REVIEW:  Boston Lyric Opera unveils a spellbinding ‘Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs’

As waves splash against the Flynn Cruiseport Boston, Boston Lyric Opera unleashed a chilling tale of seduction and secrets.

Ryan McKinny as Bluebeard in BLOs Bluebeards Castle Four Songs. PHOTO by Liza Voll

Conducted masterfully by David Angus and craftily stage directed by Anne Bogart, Boston Lyric Opera unearthed Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs for a limited engagement live and in person from March 22-26 at Flynn Cruiseport in South Boston’s Seaport District.  The show was 90 minutes with no intermission and had some adult themes.  Click here for more information and for what is next for Boston Lyric Opera.

Aunt Lydia (Caroline Worra) leads the handmaids through their prayers in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” ran through May 12, 2019. BLO.org. Photo by Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Lauded Stage Director Anne Bogart was behind the innovative transformation of Margaret Atwood’s harrowing dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, into an opera and presented that vision in glorious triumph while the hailed author sat in attendance.  See more about that experience here.  Anne Bogart’s riveting vision of Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs is another brilliant and dark reckoning in which with each astounding discovery, the plot thickens.   

Naomi Louisa OConnell opens BLOs Bluebeards Castle Four Songs with an Alma Mahler song featuring pianist Yukiko Oba. PHOTO by Liza Voll.

Suspenseful, passionate, and deeply romantic, Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs heightens the emotional impact of the libretto with Alma Mahler’s multifarious Four Songs.  Conducted zealously by David Angus with pianist Yukiko Oba, Four Songs as a companion piece which amplifies the magnitude of what Judith is about to see.

A mysterious and passionate tale, the real seduction behind Bluebeard’s Castle is the symbolism that results as Judith, Bluebeard’s new wife, longs to let light in and see more of his ancient castle.  She desires to learn everything about Bluebeard, a man she has given everything up for including a fiancé.  However, Bluebeard would rather leave well enough alone and enjoy the love they have found.

Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny as Bluebeard and mezzo-soprano Naomi Louisa O’Connell’s otherworldly and ascending vocals bring vitality and urgency to each phrase and as a duet, their blended vocals are an ethereal experience.   O’Connell is stunning as willful and persistent Judith, her oceanic teal gown glimmering against her incandescent red hair as she proclaims her love and deepest wishes for Bluebeard and their future together.  Boasting a thick gray beard, McKinny’s stately, rugged and romantic Bluebeard is equally persistent at first.  It is fascinating to watch the duo in an impassioned verbal tug of war, their thrilling chemistry becoming more and more feverish with each request.  McKinny and O’Connell also have a believable playfulness that round out their relationship and temporarily ease that mounting tension.

Judith Naomi Louisa OConnell and Bluebeard Ryan McKinny celebrate the castle garden in BLOs Bluebeards Castle Four Songs. PHOTO by Liza Voll

Trevor Bowen’s impeccable and deceptive costuming added an alluring mystique to the production with Bluebeard in velvety deep blue and purple lined with gold, Judith in aquatic teal and what seemed like dancers adorned in glittering and flowing, yet bridled garments which included Marissa Molinar, Aliza Franz, Olivia Moon, Sasha Peterson and Cassie Wang Victoria L. Awkward does a wonderful job in keeping these clandestine individuals within this changing landscape in a perfect blend of subtlety, vulnerability and strength while Judith and Bluebeard remain at center stage.

Judith Naomi Louisa-OConnell comes to terms with her potential fate in BLOs Bluebeards Castle Four Songs. PHOTO by Liza Voll

Bogart’s spectacular staging alongside set designer Sara Brown plays a pivotal role in Bluebeard’s dark secrets and it is done with elegance and ingenuity.  The vast and multi-layered kingdom is revealed in Bluebeard’s inky and lavish bedchambers in an inventive display of silk sheets as rippling rivers, a vast and boundless secret garden on a bed of roses, and mountains of peerless gold and jewels.  With Brian H. Scott’s artful lighting creating shadowy and ominous tones with startling streaks of red, Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs was a foreboding tale of love, power, desire and the sacrifices one is willing to make for the truth.

Conducted masterfully by David Angus and craftily stage directed by Anne Bogart, Boston Lyric Opera unearthed Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs for a limited engagement live and in person from March 22-26 at Flynn Cruiseport in Boston Harbor.  Click here for more information and for what is next for Boston Lyric Opera.

