the womb, and he's done everything, including being an Assistant Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. "Crossing" is his new American Opera, based on the civil war diaries of Walt Whitman. Last night was Opening Night for this World Premiere, and the press of the world was out in full. I can't wait to read the reviews. Here's mine. If you love modern atonal music, then you'll love this dreary one hour and forty intermissionless minutes opera. To me it was torture!. Good voices, like the Met Opera's Rod Gilfry's beautiful baritone were wasted on music that was monotonous, repetitious, and dreadfully dull. The creative team designed a beautiful set and lit it dramatically. Not enough compensation for me to have to sit through all of that long boring music. If I was a betting man, I'd say that the critics loved it. Not this one!

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I was invited to Northeastern Night at the Pops last night. On paper, it sounds like an unlikely combination... Cirque de Soleil-type performers, doing their magic and acrobatic stunts in front of the full Boston Pops orchestra, and flying over the heads of the audience as well. All of this accompanied by some of the most beautiful light classical and classical music. It was magic. As we watched some of these magic tricks, we had no idea how they were being done. They looked to be near impossible. It was a thrilling evening at Symphony Hall, and the sold-out audience ate it up!
(5-Stars) June 13, 2015 Back to Top

Note to Peter Gelb, General Manager of The Met: Stop hiring those effete directors from Broadway, Hollywood, and London to direct the new productions at the Met, and let the Stage Managers and singers direct themselves in their performances, as they did in the days of the great Caruso! These hideous new productions are what's keeping patrons away from the Met, not the high prices or the Live HD telecasts. The new production of "Otello" is the latest one of these director's follies. The culprit in this case is Broadway director Bartlett Sher. His "Otello" is played out in near darkness, with scenery made up of sliding glass walls that look like upturned ashtrays. In the background are projected videos of waves and other things. The singers and orchestra almost make up for this visual mess. The Met orchestra under conductor Yannick Nezet-Serguin is magnificent...the star of the evening. Sonya Yoncheva and Zeljko Lucic are a more than adequate Desdemona and Iago, but as Otello, Aleksandrs Antonernko sings erratically, and can't act to save himself. In addition, director Sher has made the colossal mistake of eliminating the make-up that turns him into Shakespeare's Moor. This Otello is white, thereby erasing all of the conflict and tension that sets Otello apart from everyone else in his court, especially his wife. A white Otello just doesn't work. He must have the discomfort of being an outsider in order to understand his pain and insane behavior. Without this, he just appears to be extremely stupid! My advise to those of you who love the opera "Otello" as I do, is to check out the magnificent Franco Zeffirelli production with Placido Domingo. This one has singing beyond compare, ships bobbing in the opening storm, with huge "waves" crashing onto the stage, castles that look like castles, and Otello as a black Moor, majestic and tragic. Don't waste your $200 going the new production at the Met.
(3-Stars) October 17, 2015 Back to Top

CONCERT REVIEW- "Opening Night of The Holiday Pops (2015)"
The holiday season begins in Boston with the three big tree-lighting ceremonies (Fanueil Hall, The Common, and The Rose Garden in the Fens,) and the Opening Night of the Holiday Pops at Symphony Hall. Last night we attended what turned out to be the best Christmas/Hanukkah Concert in years. First of all, let me walk you into Symphony Hall, where the lobbies and halls are decorated with lighted Christmas trees and garlands. In the Hall itself, the seats on the Orchestra level have been replaced for the month of December, by the Pops chairs and tables, and the boxes have been draped with festooned lighted garlands. On stage are six large gaslights, over the heads of the Orchestra. All in all, Symphony Hall was dressed for Christmas/Hanukkah. The political correct police, who are trying to erase Christmas, must have been outraged! To add to their outrage, the concert itself was divided into two parts...the first half consisted of mostly religious music and a story-telling, and the second half consisted of mostly secular Winter songs. The concert opened with "Sing Noel", a medley of Christmas carols, The Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah (sung by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus,) a beautiful Hanukkah song, "Light the Candles of Freedom," "Waltz of the Flowers" from "The Nutcracker" and bass/baritone Justin Hopkins reading and singing "The Christmas Story" (the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem,) accompanied by the beautiful illustrations of artist Tomie de Paola, projected on a huge screen above the Orchestra. The songs in the second half consisted of popular favorites like "Baby It's Cold Outside." After the reading of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" ("Twas the Night Before Christmas,") there was the audience favorite, the Sing Along, where we all sang "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Winter Wonderland" etc. Santa Claus ended the evening by appearing to wish us all good tidings. All in all, a wonderful way to start the holiday season.
(5-Stars) December 2, 2015 Back to Top

