Thursday, November 11, 2010

Latin Grammy concert honors Placido Domingo

By CRISTINA SILVA, Associated Press Cristina Silva, Associated Press – Thu Nov 11, 3:00 am ET

LAS VEGAS – Rock and pop crooners from throughout Latin America praised opera icon Placido Domingo as an inspiration to all Hispanics during a star-studded tribute concert Wednesday in Las Vegas honoring the Spanish tenor's career.

Domingo, known to popular music audiences for his "Three Tenors" performances with Jose Carreras and the late Luciano Pavarotti, was honored as the Latin Grammy Person of the Year for his cultural and philanthrophic accomplishments during the celebration on the eve of the 11th annual awards show.

"This is a great honor for me," Domingo, 69, told the crowd, clutching a crystal trophy to his chest as his eyes teared up. "How many people seated in this room here today deserve to be the Person of the Year. I know there are many."

In previous years, presenters sang the top hits of the Person of the Year during the tribute concert. Domingo instead requested his favorite singers perform the songs that drew him to a life of music.

It was a night for every musical genre.

American harmony group The Lettermen crooned their 1968 hit, "Put Your Head on my Shoulder," while country singer Alexander Fernandez serenaded Domingo with the traditional Mexican ballad "Jurame." Jazz artist Patty Austin performed "Moon River" and Spanish performer Paloma San Basilio purred the lyrics to the Caribbean classic love song "Piel Canela."

Ricky Martin, a past recipient of the award, presented Domingo with his trophy.

But it was Domingo himself who stole the show when he stood on stage for a rousing performance of the opera standard "Granada" as images of the storied Spanish city flashed behind him on a screen. Domingo, dressed in a classic tuxedo, drew the only standing ovation of the night.

Domingo devoted his acceptance brief speech to his love for the Spanish-speaking world, deeming the connection between Spain and its former colonies "extraordinary."

"Our language, our music, our culture, our happiness is contagious and the world has been infected with that music," he said. "Every day more people listen to our music in the world."

Domingo also shared a tender moment with his son.

"If I had the choice to sing like you or be like you, I would prefer to be like you," said composer Domingo Placido Jr. before embracing his father.

On the red carpet, artists such as Spanish rapper La Mala, Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra and Mexican singer Aleks Syntek cited Domingo as a musical influence.

"He is an inspiration for all of us Latinos," said Syntek, who performed Puerto Rican pop star Luis Fonsi's "Aqui Estoy Yo" during the concert. "He is a legend."

Domingo moved at the age of 8 from Spain to Mexico City, where he studied at the National Conservatory of Music. In 1968, he debuted with The Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

He founded Operalia, a contest for opera singing, and raised million of dollars in benefit concerts for victims of disasters such as Mexico's 1985 earthquake and Hurricane Katrina.

The great maestro has made more than 100 recordings and has won nine Grammy Awards and two Latin Grammy Awards. He also maintains a busy schedule as a restaurateur and director of two opera companies, the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera.

Domingo underwent surgery to remove a cancerous polyp from his colon in March, but quickly returned to the stage.

Previous recipients of the Person of the Year honor include Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias and Carlos Santana.

The awards show is scheduled for Thursday at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and will be broadcast live on Univision.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NYC Opera offers 2 views of family life

By MIKE SILVERMAN, For The Associated Press Mike Silverman, For The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Two 20th-century works that depict their composers' vastly divergent views of domestic life are on display for the New York City Opera's abbreviated fall season.

Leonard Bernstein's only full-length opera, "A Quiet Place," first performed in 1983, received its New York premiere last Wednesday night. On Sunday afternoon, the company revived Richard Strauss' "Intermezzo," which dates from 1923. They will alternate in repertory through Nov. 21.

Both performances showed the struggling City Opera at its best, with terrific casts, superb playing by the orchestra and high production values. But the Bernstein comes across as an earnest effort to resuscitate a work of limited merit, while the Strauss opus is an unexpected delight.

