Sunday, May 16, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of May 17, 2021

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

Arts for Life presents an on-demand video stream of their fifth annual Theatre Mask Awards, honoring excellence in community theatre productions during 2020, on their YouTube channel. Act Two Theatre’s production of the farce “Who’s in Bed with the Butler?” leads this year’s Theatre Mask Awards nominations with nine. Alton Little Theater, with its two productions of “Inherit the Wind” and “The Miracle Worker,” earned 12 nominations in total – six for each. Two classic comedies by Clayton Community Theatre, “The Philadelphia Story,” and Monroe Actors Stage Company, “The Solid Gold Cadillac,” both received eight nominations apiece. Arts For Life announced the TMA nominations on March 12, during the nonprofit organization’s first-ever virtual trivia night. For more information: www.artsforlife.org

The Blue Strawberry presents Open Mic Night with Sean Skrbec and Patrick White Sundays at 7 pm. "Come on down and sing, come on down to play, or come on down to listen and enjoy." The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity, mask requirements, and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Sister City Circus
Circus Harmony in St. Louis and Circus Circuli in Stuttgart, St. Louis's German sister city, present Sister City Circus, on Circus Harmony’s YouTube page.  "Through a series of online meetings, workshops, and classes the two troupes created 6 different circus acts and then filmed them at iconic architectural locations in each of their cities." This and many other Circus Harmony videos are available at the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Clueless through August 28. "Welcome to the world of big business, old mansions and family politics. You’re invited To the birthday celebration of the oldest, (and richest), man in town. Lucky you! Some would kill for the opportunity to meet Barnabas Barnaby Baggs, the famous Pickle Baron. He sure has made a lot of enemies on his rise to the top! I hope none of his enemies tries to kill him tonight. But if they do, will you know who did it? Maybe his latest girlfriend? The angry ex-wife? the spoiled nephew? Perhaps the jealous competitor? …Or You? Regardless, you’ll have to figure it whodunnit because we’re Clueless!" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show
Metro Theater Company presents The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show (La Oruga Muy Hambrienta Espectáculo), a bilingual production based on the books by Eric Carle, through May 23. "He's enchanted generations of readers since he first began nibbling his way to our hearts in 1969. Now, everyone's favorite caterpillar takes the stage in a dazzling, critically acclaimed production – featuring a menagerie of more than 75 larger-than-life, magical puppets." Live performances take place outdoors at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Monroe Avenue in Kirkwood. MO. The production is also available via on-demand video streaming April 28 through May 16. For more information: www.metroplays.org

Moonstone Theatre Company presents Moonstone Connections, a series of in-depth interviews with arts leaders by company founder Sharon Hunter. The latest episode features Teresa Eyring, who has served as executive director of the Theatre Communications Group in NYC since 2007. New episodes air the third Tuesday of each month; see linktr.ee/moonstoneconnections for more information.

The Muny presents Attuned: Cast Me at the Muny, a nine-part podcast that "showcases audition tips and funny stories, while offering an inside look at what makes casting a Muny show so challenging." The series is available on demand at the Classic 107.3 web site. For more information: classic1073.org/podcasts

Opera Theatre presents a Spotlight on Opera panel discussion about their upcoming production of the William Grant Still’s Highway 1, U.S.A. on Monday, May 17, at 5:30 pm, . During the livestream, the audience will be able to ask questions of panelists Ron Himes, Kevin Miller, and Rehanna Thelwell. For more information: opera-stl.org/spotlight.

Opera Theatre Puccini’s comedy Gianni Schicchi, opening on Saturday, May 22 and running through June 11. Performances take place on the company's new outdoor stage on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org/spotlight.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

Deal Orlandersmith in
After the Flood
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and All Arts present Until the Flood, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, via on-demand streaming. "On August 9, 2014, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an African American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting ignited weeks of social unrest, propelled the Black Lives Matter movement and prompted a controversial investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Celebrated writer, performer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith traveled to St. Louis and conducted interviews with dozens of people who were grievously shaken by Brown’s shooting and the turbulent aftermath. From these intimate conversations, Orlandersmith created eight unforgettable characters who embody a community struggling to come to terms with the personal damage caused by these events." For more information: allarts.org

R-S Theatrics presents While the Ghostlight Burns, a virtual discussion series featuring R-S Artistic Director Sarah Lynne Holt in conversation with St. Louis theatre artists, Mondays at 7 pm.  Conversations will be archived at the R-S Theatrics YouTube channel. For more information: r-stheatrics.com/while-the-ghostlight-burns.html

Come Together
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents streaming videos from the SHAKE20 festival, including re-imagined, condensed versions of classic Shakespeare plays and new takes on old favorites like Joe Hanrahan's Come Together, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pg/STLShakesFest/videos

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of Dante's Icebox - Origins by Von'Ricco Laneon Monday, May 17, at 6:30 pm via Zoom. "Due to being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, Dante Huxley isn’t a stranger to strange things.Now that he is off to college he is confronted by powerful forces, forcing him to decide between friends and love, good and evil, life or death.When Dante realizes his true power he begins to learn what it means to be a hero." For more information, visit the St. Louis Writers' Group Facebook page.

