Saturday, March 31, 2012

Slatkin Leads PSO in Eclectic Performance of A Cinderella Suite


Photo:  Donald Dietz/Detroit Symphony Orchestra


The clouds were gathering for a forecasted downpour Friday evening as we made our way to Heinz Hall for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s eclectic performance of three distinctive works.  But the gathering storm had nothing on the tumult that was about to entrance us at this unique performance.

Guest conductor Leonard Slatkin took the stage with composer Steven Stucky to introduce “Son et Lumiere” (‘Sound and Light’).  This unique work, written in 1989, blended seemingly discordant elements into a cohesive whole.  Interestingly, in only nine minutes, the music spanned multiple twists and turns.  At one point, I was reminded of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story”.  At another, the blend of melodies turned much more harmonious.  In the composer’s own words, “Throughout its brief nine minutes, therefore, the piece is built almost exclusively of short, busy ostinato figures – my attempt, I suppose, to achieve the rhythmic vitality of minimalism, but without giving in to the over-simple harmonic language that sometimes comes with it.”

With a brief interlude to reset the stage and introduce the magnificent Steinway piano, the orchestra regrouped for the performance of Concerto No. 5 in F major for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 103 “Egyptian”, composed by Camille Saint-Saens in 1896.  Stephen Hough delivered a spirited rendition of the work, mastering the intricate notes.  For his virtuosity in delivering the essence of the piece, Mr. Hough was favored with a standing ovation from the enthusiastic and loyal audience.  

After the brief intermission, we were delighted with the beautiful music of Prokofiev’s Suite from Cinderella.  The opulence of the setting transported us to the Ball where we became willing voyeurs – envisioning the Prince and Cinderella waltzing in the confines of the magnificent Heinz Hall with its glittering chandeliers and gilt carvings. 

The denouement of ‘Midnight’, with its ticking clock and crescendo marking each hour, transported the audience to the fateful moment when Cinderella flees from the ball, leaving behind the evocative glass slipper.  The charm of the story is represented in the delicate notes of the string section as the Prince searches for Cinderella.  The final set, ‘Amoroso’ leaves the audience breathing a collective, romantic sigh. 

As Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin demonstrated his incredible mastery of the baton.  His energy and enthusiasm for the compositions clearly came through as he led the PSO on this journey of three distinctly different yet surprisingly cohesive works. 

The PSO is one of the many jewels in the crown of Pittsburgh’s classical heritage and cultural future.  We were astounded yet again with the plethora of art and culture that is there for the taking in the reborn Cultural District and the great riches that Pittsburgh has to offer residents and visitors alike.   Conductor Slatkin and A Cinderella Suite perform through Sunday April 1st as part of the BNY Mellon Grand Classics.

Posted on behalf of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates.  Joyce Kane is the owner of Cybertary Pittsburgh, a Virtual Administrative support company, providing virtual office support, personal and executive assistance, creative design services and light bookkeeping.  Cybertary works with businesses and busy individuals to help them work 'on' their business rather than 'in' their business.

Monday, March 26, 2012

RovingPittsburgher Review, It Takes Three to "Tosca"

Te Deum in the Church of Sant'Andrea delle Valle.  
By Tamar Cerafici, Esq.

Reviewer’s Note: This remarkable production is available for only three more performances, Tuesday, March 27, Friday, March 30, and Sunday April 1, at the Benedum Center. Performances begin at 8 pm, on Tuesday and Friday. Sunday’s performance is at 2pm.

One of the perks of living in Pittsburgh and writing for this publication is the many chances I get to see Pittsburgh’s finest artistic offerings. I usually manage a hundred words or so, for a production like the Pittsburgh Opera’s latest rendition of Tosca, but I’m have some difficulty getting beyond --

Um, Wow. (Sigh) Wow.

I’m just that washed out by it.

A brief review of the plot might help me get my head straight. Problem is, the plot is complicated and it’s too long for the restrictions of this review. You can find a good synopsis on the Pittsburgh Opera’s Tosca site,

Mario Cavaradossi (Hugo Vera) ponders his portrait of Mary Magdalene,
"nothing like his raven-haired, dark-eyed Tosca." Photo: David Bachman
Let’s just say here that Tosca and Mario love each other to distraction, there’s a lot of gorgeous singing, dramatic irony, and three really juicy death scenes, including a leap from a castle battlement. You’d think this would all be vaguely silly, and if Verdi had written the music it would be. Fortunately, Verdi was too old by the time the libretto came along – in Puccini’s deft hands Tosca is achingly beautiful. There’s a gigantic choral scene, the love duets soar, and the villain gets what he deserves, dying at the hands of the heroine, stabbed to the heart with his own dinner knife.
The lovers:  Tosca and Mario

Did I mention I love Italian Opera? My husband, not so much. He prefers to understand what’s being sung, and came with me only on the promise of supertitles. (This is the level of his dedication: I once made him sit through an entire recording of Turandot without program notes and he still married me.)

