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:  GBH’s ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ full of gratitude, wistfulness, and holiday cheer

As the world shut down last year and domestic and international performers could not take the stage on A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s usual tour around Massachusetts, GBH decided to bring the audience virtually to them in 2020.  From stunning Sligo Cathedral in Ireland to Scotland to Canada and various parts of Massachusetts, viewers could see a mix of Christmas traditions and scenery on location right from their own living room as well as experience traditional and contemporary harmonies performed simultaneously internationally through brilliant technology.  What hadn’t changed was A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s master of ceremonies, Brian O’Donovan who delivered a mix of humor, melancholy, and warm reflections through engaging storytelling and fond tidings.  

From L to R: Windborne, Brian O’Donovan and Moira Smiley Photo credit to Matthew Muise

This year should seem more familiar.  Host Brian O’ Donovan and a mix of renowned performers from around the world returned to the stage for A Christmas Celtic Sojourn to deliver glad and wistful tidings through uplifting Celtic step dancing, musings, music, and storytelling while making stops in Rockport and Boston. 

Brian O’Donovan and the Christmas Celtic ensemble Photo credit to Matthew Muise

Directed with a mix of festiveness and reflection by Jenna Worden, the live and in person tour included a sold-out show at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts on December 14 and at the Cutler Majestic Theatre from December 17 through 19 in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 90 minutes with no intermission.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through December 26.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Nearing its 20 year-anniversary, what this annual production and concert certainly masters is the quiet and stirring.  That is just how the show begins as A Christmas Celtic Sojourn welcomed the audience with crisp, a cappella harmonies led by singer-songwriter Moira Smiley accompanied by returning folk singers Windborne.  Weaving in contemporary songs with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, their chiming vocals brought distinctive warmth so prevalent to the production.

In front of a painted mural of a serene Irish countryside transforming from dawn to dusk by innovative light designer Dan Jentzen, remarkable Christmas carol compositions, stirring remembrances, lively Celtic step dancing, and rousing jam sessions or  Celtic ‘round robins’ brought beauty, celebration, and stillness into the season. 

Speaking of ‘round robins,’ the Christmas Celtic ensemble composed of co-music director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan, Celtic Harpist, pianist and co-music director Maeve Gilchrist, multi-instrumentalists Owen Marshall and Yann Falquet, Fiddler Jenna Moynihan, Kate McNally and Neil Pearlman on Fiddle and Piano, and Chico Huff on Bass, dedicated an uplifting and freestyle number to Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains who passed away in October.  It was fascinating to see how pianist Neil Perlman keeps the lively beat playing as his feet danced along. 

By candlelight and Christmas tree, host Brian O’Donovan recalls childhood memories in Ireland where Protestants and Catholics were brought together singing Christmas carols and the lingering smell of bacon wafted through his home weaving in anecdotes from Welch poet Dylan Thomas.  Brian also shared historical musings and performed a humorous rendition of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake

Singer-songwriter Moira Smiley Photo credit to Matthew Muise

Singer-songwriter Moira Smiley also delivered a mix of reflective and ruminating lyrics with Days of War about hard times as well as the rich folk lullaby Johanna Dreams on banjo.  Smiley’s remarkable, round, and velvety vocals enrich each verse.  She also shares the stage with Windborne and Brian O’Donovan in a stirring and gorgeous rendition Silent Night, O Holy Night and with the entire cast joined in for a treasured and traditional Auld Lang Syne and Here We Come A-Wassailing.

Entire Company of ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ Photo credit to Matthew Muise

However, most memorable is a vivid gathering as the stage transforms into a warm and inviting living room with the atmosphere of family and friends singing around the piano sharing various Christmas carols such as Joy to the World.  The stage is bright and festive as Celtic step dancers join in this familiar picture of the spirit of the season joyfully leaping in velvet attire and bejeweled shoes led by Ashley Smith-Wallace.  It is a picture treasured for the Christmas season and reflective of what is soon to come. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through December 26.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

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REVIEW: Christmas Revels 50th virtual anniversary delivers mirth, merriment, and reflection

For what marks its 50th year, Christmas Revels has been entertaining audiences by delving into vast cultures and recreating historical moments and holiday traditions with drama, dance, humor, and song.  Christmas Revels made its debut in 1971 and though it is limited to the screen this year, this engaging production brought a mix of new material while glimpsing some of their best performances in their long history. 

Father Christmas makes an appearance in The Christmas Revels annual “Mummers Play” Photo courtesy of Revels

Having never seen Christmas Revels before, it was a lot to take in and quite a feat to encapsulate the best moments in such a broad time frame.  Catching glimpses of some of their special guests, returning favorites, and new faces was an innovative way to recap a half century of productions, but it also had me longing to see more, especially as I glimpsed some of their best, most enduring performances.

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels is also available as a 2-CD set.  Click here for more information.

Statues: Paula Plum as James Otis and Richard Snee as Josiah Quincy Photo courtesy of Revels

Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre is as majestic and welcoming as ever even as it fills for a virtual audience.  The dark, wooden stage is softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.  Hosted by acting dynamos Paula Plum and Richard Snee as James Otis and Josiah Quincy who were immortalized as those legendary statues on the Harvard University stage and the only souls who have seen every Revels performance and then some, Christmas Revels blends humor, stirring moments, and a wistful trip down memory lane to witness some of Revels’ earliest performances as it gradually became what it is today.  

From humorous moments to joyful carols such as 1984’s Yorkshire Here We Come A Wassailing, Go Tell it On the Mountain with Janice Allen and Joy to the World featuring choruses from Christmas past and virtual Christmas present, and a serene Dona Nobis Pacem featuring renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Christmas Revels does not predictably explore its past in sequence, but in clever moments such as merging a past and more recent performance of a song  by various performers, setting a different tone to its enduring meaning.