REVIEW:  Hosted by Jordan Rich, renowned Broadcast Hall of Fame recipient, author, veteran, and Boston radio legend Ron Della Chiesa celebrated his 85th birthday with a marvelous bash

Ron Della Chiesa still spends his life doing the very thing that he loves best.  When he is not sharing his extensive music knowledge on the air on Strictly Sinatra and Music America Sundays on Easy 99.1 FM or announcing for the Boston Symphony Orchestra or for Tanglewood under a warm summer sun, one of his biggest loves is opera.  A frequent visitor to the MET,  Ron’s father was an opera singer and Ron could passionately talk about opera from Giacomo Puccini to Marcello Giordani, two opera dynamos who are also the names of Ron and his wife Joyce’s beloved cats.  Ron knows so much about opera that during the night of his 85th birthday, he shared a little known fact about a famous opera singer and how the Phantom of the Opera musical really got its roots.

To the swinging sounds of Rico Barr and his Jump and Jive Band and hosted by Jordan Rich, Ron Della Chiesa’s 85th birthday took place to a full house at Raffaels in Hingham, Massachusetts on Friday, February 17, the night before his real birthday.

Host Jordan Rich and Ron Della Chiesa Photo by Louise Lori Patricia

It seemed not so long ago that Ron was turning 70 and didn’t feel a bit like it.  Still happily working in Broadcasting at 85, he still makes guest appearances to talk about Broadcast history, his popular book with bestselling author Erica Ferencik called Radio My Way and will be quick to tell anyone what still makes him fond of radio after all these years.  Always good natured and positive, the theme of his birthday  bash was ‘The Best is Yet to Come,’ not only named after a Sinatra song but the personal slogan of his amazing life.

Surprise appearance by Cha-Chi Loprete Photo by Jeanne Denizard

Tenor Matthew DiBattista sang the National Anthem to open this special evening.  With guests invited to dress in red, people took to the dance floor to swing to an extensive list of American Standards performed by Rico’s band.  The elegant evening even included a couple of songs Ron sang from Sinatra’s classic tunes. 

Tenor Matthew DiBattista sings the National Anthem From L to R Ron Della Chisa Matthew DiBattista and Jordan-Rich Photo credit to Louise Lori Patricia

Music Director for the Boston Symphony Orchestra Andris Nelsons, renowned Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, and popular jazz musicians Bo and Bill Winiker were among the special guests that sent their birthday wishes via phone.  Popular DJ and close friend Cha-Chi Loprete surprised Ron with his presence.  Born in Quincy, MA, Quincy Mayor Koch proclaimed February 18 as Ron Della Chiesa Day among many of Ron’s generous gifts.  The evening also included birthday cake, cocktails, table seating, and countless guests reminiscing with Ron about his blessed life.   Ron called it a magical evening he won’t soon forget!

Visit Strictly Sinatra and Music-America’s Facebook fan page for more photos of this celebrated evening. Ron’s Della Chiesa’s Strictly Sinatra and Music America offer occasional dance parties at Raffaels in Hingham, Massachusetts. The next event will be Ron Della Chiesa Strictly Sinatra Tribute Dance on November 3. Email musicnotnoise@aol.com, visit musicnotnoise.com or call Executive Producer Paul Schlosberg at 617-633-5100. To learn more about Ron, click here and listen to him on Easy 99.1 FM on Sunday night on Music America and Strictly Sinatra. Be sure to check out his memoir Radio My Way by Ron Della Chiesa and Erica Ferencik.

REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s boxing opera ‘Champion’ a triumph in jazz

The brutal world of boxing punctuated with the complex harmonies of jazz set to simmering opera?  This premise might seem outlandish, but Terence Blanchard’s Champion An Opera in Jazz cleverly weaves these three elements together into an absorbing true story and cautionary tale of a welterweight boxer and a symbolic shoe that gains more significance than anything that takes place in the ring.

Boston Lyric Opera presented ‘Champion An Opera in Jazz’ Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) presented their final show of the season, Terence Blanchard’s Champion An Opera in Jazz, for one weekend only through Sunday, May 22 at the elegant Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  It is a shame this captivating production was limited to two exclusive concert-style performances in Boston, but it could not be helped due to COVID.   Champion An Opera in Jazz has adult themes with one intermission.  Click here for more information about the Boston Lyric Opera, upcoming events, and for details on BLO’s recently announced upcoming season. 

