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The Outremer Of Contemporary Opera

The Metropolitan Opera's current production of Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour De Loin marks the second time in two consecutive seasons that the Met has mounted a new production of a not-hugely-popular French opera about three characters entangled in a rather minimalistic plot, in which all three characters tend not to appear on stage at the same time, and about which the director has said that there is, in fact, an important fourth character, that character being the abstract concept of the sea itself, despite the fact that the opera does, in fact, have an actual fourth character, even if only for a handful of lines, but who should still probably be credited above the abstract concept of the sea in the program.

Well, I liked The Pearl Fishers, so why shouldn't I like L'Amour De Loin?

To director Robert Lepage's credit, the sea in this production, portrayed by strings of multicolored LED lights strung across the stage and over the orchestra, did succeed in hogging the…

God Bless City Center Encores!

Encores! Off-Center at City Center just finished its run of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel of the same name. I saw the show yesterday, and was duly impressed.

I very much like Encores! (Although I'm not a fan of the exclamation mark at the end; I have no idea how to punctuate it, for instance, in a list, such as I might be listing Encores!, Oliver!, Oklahoma!, and other such annoying titles that end in exclamation marks.) The premise of the series is to perform obscure musicals, and try to bring them back into the public eye. Sometimes this works well, most notably with their 1996 production of Chicago. Then an obscure faded show, Encores! revived it, and what was originally a limited-run concert launched a full-scale Broadway revival which is still running twenty years later.

Some of the shows Encores! performs were originally poorly received (or later dipped into obscurity) because they were somehow unconventiona…

Menken A "Musical Theater" Score

It seems every Broadway songwriting team has their niche. Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote romantic pastoral pieces (except for Allegro, Me And Juliet, Pipe Dream...), Lerner & Loewe wrote sophisticated European farces about rich people (except for Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon...),  and Kander & Ebb wrote about dark subjects in entertaining ways, such that you laugh and then worry if you're a terrible person for laughing at that (except Flora The Red Menace, The Rink...) You get the picture.

It may surprise to find out that musical songwriting duo Menken and Ashman never wrote a musical for Broadway -- though several of their collaborations have been brought to Broadway years after they were first written. Their first musical, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, was based on a Kurt Vonnegut novel, and, as you might expect, is filled with satire and weirdness, although, oddly enough, it's told in chronological order and has no sci-fi MacGuffin. Anyway, deeming its cast of fourte…

And Cats Makes Three

Assuming School Of Rock continues to run for the next couple of months (which seems likely), come August, Andrew Lloyd Webber will be represented on Broadway by three shows. The original productions of Phantom and School Of Rock, and the revival of Cats. This will be the most shows running on Broadway from one individual composer at the current time, and since there are only so many Broadway theaters, it seems reasonable that it might be the record, since for a composer to have multiple shows on Broaday at once, they either need long runs (like Phantom) or multiple shows popular enough to revive. Bock and Harnick, for instance, are currently represented on Broadway by both Fiddler On The Roof and She Loves Me, while as long as Chicago continues to run, any revival of a Kander and Ebb musical will give them two shows on Broadway. I feel like listing Alan Menken might be cheating, since he's so strongly connected with Disney, which obviously has its own advantages, but currently he …

Awesome. Wow.

I guess I should do a brief summary of my thoughts on last night's Tony Awards.

Hamilton won best musical. To quote King George III, "Awesome. Wow."

As I predicted from a couple blog posts ago, Hamilton did not break the record for most Tony award-winning show. It came close, but The Producers holds the title. The places where Hamilton lost were for scenic design (which went to, as I predicted, She Loves Me) and lead actress (which, as everyone else predicted, went to Cynthia Erivo). I thought American Psycho might have won lighting design, based on hype, but evidently hype was wrong.

Hamilton also lost two awards early in the evening, both for best featured actor in a musical. That also happened to be at the same moment it won one award for best featured actor in a musical. Later, Hamilton lost best lead actor in a musical, and lost it to Hamilton.

Clearly the Tonys last night resolved this question, but I think there could be some argument as to how an actor playing two …

Dramaturgy vs. Dialogue

With the Tony Awards coming up on Sunday, I thought I'd clear up a question that seems to be confusing a lot of people. Specifically the matter of why Hamilton is eligible for the award for best book of a musical. The confusion stems from the fact that people read "book," are told it means "script," and immediately think "dialogue." Hamilton, being almost entirely sung, has minimal spoken dialogue, and so logic dictates that its "book" should really be considered as "lyrics," which are covered under the award for best score. (Which is also flawed -- it should really be two separate awards for music and lyrics, as the Drama Desk awards do. I assume the reason it isn't done is because the one year they tried it, Stephen Sondheim won both awards for Company.)