Yo-Yo Ma with Audience: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs the peace round “Dona Nobis Pacem” with members of the Revels Virtual Audience Photo courtesy of Revels

One of the best and most exciting examples of this was in 1997’s and 2015’s Lord of the Dance featuring David Coffin, Neena Gulati, and Patrick Swanson as they explored eastern and western Hindu traditions.  Audience members were on their feet as enthusiastic performers led audience members to spill out into the Sanders Theatre’s lobby singing along.  1993’s Kukko dance featuring the Karelian Folk Ensemble stood out as one of the more exotic cultures while 1997’s Niska Banja featuring the Revels Women, New England Romanian Ensemble, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble revealed beautiful and distinctive garb.  2007’s Shopsko, choreographed by Petre Petrov with Mladost Folk Ensemble, The Village Band, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble offered memorable upbeat and bustling Bulgarian dance. 

Johnny Nichols, Jr. and Carolyn Saxon perform the spiritual “Hold On” in a segment linked to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, exploring the ongoing journey towards justice and equality Photo courtesy of Revels

 Janice Allen and the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers took the stage in 2000 for a stunning, acapella version of Amazing Grace while 1986’s impressive Appalachian Clogging with Ira Bernstein and the Big Gap String Band and Jean Ritchie delivered a captivating Kentucky folk carol, Christ Was Born in Bethlehem.  Another indelible moment rested in a powerful medley of 2000’s Underground Railroad featuring Sheila Kay Adams and Janice Allen, Jordan Ashwood, and Cyrus Brooks, Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, Roaring Gap Chorus, Rocky River Children, Carolyn Saxon, and Johnny Nichols, Jr.

Christmas Revels’ ever changing repertoire is too numerous to mention every highlight, but there are plenty of surprises.

The detailed, rustic sets and the meaningful, meticulous costumes ranged from festive to humorous to haunting.  It was marvelous to witness the virtual technology that was such a big part of this production.  The virtual choir delivered moving, crisp carols and seeing the creators including founder John Langstaff and Revels Directors Patrick Swanson and George Emlen united in present time without actually being onstage provided some comfort that technology can still make some things possible. 

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  Click here for more information on The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels available as a 2-CD set. 

REVIEW: GBH’s inviting virtual ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ maintains warmth and tradition in 2020

2020 has been many things, but traditional is not one of them.  However, this year’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn brought back holiday traditions, beautiful performances, reflections, stirring carols, and dare I say a bit of normalcy to 2020.

With a selection of live performances and an option to watch on-demand, GBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn was brought into your home in a warm, inviting, and spirited atmosphere.  From a majestic, candlelit cathedral in Ireland to a festive outdoor step dance in Ottawa, Canada, it unconventionally included all the elements of what is beloved about this annual New England show and somehow broadened its possibilities worldwide. 

Host Brian O’Donovan and fiddle player Jenna Moynihan at Rockport Music Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Brilliantly directed by Jenna Worden, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn offered seven live streaming opportunities to watch virtually from your home Tuesday, December 15 at THE VETS in Providence, RI, Wednesday, December 15 at Hanover Theatre in Worcester, MA, Thursday, December 17 at The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, MA, Friday, December 18 at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA, Saturday, December 19 at The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, MA, and Sunday, December 20 in GBH Studios in Boston, MA  These locations are usually where A Christmas Celtic Sojourn tours annually.  A bonus encore presentation also occurred on Christmas Eve. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Celtic harpist, pianist, and Assistant Music Director Maeve Gilchrist Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Though a portion of the performers were at home, audiences were treated to harmonies created from multiple locations nationally and internationally while enjoying festive, international scenery.  For a person who has lacked the chance to travel the world this year, it was a more than welcome opportunity to take a glimpse and to share in some international traditions. 

From the stirring, candlelit opening of beloved carol, O Come Emmanuel sung in Latin by Cathy Jordan from gorgeous Sligo Cathedral in Ireland, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn transported audiences to Ireland and to other places around the world as they were unable to bring Ireland to the stage.  The show also boasted dueling harmonies simultaneously sung from Vermont, Scotland, and various parts of Massachusetts. 

Host Brian O’Donovan brought a mix of humor, melancholy, and wistful reflections toward this difficult year, engaging storytelling, and fond tidings.  Though this year has presented its challenges, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn still managed to keep the rituals and long-awaited music right at your fingertips delivering jubilant, soulful moments while still embracing winter’s dark and sacred stillness.

Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan with fiddlers Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Thanks to Rockport Music, multi-instrumentalist and Music Director Seamus Egan, Assistant Music Director, Celtic harpist, and pianist Maeve Gilchrist, Bouzouki and Harmonium player Owen Marshall, guitarist Conor Hearn, and fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin returned to perform cheerful medleys and energetic jam sessions filmed in Rockport Music at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.  Seamus Egan’s brilliance shone through as he reached for multiple instruments for separate songs and at one point reaching for a banjo for a joyful freestyle. 

Fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin with Bouzouki and Harmonium musician Owen Marshall Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

A traditional wassail in Edinburgh, Scotland, rollicking sing-along carols and dance from A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s past, a peerless lullaby carol involving a newborn, original song and stirring new renditions of classic carols, a lighthearted percussive dance from Michigan by Nic Gareiss, and returning step dancer and choreographer Cara Butler reveling in her backyard to a jubilant tune in Ottawa, Canada are just some of the highlights of this carefully-executed, moving production.  There were plenty of welcome surprises not to be revealed here.

Spending an awful lot of time at home and not in the car, music is less of a tradition in my house.  GBH’s  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn created a haven of holiday comfort in song that though we are far apart, some rituals and traditions can still stay the same.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021