SATE, in collaboration with COCA and Prison Performing Arts, presents Project Verse: Creativity in the Time of Quarantine. Project Verse presents two new plays: Quatrains in Quarantine by e.k. doolin and Dream On, Black Girl: Reflections in Quarantine by Maxine du Maine. The performances are streamed free of charge on SATE’s website and Facebook page. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Classic Mystery Game
SATE also offers streaming performances of the shows originally scheduled for live 2020 productions: The Mary Shelley Monster Show, As You Like It (produced for SHAKE20, Project Verse, and Classic Mystery Game. The shows are available on their YouTube channel.



Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Review: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra wraps up the 2021 series with an evening of crowd pleasers

The great violinist Joseph Joachim once described Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64 as “the heart's jewel.” That jewel got an elegant 24 karat setting last night (Thursday, May 13th) from Second Associate Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) under Stéphane Denève

[Find out more about the music with my symphony preview.]

“I’m a poetic conductor,” said Maestro Denève in a 2019 interview. “I think that the Holy Grail of music is the tune, the melody.” There are heaping helpings of melody in Mendelssohn’s concerto, and they were served up to perfection by Mr. Denève and Ms. Boyer in a performance that, while it strongly emphasized the poetic, did not stint on the dramatic

"Death of the Poet"

The drama was most apparent in the stormy opening and the crackling first movement coda, while the lyricism was clearly heard in the gentle Andante second movement. Towards the end, it felt almost like a lullaby, gentle and loving. The final movement, Allegretto non troppo; Allegro molto vivace, raced along happily, making the most of Ms. Boyer’s light but silky tone and the pinpoint precision of her fingering. Her sound did not strike me as particularly robust, but it nevertheless had plenty of nuance, as her brilliant and varied first movement cadenza clearly demonstrated

She gave this somewhat overly familiar music her own spin, in short, which is no mean feat in these media-saturated days

The concert opened with a local premiere: “Death and the Poet” by Philadelphia-based composer TJ Cole. Inspired by “Death of the Poet Walter Rheiner” by German expressionist painter Conrad Felixmüller, it’s a dark, powerful work that seemed to echo elements of the Marche funebre movement of Beethoven’s “Eroica” and Mahler’s Symphony No. 9. It got a gripping performance by Mr. Denève and company, building inexorably to the desperate scream before gradually trailing off into something that is either acceptance or resignation.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 7

I was also impressed by their ability to maintain their concentration despite repeated bizarre vocalizations by an audience member during the hushed tremolos of the work’s final moments

The concert concluded with another certified crowd pleaser, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92. Conducting without a score, Mr. Denève and the band delivered a Seventh that was a fine mix of power and clarity. The famous Allegretto second movement had the strong, steady pace of a religious processional. The rapid-fire Presto third movement benefitted from impressively precise attacks and cutoffs, and melodic fragments got tossed from player to player like musical ping-pong balls. And the Allegro con brio final movement was appropriately rousing, with some excellent work by the horns and trumpets. It was, in short, a wide-ranging and well-structured reading that never failed to please, earning a proper standing ovation

This is the final concert of the SLSOs 2021 series and will be repeated Friday and Saturday, May 14th at 15th, at 7:30 pm. This is the last opportunity to hear the orchestra live until this fall; don’t miss it. Only 300 tickets will be sold for each performance, and strict health protocols will be in place. For more information, visit the SLSO web site

Meanwhile, the SLSO’s digital concert series continues with a concert from last fall’s chamber music series featuring works by Debussy, Ravel, and the mightily underrated Germaine Tailleferre through May 22.

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Opera Preview: Opera per tutti al fresco, a conversation with Andrew Jorgensen

Opera Theatre of St. Louis (OTSL) opens its 2021 season on May 22nd, once again on the Webster University campus but this time outside of the Loretto-Hilton Center instead of inside. I chatted via Zoom with OTSL General Director Andrew Jorgensen about the coming season and how it will be both similar to and different from the OTSL experience in the past.

Chuck Lavazzi (CL): I wanted to talk about what differences people can expect this year. I know it will be significantly different for people who are used to the traditional experience but for the rest of us, maybe not so much.

L-R: Andrew Jorgensen, Chuck Lavazzi

Andrew Jorgensen (AJ): I think the name of the game this year was adaptation. More than anything I wanted to ensure that we planned an opera season that wouldn’t be cancelled. We had to do that a year ago and we all understand why that was the right thing to do. I’m grateful to our community of supporters for helping us to do so in a way that we were able to make a settlement with all the company members who didn’t get to come work with us last year. But as we turned our attention in the summer of 2020 to what we would do in 2021, two things quickly became clear to us: the pandemic was going to last longer than any of us expected and so therefore we should not plan a return to normal.

