Tag: review

The ending scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

 

On Thursday night, the Met opened its season’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio.

The protagonist, Leonore, is the most positively impactful woman in all of opera. Disguised as a man named Fidelio, she earns the trust of Rocco, the prison warden. He brings her to her husband Florestan, a prisoner locked in a cellar cell. Once there, Leonore defends Florestan from Don Pizarro, the governor of the prison, by threatening him with her gun. Because of her actions, Leonore is hailed as a heroine of “noble courage.” Joy reigns as the couple is safely restored when Don Fernando, the minister, arrives.

Representations of constructively influential women in opera are rare. Most are throwing themselves off of castle parapets (Tosca), displaying a deranged, febrile madness (Lucia di Lammermoor), or even stripping for kings (Salome). The Met picked an important moment to portray an antithetical example. Adrianne Pieczonka, a Canadian soprano playing Leonore, said, “And with what’s going on in the world, I think it’s great to have a strong woman—a brave, courageous woman on a mission.” The only thing missing is a direct reference to Trump.

Given its backdrop, how was this politically charged opera vitalized? Marzelline, Rocco’s daughter—performed by Hanna-Elisabeth Müller in her Met Opera debut—sang wonderfully. Her voice had a sweetness that was maintained throughout her range. Jaquino, Rocco’s helper—played by David Portillo—sang with appropriate anguish over Marzelline’s spurning of his love.

In the subsequent ensemble number, Rocco and Leonore (Fidelio to these folks) joined Marzelline and Jaquino. Rocco—sung by the role-switching Falk Struckmann (formerly Don Pizarro in the Met’s 2000 production)—rang richly in his low register, but thinned out up high. As the night went on, however, his upper tones took on a rounder, fuller shape. Rocco’s employer, Don Pizarro—invigorated by Greer Grimsley—sounded diabolical in his “Ha! Welch’ ein Augenblick!” aria. Grimsley’s repeated “Ha’s!” menaced his adversaries (and the audience!).

After Pizarro’s aria, Pieczonka presented her “Abscheulicher!” solo. Here and elsewhere, I observed her physically reaching upward for climatically high pitches. Her action affected her sound quality: her high register was quavering, forced, and over-vibratoed. In contrast, Müller visibly sunk down into her upper range. As a result, her highs maintained depth and quality. A casting switch between these two sopranos would be beneficial—but admittedly impossible—for this production.

Act 2 starts with a jolt: Florestan calls out “Gott!”, a desperate heavenly plea. Florestan—enlivened by Klaus Florian Vogt—has a many-colored voice: his timbre sounds like the mixing palette of a master painter. His unique hues transmitted the hopeful content of his singing.

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Klaus Florian Vogt as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Some of Sebastian Weigle’s tempo choices detrimentally affected tonight’s performance. In “Gut Söhnchen, gut, hab immer Mut” the tempo was inappropriately slow. I have courage—“Ich habe Mut!”—but apparently not enough to show any vigor. And, in Pieczonka’s “Abscheulicher!” aria, the orchestra sounded safe, even calculated, during accelerandos. The correct energy can be achieved in upcoming performances by a reconsideration of phrasing and articulation.

The horns, however, turned in an excellent performance in the “Abscheulicher!” obbligato. Their tone was pure and their phrasing smooth and effortless.

The singer’s performances were framed by Jürgen Flimm’s production. Flimm’s work, staged for the fourth time at the Met, effectively recontextualizes Fidelio in the mid-20th century. In the first act, the principal themes of hope and freedom are juxtaposed against a starkly bare prison. For the final scene, Robert Israel, the set designer, depicts triumph with a backdrop of wispy clouds strewn across a light blue sky: it is little wonder that the words for heaven and sky are the same in German.

At this euphoric ending, Don Fernando has arrived, ousting Don Pizarro from the stage. The role was performed by Günther Groissböck with an imperial, declarative style, suiting the character well.

After, the chorus, winds, and low strings exclaim joyfully. Freude und Freiheit—Joy and Freedom: Beethoven affirms cherished values with his distinct emotional directness.

During the curtain call, I saw that the bronze heroic figure—which looms in the background of the ultimate scene—was taken off of his horse, placed dejectedly on the ground. To complete the coup, I think, appropriately, Leonore should be put in his former position—a nobly “nasty woman” who deserves her high praise and honors.

