Press

Wed, January 9, 2019

A PRISM of PROTOTYPE’s INFINITE PSYCHOSIS for 2019
Broadway World

The result is spectacular, not only for the two principal singers—soprano Anna Schubert as Bibi and mezzo Rebecca Jo Loeb as Lumee were stunning—but for the orchestral ensemble NOVUS NY and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, under the firm grip of Julian Wachner.

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BWW Review: A PRISM of PROTOTYPE's INFINITE PSYCHOSIS for 2019

by Richard Sasanow Jan. 9, 2019  

Where are our Violettas, our Salomes, our Elektras--even our Lulus--for opera to move forward as an art form for the 21 century? They're all victims of stress and suffering of one sort or another, but still worth meeting up with--not only musically but dramatically--more than once.

I began thinking about this while watching the three new opera/music-theatre pieces--THE INFINITE HOTEL, 4.48 PSYCHOSIS and PRISM--that I visited during the opening days of the current edition of PROTOTYPE: OPERA/THEATRE/NOW, co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE.

Each was very different in its story-telling, each musically compelling in its own way. Yet, they had me wondering whether I was ready to bring these people back into my life again any time soon.

Michael Joseph McQuilken's THE INFINITE HOTEL

The first was THE INFINITE HOTEL, an immersive work conceived and directed by Michael Joseph McQuilken. It has quite an eclectic score: music and lyrics by Firehorse & The Few Moments (aka McQuilken himself), with select songs adapted from material written by Amanda Palmer (of the Dresden Dolls) & Jason Webley (experimental folk multi-instrumentalist) for this production and additional music for the composer-pianist character, Ben, by Sky White Tiger. (There's also "You'll Never Walk Alone" by Rodgers & Hammerstein early on.) All--plus some other music--were arranged by McQuilken for the production and the variety of styles somehow add up to a cohesive whole. Musical director Freddy Epstein kept it all moving swiftly.

It's a music-theatre/film/concert piece (rather than opera-ish) that consisted of a number of story strands that, eventually, formed a cohesive entity, helped by the scenic/lighting design of Maruti Evans and video design of Josh Higgason and Maxx Berkowitz. Not the least of its threads is a meta-"Star is Born" line that I thought took way too long completely exposing itself, though Leah Siegel as Jib (the Janet Gaynor-Judy Garland-Barbra Streisand-Lady Gaga character)--also a co-composer as part of Firehorse--was an almost constantly compelling presence.

The physical production, creative direction by Jon Morris, took good advantage of the large performing space at Brooklyn's Irondale Arts Center--incorporating a subway platform and a major concert space, among other locations. It combined live action and video of the same action from different angles (the sync was annoyingly out of whack at my performance) and added sound-mix through headphones for some of the audience.

There was also audience participation--stressing the interconnectedness theme--that worked well in bringing out a liveliness in the piece (giving a new meaning to "crowd funding," as the piece had underwriting from Kickstarter Performance).

I admit to feeling somewhat frustrated during the first part of the evening at the disjointed nature of the piece and the seemingly too-leisurely story-telling. The effectiveness of it all changed dramatically in the second part, where the story-telling was simplified and better at drawing us in, particularly when the truth [spoiler alert] about one of the characters being dead better clarifies some confusion.

According to McQuilken, the piece was lovingly created as "a balm for the division of people in our modern world," though I'm not sure it was as successful at putting across this aspect of the work.

Co-produced with Old Sound Room and The Windmill Factory.

Philip Venables's 4.48 PSYCHOSIS

Next came 4.48 PSYCHOSIS, an opera version of a play by Sarah Kane, the troubled, much-touted playwright who committed suicide before she was 30. Directed by Ted Huffman as it was at its premiere in May 2016, it has an arresting score by Philip Venables that was commissioned by the Royal Opera in London (though not for its Covent Garden location but for its indie-opera Lyric Hammersmith site, where this production was also rehearsed).

The play--her shortest and most fragmented work, with no plot or character or indication of how many actors were intended to voice the play--was completed shortly before her death. It was first performed in 2000, at London's Royal Court Theatre.

It was written when Kane was severely depressed and it deals with the "psychotic mind," according to David Grieg, a playwright and friend of Kane's. Grieg, who wrote the introduction to her collected works published after her death, says 4.48 was the frequent morning wake-up time for Kane in her depressed state.

Venables has scored it for six singers (three sopranos, three mezzos), including one who may be a stand-in for Kane herself (soprano Gweneth-Ann Rand), another a staff doctor (mezzo Lucy Schaufer) who may or may not exist, and four women (Lucy Hall, Susanna Hurrell, Samantha Price and Rachel Lloyd) who play a mysterious variety of roles, including voices in her head, hospital staff, a quartet of Valkyrie-like figures, among others. The demands on the singers is significant and sometimes call for unearthly sounds; they all succeeded notably.

Not all of the libretto is sung; some is projected on the wall. This is particularly unsettling when dealing with her drug regimen, varying dosages and their side-effects, and the homilies voiced to her about "getting better" to help stanch her pain, though it's likely she--as well as the audience--knows the truth.

The score, as played by Contemporaneous, an ensemble of 22 dedicated to current music, conducted by William Cole, did a superb job on the sometimes brutal, fierce and relentless music. Venables clearly understands what the playwright has to say and lets it crawl under his skin--and ours.

Surprisingly, the most unnerving music was the Muzak piped in through a loudspeaker at various times, trying to give the patients a false sense of calm. (But, as any of us who have been Muzak-ed, stuck in an elevator, know, it's hardly a breath of fresh air.)

Hannah Clark's simple set and costumes fit fluidly into director Huffman's production, where the singers slip in and out of character, with the musicians hovering over the stage.

Though it's hardly surprising given Kane's reputation, there is no humor whatsoever, as if the author's suicide is understood to be forthcoming, from the first notes of the score. I'm glad to have seen it and appreciate the creative forces that turned the play into such a raging work, but for me, the excesses of Kane's pain trumps the vitality of Venables's score.

Ellen Reid's PRISM with librettist Roxie Perkins

Finally, we get to PRISM by Ellen Reid and librettist Roxie Perkins, directed by James Darrah, which came with much build-up from its acclaimed premiere in Los Angeles a couple of months ago. The consensus: It was a stunning creation.

Reid has a vast, eclectic musical vocabulary that she shows differently in each of the three sections of the piece, here impressionistic, there electronic dance music, then a sort of Gregorian chant and what amounts to more traditional arias musically, among other styles used. Of course, the composer didn't simply toss this off--the opera has been in progress for five years or so, giving her the time to develop her musical voice. I particularly liked the soaring aria-like piece for Lumee, the mother, in the flashback to the disco where the trauma to Bibi, her daughter, took place.

The result is spectacular, not only for the two principal singers--soprano Anna Schubert as Bibi and mezzo Rebecca Jo Loeb as Lumee were stunning--but for the orchestral ensemble NOVUS NY and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, under the firm grip of Julian Wachner. (There's also a quartet of dancers who play key roles in the spectacle.) Darrah, who has been involved with PRISM through its development, has done some of his best work here--he's a very busy guy--elucidating the intricacies of the piece.

Yes, Reid is a significant talent in the contemporary music field and her commissions from the LA Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale and LA Chamber Orchestra--along with PRISM from the LA Opera and Beth Morrison Projects--are clear examples of the high esteem in which she's held. Yet, as with many contemporary operas, the libretto is key to its success, and Perkins has played her job well.

She's been entrusted with providing the haunting framework that describes "the elasticity of memory after trauma" and, for the most part, she has succeeded in dealing with Bibi's plight, as she tries to crawl back from the edge of madness where she retreated to protect herself from her experience. The librettist has used her own interest in color--how it can emotionally structure repressed memories--and how trauma can "corrode" language to enrich the story in interesting ways. Perkins shows Bibi's world in two colors: yellow is safe, blue is what she's trying to forget. And she sees what at first seems like nonsense words, which reveal themselves as syllables of words that have run together in her mind.

Of course, Bibi has a major problem to deal with: Her mother--now trying to protect her--as the cause of her trauma. She dragged her daughter along to a dance club because she didn't want to leave her home alone and the result was catastrophic. The trauma of the event is always there, unexpectedly rearing its ugly head when Bibi lets down her guard for a moment.

Yes, loose ends may get tied up a little too neatly, as Bibi makes her escape (though I certainly don't want to make light of the creators' own traumas that may have been incorporated into the work, as implied in the program notes). Finally, Bibi recognizes that she's caught in Sartre's hell--and that the "other people" is her mother. As Bibi starts to come to grips with her trauma, she begins to understand that while her room, and being with her mother, is not a place of physical torture--there are no flames engulfing her--it is impossible to stay there. Like Ibsen's Nora, she has to slam the door behind her before she can begin to truly recover.

PRISM was quite an experience and I look forward to hearing more of Reid's work. As for living through her trauma again, well, that's another story.

Produced by Beth Morrison Projects in association with Trinity Church Wall Street.

Wed, January 9, 2019

Portraits of Pain at the Prototype Festival
The Wall Street Journal

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the instrumental ensemble NOVUS NY, conducted by Julian Wachner, were splendid.

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OPERA REVIEW

Portraits of Pain at the Prototype Festival
The opera-theater festival’s two big shows, ‘prism’ and ‘4.48 Psychosis,’ portray varieties of mental chaos

By Heidi Waleson
Jan. 9, 2019 4:50 p.m. ET

New York

The opera-theater pieces of the Prototype Festival tackle unconventional subjects, often in uncomfortable ways, and two big shows of its seventh season are no exception. At La MaMa, Ellen Reid’s gripping “prism” (it had its world premiere in November at the LA Opera) starts out mysteriously. Who are these two women, Bibi (Anna Schubert) and Lumee (Rebecca Jo Loeb), snuggled in bed together in a cozy white room whose door has multiple locks? Bibi can barely stand. Lumee tries to get her to take medicine; she spits it out. They recite a sequence of nonsense words and enact rituals. There’s talk of memory and forgetting; that yellow is safe, but blue, which is outside the door, is not; that Bibi is getting worse, and her bones will soon turn to dust. Is Lumee Bibi’s protector, or something more sinister?

The strangeness of Roxie Perkins’s libretto turns out to be deliberate. This is an internal struggle, a depiction of PTSD following a sexual assault, and the things ricocheting around inside the sufferer’s head probably don’t make sense to anyone else. However, Ms. Reid’s urgent, kaleidoscopic music clearly supplies the turbulent emotional soundtrack of Bibi’s world: the sweet, Copland-like melodies with strings, harp and flute that evoke the safety of forgetting; the horn and percussion that accompany her will to remember and heal; the alluring offstage chorus that tempts her to stand up and open the door. The music gets wilder, with infusions of rock and electronics, in the flashback Act II, which depicts the precipitating event—a sexual assault in a club. Act III is a swifter, grittier replay of Act I, ending with Bibi’s escape.

Ms. Schubert’s pure, naked soprano gave a piercing intensity to Bibi’s pain, and her acting of physical impairment was persuasive; Ms. Loeb’s mezzo, alternately soothing and threatening, made her an intriguing foil. (It’s not clear if Lumee is really Bibi’s mother, who left her child alone to be assaulted and is now overcompensating, or simply a voice in Bibi’s head, but the ambiguity is interesting.) The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the instrumental ensemble Novus NY, conducted by Julian Wachner, were splendid.

James Darrah’s elaborate production provided this mental world with a vivid, concrete shape. Designer Adam Rigg’s creepy all-white room gave way to 24 hanging disco balls to represent the club, and then to the messy squat of Act III; Pablo Santiago drenched the sets with colored light; Molly Irelan did the costumes, which included a childish baby-doll nightgown for Bibi in Act II. Four dancers, in writhing choreography by assistant director Chris Emile, represented the danger and excitement of the world outside the room of forgetting.

As an experience of psychological disturbance, Philip Venables’s “4.48 Psychosis,” at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, makes “prism” look like a walk in the park. Based on the final play of Sarah Kane, who suffered from mental illness and killed herself at age 28 in 1999, “4.48 Psychosis” is 90 relentless minutes of raw pain and mental chaos.

