The New York City Ballet ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
April 3, 2019 

Opening night for the New York City Ballet offered a delectable selection of music and dance backed by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. It was a thrill for the audience to see the  dancers bring to life original choreography from George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Gianna Reisen to the music of Lukas Foss, Paul Hindemuth, Sergei Prokofiev and George Bizet.

New York City Ballet in Gianna Reisen’s Composer’s Holiday. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik

The program, which will be repeated on April 3rd and April 7th, highlights many of the troupes’ most notable dancers – Mary Thomas MacKinnon, Emma Von Enck, Kennard Henson and Roman perform in “Composer’s Holiday”, a Reisen design that heralds modernism.  Abi Stafford, Teresa Reichlen, Joseph Gordon and Russell Janzen take the leads in “Kammermusik No. 2”, with Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia taking leads in “Opus 19/The Dreamer.

New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s KammermusikNo. 2. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik

The final piece “Symphony in C” by Bizet is on four movements and showcases the talents of Ashley Boulder, Tyler Angle in the 1st an Allegro Vivo; Sara Mearns and Jared Angle in the 2nd an Adagio; Baily Jones and Anthony Huxley in the 3rd movement an Allegro Vivace; and Erica Pereira and Andrew Scordato in the 4th movement an Allegro Vivace which took us back to classical ballet with original Balanchine choreography performed with over 50 dancers.  The costumes for this final piece were a contribution from SWAROVSKI and you could see the twinkling crystals adorning their tutus from the back row.

Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia in Jerome Robbins’ Opus 19/The Dreamer. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik

Artistic Director of the NYCB, Jonathan Stafford reminded the audience that the NYCB has been performing at the Kennedy Center since 1974 and mentioned that Gianna Reisen wrote her first ballet last year when she was only 18 years old.

Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia in Jerome Robbins’ Opus 19/The Dreamer. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik.

“Composer’s Holiday” uses precision and smooth movement to get its point across and there are a lot of heel-to-toe steps which seem like a country dance.  But it is the elegant fluidity and angularity of the motions that elevate it.  In “Kammermusik No. 2” we see many sections performed in delayed mirrored sequence as if the dancers are continuously unfolding.

Sara Mearns in George Balanchine’s Symphony in C. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik.

“Symphony in C” allows Tyler Angle to show off his magnificent form and gravity-defying leaps with Ashley Bouder.  His brother, Jared Angle, follows in an equally memorable performance with Sara Mearns, my favorite dancer of the night.

New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s Symphony in C. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik.

The following, “New Works and New Productions” are scheduled to be performed on the evenings of April 4th, 5th, and 6th with a matinee added on the 6th.

“Easy” (Leonard Bernstein/Justin Peck)
“In the Night” (Frédérik Chopin/Jerome Robbins)
“The Runaway” (Nico Muhly, Kanye West, Jay-Z, James Blake/Kyle Abraham)

“Something to Dance About” Jerome Robbins, Broadway at the Ballet (Bernstein, Bock, Gould, Rodgers, Styne/Robbins, direction and musical staging by Carlyle)

Two Kennedy Center premieres, created for the centennial of Jerome Robbins, include Justin Peck’s “Easy” set to the music of Leonard Bernstein, and Tony Award-winning choreographer/director Warren Carlyle’s “Something to Dance About” featuring notable dance sequences from On the Town, West Side Story, and more.  Also by Robbins, “In the Night” features three couples of distinct personality set to four of Chopin’s elegant nocturnes.

Kyle Abraham’s “The Runaway”, another Kennedy Center premiere that fuses modern and classical technique with imaginative costumes by Giles Deacon, is set to an eclectic soundtrack that includes hip-hop giants Jay-Z, Kanye West, and others.

In the Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600.