The last time that this opera was done at the Met was 100 years ago, with Enrico Caruso. I can't understand why, because there's nothing in it that's so extraordinary, or so terrible, that requires that amount of time between showings! It requires three excellent voices, which the Met has in abundance, and an excellent chorus...ditto. I suspect it's as simple as the fact that mezzo-extraordinaire Diana Damrau wanted to do it, and so it was done. Her co-stars were Matthew Polanzani and Marius Kwiecen. The story has to do with a love triangle amongst the pearl fishers of Ceylon (Sri Lanka?) One of the three is a priestess and that tends to make things messy. There's very little action; it's mostly all choral. But the music is very beautiful. Much more mellow than the composer's (Bizet's) more famous opera, "Carmen." What I liked is this production combined modern-day special effects and traditional 3-D painted sets. The opening scene was a theatrical coup in which the entire stage appeared to be underwater, while divers got their pearls. Very effective. There was also a very real tsunami, a realistic fire that burned the town, and two beautiful duets and a glorious solo for Damrau.
(4-Stars) January 16, 2016 Back to Top

OPERA REVIEW- "SAMSON ET DALILA" (telecast from the Paris Opera Bastille to the Coolidge Corner Theatre)
As you probably know by now, I hate it when directors change the time period and the setting of plays or operas. But sometimes it works. Director Damiano Michieletto has taken composer Saint-Saens' beautiful opera about the famous biblical lovers, and reset it in a modern-day setting in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Samson and Delilah are sung by Aleksandrs Antonenko and Anita Rachvelishvili (the two singers from the Met's production of "Prince Igor," a few years ago.) Neither one looks the part, but you forget their looks, because both their singing and yes, their acting, are so excellent. They're wonderful. The chorus is magnificent and the sets and costumes are perfectly suited to the action of the opera. Just in case you get to see this telecast, I won't tell you what the director substitutes for Samson's pushing the pillars of the temple to destroy everyone in it, including himself and Delilah, but it brings down the house!
(5-Stars) January 8, 2017 Back to Top

This new production of "Romeo et Juliette" is beautiful to look at, and wonderful to listen to. The magnificent set design consists of a unit setting made to resemble an ornate plaza in Italy with detailed ceiling-to-floor Palladian facades of buildings fronting the plaza. Additional pieces of scenery were flown in from above, in order to change the scenes. The Shakespearean tale of the star-crossed teen-aged lovers, Romeo and Juliet, was magnificently sung by the far-from-teen aged Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau. They couldn't have been better. The excellent conductor was Gianandrea Noseda. Bartlett Sher, the ubiquitous director, kept the action constantly moving and believable, with the singers, especially Grigolo, climbing all over the sets. It was a joy to see the best of today's singers given a stage setting worthy of their voices. The combination of great voices and beautiful settings and costumes is what opera should be, and used to be. Today that's the exception rather than the rule.
(5-Stars) January 22, 2017 Back to Top

