Saturday, January 31, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Sleeper finds challenge in new string quartet

Composer Thomas Sleeper.

By Greg Stepanich

DELRAY BEACH -- Thomas Sleeper finds it difficult to describe music in words, but he knows what appeals to him about the genre of the string quartet.

"I find it very challenging," said Sleeper, whose String Quartet No. 3 will have its world premiere Sunday afternoon at Delray Beach's Colony Hotel. "You've got four colors which are so similar, but each one has its own flavor, its own nuance."

Director of orchestral activities at the University of Miami, where he has worked for 15 years, Sleeper wrote the quartet on commission this summer from the Delray String Quartet, which also has agreed to record the work. A study of the score and listening to MIDI realizations reveals the new quartet to be a powerful, often somber three-movement work of hair-raising difficulty and a wide emotional range.

Listeners might find echoes of Bartok and even Bernard Herrmann in the work, whose dramatic high point is in the second movement, when the light, skipping music that opened it stops for a passionate Adagietto ma non troppo cast in a slippery B minor.

"That's kind of a distillation of the emotional content of the whole quartet, when it transitions from the bizarre opening, trying to find its polarity," Sleeper said. "The question of what tonality it is strips everything away. It lays it open."

That music returns briefly before the climax of the finale, which is dominated by agitated music that culminates in bar after bar of hammering before landing on a huge pizzicato chord in which three of the players pluck the open strings of their instruments.

Sleeper, 52, said he focused on economy for the material to make up this quartet, deriving all its music from the opening bars. But he didn't set out to craft a specific motif to do that.

"Most of what I do is pretty intuitive," he said, adding that the pieces he writes "evolve quite on their own," and he makes sure to let them do that.

The work was written in about a month last summer with the Delray quartet in mind, and particularly its first violinist, Mei-Mei Luo, whom Sleeper knew from her days at the Florida Philharmonic as well as graduate study at UM.

"I've always been attracted to writing for specific performers. I get to write to their strengths," he said.

The Delray String Quartet played the second movement from Sleeper's Second Quartet at a concert in February 2007, a movement in which violist Richard Fleischman found himself playing a Tibetan prayer bowl instead of his normal instrument.

"That was the first time I'd heard them, though I'd read some information about them," Sleeper said. "It was delightful. They play in a beautiful chamber music setting, and they have an enthusiastic following."

Sleeper's music is much in demand -- "I've got more than I can handle on my plate right now," he said -- and he has written works across the compositional spectrum from art song to symphony to opera, as his Website indicates.

The most important thing is to reach people through the medium of live performance, he said, referencing a seminar he once attended with the legendary conductor Erich Leinsdorf, who said that more entertainment, not less, was the proper goal of the performing musician. In other words, it's about connecting with an audience.

"That element is there with their group," Sleeper said of the Delray quartet. "They've got a receptive audience, and I'm glad to be able to get their attention one way or another."

In addition to the Sleeper quartet, the Delray String Quartet will play the Clarinet Quintet of Johannes Brahms (in B minor, Op. 115), with guest soloist Paul Green. 4 p.m. Sunday, Colony Hotel, downtown Delray Beach. Tickets: $35. Call 213-4138 for more information.

Here is a performance of a movement from Sleeper's First Symphony, recorded in Dallas in 2007:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Music review: Czech Symphony too hasty, but Frautschi shines

Violinist Jennifer Frautschi.
By Greg Stepanich

PALM BEACH -- Crowded onto a relatively small stage at the Society for the Four Arts, the men and women of the Czech Symphony Orchestra made a casual night of it, dispensing with tuxedos and formal dresses as they presented an evening of attractive, familiar masterworks.

But the concert Wednesday evening by the touring Ostrava-based ensemble had a sense of haste about it, as the orchestra and conductor Theodore Kuchar charged briskly and noisily through its program, with results that were sometimes invigorating and at others regrettable.

The latter was the case as the group accompanied the American violinist Jennifer Frautschi in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (in E minor, Op. 64), one of the most popular of all such concerti. Frautschi is a formidable violinist, technically masterful and capable of bringing a wide range of feeling and nuance to the music.

She played the concerto with a strong, penetrating tone and a style crafted along classic lines, with scant trace of Romantic effusion. Frautschi handled all the difficult virtuoso elements of the piece with aplomb, coming up noticeably short only once in the first movement with some wayward intonation on the leaping A minor question-and-answer exchange before the cadenza.

She also performed the tender slow movement, featuring one of Mendelssohn's best tunes, with a simple radiance that was affecting and lovely. Yet it seemed clear that she wanted to take just a little more time to let the music sing, but Kuchar and the orchestra were pushing her, rushing through the movement and playing too loud in their accompanying role.

That led the movement to lose its sense of contrasting calm with the drama of the first movement and the high spirits of the third, and it also offered a less-than-full picture of Frautschi's capabilities. I would have liked to hear a little more of what this fine player can do with slower, more meditative music, but her chances to do that were short-circuited by Kuchar's off-to-the-races approach.

Things were also on the fast side for the piece that opened the first half, The Moldau, the most well-known orchestral piece of Bedrich Smetana, and one that Wednesday night's audience clearly loved. The spinning notes that describe the origins of the river in the opening bars could be heard with great clarity, and there was much to admire in the way of good ensemble at several moments, in particular the catchy dance tune in the middle as the great river rolls by a peasant gathering. Kuchar didn't even use his baton at this point, simply watching the string section bounce through it, dynamic changes and all.

Still, it sounded rushed, the proof being in the return of the noble Vysehrad theme at the end (it acts as a unifying motif throughout the My Country cycle of which The Moldau is a part); there needs to be a sense of grandeur and arrival at this point, but it sounded more like an afterthought.

But speed was the order of the night: By my reckoning, The Moldau and the Mendelssohn concerto took less than 45 minutes total, which is swift considering a start just after 8 p.m., heavy applause after both pieces and stage rearranging to make room for Frautschi.

Despite all that, this is basically a very good orchestra with a bright, almost brash sound, and there was plenty of aggressive playing in the second half, which was devoted to the Sixth Symphony (in D, Op. 60) of the Czech master Antonin Dvorak.