Faust ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
March 19, 2019 

Under the direction of Garnett Bruce, Faust becomes idyllically condensed.  You didn’t really expect the 21-hour, five-act version, did you?  This one is three and a half hours with two 20-minute intermissions between acts.  Premiering in 1859, Charles Gounod’s opera debuted in the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris.  It derives from Goethe’s story of the man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the supernatural powers that would give him love and youth.  As for Méphistophèlés, he was all too thrilled to grant him the ultimate wish on the condition he serve him in Hell.  Unbeknownst to our soul-seller, Satan is determined to make it a two-fer.

Cursed by her brother, Marguerite (soprano Erin Wall) prays for forgiveness after his death. Photo credit Scott Suchman

First, he lures in Faust, then he takes his beloved Marguerite in the bargain.  It was an easy plan as Marguerite’s brother, Valentin, goes off to war, and can no longer protect her virtue.

Faust (tenor Marcelo Puente) makes a deal with the devil for wealth and beauty. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Audiences loved it.  It dovetailed neatly into their fondness for Byron and Shakespeare and was the just right fit for the ‘boulevard’ theaters of the 19th century Romantic period.  Though these moralistic productions were considered ‘low-brow’ recreation, the excitement of witnessing stage magic, then called, ‘phantasmagoria’, was as addictive as the schadenfreude of seeing a fallen woman get her comeuppance.

Mephistopheles (bass Raymond Aceto) predicts Marthe’s (mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel) future. Photo credit Scott Suchman.

Gounod’s opera blends inspired elements of comedy, tragedy, and passion with a hefty dose of evil incarnate.  Comedy first arrives when, as the despondent Faust is about to end his loveless life with a chalice of poison, Satan appears in a fitted doublet and feathered hat looking like Sir Walter Raleigh and says to Faust, “Is my attire not to your taste?”.  Doctor Faust, dressed in a manner befitting Copernicus, doubts his powers given his natty attire.  Not the sort of challenge one should present to the Devil himself.  Ah, well, Faust accepts the terms and the deal is on.

The devil (Raymond Aceto) looks on as Faust (Marcelo Puente) woos Marguerite (Erin Wall). Photo credit Scott Suchman.

There are many exceptional arias – the one between Faust and Marguerite is legendary.  It’s the moment when she decides he really, really loves her by plucking the petals off a flower – as in ‘He loves me. He loves me not.’   That’s conveniently after she discovers the casket of lavish jewels he has gifted to her.  After Satan’s urging to be more manly in his love-making, ‘Avant de quitter ces lieux’ marks the moment when she accepts his love.  Here is where she loses her moral compass.  Diamonds can do that to a girl.  You could be blindfolded and skip the projected English surtitles, and still hear how Goudnod’s music reflects the disparate emotions throughout the libretto.  Gounod was a pioneer in these reminiscence motifs and later composers borrowed his techniques.

Valetin (baritone Joshua Hopkins), a young soldier, prepares for war and hopes God will protect his sister during his absence. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Earl Staley’s gorgeous scenic design and costumes are storybook perfect.  From Faust’s study bathed in red to the villagers celebrating harvest time at a fair with a vignette of Adam and Eve, a juggling Pulchinello, giant masks on stakes, and acrobats tumbling across the stage cheer on the soldiers as they go off to war.  Later an evocative garden scene beside Marguerite’s Tudor cottage windows becomes golden-lit by the glowing hearth as the season changes and snow falls.  In the end when Marguerite faces her Maker to beg for forgiveness for her wanton and murderous ways, the stage becomes a massive church, Chartres-blue and featuring a massive cross.  If that wouldn’t put the fear of God in audiences back in the day, what else would?

The townspeople rejoice with wine and dance celebrations. Photo credit Scott Suchman

Utterly magical and highly recommended.

Featuring Marcelo Puente as Faust; Erin Wall as Marguerite; Raymond Aceto as Méphistophèlés; Samson McCrady as Wagner; Joshua Hopkins as Valentin; Allegra De Vita as Siébel and Deborah Nansteel as Dame Marthe.  With The Washington National Opera Chorus and Supernumeraries.

Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel CarréThe Washington National Opera Orchestra conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson; and Lighting Design by Michael Clark.

Performances are on March 22nd, 24th matinee, 27th and 30th 2019.