And so that, with the encouragement of the board from Opera Theatre, opened the door for the staff to say “OK, what can we do that will be safe, artistically satisfying, and financially supportable?”

CL: Time to think our of the box and out of the building.

AJ: Yes, time to literally think outside of the box. We met with a small task force of board members that we assembled who were deeply connected with COVID response, at hospitals, and at large institutions, and this group said to us, “don’t count on normal.” That opened door to the question of how you adapt in a way that insures you can put a season on. That's how we arrived, all these months later, at the festival season that we are going to have.

We’re turning the parking lot next door into an outdoor opera house. We have just shy of 300 seats in socially distanced pods of two. So, you can come and have your picnic in our picnic area—that tradition will continue—with socially distanced picnic tables. Then you put your mask on and to into the outdoor seating area and take in a live performance.

With the collaboration of my artistic and production colleagues, we have basically turned the kind of stage you would see at an outdoor rock concert into a beautiful opera stage—full sets, full costumes, full lights. With the collaboration of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra will be with us outside. So, we’re planning a series of productions that actually, I think, represent (albeit in a very different way) the best of what you’d get in any Opera Theatre season.

With the advice of the medical team, we’ve planned for no intermission and no performance which is longer than 75 minutes, so that the logistics of coming together are made a little bit easier. We have smaller cast sizes, different forces; but even within those parameters we’ve planned for four different productions that I think represent the best of what Opera Theatre has to offer.

We have a classic comedy that we haven’t done in over 40 years, “Gianni Schicchi.”

Patricia Racette

CL: Yes, I remember that first production.

AJ: It’s one of the great comedies, and we haven’t done it since 1979!  In William Grant Still’s “Highway 1, U.S.A.” you have a one-act opera which is beautiful: beautiful music, incredible orchestration. It’s a brilliant work by a brilliant composer whose opera have been terribly overlooked. He was called “the dean of African-American composers,” but no one produces his operas. It is so within Opera Theatre’s mission now more than ever to bring that work back to, literally, center stage.

CL: You know, like a lot of people—especially those of us who cover classical music—I know William Grant Still as an instrumental composer, but I had no idea that he had even written any operas.

AJ: That’s perfect. That you say that delights me, because that, for me, is exactly why it’s so exciting to give productions of operas that need to get back into the center of the Canon—as Opera Theatre has done for so many wonderful pieces.

In “Le Voix Humaine” of Poulenc we have one of the great stars of the opera world, Patricia Racette, in an electrifying one-woman performance in a great piece. And then we have not one but three world premieres as part of our “New Works, Bold Voices Lab," which I’m really excited about. It’s a unique collaboration, a unique project; I think it represents the best of Opera Theatre’s ingenuity.

So within the context of all of these adaptations we found a way to put artists back to work, to reunite artists and audiences safely, and to keep art happening. And that, to me, is the most exciting thing.

CL: All this will be familiar to people who go to the St. Louis Symphony a lot: the limited time frame, no intermissions. All this stuff is going to be familiar to a lot of your audience.

AJ: That’s because all of us are working with the same team of doctors that are working with the St. Louis Symphony. We’re all responding to similar public health guidance and setting the health and safety of our company members and our audiences are our highest priority. I think many of us are coming up with similar kinds of solutions about how we can safely adapt despite the fact that even with a rising vaccination rate, we’re still in this pandemic.

CL: Yeah, we have a long way to go. Has it been easy to work with the union involved? I know there has been some friction between Actors Equity and performers who are represented by Actors Equity. I don’t remember the name of the union that represents your singers.

Nicole Cabell

AJ: It’s called AGMA, the American Guild of Musical Artists. And I have to say I am so grateful to Webster University, to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, to the singers’ union, to our stagehands’ union. Everybody has come to these conversations and to this season with good will, with flexibility, and with a desire to get back to work. And I think we recognize that we can all come together and collaborate and that we can make this happen.

Opera Theatre will be one of the very first opera companies and one of the first major art institutions in the country to return to large-scale live performance. And I think that is exciting and meaningful to so many artisans and artists who are eager to get back to their work.

CL: And you’re one of a limited number of venues—I suppose Tanglewood would be another—where it’s actually feasible to do this because you can work in an outdoor setting.

AJ: Well, we don’t really have an outdoor setting; we’re turning a parking lot into an opera house.

CL: Well, but you can create one.

AJ: Yes, and I think many different companies are finding ways to do just that. Many of my colleagues at other opera companies are inventing different kinds of solutions, and when it’s not terrifying it's really exciting to have this opportunity to re-invent our business model and find new ways to produce opera and to make art happen despite all these challenges.

CL: Now in addition to the regular season, you’re doing some other programs this year. Could you talk about those?

AJ: Absolutely. The first is that we will continue our annual Center Stage concert, which puts your young artists at the center of the action.

CL: Which is a tremendous show.

