CULTURE & THE ARTS:
Words and Music
That Challenge or Don't
AUFBAU 62:7 Mar. 29, 1996 p13
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
March 25, 1996
Tiananmen [at Roslyn High]
They were going to write a musical based on the fall of the Berlin Wall. But they didn't. For various reasons, Roslyn High School teachers Brad Frey and Gary Shapiro decided instead to write Tiananmen, tracing the history of China from 1949 to 1989. The aborted Berlin musical thus joins two other might-have-beens in American musical theater history - the Gershwins' Dybbuk (given up for Porgy and Bess) and the Bernstein-Robbins' East Side Story (about a Jew and a Catholic, replaced by an Italian and a Puerto Rican in West Side Story).
At its third and final performance March 23, Tiananmen proved to be a spectacular local event, conducted by composer Frey with stage direction credited to lyricist Shapiro, boasting a cast of 50, video footage of the actual Tiananmen Square events, an onstage tank, and a simulated helicopter dropping leaflets. Both dramaturgically and musically inspired by the through-composed Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, the work could go places if trimmed and provided with a bit more metrical variety, as well as better lyrics. (I'm sorry but only an English teacher, not a lyricist, writes non-rhymes like "danger" with "anger," "cause" with "carouse," or "fool" with "dull." Maybe it would do better in a translation - it seems somehow to lose something in the original!)
The plot personalizes and attempts to humanize the conflict by focusing on a fictional child of China's cultural minister who loses her mother en route to Taipei while escaping from the 1967 Cultural Revolution. Brought up by American foster-parents, she then returns to China as a TV reporter following the events of June 1989. There she falls in love with one of the student leaders, who is tragically killed in the massacre while leading the students in one of the work's most rousing songs about democracy, "We're Almost There." This is the tune one goes out singing, wishing the musical and its creators well.
It's actually their second collaboration; seven years ago they wrote something called Whammy. Four years ago, in conjunction with the Columbian Quincentennial, choral music director Frey programmed a set of choruses from the Puffin Foundation-commissioned New World: An Opera About What Columbus Did to the "Indians." His programming choice was vetoed by the school administration above him. The message seems to have been that at least in the eyes of some administrators it's okay to criticize someone else's country, but not ours. "We're almost there." Are we?
CCO at Weill
A more successful marriage of words and music was to be heard in the finale of the International Opera Singers Competition Winners' Recital sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO) at Weill Hall March 13. Sopranos Karen Bogan and Joan Peterson performed Elliot Z. Levine's wonderfully wry and witty settings of four poems by Katha Pollitt entitled "Metaphors of Women." This was the second performance of the work, which seems to grow on repeated hearings. Particularly noteworthy is the subtle way in which "Rozhinkes mit Mandeln" is referred to in the text but only casually alluded to in the augmented seconds of the musical setting.
There were also solo performances of songs by Duparc, Rachmaninoff and Turina in excellent French and Spanish and so-so Russian; an aria from William Bolcom's McTeague sung by Ms. Bogan with four-hand accompaniment (David Holkeboer and Brian Zeger were the excellent pianists); and solo songs by Lee Hoiby, Ricky Ian Gordon, Hayes Biggs, Chester Bicardi, and Lori Laitman, whose setting of a beautiful Christina Rossetti poem inspired a new duet setting that will be premiered next season. Ms.es Peterson and Bogan climaxed the lovely evening with the great Letter Duet from Mozart's Figaro as an encore. Brave!
[Brooklyn Borough President Hosts]
Lukas Foss & Other Brooklyn Composers
in [LICA] Concert [Featuring a Kleist Premiere]
On [Wednesday,] April 24, 1996 at 7:30 p.m., in the Old Court Room on the second floor of Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street in Brooklyn, Borough President Howard Golden will host the first concert ever in Brooklyn by The Long Island Composers Alliance (LICA), featuring the music of composers born and bred in Brooklyn:
Richard Brooks [(a contributor to Aufbau)], Lukas Foss [(Meet The Composer grantee and former conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic)], Mary B.B. Inwood, Joel Mandelbaum (composer of several Jewish operas including The Dybbuk and The Village), Eero Richmond, Harold Seletsky (also known as "The King of Klezmer"), the late Elie Siegmeister; as well as a setting by LICA President Leonard Lehrman of a poem by the late poet laureate of Brooklyn, Norman Rosten.
Performers include Ronald Edwards, Janis Sabatino Hills, Helene Williams, and composers Lehrman and Seletsky on piano and clarinet, respectively.
The program will include a world premiere by Seletsky, and the world premiere of a suite from the opera The Marquesa of O which Siegmeister wrote with Norman Rosten, based on the novella by Heinrich von Kleist. Subsequent performances of the suite are also scheduled for July 2 and July 7 respectively at the Kleine Szene of the Semper Oper in Dresden and at Burg Beeskow outside Frankfurt-an-der-Oder (Kleist's birthplace).
The concert is free and open to the public.
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