Six women, headed by soprano Gweneth-Ann Rand, speak and sing as the voices of the protagonist; they are often drowned out by the heavily amplified 14-member orchestra (Contemporaneous, conducted by William Cole), which includes saxophones and an accordion. Mr. Venables varies his techniques, but even the musically calmer moments are full of agony. A Baroque-like lament is overwhelmed by strings that wail like sirens; texts of conversations between the patient and her doctor, projected on the wall of the set, are violently pounded out by two percussionists (at one point, the doctor is represented by a snare drum, at another, a saw). A long list of drugs, with their terrible side effects and ultimate failure to make any difference, becomes a litany, accompanied by a rollicking orchestra, that is almost comic in its grotesqueness. A blast from an organ ushers in a moment of religious contemplation and clarity, soon exploded into a vocal and instrument cacophony so extreme that the only recourse is electroshock therapy. Yet through the noise you hear the patient’s longing, however hopeless, for some connection that will allow her to stay alive.

This Royal Opera House, Covent Garden production, originally staged at the Lyric, Hammersmith in London in 2016, was directed by Ted Huffman.Hannah Clark’s simple set is a shallow white box with three doors, a few chairs and a table (the orchestra is positioned above); D.M. Wood’s stark lighting alternately floods and shadows this bleak world. The six women, all in the same gray sweater, jeans and sneakers, convincingly portray the protagonist’s fragmented mind, whether they are challenging and throttling each other or singing in ensemble. It’s a place where no one could want to live. If 90 minutes is too long, it’s excruciating to imagine what it would be like for years.

—Ms. Waleson writes on opera for the Journal and is the author of “Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America” (Metropolitan).

Mon, January 7, 2019

Trauma Queens
Parterre Box

They were magnificently supported by the 14-member NOVUS NY orchestra led by Julian Wachner whom I’ve previously admired conducting early opera and here who drew keenly virtuosic playing from his forces. The principals and the 13-person Trinity Choir were ably abetted by Garth MacAleavey’s sensitive sound design and discreet micing.

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trauma queens

by Christopher Corwin | 12:08 pm | Jan 7, 2019

Though barely a week old, 2019 has already provided New Yorkers with an essential, breathtaking music drama focusing on two women struggling for their very survival. The Met’s Adriana? No, that’s so last year! 

Sunday night saw the local premiere of Prism, an inscrutable yet mesmerizingly beautiful new opera by Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins that serves as one of the centerpieces of the wildly ambitious PROTOTYPE Festival currently running for the next week throughout the city.

I must admit that contemporary opera doesn’t always float my boat and yet for every turgid The Exterminating Angel there’s a provocative and satisfying Written on Skin.

So when La Cieca exhorted several of us to get our butts downtown to this year’s Prototype, I was both wary and cautiously optimistic as the festival since 2013 (in conjunction with Beth Morrison Projects and HERE) has been enlivening bleak Januarys with some of the most interesting new works like Breaking the Waves and Acquanetta.

But I wasn’t prepared for Prism, the riveting work that greeted me at the East Village’s fabled La Mama Ellen Stewart Theater, an often baffling yet haunting experience that has continued to disturb me hours and hours later.

The friend who attended Prism with me had recently confided to me his fascination with the work of the American director Peter Sellars. I mentioned that I learned back in the day to just let his productions work their magic and to never read Sellars’s pages and pages of single-spaced explanations before the show began.

Perhaps with that in mind, in the moments before the opera started, I failed to scan Reid’s and Perkins’s brief notes on Prism and thereby struggled mightily to make sense of their work which eschews traditional forms of operatic storytelling.

After the performance I learned that their intention was to create a piece about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from a sexually traumatic event. I must admit that my initial deciphering of the clues presented to me on stage often led me to some wildly different guesses yet their work proved so richly engrossing that it will surely engender many varied interpretations.

The setting of the work’s three brief acts moves from a small stark white bedroom to a vast dance club cluttered with hanging mirrored disco balls to a return to that same bedroom cluttered with boxes of clothes with walls now completely covered by flowery murals.

In those spaces the older Lumee and the younger Bibi enact a blighted ritual of illness and violence, confinement and escape. Are they lovers (they are first glimpsed sleeping together in a small double bed) or mother and daughter or caretaker and patient as Bibi appears to suffer from a debilitating disease which has left her unable to walk.

Their stylized, poetic dialogues range from debating the mysterious “Blue” which has caused the sickness and which waits ominously outside the bedroom door to Bibi’s determination to free herself from their oppressive confinement.

The work’s daring elusiveness made me grasp at its possible allusiveness. Somewhere I remember reading of a connection to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film The Bitter Tears of Petra van Kant and the floridly painted walls of Adam Rigg’s third-act bedroom set seemed to explicitly evoke the German director’s baroque vision of lesbian hell.

It was easy then to interpret the first act as perverse game-playing by unhappy lovers but that reading only led me so far. Then, the torturous cat-and-mouse between a nurse and her patient in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona in which one of the roles is played by an actress named Bibi also came to mind as I attempted to untangle the work’s threads. That line of inquiry too wasn’t fully fruitful but my growing mystification only increased my curiosity.

Reid’s eclectic, gorgeous score is helped immeasurably by Perkins’s pungent yet graceful text which skillfully avoids the common traps that befall many contemporary librettists who either become numbingly prosaic or bewilderingly abstract.

A special joy was Reid’s grateful vocal writing which instead of tormenting the singers allowed them to soar not scream. The plush tonal writing eventually turned harsh and dissonant as the turbulent subject matter became more and more harrowing yet it was never off-putting in the way some difficult new operas can be.

The two sopranos, Anna Schubert as Bibi and Rebecca Jo Loeb as Lumee, were astonishing, singing their demanding music with lustrous freedom while enacting their rigorously punishing roles with compelling intensity.

Loeb with the bigger richer instrument shone especially in Lumee’s rapturous second-act dream/suicide aria while Schubert’s lighter higher voice coped impressively with her ever more dramatic writing embodying Bibi’s frightening journey.

They were magnificently supported by the 14-member NOVUS NY orchestra led by Julian Wachner whom I’ve previously admired conducting early opera and here who drew keenly virtuosic playing from his forces. The principals and the 13-person Trinity Choir were ably abetted by Garth MacAleavey’s sensitive sound design and discreet micing.

The supertitles were helpful for the dense, sometimes fugitive text but the performers’s clear and communicative diction made almost them superfluous.

James Darrah’s elegantly vivid, consistently involving production was a gift to this difficult piece. Despite his intricate work, I feel I haven’t begun to plumb the depths and intricacies of this prismatic work and it surely deserves multiple viewings and further study.

When I spotted Isabel Leonard at intermission, I was reminded of Marnie, Nico Muhly’s recent Met stumble that dealt more conventionally if far less interestingly with complex female psycho-sexual issues. And there is more music in ten minutes of Prism that I long to hear again than in the whole of Marnie!

Five performances of Prism remain this week in New York but it seems clear that after its Los Angeles Opera world premiere last month it should have a long life worldwide and a recording would definitely be in order. One awaits the next Reid-Perkins collaboration with awe and eager expectation.

Mon, January 7, 2019

Prototype Festival, New York — from awkward to superb
Financial Times

What makes Prism so compelling is not just its text and the fine singing of Anna Schubert and Rebecca Jo Loeb. There is a brilliant production from James Darrah, with striking decor and lighting, and fine playing and choral singing from the forces of Trinity Wall Street and its commanding conductor, Julian Wachner. Above all there is Reid’s score. The vocal lines for the two women are compelling, often beautiful, but the thrill lies in the orchestra and the kaleidoscopic musical idioms Reid so deftly deploys.

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Prototype Festival, New York — from awkward to superb

Musical theatre works performed over the opening weekend varied in quality but all evinced a sterling professionalism

John Rockwell JANUARY 7, 2019

The annual Prototype Festival of new works of musical theatre, this year scattered among 11 venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn, has become a New York institution. The offerings vary widely in quality. The 2019 crop range from the superb to the awkward, but all evince a sterling professionalism and attracted eager audiences.

Often Prototype’s highlights have been first seen out of town. That was true for Ellen Reid’s Prism at Café La MaMa, which premiered in November in Los Angeles, where most of her big successes have come. With Prism she takes her place among the host of promising young American opera composers (she’s 35). Her opera explores the disorienting impact of post-traumatic stress disorder in relation to sexual assault. Reid and her librettist, Roxie Perkins, write in the programme notes that they have been victims themselves. The allusive, poetic text, caught between dream and nightmare, starts out with a traumatised girl and her smothering mother. Eventually the girl is transported to a flashing disco and finally breaks free altogether.

What makes Prism so compelling is not just its text and the fine singing of Anna Schubert and Rebecca Jo Loeb. There is a brilliant production from James Darrah, with striking decor and lighting, and fine playing and choral singing from the forces of Trinity Wall Street and its commanding conductor, Julian Wachner. Above all there is Reid’s score. The vocal lines for the two women are compelling, often beautiful, but the thrill lies in the orchestra and the kaleidoscopic musical idioms Reid so deftly deploys.

Philip Venables' adaptation of Sarah Kane's '4.48 Psychosis' started in London in 2016 and was reprised there last year; in New York it is showing at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, with further stops planned for Germany and France. Kane’s play was first seen in 2000, a year after her suicide. The opera depicts the acute depression, not to say madness, of the protagonist, and the fragmentary text is set for six women singers plus a recorded spoken voice, a swirling coven of friends, nurses and hallucinations. Venables’s writing for voices and instruments remains unflinchingly intense, and Gweneth-Ann Rand is deeply disturbing as the central figure.

Prototype’s opening weekend also included Train with No Midnight at the HERE Arts Center’s downstairs space, a droll blend of comic narration and art-pop songs from Joseph Keckler. (I had to leave this one a few minutes early because of the festival’s tight schedule.)

Otherwise, at HERE’s Mainstage, we had This Tree by rock singer/cellist Leah Coloff, the tree in question being her family tree, which she is not continuing because of her inability to conceive. It is musically strong but thematically self-involved. Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance at the Bric House in Brooklyn tries to portray the Texas-Mexico border country through the lens of the Mexican revolutionary. But the text seems disjointed and the music by Graham Reynolds lacks individuality and flavour.  

Mon, January 7, 2019

Cataclysmic Suffering Sprawls Through the Prototype Festival
The New York Times

Ellen Reid’s score is accessible in the best way, disconcertingly sweet without being syrupy, with occasional whispers of choral voices so soft they’re almost more odor than sound. The truly prismatic Choir of Trinity Wall Street is astonishing here; Trinity’s new-music ensemble, Novus NY, plays beautifully under Julian Wachner.

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CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK

Cataclysmic Suffering Sprawls Through the Prototype Festival

By Zachary Woolfe

Jan. 7, 2019

Opera is an art form of affliction. It’s a genre that has long made a specialty of giving trauma stature and structure.

But even by that standard, the marquee productions of this year’s Prototype, the festival of new music-theater that sprawls throughout the city and runs through Sunday, are extreme. There are scenes in “Prism,” “ThisTree” and especially “4.48 Psychosis” of almost cataclysmic suffering, the kind of pain that lingers without reason or resolution.

“4.48” is an adaptation of the final work by Sarah Kane, the British playwright who died in 1999. A fragmented, incantatory immersion in clinical depression, filled with descriptions of psychotropic drugs, sets of numbers, angry rants and stark wordplay, the script specifies neither characters nor precise plot, nor even the number of performers.

Seen on the page, the words scattered amid expanses of white, it can seem more like modernist poetry than theater. It is, in other words, as easily made into a score as into anything.

In his opera, which had its premiere with the Royal Opera in London in 2016, the composer Philip Venables has found in Kane’s material a landscape of iciness and sensitivity, in which speaking and singing flow into one another with uncanny ease.

Six women — one a loosely defined protagonist, the others her echoes and tormentors — chant and babble in shifting configurations, sometimes glassy and sometimes full-cry. Faint drones of organ (produced by synthesizer) rise to Grand Guignol surges, helped along by accordion. Heavily amplified, almost cartoonish stomping, heavy on low brass, gives way to coolly rending lyricism, like a Baroque lament by John Dowland, thinly frosted by violins playing in their highest register.

