Spreading a message of harmony, love and environmental consciousness through opera, American lyric-coloratura mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato, triumphantly returned to the stage of the Harris Theater with her new project, EDEN, Saturday evening. The three-time Grammy Award and 2018 Olivier Award winner for Outstanding Achievement in Opera, brought a haunting presence and her signature powerful vocals to entertain fans in the Windy City. She remarked “EDEN is an invitation to return to our roots and to explore whether or not we are connecting as profoundly as we can to the pure essence of our being, to create a new EDEN from within and plant seeds of hope for the future.” Described as a “fierce advocate for the arts” her Avant-guard stage performance blended elements of performance art with operatic classics.
DiDonato began her show in almost complete darkness, slowly descending to the stage from the stairs at the back of the theater. Her voice echoing and enveloping the members of the audience as she continued her slow decent. The remainder of the show took place with her center stage on a podium created by Escenografia Moia, surrounded by two six and seven foot concentric metallic circles, slowly rotating around her as she continued to sing. The Kansas born diva joked, “I am from the Midwest. These are my people” between songs. At one point dropping to her knees, then the next moment laying face-down, recumbent on the floor. No one emotes drama quite like DiDonato. The bold and daring lighting, crafted by New York based lighting designer, John Torres, was more influenced by innovative pop concert passion than what is typically found at a traditional orchestral concert. Please forgive the comparison, but adorned in a periwinkle gown, with cool blonde hair and dramatic makeup, I couldn’t help but notice DiDonato bore a remarkable similarity to Queen Elsa from Disney’s monolithic hit Frozen franchise.
Just to the left of the spinning dias, conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, and surrounding the stage, a global ensemble of almost two dozen world class musicians known as il Pomo d’Oro. Since 2016, Emelyanychev has been il Pomo d’Oro’s chief conductor and together, served DiDonato well. With a blend of lyrics in both English and Italian, translations of the words were projected above the stage and behind the musicians. For those in the know, song selections were chosen from works by Charles Ives, Rachel Portman, Gustav Mahler, Biagio Marini, Josef Myslivecek, Aaron Copeland, Giovanni Valentini. Francesco Cavalli, Christopher Willibald Gluck and George Frideric Handel. For those not in the know, the songs selected included lyrics that reinforced the principle concept of EDEN; garden, nature, rebirth and personal renaissance. “How lovely was the fragrance of Linden”, “lovely flowers”, “as with rosy steps, hopes of endless nights”, “I am lost to the world” and “sun you redden your lovely eyes”. DiDonato made no secret her agenda, fusing operatic arias with environmental advocacy.
Speaking directly to the audience towards the end of her show, DiDonato commented about the importance of being a friend of the Earth and noted, “harmony” is “nature in balance”. Partnering with the Botanical Gardens Conservation International and the Chicago Botanical Gardens, audience members who attend this tour are provided native seeds to plant in the hopes we can all create our own shared experience garden of EDEN here on earth. She explained the Scarlett Paint Brush packets of seeds were “given by the fantastic Chicago Botanical Gardens.” Her hope is her fans “plant these seeds all over the world. You get to participate in that”. Enjoy “nature right through your fingertips”.
The final segment of the show once again began with Joyce DiDonato speaking directly to the audience about the state of the world. After the Covid-19 pandemic postponed her tour, she emphatically heralded and trusted “we would find a way to be together here” through the “extraordinary efforts of the Harris Theater”. Continuing, the “opposite of war is not peace, it’s creation” and challenged her audience with “what can we create right now”?
She spoke of a class of students in England who were tasked with the concept assignment “what if trees could sing”? Out of that came individual poems and performance pieces by those same students, which were then collected and reworked into a single song, “Seeds of Hope”. Originally composed by the children of the Canterbury Choir, Bishop Ramsey CE School, England and Mike Roberts, she was joined on this song by the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale and their conductor, Bonnie Kidd. Performing on stage was “transformative” for the students, however appearing the night before Easter may prove challenging. They were singing in Chicago at 9:00 pm Saturday evening at the Harris Theater, but also have appearances scheduled at Sunday services in Ann Arbor starting with 6:00 am call times. Trust me that is not a short trip and they shared they were scheduled to return home in the middle of the night. Something tells me those young ladies will spend much of their Easter afternoons taking well deserved disco-naps.