This is a sunny, positive piece, full of the horn-rich color of Dvorak's orchestral style and the folk-flavored melodies that give his work such distinction. Kuchar and the orchestra began rapidly and roughly, but soon warmed up, with a pleasantly full string sound in the first theme, and some distinguished horn playing in the gentle second movement.

The third-movement furiant, the best-known movement of this piece, was played with great force, perhaps a little too heavily, but with real excitement. The finale was vigorous and well-played, but it also was rather rushed and noisy; the music could have used some more contrast overall to give us a more complete picture of this amiable symphony.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Theater feature: 'Bridegroom' playwright found story in Civil War families

Playwright Catherine Trieschmann.

By Hap Erstein

The irony of Catherine Trieschmann’s The Bridegroom of Blowing Rock, a post-Civil War tale of a romance and revenge, is that the playwright began with virtually no interest in The War Between the States.

She started writing the historical drama, which has its world premiere Friday evening at Manalapan’s Florida Stage, in 2000, while the now 34-year-old Trieschmann was doing graduate work at the University of Georgia and living in her parents’ basement.

“I really wanted to write a play for that community, and they’re still fighting the war, of course,” she says. “And that would be fine except I hated the Civil War. I just wasn’t interested in it.”


Still, she went on a road trip of Southern battlefields with her then-boyfriend, now-husband. “I went on this quest and I was just bored,” Trieschmann sighs. “Because all they talk about is military strategy, battlefield stuff, and I just couldn’t get myself interested in that.”

What she missed on her battlefield tour were descriptions of the people of the time, which she found on a chance stop at the Museum of Appalachia in Knoxville, Tenn. There, at an exhibit on the Civil War in Appalachia, she became hooked on the personal side of families torn by war and states largely split over the issue of Secession.

“I was struck with how different it was in the mountains. It was a very isolated part of the state,” she says. “The poor farmers were Union, if they were political at all. They only cared about their little livelihood, not about Secession. And they hated the Confederacy, because they kept drafting all their men."

She found the kernel of her play in a museum caption that told of how the women would whisper the names of their enemies into their sons’ ears, long after the war had ended, saying things like, “Avenge me.” From that idea, she worked backwards, inventing a story of a blind girl who lived in Blowing Rock, N.C., a tall tale-spinning outsider known only as Bridegroom and the girl’s mother, who lost a son in the war.


Although Florida Stage is giving the play its professional debut, it has been in print -- in a very different version -- for the past five years. It first met an audience in a university production, as her master of fine arts thesis project. A Georgia theater company was so taken by the script, it submitted the play to the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where it won the Weissberger Award.


"It’s not the Pulitzer, but it’s pretty decent,” says Trieschmann. “It was $10,000 and publication,” by Samuel French Inc., a leading theatrical licensing firm.

The current version made its way to Florida Stage when Trieschmann’s agent sent it here. Producing artistic director Lou Tyrrell responded to it quickly, inviting the playwright to showcase it in last spring’s 1st Stage New Play Festival.

“The audience loved my play,” reports Trieschmann. “And at the after-party, Lou came up to me and asked if they could produce it. So I left on a huge high.” Because of other theaters that attended the festival, The Bridegroom of Blowing Rock got subsequent readings in Sarasota and Orlando.

After the Florida Stage premiere, it will have another full production this summer at Greenbrier Valley Theatre in West Virginia. It is no coincidence that Cathey Crowell Sawyer, who is staging the play here, is the artistic director at Greenbrier
.

Ultimately, Trieschmann does not think of what she created as a war play.

“It’s certainly a family struggling with the after-effects of war, but it’s a play about how people rebuild their lives, or fail to, more than it is about war itself,” she says.
“I think this play is transporting. It really takes you to another place and time. It’s also very funny. So it’s a war play that’s not a war play.”

THE BRIDEGROOM OF BLOWING ROCK, Florida Stage, 262 South Ocean Blvd., Manalapan. Continuing through March 8. Tickets: $42-$45. Call: (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3837.

Music review: Frith's 'Lelekovice' inspires on strong Calder Quartet concert

English guitarist, composer and educator Fred Frith.

By Greg Stepanich

LAKE WORTH -- There are many ways to describe music, from the fanciful to the mundane, but Wednesday afternoon a young string quartet from Los Angeles compellingly brought an audience's ears back to the art's most fundamental identity: Sound.

The Calder Quartet, a four-man group that likes to mix provocative new works with fresh interpretations of the old, opened the Duncan Theatre's chamber music series with two canonical works by Mozart and Beethoven, and one quartet from 1990 by the English guitarist Fred Frith.

Frith's piece, titled Lelekovice after the Czech hometown of a Frith friend who is a violinist and singer, is a nine-movement exploration of a Gypsy scale replete with string glissandi, passionate fragments of folksong and effects that evoke, among other things, the sound of a crushed button-box. In concert, Frith is fond of bowing electric guitars and relishing the sound, and this work had all the hallmarks of a piece written by someone in love with the sheer pleasure of aural mischief and exploration.

Interesting effects abounded in the work, such as in the second movement, as cellist Eric Byers ran his index finger up and down the C string, creating a steady wave of hush, while violist Jonathan Moerschel played jagged shards of the scale above. In the sixth, a pounding dance rhythm begun by first violinist Benjamin Jacobson led into an emotionally tumultuous landscape that tore itself apart before the rhythm started things up once again.

In the seventh, the music switched to a glacial pace, with meditative, slowly moving chords ornamented briefly as Jacobson played pieces of melody that started but stopped abruptly, and in the ninth, a simple, slow, back-and-forth two-chord seesaw underlay wisps of the scale as the music quietly expired.

It was a fascinating piece of music, no doubt not to everyone's taste, but a marvelous way to reorient the listening apparatus and hear notes and musical structures in new ways. The Calder's performance was exceptional, with each player clearly committed to making the piece work, in part because such a work forces musicians to be on their toes at all times.

"We really appreciate you going there with us," second violinist Andrew Bulbrook told the audience at the beginning of the second half, recounting the Frith performance, which had closed the first half. And it seemed to me that playing the Frith did wonders for the piece they played next, the first so-called Rasumovsky Quartet (No. 7 in F, Op. 59, No. 1) of Beethoven.