The score, played here by the ensemble Contemporaneous under William Cole’s direction, ingeniously translates some fraught conversations between a doctor and patient into a percussion duet. Syllables are rhythmically tapped out as the words appear, projected on the set, while waiting-room Muzak plays — softly, infuriatingly — in the background. A hammer harshly clinking against a pipe, with a bell providing the question mark, is answered by despairing deep thwacks of fists on a drum: Mr. Venables gives us wit, hostility and poignancy, all at once.

Ted Huffman’s clean yet passionate, intimate production adds, intentionally or not, a newly bitter element. The main performer, Gweneth-Ann Rand, is black, and the other five women are white, giving their relentless persecution of her yet another facet of horror. All in all, this “4.48” avoids neither the text’s moments of pitch-black humor nor its passages of luminous air; it doesn’t prettify Kane, nor does it make her brutality unendurable. Elegantly ferocious, it is this unclassifiable play as music.

“Prism” (the creators make the title lowercase and place spaces between its letters) is also an attempt to depict the brutality of interior life. Its first act poses an intriguing mystery: What is this strange scene?

A mother and her daughter, dressed in white, are locked in an immaculately clean room — outside of which some strange force, referred to as Blue, threatens. The daughter seems to have a progressive wasting illness that has left her with barely any use of her legs. Together they repeat lines of seeming nonsense — Roxie Perkins’s libretto is full of the ominously capitalized words of dystopian fiction — and follow eerily precise rules as they try to cure the daughter’s illness.

Ellen Reid’s score is accessible in the best way, disconcertingly sweet without being syrupy, with occasional whispers of choral voices so soft they’re almost more odor than sound. The truly prismatic Choir of Trinity Wall Street is astonishing here; Trinity’s new-music ensemble, Novus NY, plays beautifully under Julian Wachner.

It’s a haunting beginning, but the next acts answer its questions too literally. Jumping back in time, we learn that the daughter, Bibi (Anna Schubert), was raped after being left alone at a dance club by her mother, Lumee (Rebecca Jo Loeb), the aftermath of which is rendered as painful pricks of sound and the barest noise of voices breathing.

In a violent reaction of remorse and PTSD, they retreat together into a messy rat hole — the reality of the pristine idyll we saw at the start — in a grimly ineffectual attempt at healing. The question: Can Bibi escape the regressive world her mother has invented to protect her?

James Darrah’s staging is striking, with the locked room a frightening terrarium and the club a sea of low-hanging disco balls. But visual elegance can’t take away from the fact that that thumping club scene and the rushed-feeling finale come off as letdowns after Ms. Reid and Ms. Perkins’s spookily suggestive opening.

Leah Coloff’s “ThisTree” is mellower than “Prism” and “4.48 Psychosis,” but still unstinting. A cellist, composer and vocalist, Ms. Coloff leads a six-woman band in what is, at heart, a cabaret show: a series of memoir monologues alternating with folky, bluesy numbers sung in her sometimes feathery, sometimes husky, sometimes warbly voice.

She intertwines her family’s pioneer past and the parentage secrets it kept with an account of her struggles with infertility. This is forbidding stuff, but Ms. Coloff’s touch is light, her presence warm. She’s not sentimental — and idiosyncratic touches, like a giant red bonnet, an enormous hand-stitched denim cape and tough-to-pin-down lyrics, keep things helpfully weird — but she isn’t unemotional. She is, simply, honest.

These aren’t the only productions in this year’s Prototype, presented by Beth Morrison Projects and the arts center HERE. “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance,” composed by Graham Reynolds and with a libretto by the collective Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol, is a cozy, bilingual, semistaged oratorio for two singers (including the soaringly sweet tenor Paul Sanchez) and a rollicking roadhouse band.

Reflections on the famous revolutionary’s life and death — and, pointedly, on the gringos who watched the war in which he took part from the safe distance of the title — are interspersed with quietly riveting footage of interviews with a Mexican teenager who claims to have heard voices urging him to immerse himself in Villa’s story.

Written and directed by Michael Joseph McQuilken, “The Infinite Hotel,” a shotgun marriage of “A Star Is Born” and a ghost story, is an ambitiously busy show that fills the Irondale Center in Brooklyn with cameras and screens. (You may think of Ivo van Hove’s signature style of self-reflexive multimedia explosion.) Some of the audience watches from above, with the sound mix coming through headphones. Some participate as extras — directed in real time — in the filming of the production, which results in a unique feature-length creation from each performance.

Often sounding uncannily like Lady Gaga, Leah Siegel sings with earthy rock authority as a subway singer-songwriter turned arena sensation. But all the technical bells and whistles, while smoothly produced, ultimately feel less like integral elements than a distraction from stock characters and a thin, overlong plot.

“The Infinite Hotel” ends with the mawkish spectacle of a dead father holding his daughter. “4.48 Psychosis” closes with apocalypse — and inevitably, for all of us who see it now, with thoughts of Kane’s actual suicide. “ThisTree” concludes with moving modesty: the simple recognition that this is how things are.

And does Bibi escape at the end of “Prism”? In a culture so single-mindedly focused on personal empowerment and victory over victimization, how could she not? But this rings false. Opera doesn’t need its heroines merely to suffer. But it needs their victories to feel genuine rather than tacked on.

Sun, December 23, 2018

John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio
The New York Times

The small ensemble of Trinity singers, some doubling as percussionists, responded to the score in kind, performing with compassion. Mr. Wachner kept them so quiet, his hands almost never came above his waist while he conducted; by contrast, he practically danced through Handel’s spirited Dixit Dominus in the evening’s second half.

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CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK

John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio

By Joshua Barone

Dec. 23, 2018

New Yorkers are never wanting for Handel’s “Messiah” during the holidays. It’s on the calendar of every major concert hall and may be the only musical work performed in all five boroughs this month.

Nothing could dethrone Handel’s oratorio, but worthy alternatives in choral music are out there. (And I’m not just talking about Bach.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently offered two modern holiday oratorios that are intimate, affecting and quietly rich with activism: John Adams’s “El Niño” and David Lang’s “the little match girl passion.”

As part of the soprano Julia Bullock’s yearlong residency with the museum, “El Niño” came to the Fuentidueña Chapel at the Met Cloisters on Friday in the program “Nativity Reconsidered” — though a more appropriate title would have been “Nativity Condensed.” This was the premiere of a new version of the work, trimmed by an hour and arranged (by Preben Antonsen, with contributions by Chad Cannon and Christian Reif) for four singers and a small ensemble, conducted by Mr. Reif.

Such a small scale may sound nothing like “El Niño,” a sweeping, nearly two-hour Nativity oratorio written for vocal soloists, a trio of countertenors, a full orchestra and choir, and a children’s chorus. In her program notes for the Met, Ms. Bullock called it one of the greatest collaborations of Mr. Adams and Peter Sellars, who compiled the libretto’s text and directed the work’s staged premiere in 2000.

I’d tend to agree with Ms. Bullock. The daunting “El Niño” doesn’t get performed often, which is a shame because it may be the peak of Mr. Adams and Mr. Sellars’s partnership: the awesome choral and orchestral writing of “Nixon in China,” and a poignant found-text libretto that shows a restraint lacking in later operas like “Doctor Atomic” and “Girls of the Golden West.”

The abbreviated “El Niño,” however, showcases just a slice of the work’s greatness. Gone are the choruses (even the dizzying Part I finale “The Christmas Star”) and some of the most earthshaking instrumental passages. What remains are about a dozen of the oratorio’s more meditative and lyrical numbers that dramatically streamline the Nativity story. It’s not necessarily worse — just unfortunate if you know what else is possible with this piece.

Some of the sections were spoken where they used to be sung, giving Friday’s performance the feel of a Catholic Mass’s readings and responses. The concert began with Ms. Bullock, standing under an apse depicting the Archangel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, reciting an English translation of Rosaria Castellanos’s poem “La Anunciación” over a cello drone. Joined by the mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges, she sang “Se habla de Gabriel,” a melodic duet with a coda by the bass-baritone Davoné Tines.

With these three singers, “El Niño” was in safe hands. They starred in “Girls of the Golden West” last season at San Francisco Opera; Ms. Bullock was also a standout in the recording of “Doctor Atomic” released this year. So they were well equipped to navigate Mr. Adams’s vocal music: its exquisite and enveloping lyricism, but also the way it treats syllables as musical notes to be repeated and rearranged, creating an entire breathless passage from a single word. (The fourth soloist was the countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo.)

Ms. Bullock, her voice by turns warm and teeming with urgency, felt at times larger than the chapel itself: towering in the “Magnificat” and chilling “Memorial de Tlatelolco.” And the way she programmed “El Niño” elevated an already-revisionist work to something much more powerful.

She put together the concert with help from the fledging yet formidable American Modern Opera Company, which supplied instrumentalists. (She is a member, as are Mr. Tines and Mr. Costanzo.) While “El Niño” reclaims the Nativity story for women — shifting the focus to Mary and motherhood, and incorporating texts by female poets from Latin America — Ms. Bullock went a step further by bringing the piece, and performers of color, to a space typically associated with European history and power.

There is subtle activism, too, in “the little match girl passion” (2008), which the Choir of Trinity Wall Street — led by Julian Wachner, a master of “Messiah” as well — recently sang at the Met’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Mr. Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorioblends the form of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” with Hans Christian Andersen’s story about a poor girl who tries to sell matches on the street but is ignored and freezes to death, for a haunting portrait of homelessness during the holidays.

Mr. Lang’s music here is direct but not forceful, and simple enough to linger in your mind long after a concert. In the passages where the little match girl’s story is told, the text comes through with crystal clarity; there is no way to avoid the details of her sorrowful tale.

The small ensemble of Trinity singers, some doubling as percussionists, responded to the score in kind, performing with compassion. Mr. Wachner kept them so quiet, his hands almost never came above his waist while he conducted; by contrast, he practically danced through Handel’s spirited Dixit Dominus in the evening’s second half.

Like the reduced “El Niño,” Mr. Lang’s piece is brief. In the future, the two could make for a stirring double bill. One oratorio would prompt you to reconsider the story of Christmas; the other, to think twice before ignoring someone in need as you head home.

Fri, December 21, 2018

Favorite Christmas Sounds: The Week in Classical Music
The New York Times

Two, yes two, versions of this year’s iteration of The Best “Messiah” in New York are currently available for streaming on the website of Trinity Wall Street, one from last Friday, the other from Monday.

Monday’s, in particular, is a classic demonstration of what the conductor Julian Wachner and his forces have been trying to do with this piece over the years — overwhelming vibrancy in the choral work; somewhat patchy but undeniably honest solo singing; virtuosic period-instrument playing; and, overall, a unmatched sense of drama.

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THAT DECISIVE MOMENT

Favorite Christmas Sounds: The Week in Classical Music

Dec. 21, 2018

Readers! This week we covered

— the slow and steady demise of subscription sales at Lyric Opera of Chicago

— five (count ’em!) “Messiah” performances in New York

— “Otello” at the Met, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel

— Ensemble Correspondances, in music of Charpentier

— The Met’s abridged, English-language, family-friendly “Magic Flute”

I leave you with four favorite Christmas selections. Enjoy, and may your holidays be full of music! ZACHARY WOOLFE

 

Last weekend was the second annual Run AMOC! Festival at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., a celebration of the American Modern Opera Company, a troupe of young and preternaturally talented musicians and dancers dedicated to collaboration and experimentation, led by artistic directors Matthew Aucoin and Zack Winokur.

The three intimate concerts I heard on Saturday were blindingly impressive. One fun hour had Emi Ferguson playing Bach’s flute sonatas with a six-part continuo band, Ruckus, improvising on the figured bass, a fizzing, daring display of personality and imagination. Another was a concert of duets, everything from Mr. Aucoin’s ferocious “Dual” (played by the cellist Coleman Itzkoff and the bassist Doug Balliett) to a demonstration of raw power, virtuosity and feeling from the percussionist Jonny Allen and the dancer Julia Eichten in Iannis Xenakis’s “Rebonds.”

