Thursday, April 30, 2009

Movie review: 'Ghosts' just so much conformist humbug

Jennifer Garner, Lacey Chabert, Breckin Meyer
and Matthew McConaughey
in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.

By John Thomason

Of all of Hollywood’s thirtysomething adolescents, Matthew McConaughey has always looked the most frattish, with his tousled hair, three-day facial fuzz and surfer’s smile.

Somehow, women have found his patchouli-flavored apathy irrepressibly charming: He was People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2005.

And in all of his successful romantic comedies, this perpetual teenager needs the help of a woman to grow into maturity. He’s built an onscreen persona as a shiftless chauvinist who practically begs to be neutered be a proper woman. How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days and Failure to Launch have birthed a similar character in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, a tired reimagining of Charles Dickens’ endlessly reimagined A Christmas Carol.

Here, the sin is not miserliness but misogyny. McConaughey’s Connor Mead is a womanizer who has built a philosophy on the rejection of monogamy, spooked – literally—at the idea of settling down with one woman. We first see him breaking up with three women simultaneously in bulk, as he calls it – over the Internet. It takes the help of three ghosts – of girlfriends past, present and future – to make him see the error of his ways and realize his long-lost love for his grade-school sweetheart, Jenny (Jennifer Garner). This all goes down on the eve of Connor’s brother’s wedding, which he risks derailing with his every action.

Bah, humbug.

There are a few bright spots in the supporting cast, classically trained actors paying the rent in a project several notches beneath them. There’s Michael Douglas, hammy but fun as the Marley-like ghost of Connor’s playboy uncle who sets the paranormal shenanigans in motion; Robert Forster as a retired army sergeant-turned-ordained minister who plans weddings like troop rotations (a cute conceit while it lasts); and Anne Archer as a buxom milf and one of the few women in the movie to resist Connor’s advances.

Indeed, most of them women in the movie, from the bridesmaid bimbos to the Connor’s parade of nameless exes, are either hot bodies waiting to be screwed or overly emotional tripwires set off by the slightest misdirection. Feminists would hate it if the film didn’t present as many equally offensive guy stereotypes.

I hate it for different reasons. At the film’s heart is a fundamental orthodoxy that states that marriage (and by extension a white picket fence, a two-car garage and 2.5 kids) equals normalcy, and that deviation from this preferred way of living will cause naysayers to live and die alone and miserable. Hedonists, take caution!

Of course, Connor is an ass, and his extreme anti-marriage views aren’t to be condoned. But they aren’t to be excoriated, either. He shouldn’t be an Other, a deviant just waiting to be conformed by the right woman. Hollywood is driven by blanket progressivism, but reactionary studio romcoms like this are propaganda for the hearth and home, reminders that in the movies, happy-ending wish fulfillment can only be achieved through monogamy.

Much of the offensiveness I find in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past could have been quelled or even negated if the film were funny enough to distract us from what it’s really saying. But it elicits only sporadic chuckles, and only at the expense of the peripheral characters.

Like another recent supernatural comedy, Ghost Town, the film’s premise is very mid-'90s,and predictable every step of the way even if you’re one of the two or three people on Earth who haven’t read, seen or listened to any of the myriad remakes of Dickens’ novella. The plot is so inevitable that you almost wish the movie wouldn’t go through the ghostly motions and throw at least one wrench into the tired mechanics of it all.

You can bet that in his grave, Dickens isn’t rolling over so much as yawning.

John Thomason is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST; Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster and Anne Archer; Director: Mark Waters; Studio: New Line; Opens: Friday; Venue: Most commercial houses

New York postcard No. 2: 'Godot,' '9 to 5' may be big box office

Nathan Lane, John Goodman and Bill Irwin
in Waiting for Godot.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Editor's note: Palm Beach ArtsPaper's Hap Erstein is on assignment in New York.

By Hap Erstein

NEW YORK -- Never let it be said that this Broadway season does not have range.

I saw two shows today on their final previews -- a star-studded revival of Samuel Beckett's existential theater-of-the-absurd classic, Waiting for Godot, and a big commercial musical adapation of the female empowerment office comedy, 9 to 5, with a twangy score by Dolly Parton.

Beckett is not usually box office, but that may change over the next couple of months, with Broadway's reigning comic Nathan Lane and New-Vaudevillian-turned-Tony-winning-actor Bill Irwin as Estragon and Vladimir, the two forelorn tramps standing around, filling time waiting for the arrival of Godot (pronounced here "GOD-oh," perhaps to appease those who insist that Beckett is talking about the Deity).

Casting Lane brought with it the worry that his Estragon would be a close cousin to The Producers' Max Bialystock, but he proves too smart to fall into that trap. His performance is genuinely funny, without resorting to schtick and with plenty of compensating fear and dread. Even better is Irwin as the (slightly more) optimistic Vladimir, a more subtle take on Beckett with sublime moments of physical agility.

Also impressive are a mountainous John Goodman as the slave-master Pozzo and a mournful John Glover as his subjugated sidekick. At the performance I caught (spoiler alert!), Godot failed to show.

This production is not as overtly comic as the one two decades ago starring Robin Williams and Steve Martin (and Irwin as slave Lucky), but it is far more faithful to Beckett's intentions.

* * *

Stephanie J. Block, Allison Janney and Megan Hilty in 9 to 5.

There is no new ground covered by 9 to 5, yet another movie injected with songs and slapped onstage, but from the way the audience went wild for it Wednesday night, expect to to be a big hit.

Patricia Resnick adapted her own screenplay very closely, plus some easy jokes about looking back on the '70s from today's perspective. Dolly Parton tries her hand at writing a theater score in her signature country-western style, even though that only makes sense for one character, buxom, big-haired Doralee Rhodes (played in full Dolly-clone fashion by Megan Hilty).

Allison Janney gamely makes her musical comedy debut with a thin, though musical, voice playing Violet Newstead (the Lily Tomlin role). She shows her mettle with the savvy opening number of the second act, One of the Boys, which you'd swear was written and choreographed for Lauren Bacall in Woman of the Year.

Stephanie J. Block applies her laser-lunged voice to Judy Bernly (a/k/a the Jane Fonda part), particularly in her 11 o'clock number, Get Out and Stay Out, and South Florida's Marc Kudisch is aptly unctuous as the dreaded chauvinistic boss who gets his comeuppance.

Director Joe Mantello has learned a great deal about staging a musical since Wicked, because 9 to 5 moves with great energy and well choreographed set pieces, thanks in part to attractive projections by Peter Nigrini and Peggy Eisenhauer. Still, it's the retro-feminist message that puts the show across.

It's not a likely Tony winner, but an undeniable audience-pleaser.

* * *

Speaking of audience shows, I interviewed Marsha Norman, book writer of the musical The Color Purple, on Wednesday morning, in preparation for its arrival at the Broward Center next season.

The musical got lukewarm reviews initially, but theatergoers flocked to it nevertheless and it ran for three years on Broadway. Norman, a Pulitzer Prize winner for 'night, Mother, won the same year that novelist Alice Walker won for The Color Purple and the two women quickly bonded.

Norman was called to the West Coast to take a meeting with Steven Spielberg about writing the screenplay, but they apparently saw the material very differently. When the idea of a musical version came up, Norman elbowed her way into landing the assignment.