AJ: Yes, it’s a tremendous evening. So many of these young singers are at the start of brilliant careers and I’m always excited about who we’ll hear that evening because I’m sure we’ll see their names in lights going forward. Patricia Racette, who is the director of the Young Artists program, has brought together a fabulous group of young singers this year.

Will Liverman

We also will launch a new concert called “I Dream a World.” It’s presented in collaboration with the Missouri Historical Society. It will be at the History Museum and will be curated by Nicole Cabell and Will Liverman, two singers of color who are the leads in the “Highway 1, U.S.A” production. We are so excited to offer our platform to their vision of how we can celebrate Black Music Month, how we can observe the occasion of Juneteenth, and how we can continue to grow outside of the work that we have done, and to celebrate this extraordinary musical tradition that so many of us are not well-versed in.

It’s just an exciting opportunity to work with Nicole and Will and to see them spearhead this effort, bringing artists together and commissioning work.

CL: Because this is a new situation for your audience, I wonder if you could give people a quick overview of what they can expect when they come to see one of the operas. Because it is going to be a different procedure.

AJ: The first thing to say is that when audiences come the crowd size will be smaller. And everything that we’re planning has been thoroughly vetted with all the authorities and the doctors.

Upon arrival we’ll check everyone in. We’ll do temperature checking and make sure that everyone is feeling OK and that we’re ready to come together. We will ask people to be wearing masks when at their picnic tables and we’ll ask for masks at seats. We will continue our picnic tradition with prepackaged picnics so that people can feel good about coming together at a physically distanced picnic table. I think you can expect the Opera Theatre level of quality and customer care, but with lots of adaptations to make us all feel comfortable.

Instead of printed programs, we’ll have program books that are part of our new app that we’ve created, with all the information. We’re having contactless ticketing so people can print their tickets or have them on their phone. We’ll have lots of little adjustments that will enable people to feel comfortable after coming back into public settings—for many of us, possibly the first time back in large public gatherings.

CL: Will you be checking for proof of vaccination, or is that something you feel would not be that helpful at this point?

AJ: We talked about that. With the collaboration of the medical team what we’ve planned for are safety protocols that assume nobody has been vaccinated. And that was important to me because while many of our audience members will have been vaccinated many of our singers and staff are not yet vaccinated. So we are trying to maximize everybody’s health.

I am incredibly reassured that many of our company members and audience members will be vaccinated, though. That is the ultimate “belt and suspenders” in this context, but we planned in way that insures that even those among us who are not will also be safe.

There are also many adaptations on the singer and company member side: smaller casts, each cast in its own bubble so there’s no crossover between the productions and there's a regime of testing and quarantining and physical distancing so the cast members can self-isolate. They rehearse in masks. They will only unmask when they are singing so they don’t have to physically distance on stage. It’s about finding ways to set the art and the health as priorities and set protocols that support that.

CL: You folks did a really nice job of that with your digital season. Those were shows where no one wore a mask, but they had all been isolated together beforehand for two weeks, right?

AJ: Exactly. We learned so much with our collaboration with Nine Network, our “Songs for St. Louis,” our Holiday Concert, our wonderful “Pirates of Penzance” for our education programs—all those different efforts. So now we’re just “super sizing” those efforts as we bring a full festival company together.

L-R: Angel Riley, Ryan Johnson in
The Pirates of Penzance

The other major new initiative this year is that we’re inaugurating a program of free tickets called “Phyllis’s Seats.” We’re celebrating the legacy of Phyllis Brissenden, a long-time donor and board member—one of our founding members, in fact—who was so dedicated to the company and who left us a very significant bequest. She believed so passionately that opera could be for everyone. She loved to invite new guests to the opera. And so, celebrating that commitment we will have 30 tickets each night which are completely free, starting two days before each performance.

We’re operating at about one-third of our capacity—from 1000 seats down to less than 300—and from almost 28 or 29 performances down to 17 or 18. So there's a reduction of inventory, but we want people to know that they are invited and they are welcome, so that’s why we launched this program of free seats. And we will continue it and grow it as we come back into the opera house in future years. Which signifies this commitment that we believe that opera can, should, and will be for anybody. We want to include as many members of our community at Opera Theatre as we can, and we don't want cost to be a barrier.

CL: A couple more practical questions: I know that the stage will be covered but the audience area will not be (just like the Muny), so I wonder if you could tell us what kind of arrangements you’ve made for the weather in case it doesn’t cooperate. Which, this being St. Louis, it might not.

AJ: (laughs) Yes, so I guess the first answer is that it never rains in St. Louis, but I think you’d know if I said that, that I was probably not on the right page. Of course, we’d rather contend with the weather than with the virus, so that’s the boat that we’re in. We’re considering a number of different approaches.

We will delay the start of the performance if we feel by doing so that we have a better shot, and with shorter performances that might not be the worst thing. We might pause and continue with only piano if that’s an option. We’re having ponchos made up so that if it starts to drizzle, we’ll give audience members ponchos and we’ll all grin and bear it together.