OPERA REVIEW- "SLEEPING BEAUTY" (HD telecast from Moscow)
I have to plead ignorance when it comes to ballet because it's not my cup of tea. I love opera, and i keep wanting the dancers to start singing! However, I can appreciate and enjoy a great deal about a ballet performance, and this one was one of the best that I've seen. The Bolshoi Ballet's performance of "Sleeping Beauty" from their home at the magnificent Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow is a classic of Russian musical tradition. In the production that we "attended," the music of Tchaikovsky was beautiful, as were the tremendous elaborate, ornate sets and costumes. Even a novice like me can appreciate the difficulty, strength, beauty and athleticism of what each and every dancer was doing. At times, it was like watching a body-building competition. How the hell do they do what they do??? It was a memorable performance, and it added to my knowledge of the world of ballet.
(5-Stars) January 29, 2017 Back to Top

We started the evening at the Symphony Cafe, the excellent restaurant in Symphony Hall. A buffet dinner is offered in the front of the restaurant, and a 2 or 3 course dinner is offered in a separate room in the rear. We opted for the latter. Everything about the meal was perfect...presentation, taste, service and decor. I chose the Cauliflower Cream Soup as a Starter, and a wonderful Truffle, Mushroom Risotto as my Entree. The concert was the majestic, huge, Bach B Minor Mass, with Andris Nelsons (boy did he get fat!) conducting the BSO and the 200 member Tanglewood Festival Chorus. I didn't know the four soloists but they were very good. The Mass was exactly what it's supposed to be...huge, spiritual, repetitious, and overpowering (we were in the third row!) Yes, I did say "repetitious." Like Handel, it can take a half hour to play/sing one line of the text. That annoys me. Sorry purists.
(5-Stars) February 3, 2017 Back to Top

CONCERT REVIEW- "RUSALKA"(Live in HD telecast from The Met)
The only other time that I saw "Rusalka" at the Met, was in the beautiful 1993 production, with glorious elaborate picture-book sets, and sung by Renee Fleming in her prime. In contrast, the opera that we saw yesterday was a dark and dreary mess..."The Little Mermaid" meets "The Bride of Frankenstein!" The singing was very good, although what's with that long second act, where the soprano (Kristine Opolais) doesn't sing a note? A nice job for a singer with a very limited repertoire like Opolais! The composer, Dvorak, mustn't have liked his leading lady! The other singers...Jamie Barton, Brandon Jovanovich, and Eric Owens did a fine job...especially Jamie Barton as the Witch, Jezibaba. Now about the awful production. Right before General Manager Peter Gelb fires himself for general incompetence, he should fire Director Mary Zimmerman. This is the fifth new production at the Met, that I've seen by this destructive director, only one of which, "Lucia Di Lammermoor," I've liked. She kills everything that she touches. For starters, in this production of "Rusalka," she chose to shrink the Met's enormous stage to about one-third its massive size, placing the action in what appeared to be dark little boxes. Why? God only knows! Enough said. We walked out before the end!!!
(2-Stars) February 26, 2017 Back to Top

OPERA REVIEW- "DER ROSENKAVALIER" (Live in HD telecast from The MET)
Finally, the Met has got it right! The new production of "Der Rosenkavalier" is absolutely beautiful in every way. First, and most importantly, the singers are perfect. Renee Fleming and Elina Garanca, as the Marschallin and her young lover Octavian, couldn't be better. Alas, they're singing their signature roles for the last time...retiring them after this performance. Joining them in this story's love triangle is new young singer, Erin Morley, as Sophie. She completes the trio beautifully. But the surprise of this new production is Gunther Groissbock as Baron Ochs. He steals the show. In this production, Ochs is not the usual old, fat buffoon, but rather a young, virile hunk of a bully. It's a new Ochs, and it works beautifully. As I said before, Groissbock's Ochs steals the show. In addition to the wonderful singing, the sets and costumes are magnificent. The action of the opera has been updated in this production to the Vienna of 1911. No more powdered wigs and giant dresses. Everything and everyone looks elegant and grand. It all works perfectly. The Met orchestra, as always, is as good as it gets, even under the relatively unknown conductor Sebastian Weigle. The opera is long, but after over four hours, you're rewarded with the incredible trio. one of the most sublime pieces of operatic music ever created. Bravo Strauss!
(5-Stars) May 13, 2017 Back to Top