In his remarks, Bulbrook argued that the three Rasumovsky quartets are an example of how Beethoven remade the legacy of Mozart and Haydn in ways that were alarming to contemporary audiences. So here was a Rasumovsky reading that stressed the work's weirdness and originality; those famous sudden half-note chords just before the recapitulation in the first movement sounded arresting and strange, especially amid the full-bodied serenity of the music surrounding it.

In the second movement (briefly interrupted by a string slipping on Byers' cello), the military-style rhythmic tattoo was presented with force and power, and there was a special note-conscious beauty to the interplay of the four instruments as they traded changes on the six-note motif that makes up a major part of the main theme.

The slow movement showcased the ability of this quartet to play beautiful music with high emotion, and it was here too that the quartet demonstrated one of its other fine attributes, that of playing consistently in tune. Jacobson played the elaborate ending of the third movement with precision and care, and it led logically, as it's written to do, into the trill that opens the finale. The Calder gave the finale more of the fresh, springy quality it gave to the whole piece, with sharply contrasted dynamics and exuberant rhythms paramount.

The concert opened with the Dissonant Quartet of Mozart (No. 19 in C, K. 465), so named for the harmonic asperity of its opening bars. String quartets often make a point of drawing out the clashes in these measures, but the Calder stayed well away from that approach, choosing to make the opening smooth and trouble-free.

The strengths of this fine foursome were in abundant display throughout the Mozart: Accurate tuning, first-rate ensemble, and a flexibility of approach to different styles that allowed, for example, the minuet and trio of the work to be played with such bold, exciting contrast.

The next chamber group in the Duncan series is the Mozart Piano Quartet, a group from Germany that will play a program of well-known piano quartets from its home country: Beethoven's Op. 16 (in E-flat), the Brahms G minor (Op. 25) and the Schumann in E-flat, Op. 47. The concert is set for 3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, at the Duncan Theatre on the campus of Palm Beach Community College in Lake Worth. Tickets are $25. Call 868-3309 or visit www.pbcc.edu.

Weekend arts picks, Jan. 30-Feb. 2

Clarence Measelle, a painting and drawing instructor
at Palm Beach Community College, stands with
model Nieves Lopez, over whom he draped
a raw canvas and airbrushed paint to make Resonance.
(Photo by Katie Deits)



Sherry Stephens, a photography teacher at PBCC,
and her husband Wayne, who teaches painting and drawing
at PBCC. They're posing by New Look Salon Inside,
an archival pigment photo, and a mixed media painting.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

Palm Beach Community College art faculty show: Seventeen art faculty members from three PBCC campuses (Palm Beach Gardens, Lake Worth and Boca Raton) presenting new paintings, drawings, ceramics and photography. The exhibition runs through Feb. 13 at The Gallery in the BB Building of the Eissey Campus at 3160 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. The gallery is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Tuesdays until 8 p.m. For more information, visit the Website or call 207-5015.


A detail of Chris Riccardo's White Girl (ceramic, 20 inches).
Riccardo is director of the Armory Art Center foundry.


Armory student/faculty show: From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, the Armory Art Center will host an opening reception for its annual student-faculty exhibition. It's an opportunity to see (and buy) pieces from talented artists working in ceramics, jewelry, painting, printmaking, photography, glass, fiber and sculpture. It's also a chance to meet and talk with the artists about their work, and proceeds benefit art programming at the Armory. The show runs through Feb. 11. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit the Website or call 832-1776.

Hanne Niederhausen poses by some of her paintings,
including Free at Last, at lower right.
(Photo by Katie Deits)


Mary Woerner Fine Arts: Artwork by Hanne Niederhausen and Robert B. Marks is on display through Feb 14 at the West Palm Beach gallery. Niederhausen, a native of Germany, is an accomplished printmaker, painter and assemblage artist. Her abstract work and layered technique are intriguing and capture the imagination. Here's how the artist herself puts it on her Website: “Richly layered surfaces take on archeological qualities and fragments of imagery, allowing ... us to fade to another place and time.” Mary Woerner Fine Arts is located at 6107 South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach. For more information, visit the Website or call 493-4160.

The Delray String Quartet.

Sleeper's quartet premieres: The Delray String Quartet plays the world premiere Sunday afternoon of the String Quartet No. 3, written especially for the quartet by Thomas Sleeper, who teaches at the University of Miami. This is a demanding three-movement work of great difficulty and emotional ferocity, and the quartet has a real challenge on its hands, but for audiences it's a chance to hear an important first performance. Clarinetist Paul Green joins the quartet -- with its new cellist, Susan Moyer Bergeron, in place -- on the rest of the program for the autumnal beauties of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet (in B minor, Op. 115). 4 pm, Colony Hotel, Delray Beach. Tickets: $35. Call: 213-4138.

Orchestras a-plenty: Nationally and internationally acclaimed symphonic ensembles, plus two homegrown bands of our own, present worthy concerts this weekend.

Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman.

First, the Cleveland Orchestra opens its Miami residency concerts Friday and Saturday evenings at the Arsht Center in downtown Miami with the gorgeous Wesendonck Lieder of Richard Wagner, sung by Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman, and the huge Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad) of Dmitri Shostakovich. Music director Franz Welser-Most conducts. Tickets range from $20 to $160. Call 305-949-6722 for more information.

Philippe Entremont.


Next, it's the Munich Symphony under Philippe Entremont, the great French pianist, in two concerts Sunday and Monday. Entremont solos in the Beethoven Emperor Concerto (No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73) on Sunday afternoon in a program that features another Beethoven work in E-flat, the Symphony No. 3 (Eroica, Op. 55). On Monday afternoon, Entremont solos in Beethoven's First Piano Concerto (in C, Op. 15), and conducts Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony (No. 4 in A, Op. 90), Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, and the Five Movements, Op. 5, originally for string quartet, of Anton Webern. Concerts are at 2 pm both days in the Kravis Center. Tickets: $25-$100. Call 832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org.