Boston Lyric Opera 2022-23 season Photo credit to Boston Lyric Opera

As the chorus took up the boxes in the balcony to produce a resonant, semi-surround sound quality led by Brett Hodgdon, the orchestra warmed up and played onstage for the duration of the performance.  With creatively engaging stage direction by Timothy Douglas, the intense drama and interaction within the strong cast far exceeded my expectations as concert versions of a work often focus more on music than plot.  In a packed house, Blanchard leaves much to unpack in this show’s more than two hour time frame. 

Brian Major as Emile Griffith Photo by David Angus/BLO

This introspective tale explores the complex relationships, trauma, abuse, neglect, and harrowing circumstances in welterweight boxer Emile Griffith’s life.  However, what really affected me the most was just as Emilie Griffith discovers who he is and who he wants to become, he endures constant pressure and insistence from others to be the version they see in him.  Griffith had the talent and ambition to craft his own vision, but his destiny ultimately takes a detour.

Musically-directed by David Angus, Champion is helmed by an insightful and fierce cast that eloquently evoke Michael Cristofer’s multi-layered libretto.  Champion has plenty of heart and heartache, but also has a redemptive quality and joy in life’s smaller victories.  Three versions of Emile Griffith portrayed by Brian Major as older Griffith, Markel Reed as younger Griffith, and Jonathan Harris as Little Emile Griffith each deliver a fresh perspective at pivotal points in Griffith’s life.  With uplifting and humorous commentary at times to lighten the production’s darker moments, ring announcer Matthew Arnold serves fittingly as a semi-narrator of this work.

MARKEL REED, TERRENCE CHIN-LOY, AND BRIAN MAJOR IN BLO’S 2022 PRODUCTION OF CHAMPION: AN OPERA IN JAZZ Photo by David Angus/BLO

A profound and engaging baritone, Major is heartrending and charismatic as he delves deep into Emile Griffith’s continuing and complex struggles.  Griffith has a lot to handle and it is touching to watch his sweet scenes with tenor Jesus Garcia as patient and grounded Luis.

Markel Reed delivers an exceptional portrayal as Young Emile Griffith.  Reed’s dynamic vocals blended with the sheer mastery of Griffith’s physical and psychological transformation from a wide-eyed, idealistic, and determined young man to an adult with eyes wide open to his future is a marvel to watch.  Jonathan Harris as adorable Little Emile Griffith makes a brief, yet significant mark in this story as well. 

Stylishly adorned in a floral dress and matching hat, Tichina Vaughn strikes a delicate balance of playfulness, detachment, and mournfulness as mysterious and headstrong Emelda Griffith.  This brilliant mezzo-soprano accomplishes a degree of sympathy for Emelda which is difficult to muster as Emelda struggles with her aching discontent, heartache, and constant need for greener pastures.

TICHINA VAUGHN AND CHABRELLE D. WILLIAMS IN BLO’S 2022 PRODUCTION OF CHAMPION: AN OPERA IN JAZZ Photo by David Angus/BLO

In a crisp blue suit, Wayne Tigges also brings some sympathy to tough-talking Howie Albert who has a skewed vision of Griffith, setting Griffith on an uncertain path.  Wayne’s multi-layered, rage-inducing aria of Killer Instinct is prevalent throughout the show and Wayne’s rendition particularly makes it memorable.  Tenor Terrance Chin-Loy as Benny ‘Kid’ Paret and soprano Chabrelle D. Williams as Sadie Donastrog Griffith both demonstrate their remarkable range in contrasting dual roles.

It was once difficult to imagine jazz as a boxing opera, but having heard the smooth, unpredictable, thrilling, and moody undertones as the music builds tension and urgency, I cannot imagine Champion An Opera in Jazz any other way.  Champion’s unconventional and stirring delivery is just what makes the show’s ubiquitous message ring true.

Champion An Opera in Jazz was Boston Lyric Opera’s final production of the season.  Click here for more information about the Boston Lyric Opera, upcoming events, and for details on BLO’s recently announced upcoming season. 

REVIEW:  Boston Ballet’s elegant and edgy ‘DREAMstate’ a fascinating departure from reality

From classically fanciful to electrifying to distinctive, unconventional artistry, the Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate is an astute exploration of the delicate nature of dreams and a fascinating escape from reality.  Aside from Boston Ballet’s traditional Nutcracker in December, Mikko Nissinen’s DREAMstate is the first live and in person return to Boston Ballet’s regular season since the pandemic.  Excitement was in the air and the Boston Opera House was full.