I didn't much care for the musical the only time I saw it, but listening to Norman talk about it makes me curious to give it another try.

Next up: A screening of the Jennifer Aniston comedy Management and the stage musical Billy Elliot.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Student art at PBCC-Eissey well worth a visit

Justin Maxwell Charlton, left, poses with Scott MacLachlan,
interim provost and dean of student services
at Palm Beach Community College, Palm Beach Gardens.
Charlton's drawing, Raphael's Fighting Men,
won Best of Show in the school's sudent art exhibition.
(Photo by Katie Deits

By Katie Deits

PALM BEACH GARDENS -- Art lovers have a few more days to see the annual student exhibition at Palm Beach Community College’s Eissey Campus in Palm Beach Gardens, which ends May 8.

This may be "student" art, but most of it would make any professional artist proud. Ranging from photography to painting and drawing to functional ceramics and sculpture, many pieces are also for sale. These pieces are one-of-a-kind, and include work by students of all ages, from dual-enrolled high schoolers to senior citizens.

The show was juried by Washington, D.C.-based artist Edward Pratt, who selected Raphael’s Fighting Men, a classical drawing by Justin Maxwell Charlton (a Drawing I student of Alessandra Gieffers), as the Best of Show. In his comments, Pratt said that he was impressed with the quality of the students’ work and stressed the importance of education in the arts.

The show opened April 14, when a crowd of nearly 100 people watched as the students received ribbons and cash awards. Several corporations, such as K & M Electric and Earl Stewart Toyota, offered cash awards. Sherry and Wayne Stephens presented an award in memory of their son Paul, and Beth Baker also presented a cash award.

Other student artists producing notable work included:

Fatima Hicks, with her painting, Moe's Pears.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

* North Palm Beach resident Fatima Hicks, who won first place in the painting category and a K&M Electric cash award for her watercolor, Moe's Pears. Hicks created the work (priced at $300) in the Painting I class of Wayne Stephens.

Gregory Smith, with his watercolor, 2+2 = 5.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

* Gregory Smith, a student in Gieffers' Painting I class, received the Passion for the Arts-Robert Siddell Art Award, as well as an Art Alliance cash award, for his brightly colored geometric watercolor, 2 + 2 = 5. The painting sells for $300.

Instructor Sherry Stephens, left, with student Sunny Quinn,
posing in front of Quinn's photo, Wrong Turn.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

* Sunny Quinn won an award for a photograph called Wrong Turn (price: $60), which she created in the Digital Photography I class of Sherry Stephens.

Georgia Novotny, with her ceramic vessel, Out of the Ashes.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

* Georgia Novotny, a student in the Ceramics I class of Justin Lambert, created a wood-fired vessel she titled Out of the Ashes. It's priced at $500.

The Gallery at Palm Beach Community College is located in the BB Building at the Eissey Campus, 3160 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens. Hours are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit or call (561) 207-5015.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New York postcard: 'Accent on Youth,' and the Easter Bonnet show

Mary Catherine Garrison and David Hyde Pierce
in Accent on Youth.

Editor's note: Palm Beach ArtsPaper's Hap Erstein is on assignment in New York this week.

By Hap Erstein

So I am up in the Big City for the week, gorging on theater, gauging the season and, for good measure, catching a couple of pre-release film screenings.

This evening (Tuesday), I saw the final preview of a Manhattan Theatre Club production of Accent on Youth, a cobweb-cluttered 1934 play by Samson Raphaelson, apparently revived as a vehicle for David Hyde Pierce, Tony Award winner for the musical Curtains a couple of seasons ago and, of course, multiple Emmy winner for playing fussy Niles Crane on TV's Fraiser.

He plays a similarly emotionally constipated guy, a playwright, in Accent on Youth, so it plays to his strengths to the extent that it plays at all. It is an extremely arch and artificial comedy about affairs of the heart and theatrical manipulation, but it never rings very true and feels much longer than its two hours.

I can't imagine it getting many positive reviews or making many fans of the play.

* * *

In the afternoon, I had a much better time at the 23rd annual Easter Bonnet Competition, an inside theater community celebration of the end of its fund-raising drive for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

For two days it takes over the Minskoff Theater (where The Lion King resides normally) with supporting players and chorus members of Broadway shows performing skits that make fun of their own show or other shows in one big roast. Then each skit culminates in the presentation of each group's Easter bonnet, an often elaborate chapeau that is the punchline of the skit.

Frequent comic targets included the multilingual West Side Story (which I'm seeing Friday night), Patti LuPone's hissy fit during the final performance of Gypsy, the recession and Liza Minnelli's frenetic style. Minnelli herself put in an appearance, singing a painfully strained rendition of New York, New York, as did Jane Fonda, who showed she has a good sense of humor about her reputation for keeping a tight rein on her current play, 33 Variations.

I'm sure there is better theater ahead thus week than Accent on Youth, but perhaps nothing more fun than the Easter Bonnet Competition.

* * *

To further pack my first full day in town, I caught a screening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the spin-off of the X-Men franchise focused on Hugh Jackman's mutton-chopped, adamantium clawed mutant. The back story of how Logan became Wolverine involves a half-brother, Victor Creed a/k/a Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) and a new team of freaks with superpowers.

The movie is very involving until the inevitable special effects overload. Still, expect it to be a popular kickoff of the summer movie season. But no, Broadway fans, Jackman doesn't sing a sngle note, alas.

Tomorrow: Waiting for Godot with Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin and John Goodman and the musical version of 9 to 5.

TV review: 'Parks and Recreation' an 'Office' copy, and not as funny

Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreation.

By John Thomason

If imitation is the best form of flattery, then Greg Daniels and Michael Schur are narcissists.

The TV gurus who created NBC’s successful The Office have gone beyond a mere repetition of theme and style with their latest effort for the network, Parks and Recreation (8:30 p.m. Thursdays): They’ve photocopied The Office and slapped a new name on it.

At the head of the cast is Amy Poehler, whose eternally optimistic Leslie Knope is a Xerox of Michael Scott, just with a second X chromosome instead of a Y. As the deputy director of a Parks and Recreation department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Ind., she holds a position of faux power, even as her crack staff laughs at her behind her back.

Her intellect and intuition, two areas she prides herself on, are lower than anyone's on her team. She’s driven by naïve delusions of grandeur and frequently puts her foot in her mouth with racially insensitive comments. Sound familiar?

Ditto to the pseudo-documentary style, which hasn’t been novel since the around the dawn of the millennium. Just as in The Office, characters address the camera in sit-down interviews and elsewhere, and the cinematography peeks through office corners and crevasses with typical ersatz voyeurism.

This style -- self-conscious and self-effacing, lazy and unoriginal – hampers a show that has an otherwise strong, relevant foundation. In a Newsweek profile on Poehler, Joshua Alston said, “Of all the television characters to emerge in the era of Obama, none captures the zeitgeist quite like Leslie Knope.”

The show’s protagonist is driven by hope and idealism, blindly confident that the government can enact real change. She wants to turn a dangerous neighborhood pit into a public park, a seemingly doable task that would feasibly have the Obama administration’s stimulus-project logo all over it. But as the show progresses, the ideal becomes an ordeal as Leslie jumps through one bureaucratic hoop after another.