We are also exploring the possibility of video capture of the season so that audiences who are rained out or who can’t get tickets may have access later to some of these performances. Obviously, we hope that every evening will be a beautiful evening, but we also understand that it’s a fact life and we will work with our audiences. If it gets rained out, we’ll refund your ticket but in general we hope that our audiences will make the best of it with us.

CL: And I guess, speaking of that, we should understand that the Loretto-Hilton Center will be closed and can’t be accessed, so people won’t be able to use those restrooms.

AJ: That’s right, but we have other arrangements that we’re making for company and audience members. And, again, that may be one of the benefits of shorter performances.

CL: That too, yes. One quick question: are you finding that you have to work with a smaller orchestra given the space, or is it about the same?

AJ: It will be a slightly smaller orchestra for the two larger pieces, “Highway 1, U.S.A.” and “Gianni Schicchi” because we’re also observing the same distancing requirements that the Symphony has in place for the players. But this is still an extraordinary orchestra.  

The “New Works, Bold Voices Lab”—these three short commissions—are actually designed with very small orchestral forces in mind. We commissioned those pieces this year for socially distanced forces so they could be performed during the pandemic. And the Poulenc is done with just piano, which is often how “La Voix Humaine” is performed.

CL: Is there anything else you want your audience to know that we haven’t talked about?

AJ: Just to underscore how excited we are to be returning to live performances, how grateful we are to our community for supporting us and making the best of this moment, and that we can’t wait to welcome everybody back to the opera after a very challenging year and after seeing so many things cancelled and pushed off. It feels really great. As I look out my window, I can see the tents being erected. It feels great to be returning to our work and we can’t wait to share it with all of you.

CL: Thanks, and we’ll see you at the opera.

The Essentials: Opera Theatre of St. Louis opens its 2021 season with Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” on Saturday, May 22nd; William Grant Still’s “Highway 1, U.S.A.” on Saturday, May 29th; Poulenc’s “La Voix Humaine” on Saturday, June 5th; and the “New Works, Bold Voices Lab” on Thursday, June 20th. The productions will run in rotating repertory through June 20th at the OTSL outdoor theatre on the Webster University Campus.

“Center Stage: A Young Artist Showcase” takes place at the same location on Saturday, June 19th at 8 pm and Sunday, June 20th, at 1 pm.  “I Dream a World: A Celebration of Juneteenth” takes place on Tuesday, June 15th, at 6 pm at the Missouri History Museum.

For more information, visit the OTSL web site.

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Symphony Preview: The dance of love and death

“It's very important,” said St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) Music Director Stéphane Denève in a 2019 interview, “that the audience understand that the new music we will perform is music that I believe they can love. It is true that my preference is for music that is very emotional, that is often very tonal, and that has a lot of melodies.”

Composer TJ Cole

He has proved that repeatedly in his choice of contemporary compositions over the last couple of years, and he has done it again with “Death of the Poet,” the work that opens this weekend’s concerts (May 13-15). Written by Philadelphia-based composer TJ Cole in 2014, “Death of the Poet” was inspired by “Death of the Poet Walter Rheiner” by German expressionist painter Conrad Felixmüller. A close friend and artistic collaborator of Felixmüller, Rheiner became addicted to cocaine and morphine, dying of an overdose of the latter in a shabby Berlin flat in 1925.  Felixmüller’s painting depicts the poet floating out of a window in the garish light of a surrealistic urban night. “It was overwhelming,” Cole says of their first viewing of the painting. “These dark colors—deep purples and blues and greens.”

Cole’s musical response to that experience is an essay for string orchestra that has an emotional resonance not unlike the second movement of Beethoven’s “Eroica.” Like Beethoven’s Marche funebre, it begins with a slow processional (very slow, in this case) in the lower strings. The upper strings add a nervous trilling motif as the music slowly builds to an anguished outcry for the full orchestra before slowly diminishing again until there is nothing left but that nervous trill, fading and then abruptly cut off—as was Rheiner’s life.

If you want to experience this work for yourself, the composer has provided a recording by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra on Soundcloud. It’s powerful stuff.

The mood lightens considerably for the next work on the program, the Violin Concerto in E minor, op. 64, by Mendelssohn, a work which the great violinist Joseph Joachim once described as “the heart's jewel.”

Portrait of Mendelssohn by
James Warren Childe
(1778–1862), 1839
en.wikipedia.org

It’s a jewel that apparently required a lot of polishing.

Although the composer announced his intention to write the concerto in a letter to his friend, the violinist Ferdinand David, in 1838, it wasn't until March of 1845 that the E minor concerto finally saw the light of day. Mendelssohn was ill at the time, so the Danish composer Niels Gade conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (where Mendelssohn had been Principal Conductor since 1835) with David as the soloist. Which was only fair, as the composer sought David's technical and compositional advice throughout the concerto's six-year gestation period.