While the biblical concept of Eden was a “garden paradise” or “state of innocence and bliss”, DiDonato’s EDEN is far more grounded in reality. As her epic voice soared, her underlying message was squarely modern day Mother Earth. She concluded her performance with a quote “never was the shade of a plant more dear and loveable”. In this time of global unrest, truer words were never spoken. Here is hoping DiDonato’s seed of an idea will continue to grow.
Harris Theater presents EDEN with Joyce DiDonato played Saturday April 16, 2022
Essential Voices USA, Judith Clurman and Christmas Joy
Essential Voices USA, Judith Clurman, Music Director and Conductor, announces the release of Christmas Joy,a new collection of holiday music that was all recently commissioned by Essential Voices USA. The centerpiece of the recording is “Christmas Joy,” a through-composed work, scored for chorus and string quartet. The arrangement and text adaptation are by Josh Clayton and Judith Clurman. The carols heard are Silent Night; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; Angels We Have Heard on High; O Come, O Come, Emmanuel; O Come, All Ye Faithful; and Joy to the World. The two other pieces are “Illumination” by Pierre Jalbert (music) and William Schermerhorn (lyrics) and “The Snow” by Bill Cutter (music) and Lewis Carroll (lyrics). The recording on Albany (Troy 1955) can be streamed on all platforms. The recording was produced and engineered by Silas Brown, who was assisted by Doron Schacter and Michael Schwartz. The recording can be streamed on all major platforms. The published scores will be available in 2024.
Members of Essential Voices USA: Phillip Cheah, Paul D’Arcy, Olivia Sue Green, Chloe Holgate, Heather Jones, Linda Jones, Helen Karloski, Enrico Lagasca, Elizabeth Lang, Steven Moore, Neil Netherly, Nicholas Prior, Gregory Purnhagen, Elisa Singer Strom, Jason Weisinger with Apprentice members – joining on Christmas Jo y- Michael Douris, Roberson Keffer, Marie Schwab, and Norman Schwab; The Essential StringsSuliman Tekali and Yu-Chie Wang violins; Caeli Smith viola; and Coleman Itzkoff cello.
I Illumination 3:13
II The Snow 2:06III Christmas Joy 13:48
STREAMING LINK on all platforms
The premiere performances Judith Clurman will conduct her Essential Voices USA in A Concert and Family Carol Sing-Along on December 16, 2023 at St. Malachy’s – The Actors’ Chapel (239 West 49 Street), New York City, at 7:30PM. The chorus will be joined by The Essential Strings (Suliman Tekalli & Rita Wang violins, Caeli Smith viola, Aaron Wolffcello), Organist Stephen Fraser, and David Chase and Paula Leggett Chase, who will read beloved Christmas poetry. The event is part of EVUSA’S The Community Project, a program which provides concerts and sing-alongs and is free of charge to the NYC community.
The evening will include the World Premieres of the three new works that are featured in the ensemble’s recent holiday recording “Christmas Joy” (Albany Records): “Christmas Joy” – arranged, with text adaptation by Josh Clayton and Judith Clurman; “Illumination” – by Pierre Jalbert (music) and William Schermerhorn (lyrics);and “The Snow” – by Bill Cutter (music) and Lewis Carroll (lyrics). The poems that will be read include “The Night Before Christmas” (Clement Clarke Moore), “little tree” (E.E.Cummings), and “Love Came Down at Christmas” (Christina Rossetti). Organist Stephen Fraser will play an organ fantasy on the beloved carol “O Holy Night,” and the audience will sing-along with EVUSA on traditional carols, with newly arranged accompaniments for string quartet by Bill Cutter.