In the series’ second episode, she canvasses the neighborhood and hosts a public forum to gin up support for the park, but both efforts turn disastrous. In episode three, she seeks the help of the city’s major daily, The Pawnee Journal (“It’s like our town’s Washington Post,” beams Leslie), whose reporter ends up uncovering embarrassing facts that set the project back further.

Leslie is helped in her mission by an affable supporting cast of government and community figures, including a Muslim-American co-worker (Aziz Ansari), a colleague from another department who once mistakenly slept with Leslie (Paul Schneider) and a nurse from the neighborhood who brought the pit problem to Leslie’s attention (the lovely Rashida Jones, an Office alum).

The supporting players are all memorable, even Leslie’s boss (Nick Offerman), a right-wing, anti-government government bureaucrat, and the show offers a few genuine chuckles each episode. Leslie asking a toddler in a sandbox to respond to a technical park questionnaire is hilarious, and so is the team’s canvassing mission, whose only successful convert is the town pedophile.

But after three episodes, I’ve laughed about as much as I would in any given half-hour of 30 Rock. Part of the problem may the unwarranted buzz. Amy Poehler has been on the cover of everything but Popular Mechanics this past month, and this oversaturation made me sick of Parks and Recreation before the pilot even aired. But mostly, it comes down to a show willing to rest on the stylistic laurels of its stronger predecessor and not bringing enough of its own material.

Nielsen tends to agree. The show brought nearly 7 million viewers for the pilot, but the numbers have dropped to almost 5 million by Week Three. One can assume Leslie will eventually get her park built – if the show lasts that long.

John Thomason is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

Monday, April 27, 2009

ArtsBuzz: James Taylor generates 'tremendous' interest for first SunFest gig

Veteran singer-songwriter James Taylor.

By Thom Smith

James Taylor is no stranger to Palm Beach County stages.

He’s played the Kravis Center and Cruzan Amphitheatre (it then had a different name). He’s played private parties at The Breakers and out west in Wellington.

So it’s hard to believe that never, not in its previous 27 incarnations, has he played SunFest. That will change when Sweet Baby James takes the stage at 8:45 p.m. Thursday to rockabye the crowd.

“He’s never been at SunFest, and the interest has been tremendous,” SunFest Marketing Director Melissa Sullivan said. “We couldn’t be more pleased.”

Especially in a year of tight money and reduced expectations.

For example, Washington Mutual, a SunFest mainstay for 11 years, is gone and with it a big chunk of the sponsor money, which is down 18 percent. But rather than cry the blues, SunFest went on a cost-cutting binge behind the scenes and opted for more pop out front. The art and craft show continues, as does Sunday’s monstrous fireworks display. The festival actually is boosting its music budget by nearly 10 percent.

The party begins Wednesday with New Music Night. 311 headlines on the Stage at 9:30 p.m. while Mexican alternative band Kinky plays the Tire Kingdom Stage at 8. But the big buzz, along with Taylor, is reigning American Idol David Cook, who commands the 9:30 slot on the Stage Saturday night, while reggae vets UB40 are on at 9 p.m. on the Tire Kingdom Stage.

Randy Bachman of the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive will crank out such classics as No Sugar Tonight and Let It Ride plus a new number or two from his upcoming album at the Tire King Stage Friday at 9:15. Reggae punkers Slightly Stoopid will be at the opposite end at 9:50.

Legends Steve Miller (7:30, pbpulse) and Bettye LaVette (7:45, Tire Kingdom) close out the party Sunday night.

Sprinkled among the national acts, as usual, are more than two dozen newcomers -- some local, some regional and some on the verge of breaking nationally. Many can be found at the Coors Light Stage in the Meyer Amphitheatre.

While Taylor is making his first appearance at SunFest, the action backstage features some familiar faces, back after a one-year hiatus. For 25 years, Jon Stoll’s Fantasma Productions, one of the nation’s last major independent promoters, procured the acts for SunFest and handled the music side of the festival.

After Stoll died suddenly last January, his widow sold Fantasma to Live Nation, the megapromoter whose buyout attempts Stoll had constantly rejected. With that sale, the bulk of Fantasma’s staff signed on with another big group, AEG Live, which books California’s Coachella Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, among many.

Fantasma had already booked the acts for SunFest 2008, but the backstage area was managed by Live Nation. In October, however, SunFest signed a new contract with AEG Live.

"We’re thrilled to be a part of the excitement of SunFest once again," AEG Vice President Jon Valentino said last fall. Valentino was Stoll’s right-hand man at Fantasma. "The waterfront of downtown West Palm Beach is one of the most beautiful festival sites in the country. SunFest has been an innovator in the festival world for decades and has continually raised the bar to create the ideal artist and fan experience."

“We’re glad to have them back,” SunFest’s Sullivan said. “They’re like part of the family.”

For a complete schedule, transportation options and ticket prices, go to

Thom Smith is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

ArtsBuzz: Canadian soprano takes top spot for judges, audience at PB Opera contest

Soprano Yannick-Muriel Noah.

By Greg Stepanich

WEST PALM BEACH -- A Canadian soprano who gave a powerful rendition of an aria from Verdi's La Forza del Destino walked away Sunday afternoon with the top prize of the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition as well as the hearts of the Kravis Center audience, who declared her their favorite in a text-message poll at the end of the contest.

Yannick Muriel-Noah, 30, was the last contestant of the 14 who sang with the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra during Sunday's competition, and was the second soprano of the day to sing Pace, pace mio Dio, Leonora's aria from Act IV of La Forza del Destino. The Madagascar-born soprano possesses a big, commanding voice with a rich, dark texture reminiscent of singers such as Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman.

Although her final B-flat wasn't precisely on the money, Noah did a fine job with the aria, particularly in dramatic presentation. She made the most of Leonora's anguish as she begs God for peace through death, and overall makes a persuasive Verdian soprano. As the winner of the Hallock, Bryan, Cooper Memorial Award, Noah received a prize of $8,500.

Noah was the first-prize winner of the advanced division in the contest, while the top spot in the junior division went to another Canadian, baritone Elliot Madore of Toronto, who sang one of the most well-known of all operatic arias, the Largo al factotum from Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville.

Madore was a charming Figaro, getting real laughs out of the audience as he sang with a pleasant, clear, lightly colored voice. His reading of the Figaro, Figaro section shifted octaves from top to bottom, and then to comic falsetto, before dissolving in a flurry of repeated notes. He almost overdid it, falling a little behind on his entrance after that, but it was an entertaining performance and suggested, like Noah's, that the opera stage was a comfortable place for him to be.

As winner of the Arthur W. Silvester Memorial Prize, Madore received a cash award of $5,500.

The singers in the 40th annual competition sang with the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra, which was directed Sunday by the veteran New York opera conductor Eve Queler. She demonstrated that she knows a thing or two about how to be flexible when accompanying singers, and the orchestra played quite well for her.

The only exception came during the two orchestra selections that were played as the three judges -- soprano Diana Soviero, opera company director Michael Harrison and Manhattan School of Music faculty member Thomas Mucaro -- deliberated. While the familiar Meditation from Massenet's Thais was sensitive and poetic, the Der Freischutz overture of Weber was oddly flaccid and contained little of the excitement or Romantic color for which this music is celebrated.