Boston Ballet in George Balanchine’s Chaconne © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Balle

Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate continues through Sunday, March 27 at live and in person at the Citizen’s Bank Opera House in Boston, MA.  The show is approximately two hours with two intermissions and the final piece contains partial nudity.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Rolling Stones tribute DEVIL’s/eye Photo credit to Boston Ballet

Though all three Boston Ballet pieces had its highlights, the stellar world premiere of Boston Ballet’s tribute to the Rolling Stones, DEVIL’S/eye was the most uniquely compelling.  Weaving in live concert elements and classic hits such as Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Paint it Black and much more, dancers take the stage in shadow bathed in purple, red, yellow, pink, and blue glimmering from an incredible, multi-functional sound system lit by Brandon Stirling Baker.  With exhilarating choreography and edgy and exotic costume design both by Stephen Galloway, lively dancers in silk, sequins, fishnets and windswept hair complete the full glamour of a rock and roll concert showing off thrilling, contemporary freestyle moves.  The entire performance is an electrifying spectacle as dancers let loose to the Stones concert footage with epic alicicone spins, but a brief pause in the guitar-tinged, horn-infused rhythms showing off each dancer’s glowing silhouette cannot be properly conveyed here and those sensational moments are best witnessed in person.

George Balanchine’s Chaconne brings to life a regal and fanciful daydream to the heavenly sounds of the Christoph Willibald von Gluck opera, Orfeo ed Euridice.  Elegantly adorned in a flowing and ethereal skirt and crown by Barbara Karinska in front of tranquil green blue backdrop, the always fresh-faced and charming Viktorina Kapitonova performed a beautiful and romantic pas de deux with Lasha Khozashvili, dressed in white.  Khozashvili lifts and leads Kapitonova delicately as they sporadically intertwine.  The piece is primarily playful as dancers bow and sway in gleaming, royal costumes as they float along this lighthearted daydream, the flutter of slippers sweeping across the stage.

Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum in George Balanchine’s Chaconne © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The final piece is probably one of the most unconventional performances the Sleepless Critic has ever witnessed with the Boston Ballet because after a brief intermission, the piece begins before the music starts and dancers are already in motion as the rehearsal blurs into the performance.

Altan Dugaraa, Sarah Wroth, Yury Yanowsky in Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

 Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura, a fan favorite, often departs from reality and the structure of how a performance would normally flow.  In many ways, it bucks tradition as the dancers float and slide between closing curtains as Seo Hye Han, topless, wraps herself in only a black stage curtain.  Bella Figura has some captivating choreographed indignation and intensity as Ji Young Chae struggles not to be held or controlled by Paul Craig, shaking Craig away.  Bella Figura seems an abstract piece with haunting and mysterious elements as female dancers are manipulated in sharp, robotic movements.   It seems Bella Figura represents the vision of a perfect female specimen as women bend under the intensity and pressure to be perfect.  In gathering rich red skirts, men and women, all topless and all looking the same, glide along the stage.  It is a memorable, distinctive performance as the piece continues even as the music concludes.

 Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate continues through Sunday, March 27 at live and in person at the Citizen’s Bank Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Gorgeously filmed, Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Philadelphia’s ethereal ‘Svadba’ a vivid and dreamy celebration of treasured moments before a wedding

As Atlantic Ocean waves lap along the shore, renowned vocalists Chabrelle D. Williams, Brianna J. Robinson, Maggie Finnegan, Vera Savage, and Hannah Ludwig provide an intense and inspired a cappella chorus for an idyllic beachside cottage as a bride, what appears to be the mother of the bride, and bridesmaids prepare for a beautiful wedding.  A wedding can stir up a myriad of powerful emotions from bitter sweet to pure joy as a couple starts a new life together and in a way, leaves the former one behind.  Filled with rich traditions, rituals, and cultural customs, the days leading up to a wedding can provide life’s most unforgettable moments.

JUST BEFORE HER WEDDING CEREMONY BEGINS, MILICA (VICTORIA L. AWKWARD) SHARES A GRATEFUL MOMENT WITH LENA (JACKIE DAVIS) IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Gorgeously filmed, seamlessly conducted by Daniela Candillari, and insightfully directed by Shura Baryshnikov (the daughter of legendary dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov),  Boston Lyric Opera presents in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia Channel, Svadba by Ana Sokolovic streaming now on Operabox.tv.  The film is just under an hour.  Click here for streaming access and more information.