Even my husband was satisfied at the end. He actually used the word “like” and hummed a few bars of E lucevan le stella on the way home. Though I doubt I’ll get him to another opera, I have a theory about why he liked this production.

First, it satisfied on many levels. Ercole Sormani’s sets are STUNNING. The scenery was appropriately dark, menacing, and Italian. The grand first act, set in the church of Sant' Andrea della Valle, in Rome, was remarkably detailed and seemed huge. On the other hand, thanks to Andrew David Ostrowski’s lighting design, the action was surprisingly intimate, and never got lost.

Tosca before she leaps to her death
Kevin Glavin’s Sacristan (a Pittsburgh native) gave just the buffo support that the otherwise drab opening needed, and Adam Fry’s Angelotti (later to appear as the Jailor) gave substance to an otherwise dramatically weak first act. Angela Brown’s Tosca and Hugo Vera’s Mario managed to make the huge space sweetly intimate.

Kristine McIntyre’s stage direction was nothing short of brilliant. The famous Te Deum at the end of the First Act was deftly choreographed: although there is no actual dancing, we are seeing two events unfolding – Scarpia’s corrupt manipulation of Tosca, and a papal procession celebrating an apparent Roman victory over Napoleon (“Italy” as we know it today didn’t exist until the 1860’s). It’s complicated, and can be disastrous in the wrong hands. McIntyre deliciously captured the deep ironies in the music and the libretto, and continued to explore those contradictions throughout the performance. Antony Walker managed the orchestra and singers in a delightfully nuanced way.

Normally, such reviews reserve most of the accolades for the tenor and soprano roles. I must say that Vera and Brown were both endearing as Mario and Tosca. Brown’s Vissi d’arte, where she wonders – without losing her faith – why God has placed her in Scarpia’s clutches is breathtaking and deeply moving. Vera’s E lucevan le stella rang clearly through Mario’s heartbreak. Both singers matched each other beautifully in their duets, with a level of chemistry that’s often lost in lesser performances.

But Mark Donovan’s Scarpia was positively Machiavellian, and my favorite of the evening. His manipulation of Mario and Tosca is demonic. His death scene was melodramatic without being silly.  In fact, Donovan’s command of the character dramatically and vocally dominated the entire production.

And that’s how it should be. The opera opens with fateful chords that are Scarpia’s theme throughout. Scarpia and the corrupt government that continues even after his death, IS the driving ambiguity of this drama. Although true love apparently wins as Tosca leaps to her death, Scarpia’s henchmen are the players left on the stage.

On the other hand, as Puccini suggests, maybe art and love are the only things worth fighting - and living - for. Maybe that’s why Mario’s theme ends the opera. And maybe that’s why I cry every time the curtain goes down.

Tosca (Angela Brown) asks God for mercy in the famous aria "Vissi d'arte" 
Whether you like opera or not, you must see this production. You don’t have an excuse. There are supertitles so you understand what the characters are saying. And I bet you’ve sat through a production or two of Les Miz or Phantom of the Opera, so don’t tell me you don’t enjoy people singing at each other over a loud orchestra. Les Miz and Phantoms are operas – the fact they’re in English and on the Broadway tour circuit is not an argument.

If you bought tickets to either of those productions, support this gem of an opera company, and see this powerful show.

Photos by David Bachman, copyright 2012. These images and others are available at the Pittsburgh Opera Tosca Website.

  • Author, Consultant at Dominate! How Smart Lawyers CRUSH the Competition
  • Environmental Lawyer at Cerafici Law Firm
  • Owner at The Barefoot Barrister
  • Spent her Pre Law Years at Brigham Young as a drama major.

Attorney Cerafici is an internationally recognized leader and legal specialist in the often complex and challenging nuclear regulatory industry. She has been at the forefront of the industry in building regulatory and policy framework for a new generation of nuclear plants. She was a major contributor to the first Early Site Permit granted under 10 CFR part 52, successfully implementing alternative site analyses that have become the general standard.