 

Beethoven’s Fidelio runs through April 8, with casting changes. The opera will be broadcast live April 1, at 1:00 PM, on WQXR 105.9 FM. Information and ticket listings (including student and same-day rush tickets) can be found online at metopera.org

At first glance, In Transit seems a tad odd: an a cappella Broadway production with no orchestra  based inside a gritty New York City subway station. As the first a cappella show on Broadway, it’s hard  to know what to expect even with a book, music, and lyrics created by Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), Sara Wordsworth, James-Allen Ford, and Russ Kaplan. Yet as the lights dim and the titular “turn off your cell phone” a cappella jingle from the show’s creators begins, it becomes abundantly clear that the audience is in for a treat.

There’s something  simple yet beautiful about In Transit. Just under two hours, the show focuses on eleven individuals trying to live their lives in New York. Through a talented street artist, Boxman, the audience watches how these people’s lives intertwine and the struggles of balancing their hopes and dreams with the crushing sense of reality. Through his witty beats and charming personality, Boxman unfurls the lives and current struggles of the show’s characters frantically rushing to get on their train (or in some cases, begging for help to pass through the fickle Metrocard turnstiles).

The show features standout performers including Moya Angela (The Lion King, Dreamgirls National Tour, 30 Rock). Throughout the show, Angela effortlessly switches between three characters: a religious mother, a subway booth attendant, and a routine office manager. And in one part of the show, she saunters out in a dress completely comprised of New York City Transit Metrocards!

Another standout performance came from Chesney Snow as Boxman who could produce almost any sound with his mouth — including the sound of the Metrocard Machine again failing to accept the cash he inserted into it. Throughout the performance, it was clear he was energized for the role, as his vocals to immersed the audience in the eclectic cacophony of music and voices in the city.  

In Transit is a thrilling show that is relevant to almost everyone as it questions what it means to follow your dreams and how we deal with rejection and hardship. From start to finish, the show captures your attention and thrusts you right up to the bare, raw emotions of these eleven residents struggling to be themselves and overcome their inner demons. This show will resonate with almost every New Yorker who encounters the trials and tribulations of trying to achieve your dreams in the city that never sleeps. Oh, and the struggles of riding the subway…

Photo courtesy of Russ Kaplan

Photo courtesy of Russ Kaplan

To learn more about the show, we talked with Russ Kaplan, one of the show’s writers. Kaplan, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, majored in directing with a minor in jazz piano. During the interview he noted how he originallygot bit by the directing bug in high school. But it didn’t occur to me to start writing music for theatre until I was a grownup and started writing In Transit (at my co-authors’ encouragement).”

But how did the idea for making all a cappella musical come to be? According to Kaplan, “Well, we (the writers) were an a cappella group, so it just seemed sort of obvious at the time. It’s what we were already doing!”

What was the process like of making an a cappella musical? What challenges did you face?

The writing process is actually similar to “normal” musicals…you’re still following the same fundamental rules of dramatic storytelling and trying to write emotional and memorable melodies. The challenges emerge later with logistics and performance, and that list is so long it’ll make your head spin, but I’d say the main one is that all eleven cast members have to sing for a hundred minutes straight…so even a staged reading of In Transit requires exponentially more rehearsal than other shows.

What was the inspiration behind the story of In Transit?

Ourselves and the people we know!

What was the songwriting process like? How did you decide what each song would be about? Were any ideas or sources you drew inspiration from?

First, we’d decide as a group what new songs would be about and what the general sound should be like; then one lyricist and one composer would pair up to do a first draft; then that draft would come back to the group and we’d all tinker together until we had a final draft we were all happy with.  We tried to tap into as many musical genres as possible, especially those that you hear blasting on the subway regularly (which is to say all of them).

As a musician, what do you think music has the power to do for audiences?

Music pretty much gives my life meaning. It’s the thing that provides me with hope and gives the world its beauty.  It was like that for me well before I knew anything about music, and I suspect it’s true for most people, whether the music is “about” something or not. It’s pretty cheesy but I really do think it’s one of the few things that can truly bring people together.

But the biggest piece of advice Russ had for Columbia students? “Sing a cappella. It’s good for you.”

Tickets to In Transit can be purchased through the show’s website here. The show also offers a daily lottery for $39 tickets daily through the TodayTix app.