(L.-R.) VICTORIA L. AWKWARD AS MILICA AND JACKIE DAVIS AS LENA IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy Boston Lyric Opera

Svadba, which is Serbian for ‘wedding,’ contains all the anticipation and beauty of the days building up to the big day.   It is a pivotal time in a couple’s life, especially these times when family and friends gathering can be a hesitant and tricky venture.  The glow of the bride-to-be is resplendent in Victoria Awkward as Milica, the loving stares of love and pride shine in Jackie Davis’s eyes as Lena and the beautiful bridesmaids excitedly bonding create a dreamy and ethereal presence in this picturesque setting.

What also makes Svadba so alluring is the intimacy among the group.  From Victoria Awkward as bride Milica and Jackie Davis as Lena’s first encounter, it is easy to see the precious nature of a mother and daughter relationship, though the film does not specify the connection between them.  Davis treats Awkward delicately, taking her hand and getting her ready while presenting to her family and cultural customs and heirlooms leading up to this big day.  The sunlight peers into the cottage, illuminating the treasure trove of precious objects.  There is a quiet outpouring of love between the two of them as Davis prepares Awkward for the future.

Costume designer Albulena’s Borovci’s dynamic costumes vary from traditional and intriguing to unconventional with fantasy and flair.  Sparkling, translucent, and understated gowns adorn bridesmaids Sasha Peterson as Maid of Honor Ljubica, Emily Jerant-Hendrickson, Sarah Pacheco as Zora, and Jay Breen as Danica.  The pale green and coral complements the serene beachside landscape while a bride’s vivid daydream unleashes brighter and bolder attire.

JAY BREEN (AS DANICA, L.) AND VICTORIA L. AWKWARD (AS MILICA, IN WHITE) DANCE AS OTHER BRIDESMAID’S LOOK ON IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Much of this opera symbolizes togetherness, the progression of growing up and finding where a woman fits in the world from the bride’s whirlwind feelings to family and friends perspectives.  The choreography at times feels so intense that the dancers look like they are being taken over by the chorus’s powerful vocal harmony.  From spontaneous frolicking to wild and intense dance rituals set to heavenly, trilling, and rhythmic vocals that narrate, navigate, and reveal the complicated feelings when one weds, Svadba is a spirited snapshot to this tumultuous and extraordinary rite of passage and a beautiful celebration of the future.

MILICA (VICTORIA L. AWKWARD, CENTER) AND HER BRIDESMAIDS RETURN TO THE COTTAGE AFTER GATHERING DECORATIVE FLORA IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera presents in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia Channel, Svadba streaming now on Operabox.tv.  The film is just under an hour.  Click here for streaming access and more information.

REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s season opener ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ a passionate and magnificent affair

Not even Easter Sunday can stop a scandal in the Sicilian countryside.

Featuring distinct, eye-popping costumes, a glorious Opera Chorus led Brett Hodgdon, and a full orchestra, Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) opened their season on a grand scale with the renowned one act Italian libretto, Cavalleria Rusticana for just two performances on October 1 and 3.  Boston Lyric Opera was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd anticipating BLO’s return to a live venue for 18 months.  Delivered on a concert scale, Cavalleria Rusticana was presented under Leader Bank Pavilion’s open air tent in the Seaport District in Boston, Massachusetts.  It ran for 1 hour and 10 minutes with no intermission.

JAVIER ARREY AS ALFIO WITH DANCERS VICTORIA L. AWKWARD, MICHAYLA KELLY, AND MARISSA MOLINAR Photo by Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Loyalty, love, honor, and faith are tested among this group of passionate players.  Led by Music Director David Angus, the seemingly joyous overture delivers an exciting rush woven into a sense of foreboding, hinting at turmoil among still waters on the holiest of days, Easter Sunday.  Introducing the libretto is an interactive and unparalleled performance of Pagliacci’s Prologue by Javier Arrey.  Taking a reflective, humorous, and philosophical tone addressing the audience over what they are about to see, Cavalleria Rusticana becomes a passionate and cautionary tale, pleading about the affects of love and the human spirit.

Julia Noulin-Merat’s standalone set pieces, including overturned chairs piled high in pale pink as well as bright yellow chairs lining the stage, pop as does Gail Astrid Buckley’s distinct, vivid costumes with blooming flowers set against the orchestral backdrop depicting the emergence of a Sicilian spring. 

CHELSEA BASLER AS LOLA WITH DANCER MICHAYLA KELLY Photo by Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

It is easy to get invested in these headstrong characters and Cavalleria Rusticana hits the ground running steeped in a complex love affair as the sacredness of Easter surrounds them, emphasized by ethereal dancers Victoria Awkward, Michayla Kelly, and Marissa Molinar and the swelling of the Boston Lyric Chorus’s powerful and spiritual lyrics.