None of that quite came close, though, to the spell cast by the pianist Conor Hanick in a complete account of John Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes” at The Ex, probably the best instrumental concert I have seen all year by virtue of its rethinking of the basics of what a recital might be. Performing with his back to an audience seated in an arc around him, Mr. Hanick’s playing was breathtaking, at once penetrating and mystifying. But it benefited immeasurably from imaginative lighting in this black-box theater from Christopher Gilmore — a spotlight down on the open piano here; torchlight slowly roaming there; and, as the last, tender sonata drifted away, darkness, lit only by the score on an iPad, until it, too, turned to black. DAVID ALLEN

 

The annoying scaffolding that proliferates around New York can sometimes seem permanently affixed to buildings in perpetual repair. But outside a drawing studio on Broome Street on the Lower East Side, it provided a makeshift refuge on a rainy Friday for the intrepid performers and music lovers who gathered at noon for “Characters of the Dance,” one of the programs for this year’s citywide Make Music Winter, an annual solstice event. (The program was supposed to have taken place down the block in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park.)

The star (and host) was the flutist Andrew Bolotowsky, who wore a Santa Claus hat and had the physique to match, complete with beard and chortling manner. He began by leading the 20 or so people who showed up in a singalong of holiday favorites, everything from “Jingle Bell Rock” to “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming.” Then three dancers, dressed in colorful costumes and 18th-century-ish powdered wigs, performed a montage of early ballet steps as Mr. Bolotowsky played Jean-Féry Rebel’s “Les Caractères de la Danse” (1715). The dancers had about a seven-square-foot patch of protected sidewalk on which to execute their bouncing steps and turns. To end the program, before “everybody melts from the rain,” he said, Mr. Bolotowsky performed some lively Couperin, and kept right on playing even as a garbage truck bellowed nearby. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

 

At this time of year, I inevitably end up working my way through recordings of “Messiah,” if only to be reminded of the tremendous diversity of ideas performers of Handel’s masterpiece have had over the decades. Two, yes two, versions of this year’s iteration of The Best “Messiah” in New York are currently available for streaming on the website of Trinity Wall Street, one from last Friday, the other from Monday.

Monday’s, in particular, is a classic demonstration of what the conductor Julian Wachner and his forces have been trying to do with this piece over the years — overwhelming vibrancy in the choral work; somewhat patchy but undeniably honest solo singing; virtuosic period-instrument playing; and, overall, a unmatched sense of drama. But for sheer satisfaction I usually find myself turning back 50 or 60 years, to three takes on “Messiah” undimmed by age: Colin Davis’s wholly reliable account from 1966 with the London Symphony; the unending glory of Otto Klemperer’s profoundly spiritual taping with the Philharmonia in 1964; and, the maddest of all recordings, Hermann Scherchen’s drawn-out version from 1959, from Vienna, at once bafflingly monumental and unbelievably tender. DAVID ALLEN

 

Kathryn Lewek, who made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2013 as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” is back singing the role in a family-friendly, trimmed-down, English-language version of the opera, a holiday presentation of Julie Taymor’s popular production. On Wednesday, in the character’s two big arias, this fearless soprano dispensed the fiery runs and multiple leaps to F with utter confident and coolly radiant sound. Here she is in an earlier Met performance of the role (in the original German). When is the Met going to give her opportunities in other roles? ANTHONY TOMMASINI

 

Over the last two seasons, the exceptional young lyric tenor Ben Bliss has been on a roll in Mozart at the Metropolitan Opera. He just returned to the house as Tamino in “The Magic Flute,” and he sang beautifully. Last spring he was Ferrando in Phelim McDermott’s vividly reimagined new production of “Così Fan Tutte,” which sets the story in 1950s Coney Island. Here’s Mr. Bliss, looking like a everyday guy in Brooklyn pining over his girlfriend, singing the ardent aria “Un’aura amorosa.” ANTHONY TOMMASINI

 

The soprano Sissieretta Jones sang for four consecutive American presidents before she died in 1933, toured Europe and South America, and was a headliner at both Steinway and Carnegie halls. (Michael Cooper wrote her long-belated obituary in August.) On Monday at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, a tribute event sought to reclaim some of her past glory.

“Sissieretta Jones: Call Her By Her Name,” which the soprano Jessye Norman has long been developing alongside Adina Williams, of National Sawdust, and the soprano Harolyn Blackwell, included poetry by Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison as well as readings from Ms. Sissiereta’s own notes by Alicia Hall Moran. Operatic tunes culled from a varied career were recreated; Darryl McDaniels of the rap group Run-DMC recited Langston Hughes; dancers whirled to the music of Scott Joplin and Richard Strauss.

While the selections were not always the most inspired — I could have done without another rendition of Angelou’s “I Rise” — the chance to hear Ms. Norman and Ms. Blackwell in conversation after the show more than made up for it. Ms. Norman was her usual winking, wry self: “Oh, that old thing?” she said with a laugh, when asked to reflect on her voice. “I have no memory of not wanting to sing something. I sing all day to myself — sometimes it disturbs others in the house who don’t know what’s going on.” JOEL ROZEN

Fri, December 21, 2018

A Critic Gives Prizes for 5 ‘Messiah’ Concerts in New York
The New York Times

Most relevant: Trinity Wall Street

There’s a reason Trinity’s “Messiah” sits at the top of critics’ lists each year. Mr. Wachner’s take on the score is fresh and urgent, and members of the nimble professional choir step out to sing solos, creating a sense of the oratorio as town hall meeting. In this year’s intimate setting — George Washington prayed at St. Paul’s Chapel after his inauguration in 1789 — even modest voices shone, and certain phrases of the text were especially resonant, like “and the government shall be upon his shoulders.”

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CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK

A Critic Gives Prizes for 5 ‘Messiah’ Concerts in New York

By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

Dec. 21, 2018

Handel’s “Messiah” plays no part in the Christmas memories of my childhood in Brussels. In our German Lutheran home, Bach provided the soundtrack. The jubilant opening to his Christmas Oratorio, with its excited trumpets and timpani, rang in the exchange of presents.

It was as a high school exchange student in Pittsburgh that I first encountered Handel’s oratorio, at a “Messiah” singalong where your voice type, rather than your ticket, determined where you sat in the hall. I fell in love with the work’s endless variety of melody and mood, the earthshaking bass arias, the airy calm of the later soprano solos. The pungent beauty of the Tudor text was a revelation to me right at the time that English was becoming my chosen first language. When I returned home, I built Handel’s oratorio into my holiday ritual, listening to my parents’ Neville Marriner recording while wrapping presents or decorating the tree.

I’ve since converted to Judaism, but the work’s themes of yearning for peace, empathy and redemption continue to touch me. This year, I embarked on a “Messiah” marathon, taking in five performances over two weeks. While my professional ear tried to figure out which was the best, I was also curious to hear how the piece changes from one setting to the next and how this music, written in 1741, fits into the fabric of our time.

I began at David Geffen Hall with the New York Philharmonic, joined by the Westminster Symphonic Choir, led by Jonathan Cohen. Next was the Choir of Trinity Wall Street with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Julian Wachner at St. Paul’s Chapel.

Two “Messiahs” at Carnegie Hall followed, both conducted by Kent Tritle: one with the Oratorio Society of New York, featuring a 200-member amateur choir, the other with the professional group Musica Sacra, accompanied on period instruments.

The final performance, at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side, featured the 12-member vocal ensemble Tenet and the Sebastians playing on historical instruments — with no conductor.

Most relevant: Trinity Wall Street

There’s a reason Trinity’s “Messiah” sits at the top of critics’ lists each year. Mr. Wachner’s take on the score is fresh and urgent, and members of the nimble professional choir step out to sing solos, creating a sense of the oratorio as town hall meeting. In this year’s intimate setting — George Washington prayed at St. Paul’s Chapelafter his inauguration in 1789 — even modest voices shone, and certain phrases of the text were especially resonant, like “and the government shall be upon his shoulders.”

Best choir: Westminster Symphonic Choir

Handel puts a chorus through its paces in dazzling numbers like “For unto us a child is born,” full of fleet runs. The small professional ensembles belonging to Trinity and Tenet nailed these virtuosic passages, as they should, but the students of Westminster Choir College dazzled with singing that was precise and radiant, with the warmth that comes from a large ensemble.

Best orchestra: The Sebastians

In Handel, period-instrument ensembles are on their home turf. Trinity is reliably eloquent, but this conductorless group brought laserlike focus to the music and delivered a “Messiah” as chamber music, in which individual instruments became active participants in the drama.

Best rage aria: John Brancy

Handel’s operatic genius comes through most powerfully in his arias for lower voices. The baritone John Brancy, singing with Musica Sacra, summoned real fire-and-brimstone energy in “Why do the nations so furiously rage together.” His onstage colleague Brian Giebler showed that tenors can storm, too, in a temperamental “Thou shalt break them” that ended with him slamming his score shut.

Most majestic ‘Hallelujah’: Oratorio Society

Whether you’re honoring a tradition said to have begun with King George II or are quietly grateful for the chance to stretch your legs, chances are you experience the “Hallelujah” chorus as part of a sea of standing bodies. At Carnegie, the audience members in the hall’s tiered balconies look like modern-dress angels in a Renaissance fresco. And with a huge, diverse amateur chorus onstage, the room tingles with exhilaration.

Most cherubic: Margot Rood and Lauren Snouffer

I heard many wonderful soloists in these performances, but two sopranos stood out. With the Philharmonic, Lauren Snouffer was effervescent in coloratura numbers and gleaming in meditative arias. Margot Rood, a member of Tenet, embodied the spirit of “Rejoice greatly” with a brilliant, zippy tone.

Least performance-like performance: Jolle Greenleaf

The soprano Jolle Greenleaf, of Tenet, sang “I know that my Redeemer liveth” with her customary piercing clarity and straight tone. There’s high art in it, but it sounded untrained and unguarded, a statement of soul-baring sincerity that spread effortlessly through the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer’s large interior and, for an instant, dissolved the line between art and faith.

Tue, December 11, 2018

In Ellen Reid’s p r i s m, an Abstract Story Communicates Concrete Truths
I Care If You Listen

The score for p r i s m lists three characters: Lumee, Bibi, and something called “Chroma,” a psychological and dramatic force sung here by 12 members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street. In this production, “Chroma” acts less like a third character and more like a startlingly beautiful addition to the small orchestral ensemble. Embedded among the strings and woodwinds, they performed exceptionally on opening night, conducted with enthusiasm and skill by Julian Wachner.

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In Ellen Reid’s p r i s m, an Abstract Story Communicates Concrete Truths

CATHERINE WOMACK
on December 11, 2018 at 6:00 am

Content warning: sexual assault

In the opening act of Claude Debussy’s 1902 opera Pelleas et Melisande, the audience is dropped into a mysterious forest with no explanation of time or place. A woman peers into a fountain. She is cold. Why? Who is she and where is she from? Playwright Maurice Maeterlinck’s sparse French symbolist libretto does little to explain these circumstances. Instead, Debussy’s music provides the clues we need to settle into the story: ambiguity is the point, and this might be a dream.

In p r i s m, a riveting new opera from composer Ellen Reid and librettist Roxie Perkins, audiences are given a similarly disorienting Act One experience. This concise, 80-minute dramatic punch of an opera received its world premiere in Los Angeles November 29 through December 2 at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) via LA Operaand Beth Morrison Projects (the work’s commissioner). Next month its “rolling premiere” continues in New York, where it will be presented with the same cast as part of BMP and HERE Arts Center’s PROTOTYPE Festival in collaboration with La MaMA and Trinity Church Wall Street.

As p r i s m begins, audiences are drawn immediately into a bright white cube, a Sanctuary “(as it should be).” In this space a mother and daughter named Lumee and Bibi recite strange incantations and perform well-rehearsed rituals and games. Draped in flouncing gossamer white gowns, they react emotionally, physically, and psychologically to their unexplained confinement.

Reid and director James Darrah draw their audience into this unusual world instantly, skillfully. Instead of questioning why, where, or when, we accept the premise and are swept up by the music and the characters’ emotions. What is that intense blue light seeping under the door that so frightens Lumee and Bibi? Perkins offers no immediate explanation; the characters’ visceral, terrified reactions give us all the information we need.

