Category: Music

The 1893 opera “Manon Lescaut” was the third created by Giacomo Puccini, but it was the first that displayed the full range of his budding mastery of the art form. Even if the piece lacks some of the refinement of Puccini’s later classics, it includes music strongly informed by the great composers of the past, even Richard Wagner, but also gives indications of how his characteristic style would develop in subsequent operas. The orchestra, conducted with great finesse on this occasion by Maestro Fabio Luisi, plays a major role in telling the story, and the score is a clear precursor of the great cinematic soundtracks of the next century. For these reasons, it was exciting to see the work presented in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera last Friday night.

Based on the 1731 novel “L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut” by the Abbé Prévost, the opera depicts the struggles of the title heroine as she must choose between with her love for a poor-but-ardent student, Renault des Grieux and her ambitions for wealth and notoriety. Over the course of the evening, Manon goes from simple girl headed for a convent to a glamorous Parisian socialite, and ultimately her dual desires clash with tragic consequences. It is a story that continues to surprise at every turn and depicts, with bold color, the passion and fervor of young love.

This new staging of “Manon Lescaut” marked the fourth production by British director Sir Richard Eyre, who updated the setting to France during the German occupation during World War II. With a drab but evocative set by Rob Howell and fetching period costumes by Fotini Dimou, the production presents many beautiful images, but feels more like a string of attractive poses than an organic narrative. Hopefully, as the performers gain greater comfort with the concept, their characterizations will mature, and subsequent outings will be far more cohesive.

Soprano Kristine Opolais is becoming a go-to interpreter of Puccini’s music at the Met, having sung three of the composer’s heroines there in recent seasons. As Manon, Opolais brought a sultry, lyrical timbre, but her vocal performance was inconsistent at times. While the role’s stunning arias were polished and moving, moments between the showstoppers were given less care, and her top notes did not always sound secure. Still, Opolais cuts a riveting figure onstage, and she skillfully maneuvered through her character’s mercurial mood shifts.

Making headlines, famed tenor Roberto Alagna stepped in to sing the role of des Grieux only a few weeks before the opening, replacing an ailing colleague. After Friday’s performance, though, it was clear that the decision was motivated more to boost ticket sales than to present the best casting choice. Alagna is undeniably past his vocal prime, and the role proved too taxing for his fading sound. Early on the tenor sang with bright ardor, but in the final two acts, his singing became increasingly labored and high notes were noticeably under pitch.

Both Massimo Cavaletti as Manon’s brother Lescaut and Brindley Sherratt as the scheming nobleman Geronte sang with robust baritones, and special note should be made of tenor Zach Borichevsky, who made his debut as the student Edmondo with youthful energy and warm sound.

The score is the hero of “Manon Lescaut” as it is replete with lush melodies and guides the listener through the plot’s many twists and turns. Columbia students enamored with Puccini’s later, more popular works should savor this opportunity to see his first masterpiece despite some theatrical and vocal inconsistencies in this production.

Performances of “Manon Lescaut” run through March 11. The March 5 matinee performance will be broadcast in cinemas and on radio worldwide. More information can be found online at

The first time I heard “All About That Bass,” I was inspired. Here I was, sitting in the front seat of my family’s minivan, watching my forty-year-old mother rock out to an incredible beat. She was singing along and when I strained to hear the words, I was moved.

“Yeah, it’s pretty clear I ain’t no size two,” Meghan crooned in her wonderfully malleable voice. I couldn’t believe it. A mainstream singer on the hottest pop station in DC was celebrating her curviness. It was entirely different, wonderful, and… feminist!

Recently, an article from the blogger called “Ambitiously Living” was circulating around my Facebook newsfeed. It was titled “Why I Will Never Respect Meghan Trainor.” Being a fan, I clicked.

In the article, the unnamed author claims Trainor is going about feminism all wrong. “You have manipulated thousands of adolescent teenagers into a twisted ideology of positive body image,” she says to Trainor. As it continues, she goes on to discuss how, in her mind, Trainor’s music essentially damages young women’s body images.