The concerto was an immediate success and is now one of the most frequently played violin concertos in the repertoire. Audiences never seem to tire of it and fiddlers never fail to find something new in their interpretations. Julian Rachlin put his stamp on it the last time the SLSO performed the work in 2018, with David Robertson on the podium. This time around the soloist will be Second Associate Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer, whose previous starring roles with the SLSO have included Beethoven’s Triple Concerto (with Jun Märkl) and Cindy McTee’s “Einstein’s Dream" (with Leonard Slatkin).

The concerts will conclude with Beethoven’s “right trusty and well-beloved” Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92. First performed at a December 8, 1813, charity concert to benefit widows and orphans of soldiers killed in the Battle of Hanau—which marked the beginning of the end of Napoleon's dreams of empire—the work was greeted with wild acclaim by audiences and critics alike. The second movement Alegretto, in particular, "enchanted connoisseur and layman," according to a contemporary review in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung.

First page of Beethoven's 7th

Perhaps the most famous and most enthusiastic review of the Seventh, though, came from Richard Wagner. It's so effusive it's worth quoting at length:

All tumult, all yearning and storming of the heart, become here the blissful insolence of joy, which carries us away with bacchanalian power through the roomy space of nature, through all the streams and seas of life, shouting in glad self-consciousness as we sound throughout the universe the daring strains of this human sphere-dance. The Symphony is the Apotheosis of the Dance itself: it is Dance in its highest aspect, the loftiest deed of bodily motion, incorporated into an ideal mold of tone.

Now THAT is a boffo notice.

“If Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony unites people with the idea of brotherhood,” observes Mr. Denève in the program notes, “his Seventh Symphony unites people with the idea of dance.” These days anything that unites us in a positive way is certainly welcome, it seems to me.

The Essentials: Stéphane Denève returns to conduct the final concert of the season with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Second Associate Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer, and “Death of the Poet” for strings by contemporary American composer TJ Cole. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30, May 13-15. Only 300 tickets will be sold for each performance, and strict health protocols will be in place. For more information, visit the SLSO web site.

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Review: A warm and entertaining program of music for the inner child at the St. Louis Symphony

On the way home from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) concert this past Saturday (May 8th) my wife commented that there was a noticeable warmth to Music Director Stéphane Denève's conducting. I’d say there’s also an affection for both the music and musicians that is well-nigh irresistible.

[Find out more about the music with my symphony preview.]

"Peter and the Wolf"

Those qualities were clear before the music even began as Maestro Denève sat down on the podium next to actress and singer/songwriter Alicia Revé Like (the narrator for “Peter and the Wolf”) to chat about music, mothers, and other matters.  They each shared a song their mothers taught them, thereby providing a segue into the pair of opening works: settings of the poem "Songs My Mother Taught Me" by Antonín Dvořák and Charles Ives.

Originally written for voice and piano, the songs were performed Saturday night in arrangements by Michi Wiancko for string orchestra, with a single wind instrument taking the vocal line. Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews was the soloist in the Dvořák and Associate Principal Flute Andrea Kaplan in the surprisingly sentimental Ives. Both used their instruments to sing with a kindheartedness that was a perfect match for the music, although their placement towards the rear of the stage occasionally allowed the accompaniment to overwhelm them. Ms. Like read the English translation of the simple, sentimental poem in between the two performances, which was a nice touch.

Next was that venerable favorite, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” which has made regular appearances in SLSO programs since 1939, only three years after its first performance by the Moscow Philharmonic. Ms. Like’s take on the role of the narrator was a perfect balance of theatricality and simplicity—fun to watch without drawing focus from the many wonderful solo performances by the members of the orchestra.

Speaking of whom, here’s a shout-out to Ms. Kaplan’s virtuoso performance as the little bird, with all the rapid “flighty” passages delivered with assurance. Percussionists Alan Stewart, Tom Stubbs, and Will James were particularly fearsome as the hunters, Mr. Andrews was a sinuous cat, Principal Bassoon Andrew Cuneo a comically pompous grandfather, and Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks an elegant and, in the end, somewhat mournful duck.

Mr. Denève’s interpretation showed his usual fine sense of balance and ability to bring out some of the more interesting details of the score, including Prokofiev’s periodic dips into dissonance.

The "Pulcinella" suite

Concluding the festivities was the suite Stravinsky prepared in 1922 from the score for his 1920 ballet “Pulcinella.” The suite takes a collection of tunes by the short-lived (1710-1736) Italian Baroque composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (along with a few ohters what were mistakenly attributed to him at the time) and dresses them in the light, transparent style of Stravinsky’s early “Neoclassical” period.

Most of the performances I’ve heard in the past have given this music the kind of bright, nose-thumbing cheer associated with the ballet’s titular commedia dell’arte clown. In the program notes, though, Mr. Denève is quoted as describing the suite as “such tender and charming music,” so it’s no surprise that his approach was more on the lyrical side.

Which, as it turned out, worked just fine. The wider range of tempi allowed movements like the opening Sinfonia to really breathe and made energetic movements such as the Tarantella-Toccata and the Vivo (with its comic solo delivered with appropriate swagger Principal Trombone Timothy Myers) that much more exhilarating. Mr. Denève insured that the many solos could be clearly heard while still maintaining a cohesive ensemble sound.