Michelle Johnson as conflicted Santuzza leads this magnificent cast, delivering a splendid, heartrending performance.  Filled with sorrow and longing, Johnson’s tremendous vocals and her searing confrontation with Turiddo, portrayed with a charismatic yet manipulative mystique by Adam Diegel, show Johnson is a force to be reckoned with.  Chelsea Basler depicts alluring and complicated Lola with infuriating and masterful charm and the heart of the show lies with loyal and compassionate Nina Yoshida Nelsen as Mamma Lucia who observes it all much like the audience, with bated breath.

The show is delivered entirely in Italian and with subtitles at significant parts of the production.  However, for someone who does not know Italian and with a production so captivating, it is difficult having to forego not knowing every single word spoken from this enthralling cast.

Cavallaria Rusticana takes place in 1900’s Sicily and yet this opera is as timeless as any contemporary story told today and a perfect choice to open Boston Lyric Opera’s new season which includes virtual and live and in-person performances including jazz-themed opera Champion and Svadba through operabox.tv.  Click here for more information and a closer look at BLO’s new season.

REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s delivers sleek and searing ‘Fellow Travelers’

It is an affair that is anything but simple.

Buried in an era of high times, unyielding tradition, and a booming economy lay a secret struggle.  From the first few notes of the lingering, lovely, and progressive score which is equal parts bright notes and mounting doom, Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO) Fellow Travelers is a resplendent journey rooted in the booming 1950s, where two travelers meet on a park bench and their lives are forever changed.

Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon, Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce’s Fellow Travelers made its Boston debut in a limited, one weekend engagement which concluded with a matinee performance that paid tribute to the late Boston Conservatory President Richard Ortner on Sunday, November 17 at the beautiful Emerson Paramount Center.  Click here for more information about the Boston Lyric Opera and future events.

Boston Lyric Opera Fellow Travelers Office Party Photo by Liza Voll

Michelle Trainor as Miss Lightfoot toasts the Christmas party. Also pictured is David McFerrin as Estonian Frank, Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller, Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson, Brianna J. Robinson as Lucy, and Vincent Turregano as Tommy McIntyre Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Fellow Travelers is a fictional tale rooted in historical events during the Lavender Scare at the center of the nation’s capital.  It frankly explores the rigid outlook on men and women struggling under the harsh light of government and society’s expectations and the desperate lengths they will go to keep up appearances while pursuing their own vision of success.  This well paced production challenges love, faith, and humanity in an age of McCarthyism, communism, behind-the-scenes interrogations, misogyny, and American idealism.

Sara Brown’s symbolic and sweeping set, Liz Printz’s wigs and makeup, Trevor Bowen’s definitive costumes, and Mary Shabatrua’s opaque, emotionally-charged lighting combined to create a perfect vintage setting right out of Mad Men.  From the elegant, shimmering gowns, perfectly coiffed wigs, pearls, and dapper fedoras to the vintage set that included classic typewriters and towering marble columns, Fellow Travelers successfully rewound the clock to the roaring hustle of 1950’s Washington DC.  Vincent Turregano as wiseacre Tommy McIntyre winding a yo-yo was a nice touch.

Boston Lyric Opera Fellow Travelers Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson and Michelle Trainor as Mrs. Lightfoot Photo by Liza Voll

Jesse Darden as Timothy McLaughlin, Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson, and Michelle Trainor as Miss Lightfoot Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Greg Pierce’s libretto exacts the lingo, expressions, and the camaraderie of its time reflected in this compelling and brilliant cast.  Fellow Travelers follows the immediate attraction between quick-witted and charismatic Hawkins Fuller, portrayed by a suave Jesse Blumberg and timid and naive Catholic intern Timothy Laughlin, depicted with virtuous charm by Jesse Darden.  Baritone Blumberg and Tenor Darden have playful, impressive chemistry as Blumberg affectionately calls Darden “Skippy”  and their scene about Bermuda is a significant highlight.

Exceptional soprano Chelsea Basler breathed the part of compassionate, kind, and well-meaning Mary.  She reflects that sweet nature and performs vocal gymnastics in I Worry That’s All.  It is fascinating to watch her interact with nosy office gossip Miss Lightfoot, portrayed with humor and gusto by Michelle TrainorDavid McFerrin, Simon Dyer, and James Maddalena all seamlessly navigate through their multiple, dynamic and pivotal roles.  With silvery vocals, Brianna J. Robinson is picture perfect as idealistic Lucy, longing for that 1950’s American Dream complete with family, yard, and picket fence.  However, not all dreams are meant to be.

