Opera is changing, and Cincinnati is at the forefront

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Eisenhower’s words are projected above the cast in a scene of “Another Brick in the Wall” that drew audience applause. Provided/Philip Groshong

This month at Cincinnati Opera, audiences are seeing an opera based on a Pink Floyd rock album and another, “As One,” on a transgender topic. The company is commissioning “Blind Injustice,” based on the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati, to premiere next year in CO’s 99th season.

Last week, the chamber group concert:nova presented a “rock opera” based on sci-fi stories from “The Illustrated Man” by Ray Bradbury. (Here’s a column I wrote about it.)

It’s no secret that opera can no longer lure audiences with just the traditional canon of the ABCs – “Aida,” “La Boheme” and “Carmen.” Around the country, opera companies are embracing diversity and programming new American opera on a range of topics.

For the last couple of decades, new opera has addressed timely social issues – such as Jake Heggie’s and Terrence McNally’s “Dead Man Walking,” based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean about the death penalty. As opera embraces the vernacular – with the aim of making it accessible to all — the whole art form is blurring the lines between traditional opera, pop and musical theater.

A case in point is “Another Brick in the Wall,” based on the acid-rock Pink Floyd Album, “The Wall.” To me, the production emphasized the visuals – the projections, the scenic design, the spectacle – leaving an impression not far removed from a night at the theater seeing “Les Miserables” or “Miss Saigon.” (Read my review here.)Read More »

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The Flying Dutchman leaves port

Summer season: Opera reviews and more

A scene from “La Traviata” to open Cincinnati Opera’s seasons. Photo provided/Philip Groshong

This is a reminder to readers that many of my reviews can be found at bizjournals.com/cincinnati/topic/arts — thanks to a new initiative to cover the arts by the Cincinnati Business Courier and a grant from the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

Click here to read my review of Cincinnati Opera’s “La Traviata.”

I’ve reviewed Olga Kern at Art of the Piano here.

Here’s the review of opening night of Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea.

Read more about countertenors here.

And today, the Ansel Adams photography exhibition opens at the Taft Museum. Read about it here.

UC names new dean for CCM, and he’s a CCM grad

Kristi A. Nelson, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Cincinnati, today announced the appointment of Stanley E. Romanstein, PhD, as Dean of the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).

Romanstein’s appointment becomes effective July 1, 2018, pending approval of the University’s Board of Trustees.

The CCM graduate returns to CCM from Georgia State University’s Creative Media Institute, where he has served as a professor of practice/music and the arts for the past four years. He was President and CEO of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (2010-14), among other posts.

Romanstein earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Carson-Newman College in 1976. He then came to CCM to earn a Master of Music in Choral Conducting in 1980 and a PhD in Music in 1990. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Israel in 1985-86 and in Japan in November-December 1998.

Read more about the new dean in the press release here.

Review: Pianist Leon Fleisher at 90

Leon Fleisher performed a luminous recital in Werner Hall at CCM on Saturday night.

Perhaps playing the piano is good for longevity. Amazingly, there are still two classical pianists who are concertizing into their 90s.

Earlier this year, Menahem Pressler, 94, the founding anchor of the Beaux Arts Trio, performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He made his debut with that orchestra under Eugene Ormandy in 1947. And, he’s still teaching at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University.

Over the weekend, Leon Fleisher, who is celebrating his 90th birthday, performed a recital as part of the Art of the Piano festival at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. (The festival’s founder, Awadagin Pratt, studied with Fleisher at Peabody.) As a teacher, Fleisher is a direct descendant of Beethoven, passed down through Carl Czerny, Theodor Leschetizky and Artur Schnabel.Read More »

Music critic Mary Ellyn Hutton: ‘The community was enriched by her knowledge’

Mary Ellyn Hutton wrote music criticism for 23 years for the Cincinnati Post.

Mary Ellyn Hutton will be remembered as a journalist with unflagging dedication to Cincinnati’s musical arts. The longtime classical music critic for the Cincinnati Post continued to cover the classical scene for more than a decade after the demise of Cincinnati’s afternoon newspaper in 2007.

She died surrounded by her family on May 28 after a battle with lung cancer. The Hyde Park resident was 77.Read More »

May Festival’s first season with Mena emphasized community

Links to my festival reviews for Cincinnati Business Courier are below:

John Holiday stepped in to sing wonderfully in Chichester Psalms when David Daniels could not apear on Friday. Photos are provided by the Cincinnati May Festival

The 2018 May Festival ended on Saturday night with a terrific performance of Handel’s Messiah, in which 170 community singers joined the May Festival Chorus.

Juanjo Mena led a stylish performance with a reduced Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a smaller chorus (about 65 singers) surrounding the orchestra on risers. Stationed up high in Music Hall’s gallery were guest choruses, who participated in excerpts of the oratorio. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised from my seat — also in the gallery — that their ensemble was clean and they sang exceedingly well, as did the May Festival Chorus.

The May Festival Chorus on risers, with Juanjo Mena and soloists walking offstage

The soloists were superb — including soprano Robin Johannsen, tenor Barry Banks and baritone José Antonio López. What a thrill it was to hear countertenor David Daniels — who had canceled due to illness on Friday — appear on Saturday to sing brilliantly in airs such as “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion.” I especially enjoyed his wonderful embellishments to his vocal lines.

Highly-trained community choruses flanked the stage, seated in the gallery.

Mena propelled tempos briskly, and kept the vocal and instrumental articulation crisp. It was an uplifting conclusion to his first year as principal conductor.

May Festival articles

The tradition of little flowers girls/boys is still alive at the May Festival

I have reviewed three May Festival concerts for the Cincinnati Business Courier, thanks to support from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism.

REVIEW: Eun Sun Kim makes stunning debut in Verdi’s Requiem at May Festival

REVIEW: Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ an over-the-top ‘happening’ at May Festival

REVIEW: Juanjo Mena makes joyous debut as new May Festival leader

Leonard Bernstein’s Mass in Music Hall for the first time since 1972

And thanks to grants from ArtsWave and the Haile Foundation, you may view the Courier’s arts page for FREE. Click here for much more arts coverage, including other May Festival stories.