Faust Related Programs and Events

Opera Insights before every performance, Kennedy Center Opera House

WNO presents a free pre-performance education event prior to every performance of Faust. These events begin one hour prior to curtain in the Opera House and last approximately 20–25 minutes. Musicologist Saul Lilienstein’s Opera Insights on Monday, March 18, begins at 5:45 p.m. and lasts approximately 35-40 minutes.

Musical Preview of Faust and Eugene Onegin

Wednesday, March 6, 2019 at 6 p.m., Kennedy Center Millennium Stage 

Enjoy a free preview of musical highlights from two of opera’s grandest works: Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Gounod’s Faust, running concurrently this March. This special program features the vocal talents of WNO’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program performing each opera’s most famous works.

Guided Rehearsal: Faust

Friday, March 8, 2019 at 7 p.m., Kennedy Center Opera House

Explore the Arts. Audience members get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a world-class opera production through this unique open rehearsal experience. Using audio headsets, attendees can learn more about the production via expert commentary while watching a rehearsal with piano and the professional cast. Visit the WNO website for ticket information.

Artist Q&As: Faust

Monday, March 18, and Sunday, March 24, post-performance, Kennedy Center Opera House

Following the performances on Monday, March 18 and Sunday, March 24 in the Kennedy Center Opera House, please join WNO artistic staff for a wide-ranging discussion with the artists for an inside scoop on the production. These events are free to patrons presenting a Faust ticket and begin immediately after the performance.

“Touch Cart” and Audience Experience

Friday, March 22, and Wednesday, March 27, pre-performance, Kennedy Center Grand Foyer

WNO’s Touch Cart will be open one hour prior to the performances on Friday, March 22 and Wednesday, March 27 to experience first-hand real props and costume items featured in the opera. WNO’s Education Department invites patrons to come early to touch and explore items from the production.

Eugene Onegin ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
March 9, 2019 

Anna Nechaeva is wowing audiences in her Washington National Opera debut.  Nechaeva, in the role of Tatiana, hails from Moscow as do several of her leading cast members – Alexey Dolgov as Lensky of the dulcet tenor voice, Igor Glovatenko as Onegin, and Elena Zaremba as Madame Larina.  So, it was no surprise that the theater was crawling with Russians who were thrilled to pieces at seeing so much extraordinary Russian talent on an American stage.  A few Americans completed the leads with mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood as Filippyevna, and the marvelous mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann in the role of Olga.

Bolshoi opera star Anna Nechaeva makes her US debut ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Eugene Onegin, with its beautiful harmonies, dissonance and emotional fervor, hasn’t been produced at the Kennedy Center in 30 years.  It was an unusual opera for its time, composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and based on one of the great works of Russian literature by Alexander Pushkin.  In 19th C Russia operas predominantly followed the European model, restricting productions to Italian operas.  This was in the early days of Romanticism that had derived from Western civilization.  Later Realism appeared which championed creativity and the Arts.  Tchaikovsky blended the two to create a new dynamic that had never been heard.

Bolshoi Opera star Igor Golovatenko makes his US debut ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

You can feel the great emotionalism in this opera.  These are real people in real life situations.  The stories are familiar and as close to a soap opera as you might imagine, yet they are secondary to the universal emotions of the characters, many of whom reflect the lives of both Tchaikovsky and Pushkin who was considered the greatest Russian poet.  Pushkin himself died in a duel as does Lensky and the exquisite aria before the duel references Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

The set design is the original minimalistic 1990’s set from the Metropolitan Opera.  Changing lighting reflects the time of day, birch trees give a nod to an iconic Russian tree, and autumn leaves show it is harvest season.  The dramatic opening in which Onegin appears to be floating above the stage in a pool of white light against a deep blue background, brings to mind the surrealistic paintings of René Magritte or Salvador Dali.   The lights soon brighten to a golden hue to reveal a stage covered with falling autumn leaves that show the older ladies singing of their satisfaction in the pleasures of domesticity.  “Heaven sends us habit in place of happiness,” they agree.

