Kate Soper’s Here Be Sirens

It has been said that the hardest thing for new opera or symphonic works is to get a second performance. Kate Soper’s musical theater/opera work, Here Be Sirens, premiered in 2014 at Dixon Place in New York City and had two series of performances. In March, it had its second run, this time by the Fresh Squeezed Opera Company at the LGBT Center on 13th Street, though only excerpts were performed, representing slightly less than half the opera.

Three performers, Victoria Benson (Polyxo), Claire Myers McCormick (Peitho) and Devony Smith (Phaino), coached by Dmitry Glivinskly, well represented the three Sirens, and also at times their enemy, the Muses. The staging backed the bells and whistles of the premiers at Dixon Place but was still effective.

The questions of the evening that the Sirens posed included, why did we lose our wings, and are we ever getting off this miserable rock?

The three characters were in varying stages of awareness that they were mythological and not human and thus would never get off their island, nor, presumably, stop eating the unfortunate sailors who washed ashore. The accompaniment for the evening’s musings was a lone piano that the three singers alternately played, plucked and pounded, though the singing was mostly a cappella.

The opera was alternately tragic and comic, full of classical references and humor, with a mixture of melodic styles. The text and music were by Soper, with additional text by such diverse authors as Jung, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Homer, Milton and Sappho. Soper offers an eclectic work that has touches of musical theater, opera and English music hall comedy slapstick. The work is, at bottom, as enchanting as the mythological Muses it so poignantly brings to life, if not to life off the island.

The Fresh Squeezed Opera Company is to be commended for re-staging Soper’s opera, as well as Nicole Murphy’s The Kamikaze Mind, the first half of the evening’s double bill.

The author is a trustee of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, which makes grants to commission new works of opera by emerging female composers, including Kate Soper.

Gender Progress in Ballet

Dana Genshaft’s, Chromatic Fantasy set to the music of Dave Brubeck’s Chaconne from Chromatic Fantasy premiered Friday night at the NYU Skirball Center. Ms. Genshaft was looking – actually squinting – at the sun one day and saw all the colors of the rainbow wavering before her. The ensuing ballet and her search for the right music sprung from this moment. Six dancers – three men, three women – from the ABT Studio Company dressed in different chromatic colors weaved in and out of the music, at times with it and at others at a contrapuntal rhythm. Pairs swapped with ease and trios emerged only to dissolve quickly. The dance propelled, though there were quieter sections, and the colors flowed. A work of beauty and energy resulted.

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Breaking the Waves – The Opera

Breaking the Waves, the breathtaking new opera by composer, Missy Mazzoli, and librettist, Royce Vavrek, had its New York premier on January 6, 2017 at NYU’s Skirball Center. It had premiered in Philadelphia in September 2016 at Opera Philadelphia, which had co-commissioned the work with Beth Morrison Projects. Based on the Lars von Trier movie of the same name, the story is set in an insular (literally) community on the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland. A young woman, Bess, a member of the tight-knit religious community, marries an outsider, Jan, to the great consternation of her congregation. He works on an offshore oil rig (for us literalists, there are no oil rigs off of Skye – they are all in the North Sea on the other side of Scotland). Bess prays for his early return. He is injured and paralyzed and, from his hospital bed, asks Bess to have sex with other men and to recount her liaisons to him. The reasons for this request are murky (to keep their marriage and his hopes alive?) but her assent seemingly isn’t: she feels guilty for praying for his early return, feels she may have caused his accident, wants to do the right thing by her husband and believes she will thereby cure him. That said, Bess does like sex, as we saw when she asked Jan to consummate their marriage in a loo at their wedding reception – envisioning it to be a romantic setting when it was anything but. As she sets forth, hesitantly, on her sexual adventures/redemption, is she fooling herself, or her husband, or is she delusional, or full of faith? She certainly does not enjoy the sex. She is degraded, humiliated and victimized and meets a tragic end. Her husband recovers, presumably redeemed by her sacrifice.

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Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest

Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest

 11/30/2016 02:57 pm ET
Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist is a crowd pleaser. On our first visit several weeks ago to the New Museum where her show, Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest, is up until January 15, 2017, the attendance was modest. Last week on our second visit, the line outside went around the block. Word had spread. The mostly Millennial hordes crowded the three floors of the museum devoted to the show, iPhones at the ready, posing, snapping, reviewing, re-posing, snapping again.

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Pregnancy and “Illness”

Audra McDonald, the star of Shuffle Along on Broadway, found herself pregnant last May, and, a month later, the show’s producers cancelled the remainder of the run, instead of bringing in another performer to take over her role. The producers had purchased an insurance policy from Lloyds, which reportedly covered them in case Ms. McDonald was unable to perform because of “accident or illness”. Putting aside whether the pregnancy was an “accident” (this will be litigated), is it an “illness”?

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William Sanger – The Undiscovered American Modernist


The Undiscovered American Modernist
Exhibition of Paintings by William Sanger
The Tides Institute and Museum of Art, Eastport, Maine
May 13 – June 12, 2016
It is axiomatic in the art world that most painters are ignored during their lives and forgotten after their deaths. William Sanger (1873-1961) fared better than many artists during his life because of his innate talent and after his death because of the notoriety of his wife, Margaret. While living, Sanger had several solo exhibitions in the 1920s and 1930s at such galleries as the Touchstone Gallery, the Brown-Robertson Studio, and the Delphic Studio, all in New York City, along with exhibiting in numerous group shows in the city and around the country. His last solo show was in 1931.

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