Also, the Lynn Philharmonia, the conservatory orchestra at Boca Raton's Lynn University, presents winners of its annual concerto competition in concerts Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Saturday night, violinist Gareth Johnson of Wellington takes on the massive Brahms Violin Concerto (in D, Op. 77), clarinetist Stojo Miserlioski plays the lovely Clarinet Concerto of Aaron Copland, written for Benny Goodman, and pianist Jose Menor solos in the Liszt First Concerto (in E-flat). Sunday afternoon, pianist Marina Stojanovska offers the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, of Rakhmaninov, followed by pianist Valeriya Polunina in the Beethoven Third Concerto (in C minor, Op. 37). Cellist Jonah Kim rounds things out with the greatest of all concerti for that instrument, the Dvorak B minor, Op. 104. Music director Albert-George Schram conducts. 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday, at the Roberts Theater on the campus of St. Andrew's School in Boca. Tickets are $30. Call 237-9000, or visit http://www.lynn.edu/tickets/

Finally, the Palm Beach Symphony does its second concert of the season as part of the Palm Beach Atlantic International Piano Festival. Italian pianist Chiara Cipelli will play the Beethoven Third Concerto (in C minor, Op. 37), Japan's Gen Tomoru will be heard in the Liszt Second Concerto (in A), and the Variations Symphoniques of Franck will be played by Lea Lee-Heller. Ramon Tebar leads the symphony in these works and the Brahms Tragic Overture. 7:30 p.m., DeSantis Family Chapel, Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach. Tickets: $45. Call the box office at 607-6270.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Quartet, violinist heat up classical week

The Calder Quartet.

By Greg Stepanich


We're in the thick of the season, and there are a few events in the classical music world that deserve mention:

Calder Quartet: This Los Angeles-based string foursome -- violinists Benjamin Jackson and Andrew Bulbrook, violist Jonathan Moerschel and cellist Eric Byers --, fresh off an appearance with the band Airborne Toxic Event on The Late Show With David Letterman earlier this month, play the Duncan Theatre on Wednesday afternoon. In addition to two canonical masterworks, Mozart's String Quartet in C, K. 465, known as the Dissonant for its opening bars, and the first of the Rasumovsky quartets (in F, Op. 59, No. 1) of Beethoven, the Calder has programmed a piece by the British avant-garde guitarist and composer Fred Frith.

Now a composition professor at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., Frith wrote his String Quartet No. 1 in 1990 and called it Lelekovice, after the hometown of Czech violinist and performance artist Iva Bittova. The concert starts at 3 p.m. at the Duncan Theatre, Palm Beach Community College, Lake Worth. Tickets are $25. Call 868-3315 or visit www.pbcc.edu.

Jennifer Frautschi.

Jennifer Frautschi: The California-born violinist has received an Avery Fisher Career Grant and has won plaudits for her recordings of music by Stravinsky and Schoenberg. As part of her three-week tour with the Czech Symphony Orchestra, Frautschi plays the Mendelssohn Concerto (in E minor, Op. 64).

The orchestra, under the direction of Theodore Kuchar, will play the Dvorak Sixth Symphony (in D, Op. 60) and Smetana's most popular orchestral work, The Moldau. At 8 p.m. Wednesday, at the Society for the Four Arts, Palm Beach. Tickets: $35-$40. Call the society at 655-7226 or visit www.fourarts.org.

Palm Beach Atlantic International Piano Festival: The seven-day festival got under way today with master classes at the Christian school's campus in West Palm Beach; among the interesting sessions were those in the afternoon with Nelson Delle-Vigne Fabri and conductor Ramon Tebar, taking soloists for Friday's performances with the Palm Beach Symphony through their paces. This third annual festival includes daily master classes, four recitals (Wendesday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday) featuring pianists from the International Certificate for Piano Artists roster, and the Palm Beach Symphony concert Friday.

Recitals are $10 (call 803-2970 for tickets). Friday's concert, which features the Liszt Second Concerto (in A), the Beethoven Third (in C minor, Op. 37), the Variations Symphoniques of Cesar Franck and the Tragic Overture of Brahms, begins at 7:30 p.m at the DeSantis Family Chapel on the PBAU campus. Tickets are $45, and can be had by calling the orchestra box office at 607-6270. Master classes are free; check the Website each day for details.

Arthur Weisberg, 1931-2009.
(Courtesy Indiana University)


In memoriam: Arthur Weisberg, the celebrated American bassoonist and composer who also was a well-known advocate for new music nationally and here in South Florida, died Jan. 17 at his home in Boca Raton of pancreatic cancer. He was 77.

Weisberg was considered one of the finest bassoonists to ever tackle the instrument, and is revered by that community for his prowess as a player and the technical advances he brought to the bassoon. He was also busy throughout his life as a composer and conductor, and late last year donated the scores of the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble to the music school at Indiana University.

I talked to him several times over the years in connection with his compositions. After the premiere of his Fives for Five with the Florida Woodwind Quintet, he and I had a very good conversation about the nuts and bolts of how he wrote his music. I liked that piece, and I was happy to see it included on a disc of the same name released last year by Florida Atlantic University's Hoot/Wisdom label (here's the review I did last year on my Palm Beach Post blog).

I also heard the premiere of his Duo for Violin and Piano, premiered by violinist Saul Birtran and FAU music department chief Heather Coltman at Boca's Unitarian Universalist Fellowship last February (here's my review of that event). I always found him congenial to deal with, a fascinating person who was dedicated to the idea of new music, and I was very sorry to hear that he had gone.

Here is some information from the Double Reed Society about a memorial gathering that will be held Sunday in his honor.

Art review: O'Keeffe-Adams show epic look at two artists of the West

Georgia O’Keeffe, The Black Iris (1926)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, N.M.

By Katie Deits


WEST PALM BEACH -- Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams were friends who shared a passion for the natural beauty of the American West.

On Saturday, an exhibit chronicling that passion -- Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities -- opened at the Norton Museum of Art. The show runs through May 3, and is worth repeated viewings.

If it hadn’t been for Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), the world might have not seen the work of painter O’Keeffe and photographer Adams. Stieglitz, a photographer and gallery director who brought avant-garde American and European art onto the New York art scene, gave both O’Keeffe and Adams the entrée into the exclusive world of fine-art collectors.

Stieglitz, who also was married to O’Keeffe and a tireless promoter of her work, would probably be pleased to see the staging of the exhibition, the venue, as well as the quantity of quality work displayed.

The exhibition includes 40 of O’Keeffe’s paintings and 54 black-and-white photographs by Adams. Seldom does one have the opportunity to see so many of these works displayed at one time. Visitors have the chance to peer into their worlds, share their vision of their environment and take home a widened frame of reference of how to look at the natural world.