The last time that I saw "Norma" at the Met, it was somewhat disappointing. The set consisted of three huge round rocks ("minimalism" by John Conklin,) and the three lead singers were three huge round people (old school) who were almost as large as the rocks behind them (Eaglen, Botha, and a mezzo whose name I forgot.) This long overdue new production of Bellini's masterpiece was altogether different. The dark set filled the gigantic Met stage with a forest of giant oak trees which rose in full view of the audience, to reveal Norma's large round wooden igloo-like living space. It's good to see the Met's full-stage elevators being used to create a coup-de-theatre. But the difficult "Norma" depends on great singers, and this production certainly had them. Sondra Radvanovsky, singing at her best was Norma, and using luxury casting, Joyce Didonato, was Adalgisa. The great Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja was their Pollione. The plot still tells the story of a Druid high priestess in 50 BC Gaul, who falls in love with one of the Roman captors of her people, and becomes the mother of his two sons. When her novice priestess, Adalgisa, also falls in love with Pollione, all hell breaks loose, creating a triangle that ends in tragedy. Of course the plot is irrelevant, when you have singers as great as the three singing in this new production. They could have been singing on a bare stage and singing the "History of the Druids in Gaul" and they would have been worth the price of admission!
(5-Stars) October 7, 2017 Back to Top

The last time that I heard this masterpiece by Berlioz performed, was at the MET in New York many years ago, where the spectacular music was almost buried by the even more spectacular visual effects concocted by Robert Lepage, who turned it into a Cirque de Soleil affair. Yesterday I heard this great work as it should be performed, as an oratorio, performed by a world-class orchestra, and a chorus of outstanding singers. The orchestra was the Boston Symphony Orchestra with added instruments, bringing it to over 100 musicians. The hundreds of singers were the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the Choir of St. Paul's in Harvard Square. I've never seen so many musicians on the stage of Symphony Hall. The musical effect that they created was overwhelming. The soloists sang their hearts out, to be heard above this wall of music roaring behind them. Two of them, Susan Graham and John Relyea, were the same singers that I heard years ago. They sounded even better now! They were joined by tenor Paul Groves who did a fine job keeping up with them. All in all, this was an outstanding masterpiece performed at its best. Bravi to all involved!
(5-Stars) October 28, 2017 Back to Top

What better way to begin the holiday season in Boston than to take in the opening night of the Boston Pops "Holiday Pops" at Symphony Hall. The majestic hall is decorated with garlands and lights, and instead of the usual seats on the orchestra level, there are tables and chairs, so that food and drinks can be served throughout the concert. On stage is America's most famous orchestra, The Boston Pops, with Keith Lockhart celebrating his 20th year as its conductor. (I can't believe that it was 20 years ago when we greeted that "kid" as our new conductor!) The program was all about Christmas, with selections from The Nutcracker, The Messiah, everyone's favorite Christmas carols, and with actor Will LeBow from the American Repertory Theater) reading from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, while illustrated pages of the book turned on the giant screen above. The glorious evening culminated in the entrance of Santa Claus, who wandered around the hall having his picture taken with thrilled adults who were even more excited than the children in the audience. At the end of this most festive of evenings we all exited the building humming our favorite carols. If you're anywhere near Boston during the month of December, don't miss this unforgettable show. It's one for your memory book.
(5-Stars) December 6, 2017 Back to Top