There was, in short, much to love in this program.

Next at Powell Hall: Stéphane Denève returns to conduct the final concert of the season with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Second Associate Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer, and “Death of the Poet” for strings by contemporary American composer TJ Cole. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30, May 13-15. Only 300 tickets will be sold for each performance, and strict health protocols will be in place. For more information, visit the SLSO web site.

Meanwhile, the SLSO’s digital concert series continues with on-demand performances of a concert from last fall’s chamber music series featuring works by Debussy, Ravel, and the mightily underrated Germaine Tailleferre through May 22.

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of May 10, 2021

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

Arts for Life presents an on-demand video stream of their fifth annual Theatre Mask Awards, honoring excellence in community theatre productions during 2020, on their YouTube channel. Act Two Theatre’s production of the farce “Who’s in Bed with the Butler?” leads this year’s Theatre Mask Awards nominations with nine. Alton Little Theater, with its two productions of “Inherit the Wind” and “The Miracle Worker,” earned 12 nominations in total – six for each. Two classic comedies by Clayton Community Theatre, “The Philadelphia Story,” and Monroe Actors Stage Company, “The Solid Gold Cadillac,” both received eight nominations apiece. Arts For Life announced the TMA nominations on March 12, during the nonprofit organization’s first-ever virtual trivia night. For more information: www.artsforlife.org

Debby Lennon
The Blue Strawberry presents Debby Lennon in Setting The Standard With a Twist of Time Saturday, May 15, at 7:30 pm. "Debby Lennon and The Pfeffer Trio (Nick Schlueter, piano; Jeremy Pfeffer, bass; and Joe Weber, drums) explore standards from Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, The Gershwin’s and Harold Arlen, arranged with a contemporary groove, mixed meter and sly rhythms. A new and fascinating twist on time from superb musicians and arrangers." The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity, mask requirements, and other precautions. Tickets are also available for a live video stream of the show. The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

The Blue Strawberry presents Open Mic Night with Sean Skrbec and Patrick White Sundays at 7 pm. "Come on down and sing, come on down to play, or come on down to listen and enjoy." The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity, mask requirements, and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Sister City Circus
Circus Harmony in St. Louis and Circus Circuli in Stuttgart, St. Louis's German sister city, present Sister City Circus, on Circus Harmony’s YouTube page.  "Through a series of online meetings, workshops, and classes the two troupes created 6 different circus acts and then filmed them at iconic architectural locations in each of their cities." This and many other Circus Harmony videos are available at the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Clueless through May 14 through August 28. "Welcome to the world of big business, old mansions and family politics. You’re invited To the birthday celebration of the oldest, (and richest), man in town. Lucky you! Some would kill for the opportunity to meet Barnabas Barnaby Baggs, the famous Pickle Baron. He sure has made a lot of enemies on his rise to the top! I hope none of his enemies tries to kill him tonight. But if they do, will you know who did it? Maybe his latest girlfriend? The angry ex-wife? the spoiled nephew? Perhaps the jealous competitor? …Or You? Regardless, you’ll have to figure it whodunnit because we’re Clueless!" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show
Metro Theater Company presents The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show (La Oruga Muy Hambrienta Espectáculo), a bilingual production based on the books by Eric Carle, through May 23. "He's enchanted generations of readers since he first began nibbling his way to our hearts in 1969. Now, everyone's favorite caterpillar takes the stage in a dazzling, critically acclaimed production – featuring a menagerie of more than 75 larger-than-life, magical puppets." Live performances take place outdoors at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Monroe Avenue in Kirkwood. MO. The production is also available via on-demand video streaming April 28 through May 16. For more information: www.metroplays.org

Moonstone Theatre Company presents Moonstone Connections, a series of in-depth interviews with arts leaders by company founder Sharon Hunter. The latest episode features Teresa Eyring, who has served as executive director of the Theatre Communications Group in NYC since 2007. New episodes air the third Tuesday of each month; see linktr.ee/moonstoneconnections for more information.

The Muny presents Attuned: Cast Me at the Muny, a nine-part podcast that "showcases audition tips and funny stories, while offering an inside look at what makes casting a Muny show so challenging." The series is available on demand at the Classic 107.3 web site. For more information: classic1073.org/podcasts

Opera Theatre presents a Spotlight on Opera panel discussion about their upcoming production of the Puccini’s comedy Gianni Schicchi on Monday, May 10, at 5:30 pm, . During the livestream, the audience will be able to ask questions of panelists Sean Curran, Leonard Slatkin, and Elena Villalón. For more information: opera-stl.org/spotlight.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

