Over at Blumenthal Performing Arts, they're broadly hinting that a gleaming piece of Lincoln Center, the Tony Award-winning production of War Horse, will be part of the 2012-13 Broadway Lights Series. It becomes official at a special announcement event next Tuesday that has been moved from Booth Playhouse to McGlohon Theatre so that ticket demand can be met.
Meanwhile, the fifth season of Met Live in HD continues at the Stonecrest 22 near the Outerbelt, with a sixth season of 12 more live broadcasts already scheduled further evidence that Lincoln Center isn't headed for antique status in the new millennium. Counting War Horse and Other Desert Cities (playing in the heart of the theatre district), five of the 12 performing arts events Sue and I attended on our February 2012 pilgrimage to New York were Lincoln Center productions.
For the first time, we arrived late enough in the season to sample a New York City Ballet performance other than The Nutcracker, so I didn't hesitate. We did our Valentine's Day celebrating a few blocks south on the fifth floor of the Time-Warner Building, where Dizzy's is the Jazz @ Lincoln Center nightclub and René Marie was holding court.
You can get my takes on War Horse and Other Cities in my Broadway/Off-Broadway roundup, published last week. Here I'm cuing up opera, dance, and jazz:
René Marie at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (***3/4) Overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park, with acoustics to die for, Dizzy's remains the king of clubs. So if we didn't get quite the quantity of diva we're used to when René Marie performs down here at Spoleto Festival USA, we got a more intimate and electrifying experience at each of the two sets she performed nightly during her Dizzy's engagement and you could do both sets plus dinner for less than the price of Spider-Man tickets if you chose. I doubt Marie repeated anything on the same night. Until she finished with Grace Slick's "White Rabbit," nothing she sang for us in her second Valentine's Day set was a replay of songs sung at Spoleto in 2007 and 2009.
Not surprising, for the chameleonic Marie has shifted ground over the past year. Early in 2011, she released Voice of My Beautiful Country, her current project when she last sang in Charleston, comprised of traditional songs and covers. These included "White Rabbit," one of two songs I thought were on an express track to the studio when I first heard them. Later in the year came her newest CD, containing mostly Marie originals. As "This for Joe" unabashedly proclaims in a frisky Latin beat Marie is intent on doing her own material, differentiating herself from the herd, and not prattling the standards.
Defiance is a stance Marie does well, and she wasted no time mixing it with sizzling seductiveness, pummeling her critics to crowd-pleasing effect in "Black Lace Freudian Slip," the title song on that new album. Those uptempo items, "Joe" and "Freud," were counterbalanced by two new dreamy tunes, "Like a Ballad" and an affecting weeper, "I Can't Make You Love Me," done as a duet with pianist Kevin Bales.
Soon to be featured in a "Piano Showdown" at the Savannah Music Festival on March 26, Bales took a solo on every song in the set. Consistently, Bales was brilliant, especially in "White Rabbit," matching Marie fantasia for fantasia. He and percussionist Quentin Baxter put the kick in "Joe" after the new member of the combo, bassist Kevin Hamilton, offered a soothing cool-down amid the complexities of "Freudian Slip."
Allegro Brillante (***1/2) For many years, dating back to the days when it was known as the New York State Theater, we've strolled by the elegant David H. Koch Theater, where the New York City Ballet and until this season the New York City Opera performed. Sue and I always came way too early in the year for City Opera and with our one-Nutcracker-per-season quota already filled. So it was quite a kick to finally see what this venue, designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, was all about.
It's a beauty, chaste in the lobby like the exterior but plush within. I was quite shocked by the size of the Koch, which actually seats more people than our Ovens Auditorium but keeps them all in the same county. With its crimson curtains and globular chandelier, it echoes the Met, but I felt a warmer, welcoming ambiance. The pit enclosing the NYC Ballet Orchestra is generously sized without distancing the audience from the stage. Apparently, these guys with guest soloists and/or conductors play at every performance this company presents. We could get used to this.