OPERA /CONCERT REVIEW - "TOSCA" (Live in HD from The Met)
"Tosca" has had its ups and downs at The Met in the past few decades. After its debut in 1901, it ran for about 80 years dressed in decent, but uneventful productions. Then, in 1985 the opera house presented one of its most iconic, lavish productions of the opera, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It was spectacular, and faithful to the three Roman settings of each act, in every detail. The audiences loved it, and continued to love it for 25 years. Then, in one of his dumbest decisions, and he's had many, General Manager Peter Gelb decided to replace the Zeffirelli production. In 2010, he presented the Luc Bondy production of "Tosca", one of the most hideous, irreverent, poorly thought-out versions of the opera ever seen. The audiences booed it on opening night, and they stayed away from it in droves. It took the ever-slow Peter Gelb ten years to decide that he had to replace this mess. He even toyed with the idea of bringing back the now well-worn Zeffirelli sets, which were sitting in mothballs. Instead, he hired designer John MacFarlane to virtually duplicate these sets. The result is the magnificent, new 2017 production, which we saw yesterday. The beautiful sets and costumes would have stolen the show, if it weren't for the fact that the three leads were so perfect in their roles. Sonya Yoncheva (Floria Tosca,) Vittorio Grigolo (Mario Cavaradossi,) and Zeljko Lucic (Baron Scarpia,) as the singing diva, the artist, and the evil chief of police, couldn't have done a better job singing and acting their parts to perfection. All in all, a truly memorable afternoon at the opera.
(5-Stars) January 27, 2018 Back to Top

Thank you Andrew Lloyd Webber for writing this sequel to the classic "Phantom of the Opera." I loved this show, in spite of its checkered past. Let me tell you a little about its troubled past. It opened in London in 2010, received terrible reviews, and closed shortly afterward. Then it reopened in Australia, got mixed reviews, and once again, it closed. Andrew LLoyd Webber, after deciding that the book was the problem, brought Julian Fellowes ("Downton Abbey") in to tweak the book, and after a few years of work on the show, it debuted in America for a one-year tour. So here we are. Whatever the creative powers did to it, the revamped show works beautifully. The story now takes place in an exotic Coney Island, 10 years after the Phantom supposedly died under the Paris Opera, although "only his mask was found." He's now the mysterious Mr. Y., who runs a fantastic "Cirque du Soleil"-like show. Christine Daee, his lover, is now a great opera singer, and married to Raoul, the good guy from the original story. (Spoiler alert:) They have a 10 year old son, Gustave! The great impresario, Oscar Hammerstein, brings her to New York to sing at his new opera house in Manhattan. It doesn't take long for the three main characters to meet again, and the plot explodes. Their story unfolds in an over-the-top, old-fashioned, melodramatic way. Very Victorian-Gothic. All comic elements were removed from the original, and the entire opera (yes, it's an opera!) is sung through, with very little spoken dialogue...more "Tosca" than "Hello Dolly!" The musical score is beautiful throughout, with at least three outstanding songs. The sets and costumes are big, colorful and spectacular...almost overwhelming. I think that I've said enough. I hope that it finally makes it to Broadway.
(5-Stars) February 8, 2018 Back to Top

Distracted! Once again, the powers that be at the Met, have chosen to set an opera in a time and a location that was not the choice of the composer. In this case, Mozart! Instead of 18th Century Amalfi, we get 1955 Coney Island! I knew that we were in trouble when, during the playing of the lovely Overture, the stage was filled with flame-eaters, snake charmers, a bearded lady, midgets and sword swallowers. The audience often drowned out the music of the Overture with laughter and applause. This was so wrong. The singing was excellent on the part of the entire cast, including Broadway's Kelli O'Hara, and the Met orchestra played the music beautifully. But because there was so much silliness going on on stage throughout the entire opera, the music began to sound boring and the opera seemed too long. This is inexcusable, and someone owes Mozart an apology!!!
5-Stars (If I had closed my eyes for 3 1/2 hours!!!) March 31, 2018 Back to Top

It's hard to believe that "Cendrillon" was making its debut performance at The Met, more than 100 years after it was first performed in Paris, and more than 20 years after I first saw it at The New York City Opera. I didn't appreciate it when I saw it then...I don't know why...but I really loved this new Met production by Director Laurent Pelly. The production takes its inspiration from the pages of Charles Perrault's version of Cendrillon (Cinderella.) Literally, in fact, since all of the imaginative, whimsical, and highly creative sets are made of the black and white pages from the book, covered with the lines of text from the story. The costumes, in bold reds and pinks, are very funny, and compliment the story. The music, by Massanet, is beautiful, and oftentimes pays homage to Wagner and Strauss, especially the third act trio, which is a bow to the magnificent trio in Strauss' Rosenkavalier. All of the music is expertly sung, by the four leads, Joyce DiDonato, Alice Coote, Stephanie Blythe, and Kathleen Kim. No one performing in today's opera world, could have sung these roles better. All in all, one of the Met's best new productions this season.
(5-Stars) April 28, 2018 Back to Top