Inside this odd cube of bright white light, Bibi is in pain. Her legs are bruised and limp, incapable of bearing her slight weight. Her face is expressive. Her voice is powerful, precise, with round, elegant edges. Soprano Anna Schubert is revelatory in this role.

Suddenly, it is intermission. It must have been at least 40 minutes, but it felt like 20. There is so much to absorb in Reid’s eclectic score–the timbre, texture, melody and harmony of which transport listeners to an alternative reality. Perkins’ libretto is challenging: sparse and angular, ambiguous and abstract. But sometimes a challenge is a gift. Here, it provides Reid with ample space for inventive musical storytelling.

Reid’s score for Act One is cinematic, impressionistic, romantic. Woodwinds meander like Debussy’s Faun before melting into more contemporary, dissonant territory. This is a familiar soundscape–call it modern opera-land–and with Schubert as Bibi and the strong mezzo-soprano Rebecca Jo Loeb as Lumee giving voice to the story, it is a musically satisfying place to exist.

The score for p r i s m lists three characters: Lumee, Bibi, and something called “Chroma,” a psychological and dramatic force sung here by 12 members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street. In this production, “Chroma” acts less like a third character and more like a startlingly beautiful addition to the small orchestral ensemble. Embedded among the strings and woodwinds, they performed exceptionally on opening night, conducted with enthusiasm and skill by Julian Wachner.

Reid is an adept choral composer, and in p r i s m she wields that strength to maximum effect. “Chroma” receives some of the composer’s most inventive writing–music with inherently dramatic impulses. “Chroma” is at once a character’s psyche and a sort of Greek Chorus. Chroma is pain and joy. Chroma is memory and dementia.

This opera should be experienced without spoilers. It should unfold, as it is so carefully crafted to do, through Perkins’ smart, abstract libretto. It should pour over audiences in crashes of unexpected musical moments. And it should reveal itself in waves of understanding, like the discovery of a repressed memory. But even if you know what is coming, you won’t be prepared for the sheer force of the music and acting that propel this story forward in Acts Two and Three.

In the lobby during intermission at REDCAT, Bibi appeared. Having just been sucked out into “the blue” by a pack of grabbing, pawing dancers, she was vaulted above the crowd, carried by those same dancers back into the theater. The audience followed.

Now, in place of Lumee and Bibi’s Sanctuary cube are disco balls and bass drops. Reid’s music shifts wildly; lush strings and harp are replaced by amplified and distorted percussive elements that mimic aggressive club music. As the intensity of the story ramps up, so does the frenetic virtuosity of Reid’s writing. To communicate extreme physical and psychological experiences, she pushes voices and instruments to their most extreme ranges.

Things come into focus slowly, barely. Lumee and Bibi’s “Sanctuary” mantras begin to make sense. The blue light appears. We understand in flashes that Lumee left Bibi alone, underage and vulnerable in the club. While her mother partied, Bibi was assaulted and raped.

“Oh no, I liked that scrunchie,” Bibi whimpers, lying along in the middle of the floor.

So often on the opera stage traumatic assaults happen to women. Here, an assault–or the relived memory of one–is experienced by the lead character. Intimate, seemingly trivial details like the loss of that scrunchie or the blue glow of the club’s lights draw the audience viscerally into Bibi’s experience. For survivors of assault, small details like these often seer themselves irreversibly into the memory, embedded forever into the material of the brain.

Both Reid and Perkins drew from lived experiences to create this story. Because of that, this surreal story is strikingly realistic in its portrayal of trauma and repressed memories. The result: fully developed, compelling female characters that audiences can connect and empathize with on a deeply personal, intense level.

Act Three begins abruptly, drawing us back into Sanctuary “(as it is).” Now, we see Lumee and Bibi’s environment unfiltered. Rags. Trash. It is a dirty, sad existence. The “safe” space in which Lumee imprisoned Bibi is not a happy one.

We learn that Lumee is desperate to forget, to make Bibi forget, to erase the past. But Bibi understands that freedom comes not through suppression, but through remembering. She decides to run, run, run towards truth and freedom. Above all, p r i s m is about the power that comes from choosing to survive.

Through endlessly creative, eclectic music, Reid takes us into a fuzzy place where repressed memories and reality blur. It is not always an easy space in which to sit, but it is one that sticks, lingering in ears and minds for days like mist. It serves as a reminder that when women tell their own stories, when the complexity of a victim’s internal experience is fully fleshed out, the result can be powerful.

Sat, December 8, 2018

MUSIC 10; PRODUCTION 2
Voce di Meche

If you want to hear a valid rendering of Tchaikovsky’s luscious score, get yourself to John Jay College’s Gerald Lynch Theater by 2:00 this afternoon. Maestro Julian Wachner, using his expressive body (and no baton), leads The Mannes Orchestra in fine fashion, laying down a silken carpet of strings, and bouncing the themes around among the various wind sections. We heard some mighty fine solos from the oboes, horns, and trombones.

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

MUSIC 10; PRODUCTION 2

If you want to hear a valid rendering of Tchaikovsky's luscious score, get yourself to John Jay College's Gerald Lynch Theater by 2:00 this afternoon. Maestro Julian Wachner, using his expressive body (and no baton), leads The Mannes Orchestra in fine fashion, laying down a silken carpet of strings, and bouncing the themes around among the various wind sections. We heard some mighty fine solos from the oboes, horns, and trombones.


We were happy with the fine singing of the cast, comprising soprano Clara Lisle dealing with Tatyana's desire, anxiety, rejection, and ultimate dignity; mezzo-soprano  Wan Zhao as her flighty sister Olga; baritone Hyunsoon Kim as a rather likeable Onegin; and the terrific tenor Oleksii Kuznietsov, well remembered from his stint with IVAI, as the ill-fated Vladimir Lensky.


This Ukrainian tenor was so superb in his deeply felt and carefully modulated"Kuda, kuda" that when he was shot by Onegin in the duel scene, we were wishing that the director Jordan Fein had been shot instead.
Although there was thankfully no lengthy exegesis in the program to "conceptsplain" the production, we were left to our own devices, trying to figure out the point of betraying Pushkin's verse to such an egregious extent.
This story is rooted in Russian soil and the times of serfdom and duels. Fein's iteration places it absolutely nowhere and in some amorphous contemporary time. We were surprised that Tatyana did not write her letter to Onegin on a laptop and that her name-day party guests were not taking selfies on their phones.


The story cannot be shoehorned into a modern dress production.  It simply DID NOT WORK! The duel scene was a joke with Onegin's "second" a drunken passed out Triquet (Jens Ibsen, whose tribute to Tatyana was delivered in French not worthy of an identified Frenchman). Onegin and Lensky just pulled pistols out of their respective backpacks and shot at each other.


The chorus sang well but instead of peasants they were just a group of young friends of the Larin girls who called Madame Larina "Mother", causing us to question "Did Madame bear 19 children or did she adopt them?" They sang of hands hardened from work!  The work of studying?


When the two young men are discussing the sisters, the girls are standing right next to them! And why was Madame Larina coming on to Onegin?


The party for Tatyana's name day involved some of the worst choreography (Chloe Kernaghan) we have ever seen. There was absolutely no relationship between Tchaikovsky's music and the movement of the young guests.  Come to think of it, there was the same problem in Act III at Prince Gremin's ball where the guests were doing some kind of conga line. The audience tittered.


Terese Wadden's costumes were similarly rebarbative. The young folks wore short shorts and backpacks. Madame Larina was rather more bejeweled than one would expect in the provinces. Only in Act III were the singers dressed appropriately with Gremin and Onegin in dinner jackets and Tatyana in a long gown.


Amy Rubin's set was nothing but a curved wall with chalk writing on it. It served to alter the acoustics with a few dead spots, impairing the audibility of the singers who deserved better.


Now that we have gotten our dismay off our chest, let us praise the singers for doing a swell job with this difficult opera. Although we do not speak Russian, it sounded fine to the ear. Roles were performed sensitively with good variety of coloration.


Bass Michael Pitocchi made an excellent impression as Prince Gremin as he sang of his love for Tatiana and how it changed his life. Taryn Holback sang the role of Madame Larina; Perri Di Christina made a fine Filippyevna.


Each young artist succeeded in making us care for their character which was quite an achievement since they had to surmount an insulting production.

Thu, December 6, 2018

This Is the Best ‘Messiah’ in New York
The New York Times

If you grew up thinking of Handel’s “Messiah” as a sweet, staid pageant, a holiday ritual involving a little nap and a stand-and-deliver “Hallelujah” chorus, the forces of Trinity Wall Street offer the gritty, fearless cure, from Dec. 13-17, with what stands apart as New York’s best. (The Dec. 16 performance will be webcast live at 3 p.m., then available on demand.)

“We want to touch people,” Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director of music and the arts and the conductor of its “Messiah,” said in a recent phone conversation. “We want it to not be your grandmother’s ‘Messiah.’”

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This Is the Best ‘Messiah’ in New York

By Zachary Woolfe

Dec. 6, 2018

If you grew up thinking of Handel’s “Messiah” as a sweet, staid pageant, a holiday ritual involving a little nap and a stand-and-deliver “Hallelujah” chorus, the forces of Trinity Wall Street offer the gritty, fearless cure, from Dec. 13-17, with what stands apart as New York’s best. (The Dec. 16 performance will be webcast live at 3 p.m., then available on demand.)

“We want to touch people,” Julian Wachner, Trinity’s director of music and the arts and the conductor of its “Messiah,” said in a recent phone conversation. “We want it to not be your grandmother’s ‘Messiah.’”

That desire can be a cliché — after all, no one says they want to perform your grandmother’s “Messiah” — but Trinity, more than anyone else, actually makes it happen, expanding your sense of what the piece can be and do.

I remember my first encounter with the annual Trinity presentation, in 2011. Most takes on “Messiah” have settled into a pattern: A chorus is joined by a quartet of soloists — often fancy opera singers — who trade off Handel’s gorgeous arias. But Trinity drew its soloists, more than a dozen of them, from the ranks of its own choir.

Immediately a formal concert became a collective rite. Not all of those soloists were perfectly polished, but there was something affecting about the bits of roughness. The arias were transformed beyond the usual displays of sumptuous vocalism; they were urgent, even desperate communication.

The choir included male altos, with a whiteish, trumpeting tone; the Trinity Baroque Orchestra was composed of period instruments, with a reedy tang. Dense yet airy, with biting diction and dramatic dynamic shadings, the Trinity choir sang a furious “Surely he hath borne our griefs” and an “All we like sheep have gone astray” of rollicking, almost celebratory intensity, egged on by a muscular, unrelenting orchestra.

“We’re very much believing it’s Baroque music,” Mr. Wachner said. “There’s dance, there’s energy to it. There’s not this sense that you do one movement, wipe your brow, turn your page, and do the next movement. Opera was the basis of everything that Handel knew, and oratorio was a development through that.”

Trinity continues to experiment with its performance. Last year, Mr. Wachner switched the traditional genders of all the solos, inspired by the strengths of the roster he had at the time. (Imagine a bass singing “He was despised,” traditionally taken by a female alto.)

There was, Mr. Wachner admitted, a bunch of hate mail in the aftermath, but also a lot of responses that spoke of how special the experience had been and how much it revealed about the score. This year, some but not all of the assignments will be gender-switched, for a version neither fully experimental nor fully traditional.

Perhaps even more important, while Trinity Church is closed for two years of renovations, “Messiah” will be performed in the far more intimate St. Paul’s Chapel. “Trinity elicits hushed tones,” Mr. Wachner said. “There is a separation, like at Carnegie Hall. At St. Paul’s, it’s more of a communal feeling.” This fresh location promises to emphasize what is most memorable about Trinity’s presentation: its visceral drama and elemental energy.

As it happens, Mr. Wachner was first exposed to “Messiah” as a boy chorister at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, which often is the first high-profile performance of each holiday season (this year, Dec. 6) and sets a generally high, graceful standard for the weeks that follow.

Other notable performances

• After practicing a few weeks ago with a program of early music — including Handel’s “Water Music” — under the baton of Emmanuelle Haïm, the New York Philharmonic is turning to another Baroque specialist, the conductor Jonathan Cohen, for “Messiah” this year (Dec. 11-15).