The singing performances Sunday were generally rather good overall, though some were more notable, including that of countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, a 26-year-old singer from Durham, N.C. Costanzo, who picked up the $7,500 second-prize award in the advanced division, did so with a moving rendition of Stille amare, an aria from Handel's Tolomeo.

Costanzo has the same purity of tone that today's leading countertenors (David Daniels, Andreas Scholl) exemplify, and he also offered very tastefully sung embellishments in the reprise of the melody. A similarly high level of musicianship was evident in the work of the third-prize winner in the division ($6,500), soprano Jessica Julin, 28, of Danville, Calif.

Julin's singing of La luce langue, from Act II of Verdi's Macbeth, was very effective, not least for the strong sound Julin is able to bring out in her lower registers. And here, too, were indications that Julin's voice is a good fit for dramatic Verdi roles.

The second-prize winner in the junior division, 22-year-old Simone Osborne of Vancouver, Canada, gave a somewhat speedy (at least in the first verse) reading of Song to the Moon, from Dvorak's Rusalka, but she slowed down somewhat further on and let her voice bloom, to impressive effect. Her voice does not yet have the velvet power of this aria's most well-known current exponent, Renee Fleming, but Osborne sounds as though she would do well as a Puccini heroine.

Also enjoyable were the super-clear bel canto lines of Japanese soprano Rie Miyake, 28, who covered well for a too-early entrance and gave a sparkling reading of O luce di quest'anima, from Donizetti's neglected Linda di Chamounix. Junior division bel canto entrant Andrea Shockery, 23, of Columbus, Ohio, opened the concert Sunday with Ah non credea ... Ah, non giunge, from Bellini's La Sonnambula. She took fifth prize of six in the junior division, perhaps because her rendition of the cabaletta portion was none too forceful, but she demonstrated a decent command of the kind of high-flying vocal work needed to pull off this music convincingly.

The only real disappointment came from the sixth-place junior division prizewinner, 23-year-old soprano Mary-Jane Lee of Sandy, Utah. Lee's aria, Ah, fuggi il traditor, from Mozart's Don Giovanni, was far too short for the audience to get a good sense of her singing, which is unfortunate, because from her brief time on stage it sounded like a mature-sounding voice that could be good in this literature.

Here are the 14 singers, their arias, and their prizes.

Advanced division

1. Yannick-Muriel Noah, 30, Toronto, soprano. Verdi: Pace, pace mio Dio (La Forza del Destino). Hallock, Bryan, Cooper Memorial Award, $8,500.
2. Anthony Roth Costanzo, 26, Durham, N.C., countertenor. Handel: Stille amare (Tolomeo). Robert and Mary Montgomery Award, $7,500.
3. Jessica Julin, 28, Danville, Calif., soprano. Verdi: La luce langue (Macbeth). The Solomon Organization Award, $6,500.
4. Rie Miyake, 28, Tokyo, soprano. Donizetti: O luce di quest'anima (Linda di Chamounix). Isenberg Family Charitable Trust, $6,000.
5. Scott Quinn, 28, Marshall, Texas, tenor. Gounod: Ah! Leve-toi, soleil (Romeo et Juliette). M. Mac Schwebel Award, $5,000.
6. Joelle Harvey, 24, Bolivar, N.Y., soprano. Verdi: Sul fil d'un soffio etesio (Falstaff). David and Ingrid Kosowsky Award, $4,500.
7. Joshua Kohl, 29, Reading, Pa., tenor. Offenbach: Va, pour Kleinzach (Les Contes d'Hoffmann). Dorothy Lappin Award, $4,000.
8. Sung Eun Lee, 30, Seoul, tenor. Gounod: Ah! Leve-toi, soleil (Romeo et Juliette). Gladys and Edward Benenson Award, $3,000.

Junior division

1. Elliot Madore, 22, Toronto, baritone. Rossini: Largo al factotum (Il Barbiere di Siviglia). Arthur W. Silvester Memorial Award, $5,500.
2. Simone Osborne, 22, Vancouver, soprano. Dvorak: Song to the Moon [Mesiku na nebi hlubokem] (Rusalka). Alan Craig Rafel and Sam Bialek Memorial Award, $5,000.
3. Betsy Diaz, 20, Miami, soprano. Verdi: Pace, pace mio Dio (La Forza del Destino). Maestro Anton Guadagno Award, $4,500.
4. Michael Sumuel, 23, Odessa, Texas, baritone. Wagner: O du mein holder Abendstern (Tannhauser). Samuel C. Endicott Fund Award, $4,000.
5. Andrea Shockery, 23, Columbus, Ohio, soprano. Bellini: Ah, non credea ... Ah, non giunge (La Sonnambula). Muriel and Arnold Shapiro Award, $3,500.
6. Mary-Jane Lee, 23, Sandy, Utah, soprano. Mozart: Ah, fuggi il traditor (Don Giovanni). David M. Hauben Memorial Award, $3,000.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Sculpture Gardens features Strosberg paintings

Full Bloom, by Serge Strosberg.

By Jan Engoren

In the art of Serge Strosberg, men and women from all walks of life embody the timeless concepts of love, lust and hope.

And they often do so accompanied by flowers.

The Belgian-born artist’s works are currently on view at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in an exhibit of 15 paintings titled Of Men and Flowers. The showing lasts through May 3.

Strosberg, who now lives in New York, recently returned to Palm Beach after a long winter of painting.

“Coming back to Palm Beach is a homecoming of sorts for me,” Strosberg said. “When I came from Paris in 2006, my very first American show was at the Lighthouse Center for the Arts. Many of my collectors and contacts from the art world live in the Palm Beach area or winter here during season.”

“I love the sunny weather and the dynamic art scene, and the many outdoor cafés that line the avenues remind me of Europe.”

However, far from sipping martinis on the beach or drinking a café crème at the café, Strosberg is busy painting and exhibiting his works. Over the past 12 months, his paintings have been on exhibit in Germany and France, he has traveled to China, and also has had two successful New York shows.

SoHo, by Serge Strosberg.

Those New York shows -- Strosberg: Paris-New York, and The Dorian Gray Syndrome --made something of a splash in Soho, where New Yorkers including Prince Lorenzo Borghese, artist Agathe de Bailliencourt, Victoria’s Secret model Gisele Bündchen and socialite Annabel Vartanian (subjects of Strosberg’s portrait, Gisele and Annabel) mingled with art collectors and downtown artists.

The combination of Strosberg’s European sensibilities, realistic expressionism, recently acquired New York patina and current fascination with New York socialites imbue his work with a critical, almost anthropological look at contemporary life and society.

At 42, Strosberg is consumed with questions of identity and culture, truth and deception, and the internal world of his subjects. “After years of exploring identity, I've become more interested in the complexity of human relationships,” he said.

In 2003, Strosberg (at right) was retained by the prestigious Belgravia Gallery in London to paint portraits of the English gentry. Recently, he has been commissioned by a Palm Beach collector (who wishes to remain anonymous) to create a 100-inch-by-70-inch painting to accompany the David Hockney and James Rosenquist paintings the patron already holds.