Filippyevna (Victoria Livengood) and Madame Larina (Elena Zaremba) share memories of their youth ~ Photo Scott Suchman

As the sisters, Olga and Tatiana, vie for Onegin’s love, Tatiana breaks down and writes him a letter pouring out her love for him.  This is one of her most glorious arias, as she vacillates between pure love and the torment of a love that cannot be requited.  Tchaikovsky’s music so incredibly portrays this duality of emotions.  By incorporating Russian folk music against the grand themes of royal cotillions and military-inspired nationalistic music, he captures the emotional emptiness of high society.

Lensky (tenor Alexey Dolgov) confesses his love to Olga (mezzo-soprano Lindsay Ammann) ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Three artists from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program perform.  They are Samuel J. Weiser as Captain; Joshua Blue as Monsieur Triquet; and Joshua Conyers as Zaretsky.  Eric Halfvarson plays Gremin.  With the Washington National Opera Orchestra, WNO Chorus, and WNO dancers.

Peasants delight after harvesting fall crops ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Directed by Peter McClintock with Original Production by Robert Carson.  Conducted by Robert Trevino in his WNO debut. Trevino will go on to be Principal Conductor of Malmö Symphony Orchestra.  Lighting Design by Christine Binder; Set and Costume Design by Michael Levine; Choreography by Serge Bennathan; and Hair and Makeup by David C. Zimmerman.

Highly recommended.

Performances are March 17th matinee, March 20th, 23rd, 25th and 29th 2019.  In the Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

The Music Man ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
February 10, 2019 

The Kennedy Center’s “Broadway Center Stage” series has yet again brought us one of America’s most beloved musicals.  Described as a “semi-staged concert format” in which the actors are meant to perform with their scripts in hand, this production of The Music Man goes far beyond that, offering a complete and beautifully staged rendering of this heartwarming Meredith Willson show.

Norm Lewis and CastPhoto by Jeremy Daniel

The story of the shyster showman (or as Mayor Shinn played by Mark Linn-Baker calls him, “a spellbinder”) who comes to River City to deliver the country folk from the evils of a newly installed pool table only to hoodwink them on the notion of a kids’ marching band, is as relevant today as it was when it won the Tony Award for “Best Musical” in 1958.  What makes this show as fresh as corn husks off a cob, are the cast – well-known Broadway stars dazzling in leading roles and led by legendary director Marc Bruni – plus the sets and the snappy choreography.

Norm Lewis, Jessie Mueller, and Rosie O’Donnell ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Norm Lewis, who played the first African-American Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, and garnered a Tony nom for Porgy and Bess, plays Professor Harold Hill to Jessie Mueller’s Marian (Madame Librarian).  Mueller another member of Broadway royalty earned her Tony noms for Waitress and On a Clear Day winning in 2014 as “Lead Actress” for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.  You could just bathe yourself in her golden voice.  Other Broadway celebs are comic and TV star Rosie O’Donnell in the role of Mrs. Paroo, Marian’s Irish mother; veteran charmer Veanne Cox as Eulalie Mackechnie, the Mayor’s wife; and John Cariani whom you’ll recognize from his role in The Band’s Visit as Itzik and his Outer Critic’s Circle award-winning nom for Something Rotten!

Eloise Kropp, Veanne Cox, and Mark Linn-Baker ~Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The opening scene with traveling salesmen on a herky-jerky train ride brings it all back.  They are gossiping about Hill and his reputation as a conman and threatening to blow his cover.  But Hill is sitting in the back row, secretly listening and decides he’ll swindle the good-hearted folks of River City.

The music ranges from waltzes and marches to lively syncopated tunes and a sweetly mellifluous barbershop quartet who break into song whenever the tension ratchets up.

The Cast of The Music Man ~Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Enough can’t be said about the gorgeous set design and projections by Paul Tate dePoo III who gives us iconic floor-to-rafter scenes of small-town America.  And you will thrill to hear Conductor James Moore’s 20-piece orchestra in full view center stage.  Moore gifts us with knowing expressions allowing us to feel like we’re on the inside track.

