Archive for opera

“Three Way” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Posted in BROOKLYN, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2017 by travsd

In “Safe Word”, Eliza Bonet and Matthew Trevino demonstrate that you can’t keep a good man down

Just a few words of laudation for Three Way by composer Robert Paterson and librettist David Cote, staged by John Hoomes, co-produced by American Opera Projects and others, which we caught at the Brooklyn Academy of Music yesterday. Pride Month was the perfect occasion on which to experience this sex-positive triptych of operatic one acts. I’d heard snippets at our Opera on Tap evening a couple of years ago, but this was the NYC premiere of the whole musky magilla, the entire libidinous libretto, from soup to nut-sack.

The title is of course a bit of wordplay referring not just to a multi-partner sex encounter, but also to the fact that the show consists of a bill containing three separate but related works. In the best comic opera tradition, each seemed to draw from and engage with popular culture. The Companion is a science fiction tale about a busy woman (Danielle Pastin) and her dissatisfaction with her love robot (Samuel Levine), emerging with a life-lesson that would not be out of place on Fantasy Island. The SM thriller Safe Word comes with an O. Henry twist and musical passages that occasionally summoned the spirit of Bernard Herrmann. Masquerade most obviously evokes Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, while also (to my mind) conjuring Elizabethan comedy (it’s about strangers pairing off at an orgy). And the anthology format, each with racy, funny, sex themes — how could it not make those of us of a certain age to think of Love American Style?

Inevitably, Three Way’s “edge” will shock people more in the hinterlands than in NYC, the jaded Belly of the Beast. (I imagine a domme dungeon, a swingers club, and sex with a mechanical surrogate all happening a stone’s throw from BAM, even at the very moment the show was happening. I once went to an art opening where a woman named “The Countess” beat a man’s testicles with a metal rod and no one looked up from their champagne). But the carefully wrought storytelling and generous, open and inquiring spirit of the work, its depth of character and its wit, are the farthest thing from quotidian and much to be prized. Three Way put me in a good mood, and while not as enjoyable as sex itself, at least it put sex into an opera. Those of us who have experienced operas without sex can attest to how valuable that is.

BTW! The show is a co-production of the Nashville Opera, which presented it earlier this year at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (a venue I got to a visit when I covered the Nashville scene for American Theatre magazine about fifteen years ago). The producers and artists are looking to make a cast album down in Nashville and now have a kickstarter campaign under way to raise the necessary funds. Help ’em out here:

Tomorrow at Dixon Place: A Great Free Opera

Posted in Classical, Indie Theatre, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Music, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , on February 3, 2017 by travsd


A couple of years ago we waxed enthusiastic about the samples we heard of The Hat, an opera-in-progress by Karen Siegel and Zsuzsanna Ardo at Opera on Tap’s New Brew series (same folks presenting our opera section tonight). Now Siegel and Ardo’s show is more topical than ever. It’s about the affair between a young Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. It’s been both heartening and dismaying to know that sales of Ardent’s books have gone up the past few weeks (she’s the person who coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe the rise of the Nazis). And Heidegger of course, though one of the most brilliant existentialist philosophers of the 20th century, actually became a Nazi apologist! The romance sounded do distant and faraway the last time I heard it. Now it’s hitting terrifyingly close to home.

They’re presenting the whole thing tomorrow night at Dixon Place in the Lounge — admission is free. An edifying way and place in which to spend a winter evening.

Christmas in Italy!

Posted in Classical, Dance, Italian, Music with tags , , , on December 19, 2016 by travsd

Photo by Annie Watt

We got a badly needed lift yesterday, as well as a much overdue dose of Christmas spirit, and a highly welcome injection of “red sauce” directly into our veins, at Cristina Fontanelli’s 13th Annual “Christmas in Italy” Presentation at the Washington Irving Campus Landmark Theater near Gramercy Park.

Host Ornella Fado of the NYC-TV show Brindiamo! launched the festivities with welcoming remarks and then the mic was passed to world-renowned soprano Fontanelli, founder and prime mover of this heartwarming holiday event, which combines the best of high and popular cultural traditions, ever since its inception. The first half consisted primarily of well-known operatic selections by Italian composers like Verdi, Puccini and Rossini, ending on “The Italian Street Song” from Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta. We could have listened to her heavenly singing voice all night, but she generously shared the stage, singing a duet with tenor Blake Friedman (Rossini’s “La Danza”); sharing the spotlight with pianist David Maiullo, and mandolin players John La Barbera, Barry Mitterhoff, and Jay Posipanko; and even turning the stage over to accordionist Angelo Coppola, whom she said she discovered playing on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx’s Little Italy.

That last detail was the kind of touch that particularly endeared her to me, and I believe to most of her audience. Don’t get me wrong — she has the kind of gift, and the kind of skill, that’s liable to make you feel like a piker no matter what you do in life. If you’re a plumber, you’ll say “I’m okay at my job — but I sure wish I was as good at plumbing as she is at singing.” On the other hand, she has this down to earth personality that seemed to shrink the large auditorium down to the size of a family kitchen. Her aunt was there; Fontanelli dedicated a song to her, and got us all to join her in “Happy Birthday”. She greeted old friends in the audience. She grieved for the loss of her mother, who passed away this year. There were hundreds of us in the audience, but the distance between us seemed very small.