The instruments will, of course, be modern, but the orchestral forces are likely to be substantially reduced from full symphonic strength and vibrato, one assumes, will be at a minimum. The quartet of soloists includes the countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, fresh from a series of ambitious staged performances juxtaposing works by Philip Glass and, happily, Handel.

The Philharmonic will be joined by the Westminster Symphonic Choir, which also does the piece (through Dec. 9) with the Philadelphia Orchestra and its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who just made his debut in the same position with the Metropolitan Opera and who leads a notably sensitive “Messiah,” operatic without being overblown. 212-875-5656, nyphil.org; 215-893-1999, philorch.org

• Masterwork Chorus, one of the amateur groups that dominated the “Messiah” scene a few decades ago, brings the work to Carnegie Hall on Dec. 20. Also at Carnegie, Kent Tritle leads the 200-voice Oratorio Society of New York (Dec. 17) and, not long after, the far smaller Musica Sacra (Dec. 19). 212-247-7800, carnegiehall.org

Trinity Wall Street’s Messiah
Dec. 13-17 at St. Paul’s Chapel, Broadway and Fulton Street; 212-602-0800, trinitywallstreet.org.

Wed, December 5, 2018

Anthracite Fields Honors Hard Life Of Coal Miners
Classical Voice America

Anthracite Fields, a vivid multi-media oratorio by Philadelphia-born Julia Wolfe, did receive a Pulitzer for music, in 2015. Wolfe, Musical America’s 2019 Composer of the Year, is a founder of Bang on a Can, whose six Bang on a Can All-Stars made a funky continuo for the Choir of Trinity Wall Street Dec. 1 in Carnegie Hall’s chamber-scaled Zankel Hall. The performance was conducted by the vigorous, insightful Julian Wachner…

...Wachner, with no stick, was terrific – so into it – making beats slide or precisely punctuate.

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Anthracite Fields Honors Hard Life Of Coal Miners

Julian Wachner led Bang on a Can All-Stars in their funky continuo to the Choir of Trinity Wall Street during Julia Wolfe’s ‘Anthracite Fields’ at Zankel Hall. The multi-media oratario won a 2015 Pulitzer Prize. (Photos © Richard Termine) 

By Leslie Kandell

NEW YORK – If there were a Pulitzer Prize for forms of coal, it would go to hard, slow-burning anthracite. Anthracite is mined in Eastern states including West Virginia and Pennsylvania, in areas associated with poverty and fist-waving resentment. Anthracite Fields, a vivid multi-media oratorio by Philadelphia-born Julia Wolfe, did receive a Pulitzer for music, in 2015. Wolfe, Musical America’s 2019 Composer of the Year, is a founder of Bang on a Can, whose six Bang on a Can All-Stars made a funky continuo for the Choir of Trinity Wall Street Dec. 1 in Carnegie Hall’s chamber-scaled Zankel Hall. The performance was conducted by the vigorous, insightful Julian Wachner.

Mining, dangerous and dirty, has a mystique that draws people to celebrate the drama of unsmiling guys in caps, trooping onto carts that carry them into deep tunnels of rock: the thorough washing up before dinner, the terrified women running toward the mine entrance when the baleful siren screams. How Green Was My Valley is a classic film. Mining songs, many from immigrants, are part of our folk culture. Merle Travis, whose “Sixteen Tons” is inspired by Kentucky miners, is just one troubadour, who also wrote, “It will form as a habit and seep in your soul / Till the stream of your blood runs as black as the coal” in the song “Dark as a Dungeon.” 

The work’s sounds and concept, clever and appealing, don’t have to be original, and they aren’t. For example, Wolfe is not the first to put this mineral into oratorio format, which seems a strange bedfellow: In 1994, Judith Shatin introduced her oratorio Coal, in Shepherdstown, W.Va. It was a tribute to the plight, power, and music of local miners, and also the result of study, visits, interviews, and homegrown music.

Julia Wolfe, in black, at first thought ‘Anthracite Fields’ would be a short work.

In a talk preceding the performance, Wolfe said Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club had commissioned a ten-minute choral piece. Instead they got this hour-plus, five-movement celebration of the addictive culture around a dirty job. Photographs, maps, and diagrams, some from the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton, appeared on a rear scrim designed by Jeff Sugg.

Since its premiere, Fields has been performed at several events, including the New York Philharmonic Biennial, after which this ensemble heard at Zankel Hall recorded it for the Cantaloupe label.

Over time, Wolfe has taken control of elements that best express her style. She is a musical minimalist and a list-maker, interested in labor issues. The first movement, “Foundation,” is a choral recitation, in measured beats, of names of miners who died in accidents. The accompaniment is loud machine-like noises – David Cossin was the busy percussionist – and a photostat of the sung names on the rear scrim. “Breaker Boys” describes the risky job of underage laborers who cleared debris from the coal processing line, with bare hands.

Mark Stewart, who played electric bass, sang the setting of words from a moving speech by John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers of America in 1920-1960:  “…before God I assert, that those who consume the coal, and you and I who benefit from that service because we live in comfort, we owe protection to those men and we owe security to their families, if they die.” The chorus’ sung notes became shouts of protest. The music sits comfortably for choristers, with uncomplicated beats in mid-range, and no vocal frills.

Images of flowers drenched Zankel in color during the fourth movement, based on recollections of the miners’ gardens.

“Flowers,” the fourth movement, came about from an interview with a miner’s daughter, who pointed out that families – particularly immigrants – kept gardens with varied flowers (listed onscreen and sung softly, in even beats). Colored drawings of flower bulbs descended on the scrim. After all the black-and-white photos, the hall, walls and all, was lighted up with pink flowers, and the scrim displayed colored floral images.

The final “Appliances” showed assorted assembly lines, collectively demonstrating (and listing) our uses for coal and electricity, not only to run the machines, but in uses of products. Choristers yell, the clarinet (played by Ken Thomson) whinnies, and the piece ends with extended tones and words. (Wolfe said there were hymns somewhere, but in performance they got plowed under.)

Wachner, with no stick, was terrific – so into it – making beats slide or precisely punctuate.

Wolfe’s next premiere is with the New York Philharmonic on Jan. 24. Called Fire in My Mouth, it is similar in labor advocacy, and was inspired by young women who managed to survive the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and spoke out against the perilous working conditions.

Leslie Kandell has contributed to The New York Times, Musical America, Musical America Directory, and The Berkshire Eagle.

Wed, December 5, 2018

Julia Wolfe’s Powerful Reflection on Those Who Labored and Died in Coal Mines
Seen and Heard International

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street is made up of singers who are equally versatile and brave. They were called to alternately emit noises, whisper the softest of sounds and practically roar. Their vocal virtuosity was stunning and their commitment to the piece indisputable, as was that of the conductor, Julian Wachner, who is the director of music at Trinity Wall Street. The construct of Anthracite Fields is almost as tight as that of a Bach trio sonata, and Wachner achieved a clarity of sound and texture that delineated both individual musical ideas and the intricate layering of sound.

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Julia Wolfe’s Powerful Reflection on Those Who Labored and Died in Coal Mines

12/05/2018

Julia Wolfe composed Anthracite Fields in 2014 on a commission from the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize the following year. Her goal was to honor those who labored and died mining coal in Northeast Pennsylvania at a time when the so-called black diamonds fueled the nation, as well as to reflect upon who we are as American workers.

To prepare, she visited the region, went into the mines, toured museums, interviewed miners and their descendants and pored over history books. The result is a text that combines lessons on geography and history into at a work of profound emotion and depth. The story she crafted incorporates nursery rhymes, personal recollections and a 1900 advertisement for efficient, clean train service fueled by anthracite, as well as a 1947 speech by John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers of America to the US House of Representatives Labor Committee.

It opens with the choir intoning the names of workers killed in mine accidents: Wolfe used one-syllable surnames, all with the first name ‘John’. It was a way of imposing rhythmic order and aural clarity, given that 61 percent of the work force came from Eastern Europe, Russia and Italy, few with easy-to-pronounce names. Some of those names came later. The third movement is an adaptation of Lewis’s speech which begins: ‘If we must grind up human flesh and bones in the industrial machine that we call modern America’.

In her own words, Wolfe strives for an intense physicality and relentless power in her music that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. Soft, scintillating, repetitive layers of sound grew into massive, grating collisions of titanic proportions. Her orchestration is eclectic, heavy on percussion, with melodies mostly heard in the bass clarinet and cello. Her stylistic bent is even more so, spanning minimalism, jazz and rock. The coolest instruments were the three spinning bicycle wheels that emitted both a whirl and a click.

Wolfe composed the instrumental music for the New York music collective Bang on a Can All-Stars, which she co-founded in 1992 and for which she serves as co-artistic director. The six musicians are energized, versatile and athletic. Cellist Ashley Bathgate sang and played in the jaunty, almost maniacal second movement, ‘Breaker Boys’, spitting out tongue twisters like ‘Mickey Pick-Slate early and late’. Mark Stewart, with his long gray hair, was a whizz on the electric guitar and let it rip vocally.

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street is made up of singers who are equally versatile and brave. They were called to alternately emit noises, whisper the softest of sounds and practically roar. Their vocal virtuosity was stunning and their commitment to the piece indisputable, as was that of the conductor, Julian Wachner, who is the director of music at Trinity Wall Street. The construct of Anthracite Fields is almost as tight as that of a Bach trio sonata, and Wachner achieved a clarity of sound and texture that delineated both individual musical ideas and the intricate layering of sound.

In a pre-concert talk, Wolfe said that the music came first and Jeff Sugg’s images and videos followed. Undoubtedly the music stands on its own, but Sugg’s spare, powerful visuals contributed mightily to the emotional impact of this performance. A video of a bubbling, primeval ooze of sorts took us deep into the earth. Charts and diagrams detailed the topography and coal mining technology. The names were projected, as was the text of Lewis’s speech.

The movement entitled ‘Flowers’ is a long list of the blooms that brighten the lives of the miner’s mothers, wives and daughters. It begins: ‘We all had flowers. We all had gardens’. As the choir sang, sinuous pen and ink drawings of the plants and flowers were projected. Eventually, color started to appear, until the entire hall was awash in vivid pink. It was beautiful, as well as poignant, but it is the faces that haunt.

There were photos of miners, prematurely aged, with coal dust in every crease and wrinkle of their skin, each with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Their younger selves, sans cigarettes, were seen in the pictures of the gangs of Breaker Boys. The boys were usually between the ages of eight and twelve, but sometimes were as young as five or six; their job was to separate rocks and other debris from the coal with their bare hands, ten hours a day, six days a week. ‘You didn’t dare quit, because it was something to have a job at eight cents an hour’.

Lewis had declared that those who consume the coal and live in comfort have a duty to those who toil and risk their lives in supplying it. In the final movement, ‘Appliances’, there was again a long list, this one composed of the many things, all but essential to our modern-day existence, that are made possible by electricity. (Coal was the second largest energy source for the US in 2017, accounting for approximately 30 percent of the total.) The lovely likeness of Phoebe Snow from the ads, who exclaimed that her gown stayed white from morning to night on the train to Buffalo, faded into the faces of the Breaker Boys.

Little did Wolfe know that a few short years after its premiere, Anthracite Fields’ main themes would be at the center of national debates on climate change, the environment, immigration, the coal industry’s future and America’s labor force. Talk about ticking all of the boxes. It was an extraordinary musical, historical and dramatic experience.

Tue, December 4, 2018

The 2018 Professionals of the Year
Musical America

In 2010, when Julian Wachner was appointed to his current position at the historic Trinity Wall Street (founded 1769), the Financial District was still recovering from the devastating effects of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. In the intervening eight years he has had an outsize impact on New York’s musical life. Wachner oversees an annual season of hundreds of events as curator, conductor, composer, organist, and sometimes all of the above simultaneously. In 2016, he completed the first cycle of his signature project Bach at One, presenting all the Bach cantatas; this season he has expanded the series into Bach + One, pairing one work by the master with one or more pieces by other composers. Under his direction, programs are performed by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Trinity Baroque Orchestra, ensembles that he has brought to a new level and are considered by many to be the best of their kind in the city.