Both artists loved the wilderness and were advocates for it. Perhaps they were some of the first environmentalists; Adams petitioned government officials to preserve America's natural treasures. As a young man, Adams spent time in Yosemite, where his passion for photography developed.
Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941)
The Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.


It was by chance that the two met in 1929, when Adams was photographing a pueblo in Taos, N.M., and O’Keeffe was visiting the town with Paul Strand’s wife, Rebecca. O’Keeffe, at 42, was already an established Modernist painter, while Adams, at 27, was just embarking on his career. He must have impressed the painter, as she introduced his work to Stieglitz, who hosted an exhibition for Adams in 1936.

Thus began a long friendship, kept alive by their shared enthusiasm for the unspoiled natural beauty of the West and art. O’Keeffe moved to Taos in 1949 and lived to be 99, outlasting the younger Adams by two years; he spent most of his life in the Northwest and died in 1984.

The exhibit is divided into five themes: Nature Up Close, Architecture, Waterfalls and Mountains, Nature Abstracted, and Flowers and Trees. "It is not a one-to-one match-up of the artists’ work; they did not work that way," said Marisa Pascucci, the Norton’s curator of American Art. In the Architecture-themed room, however, are images of a church that both artists captured from almost the same angle.

In the first exhibition room, Nature Up Close, is a 9-inch-by-7-inch O'Keeffe canvas, The Black Iris. “It’s small, yet exquisite," Pascucci said. O’Keeffe’s masterful use of color and gradation call attention to the patterns and shapes of natural forms.

For his part, Adams often worked in sequences, Pascucci said, in works such as Snow Sequence I, II and III, showing snow melting away from rocks. These detailed photographs of abstracted shapes is further evidence of Stieglitz’s influence on Adams and a shared vision with O’Keeffe, yet she was always looking for ways to simplify the form and minimize detail, while Adams tried to show texture and detail in the surfaces of his subjects.

Labels in the exhibition are peppered with the artists’ quotations, such as these:

“Nothing is less real than realism…Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.” Georgia O’Keeffe, 1922

“There is no human element in the High Sierra…But there is an extraordinary and sculptural beauty that is unexcelled anywhere in the world.” —Ansel Adams, 1938

Humans and animals are absent in the paintings and photographs, aside from Adams’ photos Woman Winnowing Grain, Taos Pueblo, New Mexico and a small silhouette of a horse in Winter Sunrise, the Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, California.

From left: Barbara Buhler Lynes, curator, and George G. King,
director, of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M.;
and Marisa Pascucci, curator of American art at the Norton.
To the left of Lynes is O'Keeffe's Pelvis With the Moon - New Mexico. To Pascucci's right is Ansel Adams'
Lake Near Muir Pass, Kings Canyon National Park.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

The book that accompanies the exhibition features an essay by Barbara Buhler Lynes, a curator at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Lynes, who attended the Norton opening, explained how the artists' approaches differed.

“Adams was interested in the transitory — the sunrise, rainstorm, a geyser. O’Keeffe felt nature was an ongoing phenomenon — with a sense of permanence," Lynes said. "Adams also did commercial photography…he was a teacher and developed the zone system for exposure.”

Adams was a master printer, “but as he aged,” she said, “he printed more dramatically. He was a huge influence on photography.”

On Sunday, there was standing room only at a lecture by Adams’ former photographic assistant, Alan Ross, who shed more light on Adams’ life, gregarious personality and philosophy. Adams, a very active child, dropped out of school in the third grade and self-educated himself in art, science and music.

Ross said Adams photographed with a large-format view camera and, when he started out, used glass negatives. “With a big camera, you have to want the image; it’s not a casual enterprise…Adams would pre-visualize a photograph and then manipulate it in the darkroom. He would say, ‘I envision the sky much darker,’ so he would print it to his vision. It was a matter of tonal balance. He just felt that was part of the art.”

Adams' famous Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico is an example of Adams’ mastery of photographic printing. "Adams liked black-and-white photography. It is automatically an abstraction of reality — very freeing," Ross said.

The Norton exhibit marks the first time that a major show has paired the two artists in such a way. It was organized by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and was made possible in part by MetLife Foundation, The Burnett Foundation and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum National Council. The Norton’s Web site also has a video about the exhibition.

Photographs from the Norton series German Indians,
by Andrea Robbins and Max Becher.


While you’re visiting the Norton, take a few minutes to see the contemporary portrait exhibition at the museum titled Striking Resemblance: The Portrait as Muse, which will be on view until Feb. 15.

Part of the exhibition is a series called German Indians, by Andrea Robbins and Max Becher. Robbins and Becher, who met in fine-arts college, collaborate on photography, video and other projects, and are married to each other. They photograph projects worldwide, exhibit in major museums and, since the tragedy of Sept. 11, commute between their apartment in lower Manhattan and their geodesic-dome home in Gainesville.

Becher is the son of famed photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, who spent more than half a century documenting the beauty of industry buildings throughout the world and influenced artists such as Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer and Thomas Struth.

“We take pictures of places that look like other places, but don’t belong where they are,” Becher said.

German Indians is a series of portraits taken at a festival in the hometown of German 19th- century Wild West novelist Karl May, who portrayed Native Americans as “the Noble Savage,” Becher said. “Historically, the ‘picturing’ of Native Americans has always been through an Anglican eye. These Germans are preserving costumes and customs that may no longer exist anywhere else.”

These photographs convey the feeling of displacement as viewers do a double-take at the strange, pale, blonde “Indians.”

Robbins said photographer Walker Evans had been a strong influence on their work, “with a sense of a constructed reality. We have very strong opinions, but meaning and artwork changes over time.”

Max Becher and Andrea Robbins with their photographs from
German Indians, in the Norton exhibition
Striking Resemblance: The Portrait as Muse.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Opera review: Swenson shines brightest in vigorous 'Norma'

Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs as Norma.
(Photo by Alissa Dragun)


By Greg Stepanich

WEST PALM BEACH — The difference between the operas of the bel canto tradition and the operas of Giuseppe Verdi that followed them is one of greater psychological insight, surely, but more importantly, it's a difference of brute energy.