And the second half of the show was even warmer and more family-oriented, for that’s when the Christmas part of the program kicked in and we got to hear The Christmas in Italy Choir sing their beautiful rendition of “Silent Night”, and to watch recitals by large numbers of adorable children from The Little Language Studio and the Jersey City Ballet, and to meet the winners of the Miss Italia USA Scholarship Program, and to enjoy Plu Sayampol and his dancers. And to see Santa Claus!

As I’ve been bragging to everybody lately I’m 2% Italian, and that 2% was fully on the ascendant yesterday evening. Afterwards, we rapidly decided what was for dinner. I had the spaghetti and meatballs; my wife had the chicken parmesan. The 14th Annual concert is already on our calendar for next year.


Posted in Broadway, Impressionists, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2016 by travsd



Today is the birthday of Norma Terris (Norma Allison, 1904-1989).

Originally from Kansas, Terris started out in vaudeville performing singing celebrity impressions, an act that sounds not unlike that of Elsie Janis. I see it claimed in various places that she was featured in the Ziegfeld Follies, however my own Follies resources (bills for each year) and IBDB don’t reflect that. She may have been a replacement, or toured with the show. However, she was definitely featured doing her impersonation specialty in two Shubert revues A Night in Paris (1926) and A Night in Spain (1927). This lead to her best known theatrical credit: she was the original Magnolia and Kim in the first productions of Show Boat (1927-1929 and 1932). She was tried in two Hollywood features, Married in Hollywood (1929) and Cameo Kirby (1930), but apparently she did not click in pictures; when films were made of Show Boat in 1929 and 1936, she was passed over.

She starred in a couple more short-lived Broadway shows (her last was in 1938), then sang for ten seasons with the Municipal Opera Company in St. Louis. After this she retired to Connecticut with her husband. Ironically, it is her activity during this “retirement” for which she may be best known today, for she became heavily involved, both as a singer and a benefactor, with the Goodspeed Opera Company, which named one of its theatre buildings in her honor.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Marguerite Sylva: Melodic Mistress of All Media

Posted in Broadway, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Women with tags , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Marguerite Sylva (Marguerite Smith, 1875-1957).

Sylva was born in Brussels to a father of English parentage; her father was the Royal Court Physician. She and sister were both classically trained musicians. Her sister EdithNadia” Sylva was a concert violinist. Marguerite studied piano and voice. W.S. Gilbert gave them their stage names; Gilbert had wanted Marguerite to appear in The Grand Dukes. Instead she opted to appear in the title role in Carmen at Drury Lane (a role with which she was to be thereafter associated); and then went to New York with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree to appear in The Seats of the Mighty. From the turn of the century through the 1930s she was to be an American star of opera, musical theatre and big time vaudeville.

In the early 1940s she played small roles in Hollywood movies, notably the Val Lewton thrillers The Leopard Man (1943) and The Seventh Victim (1943), the classic To Have and Have Not (1944) and a few others. Her remaining years were spent as a voice teacher.

For more on vaudeville history, including great opera singers who sang there like Marguerite Sylva, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Robert Chisholm

Posted in Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2016 by travsd
with Jeanette MacDonald

with Jeanette MacDonald

Today is the birthday of Robert Chisholm (William Leslie Chisholm, 1894-1960). Australian born Chisholm was the son of a Melbourne bootmaker, whose Christian name he took as his professional one. He served as an ambulance driver in WWI; from here ho migrated to the military division that put on camp shows, and from here to professional theatre. He appears to have received some training as a singer and musician in his childhood, for his progress in show business was rapid and he was given a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music. For almost four decades, Chisholm went were the jobs were, and this meant dividing his time between opera, musical theatre, vaudeville, music hall, film, recording, and constant shuttling between the West End, Broadway, Hollywood, Sidney and provincial tours of the English speaking world.

It was Eddie Darling who spotted Chisholm for the Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit on a scouting tour; Chisholm made big time tours in the States almost every year between 1926 and the death of the two-a-day at the Palace in 1932. Between 1928 and 1951, he has 20 major Broadway credits. (Here’s an interesting one: he was MacHeath in the first American production of Threepenny Opera in 1933. It only played a week). He was also in the original Broadway productions of On the Town and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Though he was tried in Hollywood, he only really has a proper role appears in one major film: The Lottery Bride (1930) with Jeanette MacDonald, Joe E. Brown, Zasu Pitts, and Harry Gribbon. Later he appeared in an early experimental television production called Father O’Flynn (1935). His role in It Happened in Hollywood (1937) was just a walk-on. Circa 1960, he retired to his home country.

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Anna Fitziu

Posted in Classical, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Anna Fitziu (Anna Powell, 1887-1967). Originally from West Virginia, she started out in New York City as a chorus girl and singer in 1902 using the stage name Anna Fitzhugh, in honor of some of her posh colonial relations. For the next four years, she appeared in musical comedies, operettas and in vaudeville. From 1906 through 1915 she spent her time in Europe and South America, first studying voice in Paris and changing the spelling of her name to “Fitziu”. In 1915 she returned to America and played all the great American opera houses through her retirement in 1927, becoming known for her roles in Pagliacci, La Boheme, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and others. In 1927, shortly before her retirement she returned to vaudeville briefly with a performance at the Palace. The balance of her career was spent as a vocal instructor.

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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