And here’s where I’d like to disagree. In my mind, Meghan Trainor is an incredible role model and a modern feminist icon. Every argument this author put forward is, in my humble opinion, petty and narrow-minded. She casts judgement before judgement should be cast and attacks a woman for her own body image, the very same cause she is fighting against.

So, Ambitiously Living, here is what I have to say to you:

First and foremost, let’s address a statement you make in your piece: “You are a walking contradiction, and I do not respect you or your ideologies.” Woah. Hold up a minute. Regardless of your opinion of Trainor’s music (with which I adamantly disagree), you have no right to cast judgment on her as a human being. How could you know you do not respect her if you’ve never even met her? For all you know, Trainor could be the nicest, most respectful person you may ever meet. Do you automatically disrespect anyone who doesn’t agree with all of your ideologies? I certainly don’t. Those are the kinds of people who ruin the opportunity for peaceful talks and open debate. Please don’t be that kind of person.

Secondly, let’s break down your argument. You claim Trainor “tells [her] young and confused female listeners that a man’s acknowledgment is important, and the reason they should obtain a certain build.” Where you get this from her music, though, I’m not so sure. True, in “All About That Bass,” she argues men may appreciate a curvy body, but nowhere does she say this ‘approval,’ so to speak, is what inspires her to boast of her curves. It’s simply an acknowledgement of her reality- a proud acknowledgement at that, where Trainor points out she is happy and thriving in her relationships, and that her weight never holds her back.

“When you refer to these women as ‘stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll[s],’ you are belittling their lifestyle choices and their own self-image,” you say. But this is also mistake. When Trainor uses these words, she isn’t putting down women, she’s building them up. “Don’t be what society tells you you must be,” she is saying, “don’t be a stick-figure silicone Barbie doll, be whatever you want to be. You can be curvy, you can be petite- just don’t listen to the media when it tells you to look like a Barbie doll. Look the way you want to look because that’s how you want to look.” It’s a misunderstanding to assume Trainor is attacking thin women, and honestly, a step back in feminism.

The only slightly persuasive argument in the author’s critique of the talented Meghan Trainor is when she argues the singer has “even managed to degrade those 11 million individuals [who have suffered from eating disorders] by making light of their struggle in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. You told interviewers ‘you were never strong enough to have an eating disorder.’” Yes, at first glance, this statement is shocking, and possibly even offensive. But at the same time, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. As someone who has lived at both sides of the scale—with an overweight and then a dangerously thin body- I am acutely aware of the struggles women face when examining their own body weight. And as someone who fought and beat an eating disorder, I also know that it is indeed a test of strength. I was overweight for years, and I toyed with the idea of bulimia for as long as I could imagine. The reason it took me so long to go through with it was not a testament to my will- I wasn’t “strong enough” because I had convinced myself I would be ugly forever.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. Submitting to an eating disorder was the worst decision I ever made, and I do not condone nor make light of the struggle of bulimia nervosa or others like it. But there is also a seriously degrading self-image in the mind of a woman who says she is not “strong enough” to have an eating disorder. On that topic we should never cast judgment.

Ambitiously Living, you may have just degraded a woman for her body image to respond to what you call a degrading song. But that’s not right. Attacking an insult with more insults never solves the problem. Honestly, attacking a woman for her body-image should never be okay, no matter which side of the scale she’s on.

When I bought Trainor’s album Title, every track was beaming with feminist pride. In “Lips Are Movin’” and “No Good For You,” she decries abusive and imbalanced relationships. In “Walkashame,” she asserts a woman’s right to her sexuality. In “My Selfish Heart,” she values a woman’s career and right to choose her own path. And yes, in “All About That Bass,” she rallies for positive body image.

So, Meghan, I support you. I applaud you. Keep fighting the good fight and forget the haters. You are beautiful.



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On January 29th, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky returned to the Metropolitan Opera to continue her season-long journey tackling Gaetano Donizetti’s “Tudor Trilogy.” With performances as Anne Boleyn behind her, Radvanovsky appeared as the controversial Mary, Queen of Scotts, in “Maria Stuarda.” Even more than Anne Boleyn, this role sits particularly well in the soprano’s robust voice, and she masterfully claimed another success with an impassioned portrayal of the willful heroine.