Needless to say, the company is first-rate, and it was fortunate that our first exposure was in a program that offered a potpourri of choreographies by Alexei Ratmansky, current ballet master in chief Peter Martins, and NYC Ballet legend George Balanchine. Sad to say, the opening piece of the evening, Allegro Brillante, lacked the spark I was hoping for. Described by Balanchine as "everything I know about the classical ballet in 13 minutes," the work seemed to be devoid of anything the choreographer or the dancers felt. Technically, Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette were superb as the lead couple, and when the four subordinate couples danced, or when the men or women danced as a group, the synchronicity would surely astonish NC Dance Theatre subscribers. Yet even bolstered by Tchaikovsky's Third Piano Concerto, Elaine Chelton at the keyboard, spirits never seemed to take flight.
Viva la potpourri, for the remaining three pieces were pure delight, pointing up the individualism in the company as well as their precision. Modeled by composer Leonid Desyatnikov on Vivaldi's Four Seasons and culling authentic folk melodies from the Russian Lake District, Russian Seasons flows smoothly with 12 sections, like the Red Priest's cycle of concertos. The string section of the orchestra, guest conducted by George Manahan, did the heavy lifting instrumentally, but there were signposts for each season delivered by violin soloist Kurt Nikkanen and mezzo soprano Irina Rindzuner. The impossibly simplified peasant costumes designed by Galina Solovyeva added to the prevailing festivity gaily colored in blue, purple, green, red, burgundy, and beige. Yes, Ratmansky had six couples in his choreography, matching up with the underlying calendar theme presented in ever-shifting tableaus for each of the shifting moods, culminating with a full-cast finale. Somber sections, like the vocal sections, were embedded in each season, adding extra propulsion when the prevailing jollity returned. Unmistakably a major piece.
We had a potpourri within the potpourri after the second intermission as the curtain went up on Martins' Zakouski, the Russians' word for hors d'oeuvres when they remember not to speak French. Both partners in this miniature were dressed in Russian red by costumer Barbara Matera. Tiler Peck's dress was trimmed with gold and finished with purple sleeves and shoes while her partner Joaquin de Luz echoed her in purple and gray with a red sash. They also carried over some of the earthy chemistry that began to sprout during the Russian Seasons, albeit in a more intimate, intense, and aristocratic style as violinist Arturo Delmoni and pianist Nancy McDill serenaded us with a medley of Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and the inevitable Tchaikovsky.
The company remained in their Russian mode to the end, finishing with Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which actually quickened my pulse even more than the Ratmansky piece. Lydia Hong playing the solos probably accounted for part of the extra electricity, but Balanchine obviously responded more exuberantly to this edgy Stravinsky than he did to the kitschy Tchaikovsky, masterfully mixing delicate pas-de-deux gems with 20-dancer ensemble explosions, finding different ways of putting 10 dancers onstage as well.
If memory serves, NC Dance Theatre presented the small middle sections of Stravinsky in 2006, back in the heyday of Traci Gilchrest, Sasha Janes, and Kati Hanlon Mayo. That was a mere foretaste of the full force of the piece. After seeing it at Lincoln Center, I'd love to see the full-length Stravinsky and the full Russian Seasons here in Charlotte. Make no mistake, though, the New Yorkers have set the bar high.
Pete Robbins Reactance Quartet at Cornelia Street Café (***1/4) Having passed the place on numerous jaunts into the Village for prime off-Broadway fare, and noting the roster of jazz headliners playing there, I'd already put the Cornelia Street Café on my short list of clubs I needed to sample. A couple of factors vaulted the Cornelia to the top of that list. My daughter, who's living up there now, told me that the Cornelia was one of her favorite restaurants, and the pianist in Pete Robbins' new quartet is Vijay Iyer, who happened to be on the current cover of JazzTimes when we visited.