She's also an internationally known expert on marketing techniques for lawyers, and other billable-hour professionals, speaking around the world to delighted audiences everywhere. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

RovingPittsburgherReport: Review, Dutch Festival, "Die Space"

by Delana Flowers

DieSpace: A Lively Look At Death

It’s not often that you hear the words “elderly” and “technology” in the same sentence and you never hear “death” and “digital” in so much as the same phrase, unless you attend DieSpace by Pips:lab March 22 through the 24. This production is part of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Distinctively Dutch Festival. 
DieSpace is what you get when you put four creative men from the Netherlands discussing death and aging together with multimedia and audience participation. This production gives a moment of comic relief to the common fears of senior citizens: fear of the unknown afterlife, fear of dying, and fear of technology. DieSpace is MySpace for the dead, complete with a membership fee, music, and video uploads. “We are not going to heaven. We are not going to hell. We are going to upload to DieSpace.”

This performance is a non-intimidating audiovisual tech fest that utilizes music, video and software designed specifically for the show by Pips:lab. The interactive nature of the production makes you forget how morbid the reality of becoming older and dying. It makes the inevitable laughable.

The set, or lack thereof, in a stage less space made for a rather intimate but fun 60 minutes. The space was a simple laboratory of sorts complete with a projection screen, musical instruments, and several laptops among a few other things. The integration of these mediums coupled with the interesting subject matter made a set unnecessary.

Seeing two of the four men dressed as and playing the roles of elderly women was quite striking. I wonder how different the production would be had these roles been played by women.

This was certainly a unique experience in both subject matter and execution. The crowd was fairly young and I couldn’t help but wonder how the 65 and up would react to this production. The young audience present opening night seemed to enjoy the entertainment but without fully understanding the why of it. Without the traditional plot to follow, this was more like experimental theater.

If I ever had a doubt that technology and theater can and should work together, this was an impressive demonstration of the endless possibilities that can result from the meeting of the two.

Pittsburgh Good News Reviewer and Reporter
Delana Flowers
Delana Flowers is a multi-talented creative. She is a Positively Pittsburgh Live reporter, a dynamic vocalist, an amazing Actress, and an independent writer. Delana is owner of Ingenuity by Delana Flowers ©, writing effective copy so you don’t have to. Services include copywriting for newsletters, blogs, ad copy, marketing pieces, articles, reviews, invitations, postcards, flyers and more.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Analyze Freud's Last Session at the O'Reilly

Freud’s Last Session
On the day that Great Britain declares war on Germany, two intellects spar on the topics of God, religious beliefs, life and yes, sex.  Renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, a recent emigrant from Vienna, shares his recreated office in London replete with the proverbial couch with Oxford professor and author, C.S. Lewis.  Freud, the non-believer (despite having a Catholic nanny who augmented his Jewish upbringing by exposing him to the rituals of the Catholic Church), verbally thrusts and parries with Lewis throughout the dialogue on the wide range of topics.  The exchange is witty and entertaining, drawing the audience into the discussion.  The venue of the O’Reilly Theater works well to promote the intimacy of the conversation.
The meeting between the two grew from the imagination of author Dr. Armand M. Nicholi and was converted to this medium by playwright Mark St. Germain.  The setting is true to history in time and place and lends credence to the possibility of the interchange.   Lewis arrives with gas mask in hand; Freud’s is stashed in a desk drawer so that when the air raid signal sounds, they are both ready. 
The radio plays a pivotal role in moving the dialogue, with its fascinating twists and turns, forward.  Freud is 83 at the time and living with mouth cancer and a device that is painful yet necessary.  Lewis is 41, a recent convert to the Church of England after declaring himself an atheist in his mid-teens, is a celebrated author and Christian theologian.  
They both travel in circles of brilliance.  Freud, at the end of his storied career, is highly reliant on his daughter Anna.  Lewis names J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton among his colleagues.  Through the course of their conversation, they explore arguments for and against the existence of God that lead to an examination of the very meaning of life.  Lewis, a veteran of the First World War, is reluctant to discuss that experience; Freud, as the end of his life looms, is wrestling with pain and fear of death.  From these divergent backgrounds and life experiences, they begin to establish a relationship founded on respect, if not common views.
Freud’s Last Session is at The Pittsburgh Public Theater’s O’Reilly Theater from March 1st through April 1st.

Reviewed by Joyce Kane
Joyce is the Owner of Cybertary Pittsburgh, a Virtual Administrative support company.  Cybertary works with businesses and busy individuals to help them work 'on' their business rather than 'in' their business.