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Today we’re announcing the launch of Lion Beats, the Lion’s first major project. With Lion Beats, we’re creating a new platform to showcase musical talent on campus while also offering a new forum for people to share playlists. Continue to check out the project over the next few months as we add new playlists and showcase students on campus.

Every month, we will be releasing a new collection of playlists to get you through the semester, created by Columbia students, staff, and faculty. Lion Beats’s playlists can be found on it’s homepage with playlists hosted on Spotify and SoundCloud. We hope you take these as a new chance to find that new song or even learn what some of your peers enjoy listening to.

The Lion team is also thankful to Kevin Chiu (SEAS ’17) for allowing us to use his photos and videos on our homepage. Check out more of his work here.

Interested in joining the Lion Beats team or getting your work featured on the site? Email us at

I’ve always considered myself a shy admirer of jazz. I played trumpet for seven years, six of those being with a jazz band. Despite my time spent on the genre, which can be considered either a little or a lot based on whom you ask, I never felt that I had a good enough understanding to claim fanaticism or true jazz musicianship. Performing jazz felt wrong in some bizarre way. There was always the question of what sort of soul you have to possess in order to play something that can be considered jazz. I put the trumpet down about two years ago, but my interest never waned. Since I missed the great vibes of jazz music and needed to write a concert report for Music Hum, I decided to head down to Smalls Jazz Club.

Occasionally, the journey is as interesting and influential as the destination. I chose to take the A train, somewhat humorously, though not for comedic purposes, and ended up in the same subway car as frenzied man. This man was African-American, a noteworthy characteristic here, since his speech was focused on the racism he had found in New York City. A black man is as racially discriminated against in the city as he is in the south, or so this man claimed. He generalized, and then spoke to us directly, labeling us all as racists for one reason or another. Fellow passengers shifted in their seats, moving as far away as they could. The subway car was silent except for the strained voice of this man, who only grew angrier in response to the lack of his preferred reaction.  They did not even look at him. When the train stopped, most everyone vacated the car.

This shook me up quite a bit, as I’m not from the big city, but rather a suburban area around Columbus, Ohio. The anxiety of the situation stuck with me until I reached Smalls.  It was not exactly what I had imagined. I had only read about the venue, as I wanted the visual and auditory experience to be an authentic first impression. I would use the same word — authentic — to describe Smalls. The jazz club looked like a little speakeasy tucked into Greenwich Village. A small blackboard standing outside the door indicated that it would be $20 to see the current set. As a lower-middle class college student paying my own way through school, I hesitated. A man noticed my indecision, came over, and encouraged me to pay the money and enter. He told me that Don Friedman, an amazing and aging pianist, was playing that night, and it would be well worth the money. I took his advice and entered the club.

It felt as authentic inside as it looked from outside. I paid the man waiting just inside the door and then descended down a short set of stairs. The actual venue was tiny by my standards, though rewardingly intimate. The room was low lit, and the walls were covered with mirrors, framed photos, curtains, and tapestries. The floor was crowded with mismatched chairs, which had already been claimed before I arrived. To my right was an expansive bar, and to the left, a bathroom tucked away in a narrow hallway. There was no theatrical stage, but only a section of slightly raised flooring covered with a red carpet, visible upon further inspection during intermission. The place had a vintage, musty quality to it, which only added to the atmosphere of the actual music set.

The Don Friedman Quartet consisted of the man himself on piano, Tim Armacost on tenor saxophone, Harvie S on string bass, and Klemens Marktl on Drums. Though Armacost led on the tenor saxophone with an airy yet warm tone for a great deal of the time, every musician contributed greatly. Don Friedman especially impressed. Though he was usually relegated to the background, his quick licks and improvisation on his given chord progressions stood out for the length of the performance. There were no stands or sheet music, so I cannot accurately say how much was improvised and how much was not, though I’m sure a significant amount of the music was created on the spot.  