Boston Lyric Opera Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller and Brianne J. Robinson as Lucy Photo courtesy of Liza Voll

Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller and Brianna J. Robinson as Lucy Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Fellow Travelers, which followed a successful run of the classic Italian opera Pagliacci, is only part of what Boston Lyric Opera has in store this season.  Click here for BLO’s complete season and follow them on Facebook for all their latest updates.

REVIEW: Soprano-actress Christina Pecce puts her own spin on a few famous faces in fabulous ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas!’

In a white suit and glittering heels, soprano and actress Christina Pecce may have paid homage to Beyonce (her style reminiscent of Beyonce’s suit at the Superbowl 50 halftime show), but certainly stepped into quite a few famous shoes with ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas,’ a one night only, one woman cabaret that took place at the American Repertory Theatre’s (A.R.T.) Oberon Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Sunday, September 8.  Click here for a closer look at ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas!’ and here to see where Christina will perform next.

Don’t be deceived by the title.  No witches, bitches, or divas actually appear in the show unless you are referring to “every woman” Christina Pecce.  Her one woman show steps into all three categories to create a partly auto-biographical and comedic musical show covering the likes of Elphaba (Witch) from the Tony award-winning hit musical ‘Wicked,’ Miss Hannigan from the classic musical, ‘Annie‘ (Bitch, if left to interpretation), and diva Mariah Carey.  She also chooses zany selections about marriage and shows off her classically-trained vocal talents performing a soaring French opera and then a tonally-deaf singer with Flanders and Swann’s A Word to My Ear.  The bottom line is Christina Pecce can sing just about anything.

Witches Bitches and Divas Oberon Cambridge

The Oberon in Cambridge, Massachusetts Photo credit to Witches, Bitches and Divas

Accompanied by a trio of powerhouse musicians which included Music Director Steve Bass on piano, drummer George Darrah, and bassist Nick Francese, Christina brings humor and personal anecdotes while adding her own spin to various medleys.  She tackles subjects like nannies, drinking, and gravity and even sneaks in an amusing little drinking game too.

From Sondheim to Nat King Cole, Christina makes her time onstage an unpredictable, interactive treat as she occasionally wanders through the crowd, serenading a few audience members.  She also left a piece of her heart onstage in a stirring rendition of Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive.’  Pecce last appeared at the Oberon in February and from the glowing reception she received when she returned, it certainly will not be her last time.

American Repertory Theatre’s Oberon is an intimate and inviting night club without a bad seat in the house that welcomes a variety of shows throughout the year.  Located at 2 Arrow Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Oberon is American Repertory Theatre’s second stage for theatre and nightlife.  Click here for upcoming events at the Oberon, here to learn more about Christina Pecce, and here for more about the American Repertory Theatre.

 

 

 

REVIEW: From the creator of ‘Riverdale’, Flat Earth Theatre delivers a bizarre and suspenseful ‘King of Shadows’

The theme of Flat Earth Theatre’s 13th season has been a thought provoking, mind-bending journey exploring the extraordinary in Delicate Particle Logic, the mythical in Not Medea, and now the mysterious and fantastical in King of Shadows from Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the creator of Riverdale. This season’s unique, message-driven productions bend reality to reveal a bigger picture.

As a fan of the twist-ending, they have been nothing short of fascinating.  Directed by Michael Hisamoto, Flat Earth Theatre continues King of Shadows through June 22 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  This show may be haunting for children.

Flat Earth Theatre King of Shadows set

The setting of Flat Earth Theatre’s ‘King of Shadows’ Photo courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre

Much like Riverdale, an ordinary setting withholds extraordinary secrets. Grounded in the reality of missing children in San Francisco, King of Shadows delves into the lives of four distinct characters, all affected by their dark past.  The haunting set and intimate, encompassing staging, especially PJ Strachman’s light design, Bram Xu’s sound design, Stage Manager/Puppeteer Amy Lehrmitt, and scenic designer Ryan Bates, create an immersive, unsettling atmosphere for what is about to unfold.

Compassionate and ambitious Berkeley graduate student Jessica, portrayed with finesse by Laura Chowenhill, may be in over her head when she meets Nihar, a mysterious, wise-beyond-his-years homeless teenager portrayed by Trinidad Ramkissoon.  Ramkissoon’s penetrating gaze and inquisitive nature give Nihar an edgy charisma.  He has a fuzzy past, but that does not stop Jessica from her perpetual desire to help others.