Here We Are Or The Search For The Meaning of Life
Let me just state that I love the Stephen Sondheim/David Ives musical/play Here We Are. It’s as if the genius, known as Sondheim was trying to resolve his life. The first act is cynical and the characters are hypocritical, while the second act is about coming to with grips with life’s choices and surrendering to the inevitable.
The music is like playing Sondheim jeopardy. His motif’s from other shows are blended into new songs that make you want to have a pen and paper to play the game. I can’t wait until the CD comes out. I’ve been told that it is being recorded in January.
The show is highly surreal, with life’s journeyIn question. Think “The Outer Limits” or “The Twilight Zone,” very Rod Serling.
Based on two Luis Buñuel films “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972) and “The Exterminating Angel” (1962). Act one has Leo Brink (Bobby Cannavale) a entitled tycoon whose opinion is the only one that matters, his wife Marianne (Rachel Bay Jones) who lives for beauty and is a bit on the vaped side, their friends Paul Zimmer (Jeremy Shamos), a plastic surgeon celebrating his 1,000th nose job, his wife, Claudia (Amber Gray), an agent who lives for the celebrity of it all, Raffael Santello Di Santicci (Steven Pasquale), an ambassador from Moranda who lives for the number of notches on his belt and Fritz (Micaela Diamond), Marianne’s younger sister, who wants a revolution, while also wanting to live the good life, searching for brunch. It turns out Leo, Paul and Raffael run a drug cartel. As the day goes down the hill Marianne keeps asking Leo to “buy this perfect day for her.”
Act two is a little more dark. While they finally find food, the consequences of their choices keeps them trapped in purgatory. Enter a colonel (Francois Battiste) whose parents were killed for $26.15, a soldier (Jin Ha) who has feelings for Fritz due to his dreams and a bishop (David Hyde Pierce) who wants another job, has a shoe fettish, and plays piano, until there is no more music. This act is very reminiscent of Steambath. I love the homage to “The World According to Garp” and the bear.
Playing butlers and maids and assorted restaurateur’sare the incredible Tracie Bennett and Denis O’Hare. Kudos has to go out to the wigs by Robert Pickens and Katie Gell and the neon various establishments. white box set and costumes by David Zinn.
Joe Mantello’s staging is exquisite, allowing for each of these brilliantly talented performers to take center stage. This is true ensemble acting and I hope when the Drama Desk is giving out awards this wins.
Where many have criticized the lack of music in the second act, it makes perfect sense. The music stops. The concept very much reminds me of Davids Cromer’s Our Town, when Emily dies and suddenly things are in color and have smells. It makes complete sense that once you are trapped the music would die.
Natasha Katz’s lighting really helps the shinny set take shape, Tom Gibbons’s sound makes the inner world come to life and Sam Pinkleton’s choreography is just enough to make this move seamlessly.
Alexander Gemignani, and Jonathan Tunick, make Sondheim’s music an art and I for one appreciate the subtlety and musicality. Many may not know that Sondheim was a game master and in this it is like he won the final game of “putting it together”.
Here We Are, is intelligent, witty with so much to say and if you ponder the meaning of life you to will walk away extremely fulfilled.
Here We Are, The Shed, 545 West 30th through January 21st
The Glorious Corner
TAP 2 — (Via Rock Cellar) Doubling down after a May 2022 report that indicated everything was a go for a sequel to 1984’s classic comedy/music industry satire This Is Spinal Tap, filmmaker Rob Reiner has now confirmed that plans are taking shape in a big way.
Not only is the sequel on tap (pun intended) to begin filming in early 2024, but Reiner recently told comedian/podcast host Richard Herring that “everybody’s back” for the sequel. This no doubt refers to principal cast members Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest, though Tony Hendra (who portrayed the band’s manager, Ian Faith, passed away in 2021).
The U.K.’s Guardian notes that the plot will reportedly center on Faith’s death, after which his widow inherits a contract that requires the band to do one last concert. Reiner is also due to return in the character of film-maker Marty DiBergi, a figure supposedly based on Martin Scorsese, who had directed celebrated music documentary The Last Waltz in 1976.