Besides the inner lives of his subjects, Strosberg is fascinated by flowers. Since the Renaissance, flowers have been used in portraiture to symbolically convey non-verbal themes.

“I chose the theme of flowers because flowers are timeless and eternal,” he said. “The natural beauty, fragrance, variety, and ephemeral quality suggest femininity and sexuality.”

With flowers as metaphor, Strosberg explores the notions of idealized masculinity and femininity, the contradictory nature of human emotions, the duality of self, our search for beauty, love, happiness and fulfillment and the paradoxes of our modern lives.

The voluptuous Full Bloom depicts a woman in red-and-white gingham dress lying on her side, her head resting on her right hand, her left arm draped languorously across her waist, with a rapt expression on her face. In the lower right hand corner of the portrait we see a soupçon of white orchids, also in full bloom, gracefully accompanying the white in her dress and gracing the portrait with an air of sensuality.

SoHo reveals a young woman dancer posed in a black dress with a pattern of black flowers. The colors belie Strosberg’s intentions; despite the darkness of the colors, there is a lightness about the portrait. The woman’s gracious pose and posture are in alignment with the delicateness of the long-stemmed flowers. She is shown sipping from a wine glass, resting lightly on a windowsill, her eyes gazing slightly downward. What is she thinking?

Cynthia Palmieri, director of the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, said she is happy to have Strosberg’s work on display. “Serge is a very serious artist and serious about his commitment to his portraits,” Palmieri said. “We are honored and privileged to exhibit his paintings and have him back here in Palm Beach.”

Strosberg was in Palm Beach in January for the Palm Beach3 Contemporary Art Fair and is readying a solo exhibit for a gallery in Paris next fall. In April, his works will be included in a group show in New York at the 14th St.Y.

The painter is currently working on a group portrait of New York club-scene celebrities for the National Laboratory for New Jewish Culture, and on an installation for Yeshiva University titled Genealogy.

That painting explores Strosberg’s family roots in Spain, which date back to the 15th century. The work is currently in Osnabrueck, Germany, as part of a group show titled The Hidden Truth, alongside works by Soutine, Rothko, and Lucien Freud.

Jan Engoren is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

The Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens are open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturdays. Admission is free for members, while the suggested donation for visitors is $5. The Gardens are at 253 Barcelona Road in West Palm Beach. For more information, call 832-5238 or visit

Fang Yang, by Serge Strosberg.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Music review: Master Chorale comes home to America in season closer

The Master Chorale of South Florida.

By Greg Stepanich

POMPANO BEACH -- The Master Chorale of South Florida made a welcome gesture in the direction of music from its own country Friday night with a program of older and newer American classics by Copland, Bernstein and Lauridsen.

The performances themselves, which closed the first season of the chorale's concerts under its new music director, Joshua Habermann, were something less than inspired, but they did serve as an effective reminder of the strength of the American choral repertory. And since the coming season features music by Beethoven, Handel and Mozart, it will be some time before we can hear this large group tackle pieces such as this again.

The centerpiece of the program at the First Presbyterian Church of Pompano Beach was the Chichester Psalms of Bernstein, written in 1965 while the composer was on sabbatical from his directorship of the New York Philharmonic. It has become a classic of contemporary music for its passionate, pungent settings of excerpts from six Psalms, interlarded with Bernstein's distinctive melodic gift.

As always, the chorale is able to summon a massive sound, powerful and hard to resist, and it made an impressive impact even with the much-reduced accompaniment heard Friday of organ, harp and percussion. But the tempo of the first section, dominated by an almost incongruous syncopated tune, was a shade too slow and not nearly light enough; it sounded heavy and clumsy rather than spirited.

The second movement featured a nicely sung treble solo from Alejandro Pichardo of Florida's Singing Sons Boychoir. He gave it the right sense of trusting faith that the words (of Psalm 23) call for, and the higher voices answered back in kind. In the third movement, the chorale was most effective in the full-volume portion of the first part, with its memorable, bluesy melody, and in the well-controlled, careful ending.

Organist Christopher Harrell, harpist Deborah Fleisher, and percussionist Andrew Proctor provided able, sensitive accompaniment, and Proctor in particular played his part with all the gusto he would have had there been a full orchestra on stage with him.

The chorale surrendered part of its evening to the Singing Sons Boychoir and its director, Craig Denison, who performed four songs from the second collection of Old American Songs by Aaron Copland, and the Simple Song from Bernstein's Mass.

Denison has taught his young charges well when it comes to diction, pronunciation and accuracy, and there was a smoothness and maturity about their singing that was commendable. But this was an oddly unenergetic performance of these little songs; everything sounded underpowered and restrained.

While that approach was marginally acceptable for the lovely lullaby that opened the four-song set, The Little Horses, it was misguided for the rest of the songs, especially the closing Ching-a-Ring Chaw, a boisterous, snappy minstrel ditty that was so cautious and laid-back that the closing "Chaw!" sounded like an accident rather than a logical ending for a vigorous tune.

The Copland was followed by A Simple Song, probably the best-known moment from Bernstein's Mass, a work that was almost universally derided at its premiere but which has now come into its own. Pichardo also soloed reasonably well, and the chorus of more than 30 boys again showed evidence of good preparation. There had some slight intonation problems, notably at the end, in navigating the very tricky melodic and harmonic challenges of this piece.

The concert opened with a very good reading of Lux Aeterna, a popular contemporary choral work from 1997 by the much-admired Morten Lauridsen, who's taught at the University of Southern California for decades. This is a lush and immediately appealing piece that has rather thin material cannily spread out over five movements.

But Habermann and his chorus gave the work a fine, measured rendition in which its primary glories -- big, fat Romantic chords and a recurring pop-like tune -- were given plenty of attention. The chorale under its new director has stronger male voices than it has had in the past, and while the tenors are still somewhat weak, there is a better balance among the sections and a recognizable character to each of them, and that's progress.

There was a certain shrillness to the loudest sections of the piece, and the Agnus Dei that precedes the closing Lux aeterna got off to a shaky start. Overall, though, the chorale sang with confidence, richness and beauty, and it suggested that this kind of material is well-suited for them.

Joshua Habermann has done an admirable job with the Master Chorale, and while its performances of Mendelssohn's Elijah earlier this season were more impressive than this American program, it is nevertheless comforting to see this fine group in good hands. What the chorale desperately needs now is more than two concerts a season, even though each program is repeated three times.

Arts funding is in tough straits right now, but perhaps a reduced version of the chorale can sing a couple more concerts in only one or two venues. That would help put all these talented people to greater use, and if an all-American program can be a regular feature of those additional concerts I have dreamed up for my fantasy season, so much the better.

The Master Chorale of South Florida and Florida's Singing Sons Boychoir will perform its Music by American Composers program at 8 pm toay at the Congregational Church of Boca Raton/United Church of Christ in Boca Raton, and at 4 pm Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Miami. Tickets are $35 and are available at the door. Call 954-418-6232 for more information.

ArtsPaper Interview: Conductor Eve Queler forges ahead

Eve Queler conducting.