OPERA /CONCERT REVIEW - AIDA (Live in HD from The MET - 10/06/2018)
The opera season has begun at The Met in New York, and we went to see the season's first Live in HD telecast from The Met yesterday. The opera was "Aida," which I've seen a million times, but I wanted to see the world's reigning diva, Anna Netrebko, sing it for the first time at the Met. The 30-year-old production, with its realistic monumental sets, still looks great in the true old-school traditional way. The singers almost seemed dwarfed by the towering walls and statues of the gods. But you sure could hear them! The two singers, whose voices soared over the sets and the huge 100-piece Met orchestra, were Netrebko, singing the lead, and her fellow-Russian, Anita Rachvelishvili, who sang the equally-challenging role of her rival, Amneris. They were both magnificent, and they left the tenor, Aleksandrs Antonenko, back in the dust. He was very good in the role of Radames, but not in their league. I remember this beautiful production at the Met many years ago with the two great Aidas of their day, Zinka Milanov, and Leontyne Price, the greatest Aida of all time. Now you can put Anna Netrebko up there with the two of them. A well-deserved honor.
(5-Stars) October 6, 2018 Back to Top

Last night I went to my first Boston Symphony Orchestra concert of the season. Symphony Hall is right across the street, and we get complimentary tickets. What more can you ask? I went over early and had dinner in the Hall at Symphony Cafe. I ate like a pig! Caesar Salad, White Bean and Escarole Soup, Gnocchi in Mascarpone Cream Sauce, Pan Seared Cod in Tomato and Thyme Sauce, Cheese Tray, and Mini Pastries and Cookies. Yikes!!! I hobbled into the Hall, and heard a magnificent concert consisting of Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Bartok. I hated the Stravinsky "Symphonies of Wind Instruments." Mercifully it was short...only 9 minutes of noise. I loved both the Tchaikovsky "Serenade in C for Strings," and the overpowering Bartok "Concerto for Orchestra." There were about 100 players blasting away, but I could still hear my friend Toby's trombone riding over the huge sound of the Orchestra. I couldn't see you Toby, but I could hear you! All in all, a beautiful evening away from "my comfort zone."
(5-Stars) October 12, 2018 Back to Top

What a wonderful way to start off our Huntington Theatre's season of four plays. I loved everything about this first play! The Huntington is famous for its beautiful settings and this one was one of the best. The curtain rose on a large, elaborate Victorian gentleman's Study, complete down to the smallest detail. (They could play "My Fair Lady" on this set.) There we met our three main characters, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson. Now here's the tricky part. I can't tell you much about the plot without revealing one of the many secrets of the story. It's filled with so many unpredictable twists and turns, that I would be sure to give away something. What I can say is that it's a typical Sherlock Holmes mystery, but with the addition of so much comedy, that I found myself laughing out loud a great deal of the time. I can't remember the last time that I did that! Now I'm no idiot, but I had no idea where the story was going at any given time. It was baffling, a true mystery, and completely entertaining from start to finish. This one belongs on Broadway.
(5-Stars) October 14, 2018 Back to Top

Composer Saint-Saens wanted to write "Samson et Dalila" as an oratorio, but he was convinced to turn it into an opera. It's basically still an oratorio, with the Met's incredible chorus triumphing in Act 1, as the Israelites who blame the Philistines and even their God for their enslavement, and then in Act 3, as the Philistines, who whip themselves up into a religious frenzy, until Samson brings the Temple of Dagon crashing down on all of them. Those two acts belong to the Chorus, arguably the finest opera chorus in the world. In between is Act 2, in which the seductress, Dalila (Elina Garanca,) gets to trick Samson (Roberto Alagna,) into revealing the source of his strength...his hair. All of this to some of the most lush, romantic, and sensual music ever written. The sets and costumes for this new production are traditional, biblical, and beautiful. They should last the Met for at least another decade or two. That's more than I can say about me, and the white-haired audience that filled the opera house yesterday!
(5-Stars) October 21, 2018 Back to Top