The operas of a bel canto composer such as Vincenzo Bellini are primarily about vocal display, and the lead roles in a work such as Bellini's Norma, which opened Friday night at the Kravis Center as the second opera in Palm Beach Opera's current season, are stamina-draining events in which the singer must freeze the attention of the audience as the orchestra politely lays back and lets it happen.

Palm Beach's Norma was effective and engaging if not vocally overwhelming Friday evening, with the best singing of the night coming from a supporting role, and with a committed conductor making a furious case for Bellini in the pit by giving every last piece of muscle in the score a workout.

As Norma, soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs has one of the most difficult assignments in the repertory, having to go from imperious Druid CEO at one moment to jilted lover at another, and suffering mother at still another. Blancke-Biggs has a strong, bronzelike voice, but in much of the first act she sounded constricted and underpowered. Her voice started to warm up toward the end of the act in the closing duet and trio, and by the second act — notably in the opening Dormono entrambi — she had much more presence.

Her Casta Diva, which comes almost immediately after her first entrance, was therefore not particularly rich or full, but it was elegant and lovingly phrased, and with tasteful work by the Palm Beach Opera chorus in the background, this most celebrated aria came off with tenderness and a palpable sense of devotion.

The Italian tenor Renzo Zulian made a fine Pollione, singing with force and strength throughout. He has a very attractive timbre to his lightly colored voice that would probably be heard to even better effect in more romantic roles, but in moments such as the first-act cavatina Meco all'altar di Venere, he showed he could be persuasively caddish.

As Oroveso, the bass Luiz-Ottavio Faria was excellent, with a beautiful instrument that commanded attention each time he sang and that ideally suited his stern stage presence. Good singing in minor roles also came from Susan Jean Hellman as Clotilde and Rolando Sanz as Flavio. The choral singing with the full Druid community was fine in the closing scenes, but much weaker when it was the men alone, specifically in the second scene of Act II, as the restless soldiers question Oroveso.

But it was Ruth Ann Swenson, as Adalgisa, who offered the night's best singing, and this was true even though each of her climactic fifth-above-the-tonic showboat notes were somewhat soft at the edges. Swenson's soprano is warm and big, and it fills the stage even when she's singing throwaway lines. With her appearance in the first act, the Palm Beach Opera production took on more life and excitement, and it was with her work that this Norma came closest to its identity as a singers' opera.

This extended even to Swenson's duets with Blancke-Biggs, beginning with the Rimembranza in the first act and in particular with the Si, fino all'ore estreme pairing that closes the first scene of Act II. The two women sounded very good together, and you could hear Blancke-Biggs' voice easing and expanding as she sang with Swenson. Those duets provided the best vocal fireworks of the evening, too, drawing the most attention from the large audience as well as its most enthusiastic reaction.

Visually, the opera looked good, if static, with period costumes and easy-to-follow stage business. The Cincinnati Opera set used by Palm Beach Opera features two impressive temple walls and a shifting backdrop through which the moon could wane and wax, and it proved useful for the action of the opera, which essentially is a domestic melodrama despite its trappings of ancient Gaul.

Linda Brovsky's stage direction was rather stiff, perhaps not surprising given the limitations of the drama. But one wonders whether there would been some other options here and there; surely, for example, there would be a better way of presenting Norma's struggle with matricide than simply having her children lie down on a blanket.

Palm Beach Opera is indeed fortunate to have Bruno Aprea as its music director; he obviously loves this score and it's hard to imagine how someone could advocate for it more strenuously than he does. The Guerra, guerra! choral song in Act II, for instance, was taken at a whipcrack pace that worked much better than the usual tempo of stentorian majesty, and throughout the performance he could be seen shaping each of Bellini's phrases lovingly and carefully.

The orchestra, which contains of some of the area's finest players, responded beautifully, and it has to be said that only with a performance like this, one that stresses Bellini's vigor as much as his languor, that you can hear the Verdian direction in which the composer might have gone had he lived past age 33.

Norma continues today at 7:30 p.m. with Jennifer Check as Norma, Alan Glassman as Pollione and Wendy Bryn Harmer as Adalgisa. Blancke-Biggs, Zulian and Swenson return at 2 p.m. Sunday, and Check, Glassman and Harmer take the stage at 2 p.m. Monday. All performances at the Kravis Center, West Palm Beach. Tickets: $23-$175. Call 833-7888 (PB Opera) or 832-7469 (Kravls), or visit www.pbopera.org or www.kravis.org.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Theater review: ‘Still Jewish After All These Years’ is a real Tales of Hoffman

Avi Hoffman scores in
Still Jewish After All These Years!
A Life in the Theatre
.

By Hap Erstein

Avi Hoffman does not literally drag a trunk onstage, but for almost two hours the producing artistic director of The New Vista Theatre Company dips into a metaphorical trunk, sifting nostalgically through the milestones of his five decades in show business.

Because such an exercise needs a title, he calls his latest one-man revue Still Jewish After All These Years! A Life in the Theatre. He might as well have called it Too Jewish? 3.0, for it is the third in a trilogy of showcases of his considerable talents, a knock-off of the ethnic identity act that turned him into a fixture on public television.

Essentially an autobiographical tour through his stage credits with segments recycled from his earlier shows, the rambling evening could certainly use the outside eye of a director and editor. Still, Hoffman’s ingratiating personality manages to get him past the show’s weak patches.

Still Jewish was never supposed to be part of New Vista’s season. It is a hasty fill-in for a much anticipated home-grown mounting of The Producers, Mel Brooks’ record-breaking Tony Award-winning comic musical, which had to be scrubbed when corporate and private donations suddenly evaporated. The idea of Hoffman playing unscrupulous con man Max Bialystock is very appealing, but that will have to wait for a more supportive economic climate.

Hoffman has always been the main audience draw for his theater, yet few of his fans know much about his up-and-down, successes-and-setbacks professional history. The Bronx-born son of Holocaust survivors, Hoffman grew up speaking Yiddish and at the age of 4 he starred in his first stage vehicle, an ethnic musical his mother wrote for him. He moved up to the leading role of Tevye the dairyman in a children’s production of Fiddler on the Roof at 8, and has mined a rich vein of Jewish stage works ever since.