Eve Queler may perhaps be the most acclaimed conductor to lead the popular Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition in some years. The internationally renowned conductor and founding music director of American’s leading opera-in-concert organization, Opera Orchestra of New York (OONY), will be on stage at the Kravis Center at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Queler has a repertoire of more than 100 operas that she has conducted at Carnegie Hall. The list includes neglected works, especially by Russian and Czech composers, that she has championed in the United States. Her U.S. premieres include Puccini’s early Edgar with Carlo Bergonzi and Renata Scotto; Boito’s Nerone and Smetana’s Libuse. Her seven studio and live recordings feature opera’s greatest singers in rarities by Donizetti, Massenet, Verdi and Richard Strauss.

Along with her nose for operatic rarities, the 73-year-old Queler has a knack for discovering young singers with star quality. Year after year, the stars she discovered and nurtured return to the Opera Orchestra to sing novel new roles they could never broach at the Met and City Opera. Queler has given critical early exposure to many rising stars who now have major careers, including José Carreras, Renée Fleming, James Morris, (part-time Vero Beach resident) Deborah Voigt and others.

In March 2008, for her 100th performance at Carnegie Hall, she attracted a guest list including sopranos Fleming, Aprile Millo, Latonia Moore, Eglise Gutierrez and Scotto, along with mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick and tenor Marcello Giordani. The star power also celebrated the star in Queler’s crown, the Opera Orchestra of New York, the one-of-a-kind group she founded in 1971.

Palm Beach ArtsPaper's Sharon McDaniel talked with Queler in advance of her appearance at the Palm Beach Opera competition:

McDaniel: How did you get into this field?

Queler: I basically was working as a New York City Opera pianist, a coach. That’s the way they do it in Europe; you don’t start conducting right off the bat.

I loved my job at City Opera; I learned a lot of repertoire, worked with some wonderful singers – and some terrific conductors. It was the ultimate graduate school. During the years I was there, occasionally I was assigned a rehearsal to conduct. In one case, it was the entire Act II of La Boheme, complete with singers, staging – everything! After that, I thought, "Hmmm, I guess I should start learning how to conduct."

I was at City Opera from 1965-70, during the move over to Lincoln Center. I decided to go back to school. I applied to Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music. In both cases, they said they were not accepting women conductors. That’s just the way it was at that time.

So I started an orchestra and began training myself – it was a training orchestra. And New York had quite a few amateur orchestras from conductors gaining experience. So that is the kernel of the Opera Orchestra of New York. I started without any real plan, when I look back after 25 years. So that’s how I got into it.

McDaniel: The orchestra is rehearsing and performing at a local high school auditorium. It's even starting to attract a following. How did the orchestra really get off the ground?

Queler: Because I knew a lot of singers. I those days, I played a lot of auditions, Met (Metropolitan Opera) National Council Auditions. And through that, offered some (singers) jobs (as soloists with the orchestra). As they became famous, they didn’t forget.

McDaniel: But you were conducting elsewhere too, right?

Queler: Well, along the way, word began to get around. I was getting offers to guest conduct. The Santa Fe Opera offered me a position. I said I’m not accepting anything without conducting duties. (The offer came from founding general director) John Crosby and he didn’t feel that he wanted that. But he did come to a production of La Boheme I conducted at the school.

The same offer came, too, from (conductor) Julius Rudel, and Seattle Opera with (its founding general director) Glynn Ross. And I said to Ross, I wouldn’t accept anything unless it came with conducting duties. And he said, ‘Well this would, and you’d work with the young singers and lead (Seattle’s) national touring company."

Well, I was married, I lived in New York, I had children. I just didn’t see how I could manage it, so I turned it down. And one day at home, I was telling this nice story to someone on the phone, and my husband overheard and said, "Why didn’t we discuss this?"

And I said, "Why should we?" And he said, ‘Because we’re a couple. And if we get some offers, we should talk about it." Well, another offer came: to conduct in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And he said, "You have to go!"

When I protested that the children were in school and I had a household to run, he said, "Well, tell me what you need!" I said, "My son likes the vanilla cupcake and my daughter likes the chocolate cupcake. You pack their lunch every day and make sure you don’t get it wrong!"

He was so supportive I’m very fortunate he felt that way. But after a trial year at Indiana, I left. It was not the type of place I could live in. So I returned to New York. And my husband had done a wonderful job with the opera orchestra. Running it out of his office, I said I needed two flutes and two oboes, and he’d get them. And it bloomed and I can’t tell you how it happened.

Initially we were in a school and had no funding. The first funding came from people who were really interested in the young singers primarily. And I said, if you want to show off the young singers, this concert should take place with orchestra. And I have an orchestra!

Attendance grew, and one of the regular audience members said, "You should really get out of this school and into some place like Town Hall, and I’ll help you get sponsorships." I didn’t know how to do that! It never occurred to me to ask for them! So it grew.

Then singers started to come to me, like (the now-defunct group) Friends of French Opera. And they brought in soloists like Nicolai Gedda and Richard Tucker. And the Friends wanted to do operas like William Tell – well, I knew the overture, but nothing else. But the audiences were very hungry to hear singers like Tucker in (operas by) Meyerbeer.

One day (Spanish soprano) Montserrat Caballé called and sent for me. And I went to her suite at the hotel, and she said, "I tip my chapeau to a lady conductor!" I loved it! Without all of these people – especially Spanish soprano Suka Baeje, and Placido Domingo -- they opened the doors. They know I have their good at heart.

But my passion is the young ones I hear at these auditions and they grow and you hear them again and they don’t have time in their schedules anymore!

Eve Queler poses at Carnegie Hall.

McDaniel: Does gender seem to matter less today or is it still an issue for orchestras? Young conductors and American conductors are making lots of progress, career-wise. But could you comment on why there aren't many women conducting big operations?

Queler: When I was at NYC Opera, my husband would say, "This is so beneath your talent." It just hadn’t occurred to me. Your questions are about the social aspect and I’m just so into my music, I don’t see a lot of things that a lot of people can see. They just don’t occur to me. It’s been a good thing for me, I don’t think about where I’m not or who’s not inviting me

McDaniel: When you think about the G-20 economic summit that just ended, or the more recent Summit of the Americas, you see at least one, two or three women. So what about the Big Five orchestras?

Queler: Sure, there are a couple of heads of state in Europe -- England and Germany -- who are women. The Pakistani leader (the late Benazir Bhutto) inherited her position and she seemed to be very capable at it.

But a better measure is how comfortable people feel, how comfortable they are taking orders from a woman. I can’t judge that from OONY. But I’ve never sensed any hostility anywhere I’ve traveled.

I’ve conducted a lot in Hungary, and when I travel, I make an effort to learn their language. I learn to count and some words and I can bumble along in Hungarian. It gets applause from the orchestra.

I have three pat sentences: "It’s an honor to be here," and "in this historic venue’"– let’s face it: over there, it’s always an historic venue! – and ‘"I’m looking forward to making music with you" – even in Czech! -- and "Let’s begin." And when I bumble and say something hysterically funny, we laugh together!

I’ve conducted the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestra in summer festivals. I walked out on stage in Philadelphia and somebody said, "Right on!" I had a good time with them and Cleveland. And they were in summer, so the concerts were broadcast and heard throughout the United States, so I received quite a few invitations and went to (places like) San Diego and Utah.

And so I feel that if there’s any opposition (to women conductors), it’s not from the players, who are always a little bit ahead of the curve. Ahead of, say, the management.

