CSO’s lush playing a highlight of ‘Pelléas et Mélisande’

The orchestra sat flat on the thrust stage, surrounded by a catwalk on which the singers performed.

Louis Langrée and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concluded their “Pelléas Trilogy” over the weekend in Music Hall.

My review of the CSO’s performance of Debussy’s opera “Pelléas et Mélisande” can be found today on musicalamerica.com. (Click here to read it.)

The orchestra’s “Friday Orange” event included some creepy visitors in the lobby, wrapping and unwrapping themselves.

Three women wrapped and unwrapped themselves in long streams of ribbon for Friday Orange (director Annie Saunders)

The opera, presented in a semi-staged concert version, provided another chance to hear the new acoustics in Music Hall. For this concert, I sat in two different locations, as you’ll see in the review.

A scene from the opera on a platform behind the orchestra. Lee Snow, photo.

It was the first time the orchestra has performed with voice in the hall since the $143 million renovation was completed.

For this performance, the orchestra was positioned in a different configuration from those on Opening Night and last week at the Pops.

Next weekend, I plan to go to Cincinnati Ballet’s “Romeo and Juliet,” which will have the CSO in the pit for the first time. And on Nov. 4, the May Festival Chorus will join for yet another set-up.

My view from row 2 of the new terrace seating, right side.

What are your impressions so far? Let us know!


Finding the mood of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande”

CSo rendering
A rendering of the set. Photo provided: CSO/Adam Rigg

James Darrah likes to point out that he has curated the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s “Pelleas Trilogy” in three different phases of Music Hall’s renovation.

CSO music director Louis Langrée’s three year project exploring Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1893 play, “Pelléas et Mélisande” began with Arnold Schoenberg’s tone poem in Music Hall – pre-renovation. It continued last year with Gabriel Fauré’s incidental music to the play when the orchestra was displaced at the Taft Theater.

This weekend, the project culminates in Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” in the newly renovated Music Hall.  The performance is in collaboration with Cincinnati Opera.

“It’s been really fun to bring an opera to life in this space,” says the Los Angeles-based director and designer. “We’re all still learning what we can and can’t do (in the theater). Some things are familiar and some different.”Read More »

‘Cinderella’ on the West Side

Queen city Opera
A scene from Queen City Opera’s “La Cenerentola” opening Friday.

Issac Selya, conductor and founder of Queen City Opera, is adding a new title to his resume: Producer. For the first time since founding Queen City Opera in 2012, he is not conducting, but is producing Rossini’s “La Cenerentola,” Friday and Sunday at the Dunham Arts Center on the West Side. The production’s conductor is Queen City Opera’s Associate Music Director Jesse Leong, and the stage director is Jacquelyn Mouritsen, coming from Indiana University.

“Since the company’s mission is to launch the careers of emerging artists, I am glad we can feature a new accomplished emerging conductor as well,” Selya says.

While the company has often featured musicians and singers from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, this production will be in close collaboration for the first time with the CCM Opera Department and its chair, Robin Guarino. Current CCM students will take the starring roles.

The production is presented in memory of Dr. Bob Hasl – “Dr. Bob” — who was very fond of the opera’s alternative title “Bonta in trionfo,” or “Goodness triumphs.”Read More »

Thanks for the memories

It’s been a privilege. I can truthfully say I have loved every minute of writing about the arts in Cincinnati for the Cincinnati Enquirer. I am thankful to you, the readers of both print and digital, the people who have called me, written letters, followed me on social media, come up to me at Music Hall to say hello or to talk about music, and who have taken my OLLI class, “Behind the Scenes in the Arts.”

It has been a wonderful, totally unexpected ride that became 26 years almost overnight.

From the first day that I walked into the newsroom, never having taken a journalism course, I was starstruck by the people who worked there. What talent and creativity! In those days, I filed a review right after the symphony concert on Friday nights, which meant I raced to my car behind Music Hall, tore Downtown to the Enquirer building while forming the opening lines in my head, and wrote on a deadline of 45 minutes with a copy desk editor barking, “Where’s that review?” Loved those late-night editors, who would fix my typos and write the headlines. The best one described a pianist, to be nameless here, who slogged through a bizarre performance of Rach 2: “(Pianist) phones it in — From Mars.” I was usually home by 2 a.m. and the review was in the morning paper.