Although he has beaten the odds by making his living in the theater, a theme that runs throughout Still Jewish is his assertion that he should be more famous than he is. As a youngster, he was cast in a film starring and directed by Richard Harris, a potential big break that Hoffman now deems “one of the 10 worst movies of all time.”

As a young man, he appeared in a play called The Blacksmith’s Daughter as an 80-year-old bookseller and insists that he was instrumental in killing off the Yiddish theater. Soon though, he got star billing in a musical called The Rise of David Levinsky, a career-maker if ever there was one, only to see it close after a month.

Relying on Jewish vehicles eventually got Hoffman typecast into a corner, leaving him unemployed, until a producer advised him to write a show for himself. That became Too Jewish?, an off-Broadway hit that brought him to South Florida in 1996 and that he continues to perform around the country. Neither of his sequels comes close to that more focused first show, but with the goodwill he has amassed, chances are he can now add Still Jewish to his regular repertoire.

Those who know his other one-man shows will recognize Hoffman’s Menasha Skulnik and Jackie Mason impersonations, his specialty lyrics to the Yiddish music hall standard, Romania, Romania, and the inevitable Fiddler on the Roof medley. His new show’s title is a take-off on Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, which prompts a musical salute to Jewish rock troubadours from Simon to Bob Dylan to Billy Joel.

Late in his show, Hoffman arrives at the emotional high point of the evening, a tribute to his father that culminates in a number from the Richard Maltby-David Shire revue Closer Than Ever called If I Sing. It might have made an effective lump-in-the-throat finale, but the show continues on its meandering way, including a frank mention of the company’s finances and a blatant appeal for donations.

The implication is that there may be no fourth season for New Vista unless its fortunes improve. That would be a serious loss for the area’s theater community, but as Still Jewish After All These Years makes evident, Hoffman knows a few things about survival.

STILL JEWISH AFTER ALL THESE YEARS!, A LIFE IN THE THEATRE, New Vista Theatre Company, West Boca High School, 12811 Glades Road, Boca Raton. Through Feb. 8. Tickets: $32-$40. Call: (888) 284-4633.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Commentary: Let the grousing begin over Oscar nominations

The late Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight.

By Hap Erstein

The Academy Awards went largely for dark dramas in its Best Picture nominations, announced this morning, but not dark enough to include 2
008 box office champ The Dark Knight.

Christopher Nolan’s somber, slam-bang latest installment in the Batman series had to settle for a few nods in the technical categories and only one major nomination -- the late Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor, for which he is the odds-on favorite to win posthumously. The Oscars are an industry marketing tool, but if you make too much mone
y, the Academy usually opts for art over commerce.

Four of the other Best Picture candidates --
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk and Slumdog Millionaire -- were highly expected. The suspense was for the fifth slot, which went to The Reader, an intense, downbeat post-Holocaust film, a classy long-shot choice over Doubt, Revolutionary Road and Wall*E, the computer animation movie on whose behalf Disney waged a major campaign.

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Benjamin Button
, a triumph of storytelling and digital wizardry, gained 13 nominations, the most of any picture this year. Although Slumdog Millionaire trails it with eight, it comes off an impressive series of wins at the Golden Globes and looks to be the front-runner for the top Oscar, to be announced in an invariably long-winded ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 22 (see the full list of nominees here).

Other nominations totals were
Milk (eight), and Frost/Nixon and The Reader, with five apiece. Although film is a director’s medium, it is rare that the directors of the Best Picture nominees all vie for the Best Director Oscar, but it happened this year.

Kate Winslet in The Reader.

Oscar voters correctly acknowledged that
The Reader’s Kate Winslet gives the central performance as former Nazi concentration camp guard Hannah Schmitz, going against the strategizing of executive producer Harvey Weinstein, who submitted her in the supporting category. She recently won two Golden Globes -- supporting actress for The Reader and lead actress for Revolutionary Road -- and presumably the Academy’s elevation of her superior work in The Reader landed her other performance on the nomination cutting room floor.

She will be up against three shoo-ins -- the perennially nominated Meryl Streep (
Doubt), Angelina Jolie (Changeling) and Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married). Presumably Hathaway’s cringe-inducing work in the recent silly comedy Bride Wars did not rule her out for her surprise dramatic turn as a parolee wedding guest.

The fifth nominee for Best Actress is Melissa Leo, whose performance as a fiercely determined mother in the low-budget, barely distributed
Frozen River was a standout of the year, but independent studio Sony Classics had to work hard to get the film seen by the Academy. My pick for female performance of 2008 is Kristin Scott Thomas in I’ve Loved You So Long, as a murderess recently released from prison, trying to adjust to the outside world. The movie proved too small, though, and nor was it helped by being entirely in French. Also coming up empty-handed was Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins, the unfounded optimist of Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky.

Among the Oscar’s favorite sons is Clint Eastwood, but he unexpectedly failed to pull in a nomination for his starring role in
Gran Torino, playing a crotchy old bigot who eventually softens. I have to applaud the Academy for seeing through this two-dimensional jumble of clichés. (Nor was Eastwood tapped for directing the movie or his other 2008 release, Changeling.) Leonardo DiCaprio also need not get up early on Thursday, snubbed for his work as a bitter suburbanite in Revolutionary Road, another wise omission.

Frank Langella and Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon.

Instead, the nominations went to four shoo-ins -- Frank Langella (
Frost/Nixon), Sean Penn (Milk), Brad Pitt (Benjamin Button) and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler). The Academy’s fifth choice in the category is a worthy surprise, Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, a subtly underplayed performance as a professor in mid-career crisis that had been largely ignored by previous award groups.

Amy Adams and Viola Davis of
Doubt both got supporting actress nods, Davis for a single short scene as the wily mother of a boy who may have been molested by a priest. Taraji P. Henson gained her first nomination as Benjamin Button’s surrogate mother, an impressive performance that caused voters to overlook the always Oscar-worthy Cate Blanchett.

Marisa Tomei, a head-scratching Oscar winner from 1993 for
My Cousin Vinny, gets another nomination for her overrated performance as a lap-dancing stripper in The Wrestler. The only comic performance in the category comes from Penelope Cruz as hot-tempered Spanish artist in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The Woodman has brought Oscar gold to numerous supporting actresses, but not this year.