What’s more, Reiner also spilled the beans that appearances from Sirs Paul McCartney and Elton John and Garth Brooks are in the works too, among what one must assume will be a million other amusing cameos. After all, a film as beloved and influential as the original This Is Spinal Tap counts pretty much every living musician as a fan (give or take), so you know the sequel will hold nothing back when it comes to the entertainment factor.
In the podcast, Reiner also talked about This Is Spinal Tap’s remarkable afterlife, culminating in selection for the National Film Registry in 2002, after its initially unfavourable reception on its first release. “To wind up in the National Film Registry, that’s bizarre,” Reiner said. “We previewed it in a theatre in Dallas, Texas, and the people didn’t know what the heck they were looking at. They came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I don’t understand, why would you make a movie about a band that no one has ever heard of, and they are so bad? Why would you ever do that? Why don’t you make a movie about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?’ I would say, ‘It’s satire,’ and I tried to explain. But over the years people got it, and started to like it.”
Personally, I found the 1984 original movie just hilarious. Aside from a great send-up of the music biz, the cameos were just fascinating: Paul Shaffer as PR-man Artie Fufkin; Dana Carvey and Billy Crystal as ‘mime’ waiters; Fred Willard; Anjelica Houston; Russ Kunkel; Danny Kortchmar and Fran Drescher as promo-gal Bobbi Fleckman … all just inspired.
Reiner’s on a roll – his Albert Brooks doc Defending My Life is sensational. A must-see.
Maybe an update of The Monkees’ HEAD next?
SHORT TAKES — Mark Bego’s Joe Cocker tome hit #4 on theAmazon charts this week. Here’s a great review from Goldmine on the book by their Lee Zimmerman: https://l.messenger.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.goldminemag.com%2Freviews%2Fjoe-cocker-book-shines-light-on-unfortunate-undercurrents-of-a-stars-career&h=AT2zaG2QKuxuHdpJO1nPHKaiO7IWkbAHCBRAeq3m4-J45axSc_wBott7ABve8Wcd7GpQC13gybDWb2Hale6D809pTdtqqmpDoxC4u6FLA7SNNJ2jHbVKKpSaH1kxX4Ide1AyXDJXSZL2idNWvOch4A
… Micky Dolenz sang “Silly Love Songs” at Monday’s Troubadour benefit for Denny Laine and our spy said he really rocked it. Maybe a Dolenz Sings McCartney album is next? … So, Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is authentic? Interesting choice for sure …
Writer and reporter Pablo Guzman passed this last weekend. An original member of The Young Lords, Guzman was a fierce fighter and brilliant writer. On Fox 5/Good Day NY for decades, he most recently was a reporter at WCBS. Here’s the Daily News take: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12799071/Legendary-NYC-news-anchor-Pablo-Guzman-dies-aged-73-Big-Apple-veteran-reporter-dubbed-son-Bronx-founded-Puerto-Rican-activist-group-Young-Lords-journalist.html …
And it’s official, the NY-launch for the Mark Bego Joe Cocker book will be Tuesday, January 9 at Steve Walter’s Cutting Room.
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Sara Gore; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Daryl Estrea; Tony King; Ace Shortly; Kjersti and Jeremy Long; Debbie Gibson; Van Dean; Liz Skollar; Maude Adams; Robert Vaughn; Steve McQueen; Zach Martin; Coati Mundi; Avery Sharp; Steve Walter; Gary Gershoff; Jane Blunkell; Kimberly Cornell; Paul Iorio; Lee Jeske; MArt Ostrow; Peter Shendell; Sharon White; and ZIGGY!
The Glorious Corner
A CHER STEAL — This year’s 97th edition of the Macy’s Day Parade was a rather underwhelming one, save for Chicago – inexplicably singing “Your My Inspiration” – and the always, indefatigable Cher, singing a track “DJ Play a Christmas Song” off her new holiday-themed album. The first few bars will terribly auto-tuned, but that seemed to disappear and Cher’s vocals rang full and bold.