In both cases, the hype was justified. Whether you attack a menu timidly or adventurously, something good awaits you upstairs at the cozy restaurant. It's even cozier downstairs, where the house piano and Tyshawn Sorey's drum kit spread across the bandstand made it a challenge for the musicians to navigate from the front to the rear. Still, I prefer the booths lined against the narrow walls down in the Cornelia catacombs to the steerage configuration uptown at the Iridium.
Robbins was never pleased with the output from his mike if there was any but from where I sat, his alto sax sounded fine throughout his first set, an evenly divided mix of covers and his own originals. He was very intense, at times incendiary, on the opening "Intravenous," bursting with ideas and with a tenor sax player's orneriness. Yet he can turn around and infuse a ballad like Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman" with depth and feeling, an ability that separates the men from the boys. That's as far as Reactance looks back: Nirvana's "Lithium" and "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns n' Roses were the other covers.
But Iyer was pretty much a fill-in-the-blank pianist on those tunes. When Robbins manages to accommodate Iyer's special sound world, the quartet becomes extraordinary. On two originals that Robbins was presumably bringing with him to the quartet's first studio session two days later, Iyer and the leader reached that higher plane. Iyer had a long, uniquely ruminative intro before Robbins divulged the melody of "Equipoise," but Sorey took a solo before the frontliners Robbins first, then Iyer played on it. "Eliotsong" was a little brighter, bearing the earmarks of a closing tune as everyone soloed, first bassist Eivind Opsvik, then Robbins before Iyer once again hushed the house.
Ernani (***) The Metropolitan Opera draws on heavy artillery for their production of this early Verdi melodrama. Scenery by Pier Luigi Samaritani is lush, particularly atmospheric when we come to Charlemagne's tomb in Act 3; staging by Peter McClintock is impeccable; and all four of the principals are commanding, more than equal to the demands of this tempestuous love quadrangle conceived by Victor Hugo in 1830 and adapted by Verdi and librettist Francesco Piave in 1844.
For all its richness and melodic invention, the score is lenient in its demands upon the singers compared to Verdi's better-known operas. But the real shortcoming is Piave's libretto, so clumsy that I had to scurry home and read the Hugo script and determine whether it could possibly be so bad. At the outset, Ernani prepares his outlaw band to help him rescue his lady love, Elvira, from the gnarled clutches of her elderly uncle, Don Ruy Gomez de Silva. Would Hugo have put such a band onstage at then have them totally vanish for the rest of the evening without explanation?
No, but in his mashup of the first two acts of Hugo's play into a single scene, Piave stripped Hugo's hero of his passion and power, leaving the bandit with just a sliver of his original swagger. Nor will Piave allow Silva the full humanity Hugo accords him up to the final moment of the original tragedy, where he commits suicide. As a result, Ernani's own Castilian honor is twice trivialized.
Roberto de Biasio's leather jacket was his most swashbuckling asset as Ernani in Act 1, but the tenor raised his game, singing with more emotion afterwards, though the score never tested his range. At first, soprano Angela Meade didn't live up to her hype as Elvira, a little tight and shrill when she first entered, but her first exquisite pianissimos seemed to settle her in for the rest of her stormy night, pursued by three men. The greatest of these, preceding Ernani to Elvira's boudoir and shocking both the lovers, is Don Carlo, the King of Spain who later becomes Holy Roman Emperor. Venerable baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky looked every inch the king with his gleaming white hair, but he sounded curiously bland in his first encounter with Ernani.
The difference when Hvorostovsky is fully engaged became manifest in Act 3 as he awaited the decision of the electors with his "O de' verd'anni miei," praying to be worthy. Afterwards, his magnanimity to Ernani, a full chorus at his back, was magnificent. Until then, bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Silva had pretty much stolen Hvorostovsky's thunder, particularly when he walked in on the king and the bandit both in compromised positions in his fiancée's bedroom. A mean old lecher, this Silva, with a touch of noble courtesy, but not the same grandee Hugo fashioned. Verdi and Piave would do better by Hugo later in their careers when they collaborated on Rigoletto.