Ledger’s psychotic Joker in
The Dark Knight looks worth betting the mortgage on for Best Supporting Actor, over expected nominees Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), Josh Brolin (Milk) and Robert Downey Jr. as -- here’s a stretch -- an self-absorbed movie star in Tropic Thunder. The surprise contender is another savvy choice, Michael Shannon as a mental patient with no verbal filter in Revolutionary Road. The Oscars, like the other awards, overlooked Michael Sheen, who gives a cunning performance as interviewer David Frost in Frost/Nixon.

If you have to bet on another category, wager on
Wall*E to take home the Animated Feature Oscar, just one of six nominations it earned. Its inevitability was assured when the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir -- which opens in South Florida on Friday -- failed to be named in the category, though it did make it into the Best Foreign Language Film race. Very strange. Wall*E will be competing with Bolt and Kung Fu Panda -- not much of a race.

Add to the list of the snubbed Bruce Springsteen, whose title song for
The Wrestler was good enough to win him a Golden Globe, but not enough to put him in the Best Song Oscar category. The Academy instead only nominated three songs, two by A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) and one by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman (Wall*E’s Down to Earth). Wonder what Springsteen did to turn off the Oscar voters.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Music feature: New area operetta company revives 'Chocolate Soldier'

Lisa Allen MacMullen, Michael MacMullen
and Jacqueline Pimienta
in a scene from The Chocolate Soldier.
(Photo courtesy Palm Beach Light Opera Company)


By Greg Stepanich

WEST PALM BEACH -- You could call Joseph Rubin the Michael Feinstein of operetta, and this week he will bring his passion for underappreciated music to area audiences.

Saturday and Sunday will mark the inaugural performances of Rubin’s Palm Beach Light Opera Company, which will present Oscar Straus' 1908 operetta The Chocolate Soldier in concert performances at the Kaplan Jewish Community Center in West Palm Beach.

It's a safe bet that this operetta, which enjoyed enormous popularity in the United States and Britain before it and other works of its ilk were pushed aside by musical comedy, isn't currently on the list of must-dos for area theatrical companies. But it's a charming, lovely piece, and Rubin thinks it and other operettas deserve a chance to be heard again.

"Operetta has a timeless appeal. It's not grounded in any one specific time period," Rubin said. "But it's romantic, and it takes you to another world. It's beautiful music that hasn't been heard for years and years."

Rubin is a real enthusiast for this music, and that's unusual in someone so young. Just 21, he founded another light opera company in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, while he was in his teens. A recent theater graduate of New York University, he’s planning to pursue an advanced degree in theater management.

In second grade, Rubin saw a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, and found it so compelling that he began to seek out other operettas. That led him to the music of writers such as Sigmund Romberg and Victor Herbert, and soon he found that he was researching a kind of music that had once been wildly popular but had been almost completely forgotten.

"The average person has no idea that this music exists," said Rubin, whose grandparents have been Palm Beach winter residents for 25 years. "If it's not continually performed, it's not going to survive. And it's an important part of American culture."

Rubin's Canton Comic Opera Company is devoted to the American operetta, but the local company is beginning with a Viennese work, and on March 13-15 it will present Sweethearts, a Herbert operetta from 1913. The Palm Beach Light Opera Company is an all-volunteer group, so dedication to the cause is important, and one of the 20 cast members said so far the music is making a strong impact.

"I was really impressed. It's on a par with the best of (Franz) Lehar," said Michael MacMullen, a veteran Palm Beach Community College instructor who is singing the lead role of Bumerli in The Chocolate Soldier. And it isn't just the music that's good, he said.

"The problem with operetta is usually that the scripts have dated badly ... but I was impressed by how well this script still works," said MacMullen, who has been at PBCC since 1994 and now chairs its music department.

Not only that, The Chocolate Soldier avoids other typical operetta pitfalls in which comedic and romantic roles tend to be completely separate motivationally and musically.


In a typical operetta, "the romantic leads get really great stuff to sing, but they don't get to act, and they don't get to be funny," MacMullen said. "In this, everyone gets good lines and good music and good comedy."

The Chocolate Soldier takes its story from George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man, and concerns an 1885 war between the Serbians and Bulgarians. At the home of the wife and daughter of a Bulgarian colonel at the front, a Swiss mercenary named Bumerli stumbles in to the bedroom of the daughter, who is in love with an absent soldier named Alexius. Comedic and romantic complications ensue before all ends happily.

The operetta (called Der Tapfere Soldat in the original German) was an immediate hit, and a report in The New York Times from a correspondent in Vienna had high praise for the piece just after its November 1908 premiere.


"Straus's music is fully attuned to the always effective comic milieu of the Balkans," the anonymous correspondent wrote. "....As regards instrumentation, no operetta for years past has shown such originality and strength."


Straus (1870-1954), a native of Vienna, was a well-trained musician who studied with comp
oser Max Bruch, and was mentored by none other than Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss II, who advised him to look for theater work. Straus (he dropped the second "S" of his name to avoid confusion with the Strauss family) composed numerous operettas as well as film scores, and spent the World War II years in France, New York and Hollywood before returning to Austria in 1948.

The operetta, which is being sung in English this weekend, was revived several times on Broadway, most recently in 1947. It also was adapted in 1941 for a movie starring Nelson Eddy and Rise Stevens. The most popular song from the score was, and remains, My Hero.


The performances this weekend will be semi-staged concert airings, so cast members will be singing from scores, accompanied by a 15-piece orchestra directed by Rubin, who is an organist and percussionist. Rubin said he hopes one day to offer full stagings of the operettas, but finding the right venue is difficult.

"We'll start a little smaller," he said. "We'll do two concert productions but we're going to hope to do fully staged productions ... (Concert performances) still bring the music the emphasis, which is the most important thing."

MacMullen said unearthing operetta is similar to the revival efforts being brought to older instrumental jazz and to obscure works from the operatic tradition. Each of these arts forms has a history that’s worth respecting.

“Hopefully, all those opera companies will do an operetta occasionally,” he said. “They should be conserving them. They’re of just as high a quality.”

The Chocolate Soldier will be presented at 8 pm Saturday and 2 pm Sunday at the Kaplan Jewish Community Center, 3151 N. Military Trail, West Palm Beach. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students. Call 582-0593 or visit www.pblightopera.com.