"A Quiet Place" was conceived by Bernstein and librettist Stephen Wadsworth as a sequel to the composer's 1952 "Trouble in Tahiti." That earlier piece is a jazzy, tuneful series of glimpses into the troubled marriage of a prosperous suburban couple named Sam and Dinah. The later work opens at Dinah's funeral and asks us to care about a family for which the term dysfunctional seems inadequate. There's the gay, schizophrenic, draft-dodging son, Junior, his sister, Dede, and Francois, who was (or still is?) Junior's lover but is now married to Dede. Sam is estranged from all of them, but eventually — after three long acts — they reconcile.

Following an unsuccessful premiere in Houston, the authors revised the work so that "Trouble in Tahiti" now appears as a series of flashbacks in the second act. But the reworking can't hide the fact that the earlier work has far more vitality than the later score.

And if "Trouble in Tahiti," for which Bernstein wrote his own libretto, has a glibness to its satire, the sequel wears its heart on its sleeve, sometimes movingly, but often with an obviousness that borders on banality.

The large cast is uniformly strong, particularly baritone Joshua Hopkins as Junior and soprano Sara Jakubiak as Dede. As Dinah, mezzo-soprano Patricia Risley provides a vivid presence (appearing as a ghost except for the flashbacks), though her voice occasionally has trouble cutting through the orchestra. As Young Sam, baritone Christopher Feigum draws an incisive portrayal of an arrogant husband who neglects his wife and son, has sex with his secretary in the office, and humiliates his defeated opponent at handball. (In one of many inspired touches in Christopher Alden's staging, Sam brandishes his trophy like a giant phallus.)

Conductor Jayce Ogren shows a firm grasp of Bernstein's rhythmically challenging score and draws clear and crisp playing from the orchestra.

"Intermezzo," for which the composer wrote his own libretto, is a far more overtly autobiographical work than "A Quiet Place." Strauss (renamed Robert Storch) made himself the long-suffering hero, and his wife, Pauline, became the hot-tempered, self-indulgent Christine. He based the slender plot on a real incident from their marriage 20 years earlier when his wife had falsely accused him of infidelity.

Musically, "Intermezzo" is not quite top-drawer Strauss, but even off the second shelf, his genius for interweaving gorgeous strands of melody shines through. Written as an extended series of conversations, interspersed with spoken dialogue, "Intermezzo" has no big set pieces such as the arias or ensembles familiar from many of his other operas. But there are some stirring orchestral interludes, as well as a glorious closing passage for the reunited couple.

Any performance of "Intermezzo" must depend to a large extent on the soprano playing the role of Christine, since she is on-stage virtually throughout. City Opera is fortunate in having Mary Dunleavy in the part. Her vibrant voice and lively acting give a warm and sympathetic quality to a character that could easily be seen as merely vain and tiresome. Her tone occasionally turns glassy on high notes, but for the most part, she fills out the lines with grace and beauty.

Baritone Nicholas Pallesen avoids smugness as best he can as Storch, and tenor Andrew Bidlack displays a ringing, full-bodied sound as the young Baron Lummer, with whom Christine takes up an innocent flirtation.

The fast-paced production by Leon Major is a treat, greatly assisted by Andrew Jackness' sliding sets. There's even a simulated toboggan track for a snow scene. Music director George Manahan conducts a buoyant performance that brings out the delicacy of Strauss' orchestral textures.

With hard economic times limiting its fall productions to just two, the company presented Christine Brewer in an all-too-brief gala concert on Thursday.

It was a welcome chance to hear one of today's few true dramatic sopranos on the stage of a New York opera house. Brewer was supposed to star in the Metropolitan Opera's revival of Wagner's "Ring" cycle in spring of 2009, but withdrew because of a knee injury.

She opened with a dazzling "In questa reggia" from Puccini's "Turandot," then offered a moving "Liebestod" from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," and closed with a group of songs by Harold Arlen and Jerome Kern. In the latter, she showed she can lighten her voice and move into popular mode without sounding the least bit arch or affected.