The quartet musically moved together so intimately that I was astounded by the efficiency of their wordless cooperation. When there weren’t any solos going on, I didn’t even feel the desire to pick out individual instrument voices, since the collective voice was perfectly satisfying. Passing solos around perhaps arbitrarily, each musician had a chance to prove their adeptness, and they certainly did, though they made it sound effortless. Improvisation of solos seemed second nature; unconscious yet highly thought out by some inner natural process. They had soul, mastery, and emotion.  I was greatly humbled by their performances. I have never played like this.

I found the style of jazz the quartet played to be smooth rather than punchy, a style I was more accustomed to in my days of jazz trumpet. The melodies weren’t catchy and all that memorable like we commonly hear in current pop music. Instead, the melodies were fluid, flowing from one to another. You may not know exactly where it’s going at the moment, but after you hear the next line, you nod your head and think, “Yes, that’s right.” This may seem to imply a degree of blandness, but this was not the case. Intricate rhythms threaded with syncopation on the part of every quartet member drove the music on and kept the audience members on the edges of their seats.  Since I didn’t have a seat, I spent the night swaying to the contours of the music and tapping my foot to the persistently strong beat. Though jazz may not be entirely unique in its ability to enter people’s bodies and fill them up with musical euphoria, it is undoubtedly a frequent culprit.

More than happy to be drawn into this indigo haze of emotionally infused music, I was a bit irritated when a family to my left obnoxiously forced me out. Dressed to the nines, these people managed to be the most inappropriate and rude members of the crowd. They shuffled around, struggling with each other to get the correct, albeit complicated, order conveyed to the bartender. The two adult children of the couple occupied the front of the standing area, though their eyes were occupied with their smart phones as they perused Instagram and Facebook. While they stared at their illuminated screens, others behind them were forced to look at the backs of their tall heads.

The adult children were stereotypical in their behavior, as were the parents. The father shoved another man who was trying to get to the bathroom. His defense was simply that he “had to do it,” since the passing man was in danger of stepping on his expensive shoes. The final straw was the adult son taking a front row seat from a woman who had gotten up to use the bathroom. Now, I’m a firm believer in the “move your feet, lose your seat” rule, but the fact that this young man took a front row seat only to remain on his phone irked me.  On some level, I could no longer hear the music, and the show seemed over for me.

Perhaps I was being too hard on these people. They certainly didn’t reflect everyone in the entire venue. I once again had the man from the subway on my mind.  Looking around, I realized there was not a single African American in the entire venue. The musicians were all white, and so were all those who paid to see the show. The only African American face in the place was that of a young man in a picture frame behind the musicians. The image displayed this man sitting on the ground with his legs crossed.  He wore a woolen suit, a cap, argyle socks, and a wide, toothy smile. I only later found out that this was no random young man, but was Louis Armstrong during his first tour of Europe in 1933.  

Appropriation is a difficult topic to tackle, especially in art and expression. We have Miley Cyrus with her dreadlocks and twerking, Iggy Azalea with her arguably faux-accented rapping, and countless other examples, some more recent and obvious than others. Columbia is no stranger to this, as the school has employed black rappers two years in a row to entertain their predominantly privileged masses. It is common knowledge, or should be, that jazz is an African-American art form. It is a beautiful creation that managed to arise from African ancestry and the black struggle in America.  Yet now when you attend one of the most critically acclaimed jazz clubs in New York City, you might find only white faces.  

The jazz tradition was undoubtedly appropriated, but how good or bad this is seems impossible to judge. Though the musicians were all white, I’m confident that they had the right kind of souls to be playing what they played and were doing the music justice. I have the utmost respect for them and other jazz musicians of their caliber.  

Does everyone in the audience being of a lighter skin complexion and different background mean that we did not have the right or ability to truly enjoy the music?  Surely not, but I still think back to the man on the subway, indignantly going to another destination, while I attended a performance based on his very heritage. I can’t help but feel that I’ve stolen something from him that he desperately needed. I am not making a statement, but rather asking a question needing to be discussed: Where do we draw the line?