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Logical and protective policeman Eric Saunders, portrayed impressively by Matt Crawford, is suspicious that Nihar may have a dangerous agenda.  Crawford’s Eric is a great foil for Chowendill’s pensive and conflicted Jessica, setting the stage for some sparks.  Jessica’s resentful and impulsive younger sister Sarah, portrayed with sarcasm and sass by Abigail Erdelatz, is capable of anything as she longs for a different life.

Flat Earth’s multi-layered production, King of Shadows is best seen without revealing too many details.  Though it’s an increasingly outlandish tale, King of Shadows has more than its share of suspense, leaving the audience constantly wondering where each character’s loyalty truly lies.

Flat Earth Theatre - King of Shadows Trinidad Ramkissoon as Nihar

Trinidad Ramkissoon as Nihar Photo courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre

Flat Earth Theatre’s final production of its 13th season, King of Shadows continues through Saturday, June 22 at the Black Box at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Partially surrounded by a lush green lawn that gives it a campus feel, The Mosesian Center for the Arts houses a number of productions, concerts, and exhibits during the year.  Offering free parking and next door to Panera Bread,  Earful and Gilly Assuncao are among the featured concerts this month while The Wizard of Oz and the opera, La Cenerentola, are among the upcoming theatrical productions.  Click here to see all that Mosesian Center for the Arts has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: With author Margaret Atwood in attendance, Boston Lyric Opera creates a twist-filled, haunting ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

She must have order.

First came the best-selling novel, then the 90s film starring Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth McGovern, Aidan Quinn, Robert Duvall, and Miranda Richardson, then the Hulu series already in Season 3, and now Boston Lyric Opera debuts Ruder’s The Handmaid’s Tale as an stirring opera with bestselling author Margaret Atwood in attendance on Sunday, May 5.

Boston Lyric Opera The Handmaids Tale May 5-12

Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

The Handmaid’s Tale has been adapted into different genres and it is not difficult to see why it stands the test of time and holds such relevance in today’s culture.  Yes, it’s harrowing and difficult to watch at times, but it also makes a statement about fanaticism, corruption, and a lack of privacy, serving as a warning to what our world will hopefully never become.  As Caroline Worra, who delivers an incomparable performance as Aunt Lydia, states, “Gilead is within you.”

The blurred lines of justice reign supreme in The Handmaid’s Tale, a meaty, remarkable story seamlessly transformed into an opera through Sunday, May 12 at Harvard University’s Ray Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a clip of Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

When government has been destroyed, the army takes over and an unrelenting force rules society under the name of the Republic of Gilead.  Offred, portrayed passionately by mezzo-sopranos Jennifer Johnson Cano and Felicia Gavilanes, has been thrust into an oppressed, abusive world where she must face impossible decisions.

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The state-of-the-art Ray Lavietes Basketball Pavilion is an unexpected place to hold this dystopian classic, but the cold, open space and James Schuette’s minimal set bring out the stark, rich color contrasts and adds distinction to each character in a hard, futuristic New England society.  This combination escalates the tension while an incredible score by Poul Ruders, zealously performed by the spectacular Boston Lyric Opera orchestra conducted by David Angus, makes for a chilling and moving experience.

Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid’s Tale features a strong cast, each with their own complicated plight.  With beautiful, soaring vocals, Jennifer Johnson Cano is riveting as Offred, a mother and wife yanked into the Republic of Gilead.  Caroline Worra epitomizes the righteous and vigilant Aunt Lydia, her commanding stature and mesmerizing charisma apparent every time she steps onstage.  Kathryn Skemp Moran offers an empathetic performance as Ofwarren, a woman unable to let go of her past.  With deep, resonant vocals, David Cushing is convincing as the multi-faceted Commander who delivers a few surprises of his own along the way.

The Handmaids Tale Jennifer Johnson Cano as Offred and David Cushing as Commander

In the Commander’s office (David Cushing), Offred (Jennifer Johnson Cano) reads aloud from a beauty magazine published in the Time Before in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” running through May 12. BLO.org Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

The Boston Lyric Opera seamlessly translates Margaret Atwood’s twist-filled dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, into an opera for four performances only at Harvard University’s Ray Lavietes Pavilion through Sunday, May 12.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Boston Lyric Opera on Facebook for upcoming events and more.