‘Iolanta’ charms at Queen City Opera

Iolanta and her aides in Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta” at Queen City Opera. Provided photos

“I long for something, but I don’t know what,” sang the lovely blind princess Iolanta, in Queen City Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s final opera, “Iolanta.”

Tchaikovsky’s rarely-seen one-act opera is being rediscovered, with the Met recently presenting its first production starring Anna Netrebko. Last month, inspired by the Met’s production, Isaac Selya mounted a charming, beautifully sung production in Cincinnati.

The fairytale opera is about a blind princess whose father, the king of Provence, King René, doesn’t allow her to know anything about light or vision, thus keeping her in the dark about her condition. (To create awareness, Selya collaborated with Cincinnati’s Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.)

It was a gem of an opera, with a magical orchestral score, rewarding singing by a young cast and a simple but effective set design in Dunham Arts Center, a former tuberculosis hospital on Cincinnati’s West Side.Read More »

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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.

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 »

CCM grad a winner in Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions

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Jessica Faselt, soprano. Photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera

CCM alumna Jessica Faselt, 25, of Iowa City was among five singers named as the winners of the nation’s most prestigious vocal competition, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Faselt earned a Master of Music degree in Voice in 2016, and was a winner of the Corbett Award at CCM.

The other winners are: Madison Leonard, 26, soprano (Coeur d’Alene, ID); Ashley Dixon, 26, mezzo-soprano (Peachtree, GA); Hongni Wu, 23, mezzo-soprano (Jingdezhen, China); and Carlos Enrique Santelli, 26, tenor (Orlando, FL).

Each winner receives a $15,000 cash prize and the exposure that has launched the careers of many of opera’s biggest stars.

And in another local tie, CCM Artist Diploma in Opera Performance student Brandon Russell was a semi-finalist in this year’s Met National Council Auditions. He competed in the semi-final round held on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera on April 22, and was awarded $1,500.Read More »

Opera Rap

Join Cincinnati Opera’s Harry T. Wilkes artistic director Evans Mirageas and me as we discuss arts journalism in today’s cultural climate, and more — 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Mercantile Library, Downtown. It promises to be fun. And, I might bring a surprise guest…

The Opera Rap — a lively discussion — is free to Library members; $10 nonmembers.

Reservations required: 513.621.0717 or email reservations@mercantilelibrary.com

Hope to see you there!

Levine’s fall from grace is complete

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James Levine, being applauded at the Metropolitan Opera, was fired by the company, citing “credible evidence” for sexual abuse. Photo by Naomi Vaughan

By now you’ve read, or you’ve heard about, Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine’s fall from grace. Yesterday, the Metropolitan Opera fired the maestro, a Cincinnati native, citing “credible evidence” for sexual abuse allegations that go back decades.

Levine was one of the most powerful people in the opera world. He was revered as a conductor who rivaled legends such as Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein. In Cincinnati, Levine’s talent is a part of local lore. He made his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra debut as piano soloist at age 10 under Thor Johnson. As a pre-teen, he would sit for hours at Cincinnati Opera rehearsals at the zoo, inhaling opera scores and imitating Italian conductor Fausto Cleva.

He was music director of the Cincinnati May Festival in 1974, before he turned 30, and served for five seasons. (The May Festival has canceled his planned appearance this season.)

In Cincinnati, he conducted his first performances of Wagner operas Lohengrin, Tannhauser and Parsifal, in concert version for the May Festival. Levine hand-picked his successor, James Conlon.

He was a personal champion of opera soprano Kathleen Battle, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

And his mentor from an early age into adulthood was Walter Levin, the late first violinist of the LaSalle Quartet, the distinguished former quartet-in-residence at CCM.

One of Levine’s honorary doctorates was from the University of Cincinnati.

I’m reposting the Met’s entire statement here: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.

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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.

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With rocker Peter Frampton in his studio at his Indian Hill home talking about his gig with the Pops.
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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 »