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Julian Wachner

Director of Music and Arts Trinity Wall Street

Composer

In 2010, when Julian Wachner was appointed to his current position at the historic Trinity Wall Street (founded 1769), the Financial District was still recovering from the devastating effects of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. In the intervening eight years he has had an outsize impact on New York’s musical life. Wachner oversees an annual season of hundreds of events as curator, conductor, composer, organist, and sometimes all of the above simultaneously. In 2016, he completed the first cycle of his signature project Bach at One, presenting all the Bach cantatas; this season he has expanded the series into Bach + One, pairing one work by the master with one or more pieces by other composers. Under his direction, programs are performed by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Trinity Baroque Orchestra, ensembles that he has brought to a new level and are considered by many to be the best of their kind in the city.

His early-music reputation notwithstanding, Wachner is also founding director of the new music orchestra NOVUS NY, which has premiered such works as the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angel’s Bone, by Du Yun, and Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s Breaking the Waves. He also conducted the Grammy-award winning recording of Anthracite Fields by Julia Wolfe (Musical America’s 2019 Composer of the Year) with the Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street. With these forces and as a guest conductor, Wachner has led performances around the world, from Honolulu to Utrecht. He continues to compose, with a large catalog of vocal, orchestral, sacred, and secular works. Among his operas, the most recent is Rev. 23, an eclectic farce about an imagined second Book of Revelations, set to an original libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winner Cerise Lim Jacobs. The piece premiered last season in Boston and finds its way to New York’s Prototype Festival in 2020, another one of Wachner’s myriad musical contributions to the city’s cultural life. — Susan Brodie

Tue, December 4, 2018

Through a prism Darkly
San Francisco Classical Voice

Reid freely moves from soaring melodies and rich choral harmonies to abrasive dissonance accentuated by the twittering of col legno strings and pre-recoded electronic effects. In addition to the strings, winds, harp, piano, horn, and an array of percussion, Reid incorporates the weird, ominous rumblings of a Waterphone, the bending notes of a Flexatone and the effects of an SPDSX sampling pad. When Perkins’ libretto indicates a color code, Reid answers with a convincing musical equivalent.

December’s first performance was deftly conducted by Daniella Candilari. The direction of James Darrah combined confrontation and painful realism with poetic abstraction. The sets and costumes by Adam Rigg and Molly Irelan create the three very different realities.

On Jan. 6, Prism will have its East Coast premiere at the La Mama Theatre in New York as part of the Prototype Festival [conducted by Julian Wachner].

Sat, December 1, 2018

11 classical Christmas music concerts to see in NYC
TimeOut New York

Dec 15: Handel and Lang

Bang on a Can composer David Lang’s The Little Match Girl is fast becoming another holiday tradition. Tonight, the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Trinity Baroque Orchestra pair it with Handel’s Dixit Dominus for a guaranteed moving concert experience.

Metropolitan Museum Grace, Rainey Rogers Auditorium, Upper East Side (metmuseum.org). Saturday, Dec 15 at 7pm; $65.

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11 classical Christmas music concerts to see in NYC

Celebrate the holiday season by catching one of these sure-to-be festive classical Christmas music concerts

By Kurt Gottschalk|Posted: Friday November 30 2018

New York City’s churches and concert halls have plenty of beloved year-end performances, some of them even spilling out into the streets. This year marks the Chamber Music Society’s 25th annual playing of the Brandenburg Concertos (Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Upper East Side; chambermusicsociety.org. December 14 at 7:30pm, December 16 at 5pm, December 18 at 7:30pm; $45–$92). It’s also the 27th anniversary of the boom-box parade Unsilent Night, which marches from Washington Square Park to Tompkins Square Park (unsilentnight.com. December 16 at 5:45pm; free). We’ve gathered some additional off-the-beaten-path holiday concerts to give your season a different sort of sparkle.

Classical Christmas music concerts

1

Dec 1: Nutcracker Dance Party

Experiential Orchestra’s Nutcracker Dance Party invites attendees to sit among and dance around the orchestra members as they play Tchaikovsky’s perennial favorite. Catch the family matinee or hit up an evening concert with a cash bar. 

Bohemian National Hall, Upper East Side (experientialorchestra.com). Saturday, December 1 at 3:30, 7:30pm; $25–$100.

2

Dec 1: Tallis Scholars - A Renaissance Christmas

Britain’s preeminent early-music vocal ensemble breaks with tradition by including a new work by the ever-popular Nico Muhly among its Renaissance offerings.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Times Square (millertheatre.com). Saturday, December 1 at 8pm; $40–$55, students $7–$33.

3

Dec 3: Distinguished Concerts International New York: Ode to Joy

The DCINY is joined in Beethoven’s rapturous Ode to Joy and Fantasia in C minor by 12 choirs from around the world.

Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium, midtown (carnegiehall.org). Monday, December 3 at 7pm; $10–$100.

4

Dec 6–8: Amahl and the Night Visitors

Composer Gian Carlo Menotti tells the story of the Nativity in a 45-minute, one-act opera. This performance, presented by On Site Opera in a functioning soup kitchen, features a chorus of community members who have experienced homelessness alongside esteemed professionals.

Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, Chelsea (holyapostlesnyc.org). Thursday, December 6, Friday 7 at 7:30pm; Saturday 8 at 2, 6pm. Free with nonperishable food items.

5

Dec 6: Songs of Feasting and Flames - A Sephardic Celebration of Hanuka

Singers Nell Snaidas and Daphna Mor present a program of ancient love ballads, morality tales and even sung recipes as passed down through generations of Jewish women.

The Chapel at St. Bart’s, midtown east (stbarts.org). Thursday, December 6 at 1:15 pm. free.

6

Dec 15: Handel and Lang

Bang on a Can composer David Lang’s The Little Match Girl is fast becoming another holiday tradition. Tonight, the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Trinity Baroque Orchestra pair it with Handel’s Dixit Dominus for a guaranteed moving concert experience.

Metropolitan Museum Grace, Rainey Rogers Auditorium, Upper East Side (metmuseum.org). Saturday, Dec 15 at 7pm; $65.

7

Dec 15–25: Colonial Christmas

Early Music New York presents a different sort of early music with a concert of 18th-century American shape-note hymns written in simplified form for congregants who couldn’t read music. The vocal ensemble is accompanied by fiddle, flute and bass.

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Upper West Side (stjohndivine.org), Saturday, December 15 at 7:30pm; December 16, 23 at 2pm; December 25 at 2, 5pm; $40–$50, $20 students.

8

Dec 16: Unsilent Night

This trippy musical performance piece, dreamed up by composer Phil Kline, is downtown’s decidedly arty, secular answer to Christmas caroling. Boombox-toting participants gather under the Washington Square arch, where they are given a cassette or CD of one of four different atmospheric tracks; you can also download the Unsilent Night app and sync up via smartphone. Everyone presses play at the same time and marches through the streets of New York together, blending their music and filling the air with a beautiful, echoing 45-minute piece.

Meet at Washing Square Park, Greenwich Village (unsilentnight.com). Sunday, December 16 at 5:45pm; free.

9

Dec 21: Where Are We Going? And What Are We Doing?

The Tenth Intervention ensemble is joined by pianist Adam Tendler in a meditation on the passing of time with music by Olivier Messiaen and John Cage for a winter solstice celebration.

Rubin Museum, Chelsea (rubinmuseum.org). Friday, December 21 at 7pm; $35.

10

Dec 21: Six Hours of Music and Film

Phill Niblock’s annual solstice extravaganza is an immersion into extended tone and repeating images for the shortest night of the year.

Roulette, Boerum Hill (roulette.org). Friday, December 21 at 6pm; $18.

Sat, December 1, 2018

BWW Review: P R I S M at REDCAT
Broadway World

For the first act, Conductor Julian Wachner was hidden behind a screen but we could watch his beat on a monitor at the side of the hall. After that, we could see him at the side of the stage as he led members of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra in a rousing rendition of this thoroughly modern musical endeavor. I found it particularly interesting to watch pianist Bryan Pezzone play both the keys and the internal strings of the piano.

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BWW Review: P R I S M at REDCAT

by Maria Nockin Dec. 1, 2018  

On Thursday evening November 29, 2018, Los Angeles Operapresented the world premiere of Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins' psychologically charged opera, p r i s m. It's creators insist the title be written in lower case type with a space between each letter.

This past year the LA Chamber Orchestra, the LA Master Chorale, and the LA Philharmonic have also played Reid's music, so she has definitely arrived on the West Coast. p r i s m encompasses a variety of styles and genres of music as diverse as the population of the City of Angels. Beth Morrison Projects commissioned Reid and Perkins to write this opera. Five years and a couple of workshops later it arrived performance-ready.

In Reid's p r i s m, I hear many different musical influences including those of Richard Strauss's DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN (THE WOMAN WITHOUT A SHADOW), Claude Debussy's PELLEAS AND MELISANDE, Poulenc's DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES, andIgor Stravinsky's THE RITE OF SPRING. However, these influences tend to merely color harmonies and rhythms that revolve around a core of Reid's own individual and distinctive sonorities. While traversing a broad spectrum of musical styles, her orchestration is thoroughly polished and monumentally complex. She illustrated various states of Bibi's mind with changes in style. I would like to hear this work more than once in order to get a complete picture of its music.

For the first act, Conductor Julian Wachner was hidden behind a screen but we could watch his beat on a monitor at the side of the hall. After that, we could see him at the side of the stage as he led members of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra in a rousing rendition of this thoroughly modern musical endeavor. I found it particularly interesting to watch pianist Bryan Pezzone play both the keys and the internal strings of the piano.

Designer Adam Rigg's scenery for Act I was a neon outlined glass box that reminded me of the opening of Mason Bates' opera THE (R)EVOLUTION OF Steve Jobs, but that was only a momentary thought. This box had an iconic bed in it. The two singers who portrayed the leading parts took this unique psychological story and, thanks to the fluent direction of James Darrah, they run with it.

For the second act, Rigg utilized 24 suspended soccer ball-sized jewel-studded globes. Anna Schubert as Bibi and Rebecca Jo Loeb as Lumee sang, acted, danced, and propelled their characters through the throes and insistent beat of modern life. Pablo Santiago-Brandwein's changing lighting and its myriad effects showed us the whirling of Bibi's mind. Dancers Tatiana Barber, Charbel Rohayem, Gigi Todisco, and Choreographer Chris Emile were a strong addition to the scene as they writhed with Bibi to show rape and the result of her lack of self-determination. For the third act, Rigg again offered the bed in the glass box, but this time it was shabby, unkempt and looked like a drug lair.

Although we did not see them, throughout the performance we heard interesting vocal harmony from members of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street who were brought to LA for these performances. Anna Schubert as Bibi sang and acted most effectively with her silvery lyric soprano voice. Mezzo-soprano Rebecca Jo Loeb has a plum colored sound that she used lyrically as a supposedly caring mother in the first act and dramatically as a shrew in Acts II and III.

P r i s m's three acts were labeled as follows: Act I, Sanctuary as it Should Be; Act II, Sanctuary as it Was; Act III, Sanctuary as it Is. Director James Darrah first gave us the drug induced dream that makes everything seem good and pleasant, In Act II we see that the reality of the situation was quite different. I noticed in Act I that Bibi always called her mother Lumee, never Mom or Mother.

In Act II, Bibi tries to call her mother Mom but is sharply rejected by Lumee's refusal to acknowledge motherhood or show maternal love for the child she bore. Singing and dancing to music that contains elements of Heavy Metal, Lumee shows that her true personality is quite different from what we saw in the first act. Watching her, I began to believe that motherhood took her by surprise and that she might have wanted to kill her daughter with her "medicine."

The final act belongs to Bibi as she begins to picture a life apart from her mother. Bibi and Lumee are again in the glass cube bedroom, but the bed is just a mattress on the floor and the room is filled with piles of non-descript ragged clothing. Designer Rigg and director Darrah show us the state of Bibi's mind with this disorderly room. She is frightened, but her actions show us that she knows she will have to brave the outside world. She has matured and leaves us to believe she will make her own way in life.