 

Photo by Victoria Robson

As Columbia Ballet Collaborative’s performers extended their bodies in beautiful shapes at their 2016 Fall Performances, it’s easy to see the elegance, strength, and fluidity ballet dancers are known for.  While students of Columbia University and Barnard College comprise CBC, they proved that dedicating themselves to academia does not make them any less dancers. They commanded the stage at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center on November 18th and 19th with an air of professionalism. Yet they kept a youthful, fresh take on ballet, melding the traditional to modern with impeccable technique and a focus on the articulations in the music to produce more profound pieces. Their fall performances offered six pieces filled edgy and creative choreography.

The opening piece, “Symphony in G,” choreographed by Amy Hall Garner, showcased the lines of the dancers. Dressed in simple black and pancaked skin colored pointe shoes, the dancers played off the the trills and fermatas of Mozart’s music with quick footwork and moments of soaring through the air. Solos and pas de deuxs were precise and outlined each dancer. With Garner’s close attention to the nuances in the music, the piece was as if the music came to life, that the music was made for the dancers. This high energy choreography not only set the scene with beautiful technique, but also the avant garde direction for the rest of the show.

Add a little heavy metal and pure expression of the music and you’ll get “A Single Marble Block,” a fierce student-choreographed piece by Sadi Mosko CC’17 featuring movement in the dancers as well as across the stage. It began with the howling wind paired with shaking motions and isolations from the dancers. She played with the sound and bass of Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days” as well as light to create an intricate and eccentric piece. Between bursts of light, the dancers reacted to each other as they traveled from corner to corner as a unit, or perhaps as a ‘single block,’ breaking apart at times, offering deep contrast to the unity.

“No Mud No Lotus,” choreographed by Ursula Verduzco, was truly a stunning piece with a beautiful message. It began with a downpour of rain and crashing thunder where in the spotlight, individuals danced against the rain. The sense of conflict depicted from the expressive dancers and the sultry music and thunder fell away as the piece went on. It transitioned into a light and harmonious dance where the performers bourreed and pirouetted with the smooth picks of the guitar that mimicked the sound of rain. Their colorful costumes brought a swirl of hues in the enlivened dance. The piece ended in the same thunderstorm at the beginning, but with the dancer loving the rain this time. A little shift in perspective -no mud no lotus- is sometimes all you need.

Contrasting with the fluidity of the previous piece, Andrew Harper pushed the boundaries in his piece, “Lost in Space.” It was innovative and fun to say the least. Each dancer, dressed in everyday clothes, seemed to resemble us in life. Dancers were plugged into earphones where sometimes their music synced up and other times the individual voices sang out slightly different from the rest. The dancing was more freeform and expressive in individuality. The music, “American Pie,”  and moments of individual expression alludes to the uniqueness of members in a community. They follow their own beat. But, there are also moments where the voices come together to create a powerful unity between the dancers.

“Moonlight & Sonatas,” choreographed by Kevin Jenkins, featured two pairs in an elegant derivation of classical ballet. The dancers built contrast between sharpness during quick movements with smooth slows. With their impeccable technique and partnering, the dancers created an illusion of slipping out of control, only to join into flowing, free releases of tension. They created beautiful imagery and gave attention to even the slightest hand flicks, letting the movement reverberate through the body. In the intimate theater, the audience could hear the breaths of the dancers, confirming the difficulty that they make look easy.

The last piece ended the show with a display of intricate footwork and showed just how incredible the dancers in CBC are. “Us,” choreographed by Miro Magloire, took three of Bach’s preludes and fugues and showcased something different with each: gracefulness and repetition, unity and technique, and quick mirrorings with crisscrossing and weaving movements. They played on shapes, repetition, and footwork, creating a dynamic piece. It’s difficulty was evident yet the dancers were pleasant and never fatigued, always expressing themselvesto the fullest. It perfectly closed the show by leaving the audience wowed.

CBC’s fall performances were refreshing and impressive. Ballet dancers are incredible, and dancers in the Columbia Ballet Collaborative are no exception, as they showcased a new take on the traditional ballet in their stunning fall performances. Take innovative choreographers and strong, graceful dancers, and you’ll create beautiful art.