McDaniel: Are the invitations from opera companies as forthcoming nowadays for you and other women?

Queler: I may have a reputation, completely unfounded, and I’m known for the opera-in-concert. And so maybe the (opera) companies don’t want that focus on that format.

In San Diego, I worked with (San Diego Opera Resident Conductor) Karen Keltner, a lovely person and very good at what she does, and she gets a lot of opportunity there.

So where are the women? Hamburg State Opera has a woman music director and general director (Simone Young), so she gets two salaries. But she’s Australian. Australia has made a point of targeting talented people and sending them all over the world to develop further. She found her way to (conductor Daniel) Barenboim who mentored her -- he’s wonderful about that.

But (Leonard) Bernstein also mentored women. He didn’t mentor me; I was too old. But he asked me how rehearsals for (Mussorgsky's) Khovanschina were going and he really was excited about getting into the Russian (language) and all that. [Editor's note: Queler was the first conductor in the United States to perform the unfinished Khovanschina, with orchestration by Dmitri Shostakovich.]

Conductors of that stature don’t care about gender. The press could be helpful, too, by making no distinction. I’ve finally gotten over people writing about what I was wearing. I guess it’s easier than reviewing what you’re hearing!

McDaniel: How else does the press get it wrong?

Queler: I’ve also been reviewed as having flabby tempi. But what I try to do in bel canto, I tend to want to make the singers feel very comfortable. Or (I’m criticized for) serious balance problems in the orchestra, which is on stage along with the singers. But the singers have practically a brass band behind them! So in my shushing and small beating to the orchestra, perhaps I don’t give a clear idea.

It’s just a matter of what you’re seeing, rather than what you’re hearing. But I’ve run the gamut with reviews: wonderful reviews, patronizing reviews – yeah, those don’t make it onto my Website!

McDaniel: What are you expecting to find at the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition? And how do you feel not knowing what you're going to conduct on Sunday until the judges choose the 14 winners and choose the best aria for each?

Queler: With 50 contestants, (each singing) four arias, that’s a lot! And they get the orchestra parts together at the last minute, too – hello! This music needs to be bowed! I have no idea of what’s going to be on this concert (on Sunday). At least I know a lot of operas.

I also led the finals of a piano competition at the University of Maryland and they had about 40 piano concertos and I knew only about six of them. If I had to learn a Prokofiev concerto in three days, it wouldn’t have been easy.

But I’m very accommodating. Whatever (Palm Beach Opera) says they need, I’ll be as big a help as I can be in four days!

McDaniel: Any hints of what we might hear?

Queler: They’ve chosen some very difficult repertoire. I saw one person chose (Janacek’s) Jenufa, and I said wow, I’d love to learn that! [In 1988, Queler gave the first Czech-language performance in the United States of Jenufa. The year before, she introduced Dvorak's Rusalka, and in 1979, Janacek's Katya Kabanova.]

Also, it’s not easy to put together (a full concert) on one read-through only. Plus, the singers are nervous, of course. And hope I have time to work with them at the piano. My reasoning is, I’m not going to ask. That’s my M.O. I say, "Oh, I think I can do that!"

McDaniel: No worries at all?

Queler: See, I don’t have a lot of experience in modern music – Susannah, Ballad of Baby Doe, yes. But I’m not very up on Baroque music. The singers are required to bring four arias: one Italian, German, French, English. That means contemporary music or Benjamin Britten or Baroque are about your only choices for English – unless it’s Broadway or Gershwin.

But I don’t understand why there aren’t more competitions for young singers. I’m not aware that opera companies other than the Palm Beach and the Met have them – I know New York City Opera doesn’t. In New York, mostly the foundations hold them.

But I’m so looking forward to getting to West Palm Beach. The first time I ever heard Renée Fleming was in a competition -- I gave her a prize! Then I heard her again at Alice Tully Hall, and I said, "Oh no, I have to hire her!"

I’ve judged a lot of competitions. That way, I hear a lot of young artists. One young singer I worked with got a contract from La Scala to sing (Verdi’s) I Due Foscari – the same work that she sang with me. Wow!

The Palm Beach Opera’s 40th Annual Vocal Competition features 14 emerging artists competing for $85,000 in prize money. Guest conductor Eve Queler leads the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra in the grand finals concert at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd. It’s at 3 p.m. Sunday. For competition details, visit For tickets, which range from $20-$75, call 833-7888 or 832-7469.

Friday, April 24, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Four emerging artists featured at Armory

A ceramic sculpture by Bethany Krull.

By Katie Deits

Every year the Armory Art Center hosts resident artists who use the studios to develop and expand their work, as well as teach classes to the Armory’s students.

This year, the Armory welcomes four outstanding artists whose work is diverse and cutting-edge contemporary. The show -- Emergence: The Resident Artist Exhibition -- which opens this evening and runs through May 15, will include sculptural and functional work by two ceramic residents (Bethany Krull and Daniel Ricardo Teran), and sculptural and figurative work by two sculpture residents (Misty Gamble and Jesse Walp).

Ceramics resident Bethany Krull.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

Working in both porcelain and bronze, Bethany Krull creates intricate sculptures that reveal her reverence for, and fascination with, the complexity and diversity of nature. Stemming from her belief that our society is becoming increasingly disconnected from nature, her work aims to raise questions regarding our own species' ideas of nature, and how these ideas intersect when viewed in the contexts of science, art, and religion.

Manifestations of Nature is an installation of her extensive collection of natural objects that in Krull’s words “can be seen as the embodiment of all three of these realms.” These objects will be on display along with her current body of sculpture which aims to present nature as an entity to be worshipped.

Ceramicist Daniel Ricardo Teran.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

Daniel Ricardo Teran is an artist currently working and living in West Palm Beach. His aim, as a maker, is to create functional pots that allow the viewer to slow down, stop, and enjoy the many idiosyncrasies and issues raised by every work he creates.

He draws images on his vessels that weave stories and present commentary, and are well worth contemplating.

Sculptor Misty Gamble contemplates one of her creations.

Misty Gamble creates work inspired by the human figure and its infinite capacity for communication.

Gamble’s current work of large ceramic figurative sculptures focuses attention on issues surrounding femininity and set standards of normalcy, propriety and societal expectation, while at the same time challenging conventional standards of beauty. Gamble teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute and exhibits nationally.

Jesse Walp with one of his pieces.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

Jesse Walp explores the concept of freedom in his art. Referencing historical means of control and humiliation, he creates work that resonates with social concern, irony, and traces of humor.

His current work of life-size figures accompanied by medieval bronze weapons and restraints suggests a dialogue about power and revolution.

Don’t miss the chance to see this exhibition and meet these emerging and dedicated artists that are sure to make their marks on the art world. It’s also an opportunity to buy their work, building your art collection while supporting the artists in residence program at the Armory Art Center.

Emergence: The Resident Artist Exhibition opens from 6 pm-9 pm today, and runs through May 15. There will be an artists’ lecture at 7:30 pm Tuesday. The Armory Art Center is located at1700 Parker Ave. in West Palm Beach. For more information, visit, or call 832-1776.

Film reviews: At PBI Film Fest, documentaries rule

The hip-hop seniors of Gotta Dance.