After the performance Creative Producer Beth Morrison conducted a Talk Back with Reid, Perkins, Darrah, and Wachner for the many audience members who wanted to learn more about this unusual work. It provided a fine end to a fascinating show but I wish Morrison had devoted a bit more time to questions from audience. P r i s m will be repeated on November 30th, December 1st, and 2nd with Slovenian Conductor Daniela Candillari leading the final two performances.

Fri, November 30, 2018

Review: With Ellen Reid’s incandescent ‘prism,’ an opera composer is born
Los Angeles Times

There is too much amplification, which is typical for L.A. Opera in REDCAT and robs of some of the score’s humanity. But the upside is a metallic brilliance, the equivalent of seeing a fancy new OLED or whatever TV in the showroom, where colors are adjusted to an unreal vibrancy that makes you want to take it home. And conductor Julian Wachner (who will be replaced by Daniela Candillari for the final shows Saturday and Sunday) leads a strong performance that gives the music the primacy it craves.

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Review: With Ellen Reid’s incandescent ‘prism,’ an opera composer is born

By MARK SWED
| MUSIC CRITIC |
NOV 30, 2018 | 3:05 PM

At 9:45 p.m. underneath Walt Disney Concert Hall, Ellen Reid completed a quadrathlon in nine months, five days, one hour and 40 minutes. It was a world record. Many records were, in fact, broken.

With the premiere Thursday of her stunning first opera, “prism,” by Los Angeles Opera at REDCAT as part of the company’s Off Grand series, Reid became the first composer to have been commissioned by L.A.’s four major classical music institutions — Los Angeles Philharmonic, L.A. Master Chorale and L.A. Chamber Orchestra being the other three. She also became the first composer to have world premieres by all four. She could very well be only composer to have been performed by all four in winter, spring and autumn of the same year (unless unlikely fortune struck for Mozart or Britten). Finally, she is the only female composer to have been performed by the lot.

So, does that mean that Reid will finally get a Wikipedia entry? Maybe a major recording or three? (There is almost nothing other than a short percussion piece.) Will it continue to be necessary, after the sheer incandescence of her score for “prism,” to point out that she is a major voice thus far mainly recognized only in L.A.? Probably not, given that “prism” will reach New York early next year as part of the Prototype festival presented by Beth Morrison Projects, L.A. Opera’s partner in Off Grand.

That is not to say that “prism,” a two-person opera about a young woman’s agonizing struggle with the psychological aftershock of sexual assault that leaves her in a near- catatonic state, doesn’t have its own cathartic requisites. At first glance, the text by playwright Roxie Perkins reads like a libretto from hell.

Confined to her bedroom (her “Sanctuary”), Bibi can’t (won’t?) use her legs, gags on her medicine and plays word games with her consoling/antagonistic/guilt-ridden mother, Lumee, to forget or overcome memories of her psychologically debilitating violation. Colors color her state: Blue is the threatening outside world, yellow protects her.

While the sung text of the two characters is poetically elliptical, Perkins includes a novel’s degree of descriptive motivation, all but taking on the jobs of music and stage direction. The production is the result of a five-year collaboration between Reid and Perkins, both of whom used it to work though personal issues dealing with sexual assault. In the end, music dominates. From their post-performance discussion onstage, Reid, Perkins and director James Darrah appear to have remained friends.

L.A. Opera last year produced Keeril Makan’s “Persona,” based on the Ingmar Bergman film of dueling catatonic actress and her nurse. It is hard not to draw parallels between that and “prism.” The film even starred a Bibi (Anderson). The dramatic arc of the new opera is, moreover, obvious to anyone who knows “Persona.” The first act, a struggle in the bedroom; the second, a flashback to a nasty night club in which Lumee has turned outrageously vulgar, then back to the now-disheveled bedroom, just the thing for the final catharsis in which Bibi takes back her life.

But “prism” also goes it own 21st-century way. As Perkins proscribes in her libretto, an unseen chorus, called Chroma, represents Bibi’s inner voice; the “action” is carried out by four dancers, not the singers; the lighting design applies the colors as necessary. Darrah, however, directs his attention to dramatic interaction, what works onstage, not the pretentious page.

Even so, were it not for Reid, this would be a pale “Persona.” She evokes a world of its own through a chamber orchestra of strings, shimmering percussion, harp, piano, flute, bass clarinet and horn that becomes a maker of wonder, mystery, suspense, fear and glory. Notes slide into one another as if guided by a secret force. Melodies are endless and inventively transformed, the atmospheric pressure ever changing.

Soprano Anna Schubert (Bibi) and mezzo-soprano Rebecca Jo Loeb (Lumee) are both strong singers and theatrically forces with which to be contended. Neither is particularly appealing; rather it is their wounds that concern us. There is cliché, thanks to the lighting and the overuse of color symbolism. For all the poetic labor in Perkins’ text, there are still some corny lines. It also takes a certain gumption to ask a composer to make a big deal of setting the word “slurp.”

Yet Reid makes a big deal of it and everything else. Her fabulous slurping is like nothing you have ever heard before. Her vocal lines have inherent lyrical quality that transcends even the most horrendous emotional outbursts or the disco beat of the club. Musical styles are myriad, yet this is the work of one recognizable voice.

There is too much amplification, which is typical for L.A. Opera in REDCAT and robs of some of the score’s humanity. But the upside is a metallic brilliance, the equivalent of seeing a fancy new OLED or whatever TV in the showroom, where colors are adjusted to an unreal vibrancy that makes you want to take it home. And conductor Julian Wachner (who will be replaced by Daniela Candillari for the final shows Saturday and Sunday) leads a strong performance that gives the music the primacy it craves.

Reid, in a word, has arrived. Wikipedia please take note.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Los Angeles Opera ‘prism’

Where: REDCAT, 632 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles

When 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $79 (Saturday and Sunday had been sold out, but additional tickets may be released)

Info: (213) 972-8001 or LAOpera.org

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minuntes

Thu, November 29, 2018

The 5 Best Things to Do in L.A. This Weekend
Los Angeles Magazine

p r i s m
Friday, November 30-Sunday, December 2


Composer Ellen Reid completes an L.A. classical-music hat trick—she’s had works premiered by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic already this year—with this opera about the aftermath of sexual violence. “Sometimes just being confronted with these themes is polarizing,” Reid says. “I’m hoping that because we’ve been having so many conversations about it, people might be able to hear this work in a different way.” [conducted by Julian Wachner]

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The 5 Best Things to Do in L.A. This Weekend

Let’s do this thing
By Gwynedd Stuart
 -
November 29, 2018

We’re hurtling toward the holidays faster than a fat guy in a flying sled (Hanukkah starts on Sunday!), so you’ve got to take some time to enjoy L.A. before the onslaught of airport layovers and family dinners commences. Here’s some of the best stuff to do in L.A. this weekend, from a new opera to a Christmas parade in East L.A.

p r i s m

Friday, November 30-Sunday, December 2

Composer Ellen Reid completes an L.A. classical-music hat trick—she’s had works premiered by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic already this year—with this opera about the aftermath of sexual violence. “Sometimes just being confronted with these themes is polarizing,” Reid says. “I’m hoping that because we’ve been having so many conversations about it, people might be able to hear this work in a different way.”

Home Alone at Rooftop Cinema Club

Saturday, December 1

Watch (or, let’s be real, rewatch) one of the most delightfully sadistic Christmas movies of all time from the comfort of LEVEL’s downtown rooftop. Kevin McCallister’s rich, terrible family forgets him so he channels his anger by torturing two hapless ex-cons. Legit fun for the whole family—al fresco.

Girl Cult Festival 

Saturday, December 1

Feminist music fests have been a thing since the era of Lilith Fair, but Galore’s Girl Cult fest at the Novo DTLA has set out to celebrate intersectional feminism in particular. Performers and panelists include Jhené Aiko, Lauren Jauregui, Dreezy, Dounia, and Tommy Genesis, and Amber Rose and Kelis will be on hand for conversations. Why a fest that creates space for all races, genders, religions, and sexualities? According to the fest’s website, “Because freedom is necessary. Because equality is crucial. Because it’s 2018 and asking politely won’t cut it anymore.”

Hanukkah Family Festival

Sunday, December 2

Pretty sure you don’t have to be observant Jew to rock out to a Klezmer called Yale Strom & Hot Pstromi, which is exactly what people young and old will be doing at the Skirball’s Hanukkah Family Festival on Sunday. Other activities include hands-on workshops (including gelt decorating), a performance by the Jewish Youth Orchestra, and a chance to check out the Skirball’s exhibits, including Notorious RBG.

East Los Angeles Christmas Parade

Sunday, December 2

In 2009, Whittier Boulevard got a little less jolly when the long-running East Los Angeles Christmas Parade went dark, but since its triumphant 2016 return, the holidays have felt more complete. Expect the usual parade trappings—floats, marching bands, local dignitaries in convertibles—but with East L.A. flair.

Thu, November 15, 2018

7 Classical Music Concerts to See in N.Y.C. This Weekend
The New York Times

Julian Wachner conducts his excellent choir in Rachmaninoff’s unreasonably beautiful “Vespers.” As ever, their music making — some of the best in the city — is available free of charge.

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7 Classical Music Concerts to See in N.Y.C. This Weekend

By David Allen

Nov. 15, 2018

Our guide to the city’s best classical music and opera happening this weekend and in the week ahead.

BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA at Carnegie Hall (Nov. 19, 8 p.m.). Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony have been more than a little patchy in their recent concerts at their own Symphony Hall, but they always up their game on tour. In this first of three performances this season at Carnegie — the other two are in March — they perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and HK Gruber’s “Aerial,” a trumpet concerto written for the evening’s soloist, Hakan Hardenberger.
212-247-7800, carnegiehall.org

CHOIR OF TRINITY WALL STREET at St. Paul’s Chapel (Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m.). Julian Wachner conducts his excellent choir in Rachmaninoff’s unreasonably beautiful “Vespers.” As ever, their music making — some of the best in the city — is available free of charge.
212-602-0800, trinitywallstreet.org

DANISH STRING QUARTET at the 92nd Street Y (Nov. 17, 8 p.m.). Come for the beards, stay for the music with this outstanding young foursome from Scandinavia, who bring a program completely typical of their art. They start with Haydn, the second of the Op. 20 quartets, and end with Beethoven, the first of the “Razumovsky” quartets. In the middle comes the first quartet by Hans Abrahamsen, “10 Preludes,” which these players recorded stylishly on ECM two years ago.
212-415-5500, 92y.org

JUAN DIEGO FLÓREZ at Carnegie Hall (Nov. 18, 2 p.m.). The Peruvian tenor, he of the encores at the Met a decade ago, gives a recital that predictably features his usual Donizetti and Rossini, but also takes in slightly heavier repertoire, including Verdi, Massenet, Gounod and Puccini. Vincenzo Scalera is at the piano.
212-247-7800, carnegiehall.org

ISABEL LEPANTO GLEICHER at Miller Theater (Nov. 20, 6 p.m.). This flutist on the rise has put together an appetizing program for her pop-up recital in Morningside Heights, one that includes a premiere from Barry Sharp as well as music by Aaron Helgeson, Toshio Hosokawa, David Lang, Frederic Rzewski and Hildegard von Bingen. The concert is free and so are the drinks.
212-854-7799, millertheatre.com

NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC at David Geffen Hall (Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m.; through Nov. 24). Emmanuelle Haïm, a spirited specialist in the Baroque, leads early-music favorites including two of the suites from Handel’s “Water Music,” a Handel Concerto Grosso and selections from Rameau’s opera “Dardanus.”
212-875-5656, nyphil.org

‘ONLY THE SOUND REMAINS’ at the Rose Theater (Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 18, 5 p.m.). Setting Ezra Pound’s translations of two Japanese Noh one-act plays to music, Kaija Saariaho’s 2016 operamakes its United States debut as part of the White Light Festival at Lincoln Center. Peter Sellars directs the singers Philippe Jarousky and Davóne Tines and the dancer Nora Kimball-Mentzos in a production conducted by Ernest Martínez Izquierdo. 212-721-6500, lincolncenter.org

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