OPERA /CONCERT REVIEW - MAHLER'S "SYMPHONY #2 in C MINOR" (Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall)
It was a lucky break that I decided to have lunch downstairs at Caffe Nero today. After saying good-bye to Blake who had just come in for coffee, I had my lunch and was about to leave, when a vaguely familiar-looking woman came over and asked, "May I share your table?" I said "Of course," and no sooner had she sat down, she asked, "Would you like to go to Symphony today?" I nearly snatched the ticket out of her hand, because today's program, which started in fifteen minutes, consisted almost entirely of Mahler's Symphony No.2 in C Minor, one of my favorite pieces. I asked her why she wasn't going, and she said "I feel claustrophobic." Rather than staying behind to attempt a cure, I quickly left the restaurant, crossed the street, entered the Hall and searched for my seat. Unfortunately it was in the first row, not a good seat for enjoying an orchestra consisting of 100 players, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, made up of more than 100 singers! I found an empty seat in a row further back, and the lights dimmed just as I sat down. After a five minute Chorale, sung by the Chorus, Andris Nelsons took the podium, and began to conduct this magnificent masterpiece. Mahler's 2nd is overwhelming...an hour and a half of beautiful, overpowering, melodic, majestic music. I enjoyed every minute of it. What a lucky day for me!
(5-Stars) October 26, 2018 Back to Top

OPERA /CONCERT REVIEW - "LA TRAVIATA" (Live in HD telecast from The MET)
It was a lucky break that I decided to have lunch downstairs at Caffe Nero today. After saying good-bye to Blake who had just come in for coffee, I had my lunch and was about to leave, when a vaguely familiar-looking woman came over and asked, "May I share your table?" I said "Of course," and no sooner had she sat down, she asked, "Would you like to go to Symphony today?" I nearly snatched the ticket out of her hand, because today's program, which started in fifteen minutes, consisted almost entirely of Mahler's Symphony No.2 in C Minor, one of my favorite pieces. I asked her why she wasn't going, and she said "I feel claustrophobic." Rather than staying behind to attempt a cure, I quickly left the restaurant, crossed the street, entered the Hall and searched for my seat. Unfortunately it was in the first row, not a good seat for enjoying an orchestra consisting of 100 players, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, made up of more than 100 singers! I found an empty seat in a row further back, and the lights dimmed just as I sat down. After a five minute Chorale, sung by the Chorus, Andris Nelsons took the podium, and began to conduct this magnificent masterpiece. Mahler's 2nd is overwhelming...an hour and a half of beautiful, overpowering, melodic, majestic music. I enjoyed every minute of it. What a lucky day for me!
(5-Stars) December 16, 2018 Back to Top

Absolutely breathtaking! I've been a lover of opera all of my life, and I've seen productions of just about every opera, all over the world. So it's really surprising that I've never seen "Adriana Lecouvreur" before. Lucky me. I got to see this glorious new production at the Met yesterday for the first time, with a cast that could only be described as perfect. The plot is a melodramatic soap opera about a real-life 18th Century actress at the Comedie-Francais in Paris. Her lover is the Prince of Saxony, whose ex-lover was the married Princess of Bouillon. A three way triangle that could have been a corny joke, if Cilea hadn't composed some of the most beautiful music that I've ever heard in an opera house, or anywhere else, to accompany it! The three incredible leads were Anna Netrebko as Adriana, Piotr Beczala as Maurizio, her prince, and the phenomenal Anita Rachvelishvili, who stole every scene that she was in, as the Princess of Bouillon. Rounding out this one-of-a-kind cast was Ambrogio Maestri as the Manager of the Comedie-Francais. He was excellent. I'd better end this review before I run out of superlatives.
(5-Stars) January 12, 2019 Back to Top

