Tuesday, April 10, 2012

MSO names interim CEO, announces Assistant Conductor finalists

Posted By on Tue, Apr 10, 2012 at 2:15 PM

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra has named an interim CEO following Ryan Fleur's announcement that he was taking an executive position with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Art Seessel, the former President of the Seessel's supermarket chain, will stand in as acting CEO while the organization searches for Fleur's replacement.

"The Memphis Symphony has long been a leader in the Memphis arts community," Seessel says. "I look forward to being a part of the symphony team."

Also, the MSO has narrowed its search for an assistant conductor to five candidates and auditions will be held on Sunday and Monday, April 15-16.

The five finalists, selected from 106 applicants from 21 countries are Christopher J. Whittaker, Alejandra Urrutia-Borlando, Melisse Brunet, Conner Gray Covington, and Roderick Cox.

"Their backgrounds are varied and all impressive," said Mei-Ann Chen, MSO music director.

Whittaker, currently completing his master's degree at the University of Michigan, is a conductor, composer and pianist originally from from York, Pennsylvania. Urrutia-Borlando won the Fourth International Conducting Competition in 2007. Brunet conducts the FiveOne Ensemble in Cleveland, Ohio and Covington is the assistant conductor of the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. On two occasions Cox was selected to participate in the Conductors Guild Conductor/Composer Training Workshop at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.

The public is invited to observe a portion of the auditions, April 16 from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Don Pasquale is completely ridiculous. As it should be.

Posted By on Tue, Apr 3, 2012 at 10:57 AM

Don Pasquale may have been the first show actually chosen by Opera Memphis's new General Director Ned Canty, but in some regards Saturday’s opening night performance also felt like the last inspired gasp of something else. Or, at least a temporary suspension.

Opera Memphis isn’t returning to The Orpheum. Not for a while, anyway. Puccini's popular tragedy La Boheme, which inspired the frequently-revived Broadway musical/cultural touchstone Rent opens the season at Germantown Performing Arts Centre, where Canty staged his rambunctious Die Fledermaus. Donizetti's The Elixir of Love follows, and in the same location. The season ends with a weeklong festival of chamber Operas at Playhouse on the Square, where OM gave Michael Ching’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream its noteworthy world premiere.

So the changes aren’t simply a matter of location, location, location. Selections chosen for the festival include Bon Appetite and This is the Rill Speaking, a pair of one acts by American composer Lee Hoiby. Rill was written in collaboration with playwright Lanford Wilson, who died in 2011, and whose work is being produced by both Theatre Memphis and Playhouse on the Square next season. Bon Appetite depicts Julia Child in her studio teaching Americans how to bake a proper chocolate cake (with espresso!).

It’s a smartly plotted, synergistic mix of popular favorites and uncommon delights that errs on the side of quirky. There’s much for the traditionalist, and some tasty bait for the opera curious still put off by surtitles and stereotypes.

The Orpheum’s a jewel, opulent and over-the-top in every way. But the ornate frame can also compete with what’s happening on stage. Intimacy has never been a strong point. Intimacy’s also what made the a cappella A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It's what made a sold-out Die Fledermaus feel more exciting than just another clever staging of Die Fledermaus. Even though the grand chandeliers seem almost like an extension of John Pascoe’s beautifully-imagined scenic design, more intimacy might have have done Opera Memphis’s already excellent Don Pasquale a world of good.

Pasquale is inspired by the rowdy sometimes rude and often acrobatic performances born in the street markets of Italy. The Commedia dell’arte was eventually subsidized by the upper class, lost most of its edge and evolved into a more polite character- driven dance drama. It was eventually absorbed into the Opera buffa.

The characters are all stock and soaked in tradition. Stefano de Peppo honors those traditions as the titular Don Pasquale, an old (but well preserved) Pantalone who wants to marry.

Pantalone is the the Commedia’s ultimate cloud-punching “get off my lawn” crank. In the American idiom he has always been well represented from Jack Benny’s surreal stinginess to the posture and mannerisms of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.

de Peppo’s movement — let’s call it a lazzo of the bad back— is studied, precise and a real treat to watch. His expressive bass voice seems especially well suited for Donizetti's giddier passages.

Soprano Monica Yunus is a joyfully duplicitous Norina, the bride of Don Pasquale. The Metropolitan Opera regular has luminous eyes made for comedy. Her performance style is less formal than de Peppo’s but she throws herself into the part. The post shopping-spree scene plays out like a lost episode of I Love Lucy translated into Italian and set to music. All she can do is show off her prizes, all he can say (or sing) is, “DIVORCE!”

Don Pasquale’s a ridiculous story with no redeeming qualities and it was never supposed to be anything else. If it doesn’t sound spectacular look great and make you laugh there’s just not much there. With the help of conductor Ari Pelto’s nuanced work in the pit and Garnett Bruce’s mostly crisp (occasionally crowded) stage direction it does all of these things— mostly. And with quite a bit of style.

Essential deets here.


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