But the book of a musical is not just the dialogue. It also concerns the pacing, the dramatic structure, and the plot itself if original, and the adaptation from the source i…

Broadway Bluegrass

I saw Bright Star on Broadway last week. My review in two words? Really good. That's not to say it was flawless, and the elements I wasn't too pleased with I will proceed to explain, but you can safely assume that for any given element of the show, if I do not mention it and say otherwise, I thought it was terrific.

On the one hand, there are spoilers for Bright Star ahead. On the other hand, the plot of Bright Star was pretty predictable. Note that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I've talked about this before, citing Il Trovatore as an example of a show that tells you in the first scenes pretty much exactly how its going to end, and still manages to be a terrific dramatic roller coaster. Sondheim had trouble with a plot twist in Sweeney Todd, in that sometimes the audience figured out the twist way ahead of time, and some of them didn't even quite get it when Sweeney did, and there was no consistency from performance to performance. To solve this, Sondheim added …

Bel Canto Of Broadway

So Hamilton just set a record with sixteen Tony nominations. It's worth noting, though, that seven of those nominations were for actors. So really it's only nine nominations that will apply when it's finally possible to get tickets in three years. Second, because of multiple nominations in the actor categories, Hamilton can only possibly win thirteen Tonys. The record for most Tonys won by a production is held by The Producers, which won twelve. It was nominated for fifteen. The reason Hamilton was able to grab one more nomination is because The Producers did not have any female characters prominent enough to be eligible for the Actress In A Leading Role award.
The Producers swept every category it was nominated for, but I wouldn't get too excited for Hamilton. The Producers was up against very little competition. Look at the 2001 Tony awards and tell me, how competitive was that really? Of course, that may be due to hindsight, but Billy Elliot, which also got fifteen …

On The Met's 2016-17 Season

The Metropolitan opera has announced their 2016-17 season, and at a glance, I think it's a much stronger season than the current one. Let's break it down a little.

The current season consists of twenty-four operas:

Anna BolenaThe Barber Of SevilleLa BohemeCavalleria Rusticana / PagliacciDon PasqualeLa Donna Del LagoElektraL'Elisir D'AmoreDie Entfuhrung Aus Dem SerailDie FledermausLuluMadama ButterflyManon LescautMaria StuardaLe Nozze Di FigaroOtelloLe Pecheurs De PerlesRigolettoRoberto DevereuxSimon BoccanegraTannhauserToscaIl TrovatoreTurandot (I have to wonder: When the Met does The Barber Of Seville in English, that's what they call it, but when they do it in Italian, they call it Il Barbriere Di Siviglia. Same with Hansel And Gretel or Hansel Und Gretel and Die Zauberflote or The Magic Flute. So why don't they call their English-translated holiday production The Bat?)
That's sixteen tragedies, six comedies, and two not-quite-either.
By composer, we have …

Two-Hit Titan

Quick. How many Mozart operas can you name? Magic Flute, Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi Fan Tutte, Abduction. Five. Pretty good. How about Puccini? Boheme, Tosca, Butterfly, Turandot, Gianni Schicchi. Also a solid five. Donizetti? L'Elisir, Don Pasquale, Lucia. Three, not bad. Strauss? Salome, Rosenkavalier, Die Fledermaus, Ariadne Auf Naxos? Well, that's an average of two operas per Strauss so I'll let that slide. Beethoven? Just Fidelio? Well he only wrote the one, so that's a hundred percent. And I'm not just listing off the operas I can name off the top of my head, these are the operas that each of these composers have listed on Operabase's top fifty most frequently performed operas.

There are certain one-hit wonders in the opera world. Bizet with Carmen, Leoncavallo with Pagliacci, Mascagni with Cavalleria Rusticana, and even Strauss with Die Fledermaus. Generally these composers, popular though their individual hits may be, don't get listed as among the g…

Busy, Busy, Bizet

I like to do my research before seeing a show. This gives me some idea as to whether I will like a show before I even make the decision to see it, and by keeping myself on top of the plot and -- especially important in a musical -- the lyrics, it allows me to focus on the individual aspects of that specific performance rather than trying to keep a gauge on the show as a whole. The operas haven't changed for over a hundred years. The productions have.

I attended the Met Live in HD broadcast of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers the other day. I'll be calling it The Pearl Fishers because I don't want to have to spell out that impossible French title with all the accents. Now I'm going to get into a lot of stuff about drama and playwriting and Carmen later that has nothing to do with this production, so if you're just here for the review, I'm going to get it out of the way quickly now. Everything was great. The audio in the broadcast sounded off a few times. I wasn'…