She was, typically, a pro. Mixing effortlessly and emotionally with the dancers in a terrific set. Some pundits reported the clip was shot days earlier, but she was live and, just sensational. I wish more of today’s performers possessed her vigor and skills. That’s why most of the current acts, here today, will be gone tomorrow.
As we went to press, we learned that this parade was Macy’s most-watched edition ever! Congrats.
HALL VS. OATES — Some terrible news appeared in Wednesday’s media that Daryl Hall had taken out a TRO against partner-John Oates. I’ve loved what these two have done for decades and I loved Hall’s solo albums; especially the one he did with Robert Fripp in 1977 Sacred Songs. His record company at the time (RCA) hated it so much, they held up its release for three years.
I also well remember them in the 80’s when it seemed you could’t turn on a radio without hearing their music. 29 of their 33 singles were major chart hits on Billboard. But I do go back to them even in the 70’s, with their terrific “She’s Gone” which basically launched them. And, my favorite album of their War Babies, produced by Todd Rundgren. Quick note: That album sounds as good and relevant as it did when it came out in 1974.
The problem seems to arise from Oates wanting to sell his portion of certain songs to Primary Wave Artists – which ironically owns several of their songs already. It’s a small point, but that seems to be the issue. In all actuality, it’s another case of a classic-rocker selling his music.
In Oates’ book several years ago (Change of Seasons: A Memoir), he hardly mentioned Hall and regrettably that animus has apparently reared its angry head. They’re Philly boys, I’m from Philly and it’s just an awful coda to what was one of music’s major success stories. Sad all around.
SHORT TAKES — Terrific article in this week’s Closer on Micky Dolenz. Check it out here: https://www.closerweekly.com/posts/micky-dolenz-on-telling-stories-on-stage-and-in-his-book/
btw: Dolenz tapes KTLA’s Countdown To 2024 this week in LA …
I first met Phil Quartararo in the lobby of the old Mondrian Hotel in LA with John Sykes and we struck up a friendship that lasted until he passed last week. He was at Virgin for a time and worked with the artists there including The Spice Girls and Paul Abdul. In these fast-changing-times in the music business, he remained somewhat behind the scenes of late, but admitted he missed working with the artists. Phil was a guy you never ever heard a bad word about. Huge loss. Here’s Billboard’s take on Phil:
… As you’ve not doubt read, there is trouble in the Marvel-comic kingdom. The latest Captain Marvel movie (The Marvels) didn’t perform nearly as well as everyone hoped for and their newest star, Jonathan Majors as Kang, is tied up in several court matters.
So, we hear that Kang is out and Doctor Doom is in. Stay tuned …
And Forbes’ James M. Clash has released Amplified; culled from his terrific interviews with the icons of rock ‘n roll; including Grace Slick; Art Garfunkel; Ginger Baker; Micky Dolenz; and Roger Daltry. Here’s the Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CNJZYW2J?ref_=cm_sw_r_apan_dp_WKCSH7AC0ZTK18RZF4ED&language=en-US NAMES IN THE NEWS — Steve Leeds; Kate Hyman; Bono; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Peter Abraham; Bobby Bank; Dina Pitenis; Frank DiLella; Donnie Kehr; Steve Leber; Don Wardell; Anne Adams; Billy Smith; John Boulos; Kimberly Cornell; Sam Rubin; Nexstar; and ZIGGY!
Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project and The Madison Square Park Conservancy Holiday Tree Lighting
Did you know the first public Christmas tree lighting ceremony in the country’s history took place in Madison Square Park? Celebrate the 111th anniversary of the first holiday tree lighting, with MSPC, the park community and neighborhood partners on December 6th from 4 – 6 PM
Enjoy this free joyful event with a photo op, baked-goods, and live music performances by acapella group, New York Life Singers, from New York Life Insurance Company and featuring guest vocalist Gabrielle Lee with Broadway Pianist and Musical Director, Alvin Hough Jr. in partnership with the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project.
Know before you go:
- Giveaways while supplies last.
- No stroller parking is available so please consider leaving strollers at home if possible.
- Free and open to the public, no reservations are necessary.
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