Haley So is a freshman in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Although a lover of science and math, she can’t live without a little art, ballet, or music.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Burton, CC ’18

RESTAURANT INFORMATION:

Restaurant: The Handpulled Noodle

Location: Harlem/Hamilton Heights

Cuisine: Northwest Chinese Soul Food

Rating: 4.75/5Continue Reading..

kati-roll-entrance

RESTAURANT INFORMATION:

Locations: Garment District | West Village | Midtown East | London

Location Visited: Garment District

Rating: 4.5/5

Catering is available.

 

“Everything you are eating is made fresh daily. We make everything from scratch every morning. There is no frozen food.”

Anil Bathwal proclaims this matter-of-factly across the table from me. As the husband of Payal Saha, the founder and owner of The Kati Roll Company, I thought his boasting might contain bias.

Boy, I was wrong.

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Upon entering The Kati Roll Company | Photo by Justin Deal

Upon entering The Kati Roll Company on 49th W 39th Street, I was instantly struck by sensory overload—bright orange-painted brick walls (some exposed), distressed Bollywood movie posters, and top 40 pop/R&B blaring overhead. While it felt like too much at first, the ambiance came into focus when I looked down to see the hardwood floors and the minimal seating in the front with more seating in the back after one walks past the open kitchen. Overall, the mood straddled between New York City lazy chic and India street pop-culture.

Their menu is simple, and by “simple,” I mean it has focus and does not inhibit the customer’s ability to make a choice by giving you too many options. The caveat to this is that everything is delectable, so after your first try you may end up sweating over which Kati Roll to try next.

First, I tried the Aloo Masala Roll. I was impressed with the balance of flavors between their homemade paratha (lightly-fried, hand-rolled, layered bread) and the spicy and full-flavored fillings of hand-mashed, fried potatoes, tomatoes, and green peppers. “Spicy” describes their home-blend of over 25 distinct spices used on many of their rolls. This classic Indian street food creation was vegetarian heaven in roll form.

Next up was the Shami-Kabab Roll. Wow. The minced lamb and lentil croquettes inside the paratha provide both texture from the croquette shell and soft savoriness from the finely minced lamb mixture. I am a self-made connoisseur of lamb, and this hit the mark.

Three kati rolls | Photo by Justin Deal

Three kati rolls | Photo by Justin Deal

Lastly, the most famous roll—the Chicken Tikka Roll. Tender, juicy chicken, marinated in the house spice blend and yogurt…I could see why this was the most popular. The chicken is hormone and antibiotic-free halal chicken according to their website. It tasted so fresh! I realized Anil was not fibbing when he said everything was made from scratch daily. It shows in the quality of the food.

When asked about special dietary options, Anil said it is easy to accommodate such requests. If you are vegan, stay away from the paratha—it contains clarified butter. Instead, opt for the Roti flatbread. And make sure to choose one of the vegetarian rolls and simply request no cheese if it includes that (the Achari Paneer Roll appears to be the only one with this obstacle). Also, the Shami-Kabab Roll contains egg. The paratha is already gluten-free, so you’re ready to go! If that doesn’t work for you difficult ones (I joke I joke), there is an organic salad…

If you have a long break during the school day or want to travel downtown on the weekend, don’t miss out on The Kati Roll Company experience.

DIRECTIONS: Jump on the downtown 1 train and go to 42nd Street/Times Square. Get off and walk southeast for about six minutes to 49 W 39th Street. What’s great about the kati roll experience is that you can eat inside and enjoy a lager (the recommended alcoholic beverage to pair), soda, or a sweet yoghurt-based lassi to balance the spice of the rolls; or you can take it to go on your way to Bryant Park juggling class or to buy more (unnecessary) books from the New York Public Library’s gift shop (I opted for “Le Penseur” socks instead)! Anil says the kati roll is practical for hungry people on-the-go.

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How to Eat a Kati Roll | Photo Copyright by The Kati Roll Company

Also—the average price for a roll is $5.50! That’s cheaper than an Up Coffee Company salad-in-a-jar!

After I had finished stuffing my face and Anil taught me about the street fare of Kolkata, India (the source of inspiration), I started to wean away from the idea that the restaurant vibe oversaturated the senses. Instead, the restaurant’s humble liveliness embodies the spirit of the food, and that is something many of the imitation Kati Roll companies cannot live up to.

I will definitely go back.