By Hap Erstein

Whether it is because of which films were chosen to be screened in advance and which others I could get my hands on, this year’s Palm Beach International Film Festival (on through Monday, April 27 around the county) seems to be strong in documentaries. Here are some capsule reviews of films available to be seen this weekend.

Gotta Dance (12 pm Saturday, Sunrise Cinemas at Mizner Park, Boca Raton; 7 pm Sunday, Movies of Delray): It would be virtually impossible to see director Dori Berinstein’s documentary of a senior citizen hip-hop dance troupe and not think of the superior 2008 film, Young@Heart, about a similar elderly singing chorus that specializes in heavy metal rock.

While that earlier film dug deeper into the lives of its subjects, several of whom were on the brink of their own mortality, this more lightweight tale is also a celebration of a 60+ crowd that remains active and agile, exploring unexpected talents.

The motives of the New Jersey Nets basketball organization remains unclear, but it decides that it needs something different for its halftime entertainment. So it puts out an open call for elder hip-hop dancers and Bernstein gets comparable terrific access to her subject as she did on Show Business: The Road to Broadway.

She follows this baker’s dozen of dancers -- 12 women, 1 man -- from auditions, through rehearsals, to their nail-biting debut performance and the subsequent media attention. At 93 minutes, it feels a bit stretched, but this is bound to be an audience favorite in South Florida.

Jeremy Gilley and Jude Law of The Day After Peace.

The Day After Peace (12 pm Saturday, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton): It is an idea so simple and so obvious, our skepticism antennae are instantly raised: Why can’t we have a declared day without war? And if we can have one such day, why not two, and on and on.

That is the idealistic, albeit naïve, question that former television actor Jeremy Gilley asks, then puts his life on hold to make it happen. Thus begins a global journey that takes him from the halls of the United Nations to a combat zone in Kabul, Afghanistan for an eye-opening education in how to sell a notion that everyone should embrace but does not.

Gilley learns along the way that the best way to spread such a concept is the same way you sell soap -- with celebrity endorsements. Such bold face names as Angelina Jolie and Michael Douglas are seen soberly taking meetings for the sake of Peace One Day, the antiwar version of Smoke-Out Day.

Jude Law even gets so wrapped up in the movement that he travels with Gilley to the Middle East where he encounters the on-going conflict first-hand. As the years march on and several Peace Days come and go, the impossibility of the task becomes clear, but you have to be awed by Gilley and his dedication to the crusade.

A scene from Severe Clear.

Severe Clear (12 pm Sunday, Movies of Delray; 12 pm Monday, Lake Worth Playhouse): By now, there have been so many documentaries on the Iraq War, it seems difficult to approach the subject with a fresh cinematic perspective. But that is what director Kristian Fraga (Anytown, USA) has done by organizing the videocassettes of Marine 1st Lt. Mike Scotti, an early deployee in Operation Iraqi Freedom who shot a series of disjointed journal entries. The result is postcards from the edge, with minimal filter or agenda between the cinema-diarist and the audience.

Scotti took a mini-DV camera along on his 40-day odyssey aboard the U.S.S. Boxer and shot some truly candid, hand-held footage of his fellow Marines and their gallows humor, which gradually gets erased as their draw closer to a newly minted war that they neither understand nor question. Scotti reportedly handed over to Fraga a bagful of videotapes to make something of them. And while the images are startling in their freshness, it is the editing job, which gives the finished film its forward thrust, that is most impressive.

Graham Linthorst, subject of Autistic-Like: Graham's Story.

Autistic-Like: Graham’s Story (12 pm today, Movies of Delray): This highly personal documentary follows the plight of Erik and Jennie Linthorst, a young couple excited about the birth of their first child, who begin noticing obsessive behavior patterns in baby Graham that turn out to be classic symptoms of autism. So they struggle with what that means, climb the learning curve and seek treatment from a conflicted medical community. Meanwhile, Erik takes up his video camera and records their emotional journey.

The film is one step above a home movie, with art being beside the point. In his media statement, Linthorst concedes that his primary intended audience is other parents who are as confused as he and his wife were and desperate for answers. But in their dogged commitment to understanding autism, this Rain Man-meets-Lorenzo’s Oil story becomes a testament to determination.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Weekend arts picks: April 23-27

England's Chichester Cathedral.

Music: The Master Chorale of South Florida wraps its 2008-09 season with the Chichester Psalms of Leonard Bernstein, proof positive that it was good for the composer to stay away from conducting for a while and write; it was his 1965 sabbatical from the New York Philharmonic that engendered the creation of this classic of contemporary choral literature. The Chorale will be joined by the Florida Singing Sons Boychoir for its three night of concerts, which also include another modern classic, the Lux Aeterna of Morten Lauridsen, and the Old American Songs of Aaron Copland. 8 pm Friday, First Presbyterian Church of Pompano Beach; 8 pm Saturday, Congregational Church of Boca Raton/United Church of Christ, Boca Raton; 4 pm Sunday, Trinity Episcopal Church, Miami. Tickets: $35; $30 in advance. Call 954-418-6232 or visit

Shu-Ying Li as Madama Butterfly.

Beginning Saturday, Florida Grand Opera ends its 68th season with Madama Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 story of the trusting Japanese geisha girl and the callous American Navy lieutenant who does her wrong. The production runs through May 16. With Shu-Ying Li (April 25, May 1, 3, 5, 8, and 16) and Maria Kanyova (April 29, May 2, 9, 14) as Cio-Cio San; Arturo Chacon-Cruz (April 25, May 1, 3, 5, 8 and 16) and Alessandro Liberatore (April 29, May 2, 9, 14) as B.F. Pinkerton. 7 pm Saturday; 8 pm all other performances, except 2 pm May 3. Ziff Ballet Opera House, Miami, through the 9th. Tickets: $24-$225 Call 800-741-1010 or visit The production moves to the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale on May 14 and 16 for two shows. Tickets: $21-$200. Call 954-462-0222.

Conductor Eve Queler.

On Sunday, the last event in the Palm Beach Opera season occurs with its 40th annual vocal competition. This year, 14 finalists will compete for a total of $85,000 in prize money. Legendary conductor Eve Queler will direct the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra in this event beginning at 3 p.m. Tickets: $20-$75. Call 832-7469 or visit

The St. Paul's Episcopal Church series in Delray Beach continues Sunday with cellist Johanne Perron and pianist Fedora Horowitz. The two will perform the Arpeggione Sonata of Schubert (in A minor, D. 821), the Shostakovich sonata (in D minor, Op. 40), and the Grand Tango of Astor Piazzolla. Also scheduled are short French pieces by Faure, Ravel and the contemporary jazz composer Claude Bolling. 4 pm, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Delray Beach. Tickets: $15-$18. Call 278-6003, or visit

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel
in 500 Days of Summer.

Film: The Palm Beach International Film Festival, which got under way today with a showing of Stone of Destiny, continues through Monday with about 110 films on tap, including a look at the cinema of Italy curated by Veronica De Laurentiis, daughter of producer Dino De Laurentiis. Awards are being given to actor James Cromwell (Babe, W.) and director Joel Zwick, and the festival concludes with the romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel. Here is the schedule; call 362-0003 or visit for more information.