Highly recommended.  If there is a ticket left, grab it and go!  And take the kids too.

Pro Tip:  Stay in your seats to hear the University of Maryland trombone section march down the aisles as the cast take their bows.  Its epic!

Also starring Damon J. Gillespie, Arlo Hill, Todd Horman, Eloise Kropp, Emmy Elizabeth Liu-Wang, Liz McCartney, Sam Middleton, David Pittu, Hayley Podschun, Jimmy Smagula, Nicholas Ward, Malcolm Fuller, Denis Lambert, Katerina Papacostas, Vivian Poe, Noelle Robinson, local actor and recent Helen Hayes Award winner Blakely Slaybaugh, Ryan Steele, Owen Tabaka, Daryl Tofa, Diana Vaden and Jessica Wu.

Choreographed by Chris Bailey with Lighting Design by Cory Pattak and Sound Design by Kai Harada.

Through February 11th in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Harlequinade ~ American Ballet Theatre in a Co-Production with the Australian Ballet at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
January 30, 2019 

Stella Abrera in Harlequinade. Photo: Erin Baiano.

If your taste runs to ballet en pointe in the classique style, then you are going to adore Harlequinade.  Set in a medieval town at the crack of the 20th century in Italy, this charming love story has all the elements of Shakespeare.  Boy from the provinces falls for well-to-do ingenue and her father heartily disapproves.  Yet with a little magic in the form of a Good Fairy, love finds a way.  It’s no spoiler to reveal the happy ending, it’s what we’d expect.

What’s exciting is ABT’s adoption of Marius Petipa’s original choreography which received its world premiere at the Hermitage Theater in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1900.  Petipa had by then been principal choreographer at the Mariinsky Theatre for 30 years and had created such iconic ballets as The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Don Quixote.

Stella Abrera and Thomas Forster in Harlequinade. Photo: Doug Gifford

In the mid-60’s George Balanchine had his hand in it with the New York City Ballet and the pas de deux choreographed by Ben Stevenson with costumes by Ray Delle Robbins, had wowed audiences at the Met with Rebecca Wright and Kirk Peterson in 1979.  In 1983 Balanchine reprieved the ballet with Cheryl Yeager and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

How did the company discover Petipa’s original steps?  The notations were in the Harvard Theatre Collection!  Costumes and sets are inspired by the original production, so basically, you are seeing the ballet as it would have been experienced in the Russian capital in 1900.

Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside in Harlequinade. Photo: Marty Sohl

Tuesday’s opening night production of Harlequin was danced by James Whiteside, who was aerially spectacular as he leapt to incredible heights and turned like a spinning top, and the enchantingly delicate wisp, Isabella Boylston in the role of Columbine, his beloved, with Alexei Agoudine as Cassandre (Columbine’s papa) and Thomas Forster as Pierrot providing much of the humor.  Stella Abrera was indelibly riveting as Pierette, and I will keep an eye out for in future productions.  It’s an enormous cast with seven principals, dozens of minor roles and 34 of the most adorable children – students from The Washington School of Ballet.

Scene from Harlequinade. Photo: Erin Baiano.

And, oh, the fanciful costumes and millinery confections – from mobcaps to tricorns to feathered frippery.  Harlequin in diamond-patterned satin leotards and Pierrot in a comical white satin jumpsuit with elongated sleeves making him appear a bit like those blow-ups on car lots when they catch too much breeze.

Recommended for lovers of classical ballet and those with fanciful imaginations.

Seen with Alexei Agoudine as Cassandre; Thomas Forster as Pierrot, Cassandre’s Servant; Stella Abrera as Pierette, Pierrot’s Wife; Duncan Lyle as Léandre, Columbine’s Wealthy Suitor; and Tatiana Ratmansky as the Good Fairy.

The Kennedy Center Orchestra conducted by David LaMarche with Staging and Additional Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky; Assisted by Tatiana Ratmansky; Music by Riccardo Drigo; Scenery and Costumes by Robert Perdziola; Lighting by Brad Fields.

Through February 3rd in the Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.