The Mozart Requiem is one of my favorite pieces of music. I was lucky enough to have a friend who gave me her ticket, so I went to Symphony Hall last night to hear it performed by the Handel & Haydn Society. The first part of the program consisted of one small piece by Mozart, one by Bach, and one piece with conductor's commentary by Allegri. But after the intermission, the house exploded with the overwhelming music of the Requiem. Four soloists, three choirs and the Society's huge Orchestra poured out the incredible music for one hour. It was all so big and beautiful, like pulling aside a curtain to get a glimpse of heaven. All of the various components blended together perfectly, to form one powerful instrument. When it ended, I could have listened to it again. Oh, the power of music.
(5-Stars) May 4, 2019 Back to Top

Franco Zeffirelli's 32-year old production of Puccini's "Turandot" at the Met, has become as much of a tourist attraction as it is an operatic event, due to its lavish over-the-top sets and costumes and the world-wide popularity of its most famous aria, "Nessun Dorma," which became the anthem of the World Cup in Rome in 1990. Opera lovers love it because it was the last music that Puccini wrote before he died, just as he was writing the music of the last act. It also contains some of his most beautiful music, especially the sublime Act 2. The opera was completed by composer Franco Alfano. When the most famous conductor who ever lived, Arturo Toscanini, conducted it, he put down his baton after the last note that Puccini wrote, and walked out of the orchestra pit! The reason to see this current revival of the Zeffirelli production is to hear world famous Wagnerian soprano Christine Goerke sing the title role under the baton of Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin, the Met's Music Director. Both were exceptional. Liu was sung by soprano Eleanora Buratto, who did a fine job. But the big surprise was the new young tenor who sang Calaf. His name is Yusik Eyvazov. He has the personality of a young Luciano Pavarotti, and he looks and sings like a young Placido Domingo. Keep your eyes on him. All in all, an excellent revival of this iconic production.
(5-Stars) October 12, 2019 Back to Top

I was in the mood to hear some great music this weekend, so I crossed the street, bought a ticket at Symphony Hall, and heard one of the most beautiful concerts that I've heard in years. A guest conductor and pianist, whose names I've never heard before, played two magnificent pieces of music...Beethoven's Piano Concerto #5 (the Emperor,) and Tchaikovsky's Symphony #5. These great concert pieces contain music that you'd recognize, and you'll come away from them humming these melodies. How lucky we are to have what is arguably the greatest symphony orchestra in the world, playing in what may be the world's greatest symphony hall, right across the street.
(5-Stars) January 5, 2020 Back to Top

"Porgy and Bess" is an opera with unique credentials. It tells the story of the black people living in Catfish Row, the poorest neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina. It was written by two Jewish men (George and Ira Gershwin,) from Brooklyn. It requires a large cast of black opera singers gathered from all over the world. It's the only opera whose arias have made it into the American Songbook, sung by singers from Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, to Fantasia and Carrie Underwood. It's been made into a successful Hollywood film. Now THAT'S diversity! The current revival at the Metropolitan Opera in New York is such a smash hit, that's it's had to extend it's run...something that's never done at the Met. Porgy (sung by Wagnerian bass/baritone Eric Owens) is an old cripple, who's in love with Bess (soprano Angel Blue) a drug addict and whore, who's also loved by Sportin' Life (Frederick Ballentine,) the neighborhood drug dealer, and Crown (Alfred Walker,) a murderous thug. Not exactly the plot of the operas done at the Met! This revival, the first in 30 years at the Met (God, did I first see it that long ago?) is truly wonderful. From the first notes of the aria "Summertime," through other famous arias ("It Ain't Necessarily So," "Bess, You Is My Woman," "I Got Plenty of Nuthin',") the ensemble cast sings superbly. This production is a triumph for the Met. They've given their best to what's become the greatest American opera ever written. See it if you can.
(5-Stars) February 1, 2020 Back to Top