With James Conlon and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and May Festival Chorus at Carnegie Hall, May 2014; photo provided by Spring for Music, Steve Sherman

But besides the reviews, I have loved writing stories about people. Sometimes I think that the whole artistic world has passed through Cincinnati. I’ve interviewed and met opera stars, violin legends, conductors, composers, crooners, rockers and movie stars. I couldn’t believe going backstage at the Met to interview Cincinnati’s own James Levine, who had pictures of his childhood home behind his desk. He knew everything happening in the Queen City. His mother, Helen, it turned out, had been sending him all of my clippings.

Then there was Rosemary Clooney. Driving down to Augusta, Kentucky, with photographer Craig Ruttle to spend time in her home was unforgettable. Later, John Kiesewetter, Jim Knippenberg and I covered her funeral. Yes, there were Hollywood stars. But more touching were the folks of Maysville who came out to bring their “girl singer” back home.

With rocker Peter Frampton in his studio at his Indian Hill home talking about his gig with the Pops.
With Rosemary Clooney and her husband, Dante DiPaolo

When Erich Kunzel died in 2009, I was proud that Reds announcer Marty Brennaman mentioned during the game the next day that The Enquirer had done a nice job on his obituary.  Early that morning, I was interviewed on NPR about the Cincinnati Pops maestro, and the force of nature that he was. And about a week later, I was on tour in Japan with the CSO.  On a day off at the mountainous shrine of Nikko, a man in my tour group said as we ate lunch, “Cincinnati. I heard you just lost a conductor there.” He’d heard my interview, 6,000 miles away.Read More »

About that footbridge to Music Hall


IMG_8653There are a lot of misconceptions in the online posts I’ve read about the Music Hall bridge that the city now says it will demolish and rebuild over Central Parkway. The elephant in the room that people are missing: There is no easy and safe pathway to the front door of Music Hall on Elm Street if you park behind the building, in the Town Center Garage on Central Parkway.

If the city-owned bridge, which leads from Town Center Garage to Music Hall, is rebuilt, the renovation team is pledging to construct a passageway into Music Hall from the Ballroom entrance on the second level — the new back door.

Here’s yesterday’s story.

Somehow amid expenditures of at least $135 million, planners decided not to provide a rear entrance to Music Hall. This intentional omission adversely affects many of the organizations that make Music Hall their home. People have been deciding not to renew subscriptions or to attend fewer concerts because of inconvenience and pedestrian safety.Read More »

My last list … for now … of the best of 2016

636184558582936207-052816-May-Fest-08-1-.jpgIt seems that the end of a year always results in lists — looking back and looking ahead. And invariably, my list is different from your list. There were so many other great performances that I could have added here — the Polish Festival at CCM, the Ariel Quartet, the great jazz heard every week in our community, and the high-energy shows by John Morris Russell and the Cincinnati Pops… not to mention the entire opening season this fall at the CSO, with Emanuel Ax, Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang, Gil Shaham and Branford Marsalis!

I loved it all. But here’s my column, in case you missed it, for better or worse. At the list’s end, I look back at two of the big stories in the arts that I covered, and look forward to the opening of Music Hall next October.

Read More »

Critic’s notebook: The chapter of the gods concludes

Here’s one of the performances I’ve been lucky to catch this fall in Cincinnati.

Soprano Mithra Mastropierro was superb as Brunnhilde
Soprano Mithra Mastropierro was superb as Brunnhilde

Last month, Queen City Chamber Opera mounted the final installment, Act III, of Wagner’s opera “Siegfried,” at the Dunham Performing Arts Center on the West Side. The performance, which was well attended on a bright Sunday afternoon, marked the first complete performance of “Siegfried” in Ohio in a century. (It was in collaboration with the Wagner Society of Cincinnati.)

(The first two acts were performed in the previous two years. It’s a rather epic way to perform a Ring Cycle… )

What is so remarkable about the efforts of the company’s founding music director Isaac Selya is the quality that he has been able to achieve on a shoestring. His orchestra — complete with five extraordinary horn players, harp and timpani — filled nearly half of the auditorium floor.Read More »