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Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

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“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

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A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

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Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

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Heather Orth as Margaret White, Carrie's mother [Photo by Eric Scanlon]
06 Oct 2013

Stephen King in San Francisco

Coincidentally last Friday night was the closing night of San Francisco Opera’s Dolores Claiborne and the opening night of Ray of Light Theatre’s Carrie The Musical.

Carrie The Musical by Ray of Light Theatre

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Heather Orth as Margaret White, Carrie's mother [Photo by Eric Scanlon]


If you follow popular culture in general and pulp fiction in particular you will know that both of these music theater pieces are based on novels by horror story titan Stephen King. Carrie The Musical (1988) is famous as the most monumental flop of all musicals until maybe Spider Man. The less said about Dolores Claiborne the opera the better.

Ray of Light Theatre is notable for many reasons, one of which is its feisty attitude to programming. If it is controversial (i.e. wannabe off-putting) it is perfect — in recent years Jerry Springer The Opera (blasphemy), Assassins (inappropriate levity), The Full Monty (male nudity). ROL Theatre makes it all innocent fun that leaves opening night audiences screaming (well, they seem to be mostly friends of the cast).

ROL Theatre is also notable for an enviable production standard. Shows are finished — slickly directed and ably choreographed. Sets and costumes are well designed and executed, suppressing any suspicion of imposed minimalism. Plus ROL Theatre avails itself of the Mission district’s 500 seat Victoria Theatre, a 90-year-old vaudeville theater once named Brown’s Opera House that is not as funky as it used to be but still retains a good vibe for well-produced, off-the-wall shows.

The controversy engendered by Carrie The Musical is how-bad-can-a-musical-be-and-still-be-presented, not to mention the questionable taste of exploiting the adolescent emotions that any hint of adult maturity has left behind. These emotions are not primal instincts, like in Salome for example, but truly base, everyday high-school emotions (though in more significant terms Carrie The Musical speaks to bullying, and to the tragic school massacres).

Carrie2_OT.pngCristina Ann Oeschger as Carrie, Jessica Coker as Miss Gardner [Photo by Eric Scanlon]

Already the object of ridicule Carrie has her first period (bleeding) in the high-school locker room shower. Her classmates throw tampons at her. One girl, guilt ridden, becomes sympathetic to Carrie’s plight, and forces her football hero boyfriend to invite Carrie to the senior prom. The Cinderella part of the story ends when another classmate dumps a bucket of water on Carrie. Carrie gets even by magically setting her high school ablaze, her classmates inside.

Meanwhile Carrie’s Christian fundamentalist mother, a complicated piece-of-work, must kill Carrie to protect her from original sin. Then the mother either has a heart attack and dies or is stricken down by unidentified outside forces.

The problem with Carrie The Musical in its current incarnation (it was revised for off-Broadway in 2012, and further revised here) is that its writers have found no effective way to infuse Carrie’s telekinetic skills into the action, rendering unrealistic and unexpected the conflagration finale. We need to believe that Carrie actually had the powers to create it, instead we were overwhelmed with production numbers based on familiar high school situations. We needed numbers about telepathic prowess — truly a missed opportunity when you think about it.

Carrie3_OT.pngCristina Ann Oeschger as Carrie White, Heather Orth as Margaret White, her mother [Photo by Eric Scanlon]

Carrie The Musical wants to be mostly about Carrie’s social life, but feels it must explain the isolation created by her mother, Margaret. Margaret in fact has a degree of emotional and intellectual maturity, however screwy, and she provides a rich, deeply human presence in the midst of general high-school superficiality. She draws the emotional focus of the piece to her complicated emotional histories and instinctual forces, and these become her actions. Margaret has a lot to sing about and Carrie The Musical makes room for her to do so. In comparison a character of such depth and complexity did not materialize in San Francisco Opera’s Dolores Claiborne, its one-dimensional actors motivated by simple, quite explicable reactions to ugly situations. Please see Dolores Claiborne in San Francisco.

Ray of Light Theatre casting was impeccable. These were your high school classmates, your gym teacher, your English teacher. Hopefully this was not your mother. They all sang at the top of their lungs for two hours, their emotions worn on their sleeves. Miraculously their voices held strong to the end, supported by an instrumental ensemble of six players always at full forteCarrie The Musical is plug-in music indeed.

This small company, with Berkeley’s West Edge Opera, and Carmel’s Hidden Valley Opera Ensemble have made some very interesting operatic art this fall, something often in short supply at our more corporate institutions. Carrie The Musical deserves to be a hot ticket.

Michael Milenski

Creative, cast and production information:

Book: Leonard Cohen; Lyrics: Dean Pitchford; Music: Michael Gore. Tommy Ross: Nikita Burshteyn; Norma: Samantha Cardenas; Miss Gardner: Jessica Coker; Frieda: Chloe Condon; George: Dan Hurst; Helen: Olivia Hytha; Chris Hargensen, Riley Krull; Sue Snell: Courtney Merrell; Billy Nolan: Forest Neikirk; Carrie White: Cristina Ann Oeschger; Stokes: Matt Ono; Margaret White: Heather Orth; Freddy: Danny Quezada; Mr. Stephens: Danny Cunningham. Conductor: Ben Prince; Stage Director: Jason Hoover; Choreographer: Amanda Folena; Scene Design: Kelly Tighe; Costume Design: Amanda Angott; Lighting Design: Joe D’Emilio. Victoria Theater, San Francisco. October 4, 2013.

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