Deal Orlandersmith in
After the Flood
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and All Arts present Until the Flood, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, via on-demand streaming. "On August 9, 2014, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an African American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting ignited weeks of social unrest, propelled the Black Lives Matter movement and prompted a controversial investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Celebrated writer, performer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith traveled to St. Louis and conducted interviews with dozens of people who were grievously shaken by Brown’s shooting and the turbulent aftermath. From these intimate conversations, Orlandersmith created eight unforgettable characters who embody a community struggling to come to terms with the personal damage caused by these events." For more information: allarts.org

R-S Theatrics presents While the Ghostlight Burns, a virtual discussion series featuring R-S Artistic Director Sarah Lynne Holt in conversation with St. Louis theatre artists, Mondays at 7 pm.  Conversations will be archived at the R-S Theatrics YouTube channel. For more information: r-stheatrics.com/while-the-ghostlight-burns.html

Come Together
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents streaming videos from the SHAKE20 festival, including re-imagined, condensed versions of classic Shakespeare plays and new takes on old favorites like Joe Hanrahan's Come Together, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pg/STLShakesFest/videos

SATE, in collaboration with COCA and Prison Performing Arts, presents Project Verse: Creativity in the Time of Quarantine. Project Verse presents two new plays: Quatrains in Quarantine by e.k. doolin and Dream On, Black Girl: Reflections in Quarantine by Maxine du Maine. The performances are streamed free of charge on SATE’s website and Facebook page. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Classic Mystery Game
SATE also offers streaming performances of the shows originally scheduled for live 2020 productions: The Mary Shelley Monster Show, As You Like It (produced for SHAKE20, Project Verse, and Classic Mystery Game. The shows are available on their YouTube channel.

Upstream Theater presents Healing: an Upstream Theater Retrospective available on demand at the company's YouTube channel through Tuesday, May 11, at 9 pm. "We hope you are as eager to return to the stage as we are. In the meantime, we asked some of our Upstream artists to revisit a few of our past productions that in one way or the other explored the theme of healing." For more information: https://www.upstreamtheater.org

Supper
The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Washington University Dance Collective production Supper via on-demand video through May 16. "Defined as a meal of an intimate nature, this is what you will experience, small but delightful morsels of creatively short dance offerings that work together to create a feast for the “virtual” senses.  Join us for an evening of dance that is both fulfilling and satisfying." For more information: edison.wustl.edu

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Symphony Preview: Try a little tenderness

"After the horrors of the First World War and the 1918 flu pandemic, composers reached into the music of the past. It may have been an escape from reality—a way to make things brighter, more hopeful.” So notes St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) Music Director Stéphane Denève in the program notes for the concerts he will conduct this coming weekend (May 7-9).

In fact, only one of the works on the program, the suite from Stravinsky’s 1920 ballet “Pulcinella,” actually dates from that period. Still, given our current pandemic and violent political upheavals, a program that Maestro Denève describes as “a breath of fresh, youthful air” seems more than appropriate.

Michi Wiancko  with violin
Michi Wiancko
Photo credit: Anja Schütz

That program begins with settings of Czech poet Adolf Heyduk’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me” by Antonín Dvořák and Charles Ives, as arranged by contemporary American violinist/composer Michi Wiancko. The unabashedly sentimental Dvořák version is the fourth of his “Seven Gypsy Songs” from 1880. It will be familiar to all, I expect, either in the original version for voice and piano or in one of its many instrumental solo arrangements. Ms. Wiancko’s transcription is for clarinet and strings, with SLSO Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews as soloist.

The setting by American iconoclast Charles Ives, on the other hand, is likely to be a new experience. It certainly was for me when I dug up a recording with a synchronized display of the score on YouTube by mezzo Mary Phillips and pianist J.J. Penna. Surprisingly sweet and sentimental, it carries a dedication to the composer’s mother, about whom we know very little. The Wiancko arrangement is for flute and strings, with Associate Principal Flute Andrea Kaplan in the solo spot.

Up next is a work often regarded as “kid stuff,” and not without justification: Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.” Composed in 1936 on a commission from Natalia Satz, director of the Moscow Children’s Musical Theater, this tale (with a text by Prokofiev) of the stalwart Peter’s mostly successful attempt to protect his animal friends from the nefarious wolf has proven to be wildly. popular world-wide.

Like many others d’un certain âge (sounds classier than “old”), I first encountered the work as a child, in the 1946 animated version by Walt Disney with the gravel-voiced Sterling Holloway as the narrator. It adds a lot of extra narration and visual slapstick while still retaining essence of the composer's original scenario. And it was, in any case, produced in accordance with a contract between Prokofiev and the Disney organization.

"Peter and the Wolf" has been popular with the symphony lately. The most recent performance, for example, was this past February with former Resident Conductor Gemma New. In 2009 the SLSO performed a semi-staged production with then-Resident Conductor Ward Stare at the podium and several local actors (including yours truly) playing the narrator, Peter, the wolf, and Peter's animal friends. This time around all the narration will be handled by St. Louis-based actor, teacher, and singer/songwriter Alicia Revé Like, whose performance credits locally include appearances with the Black Rep, The Repertory Theatre, Mustard Seed, and Fly North Productions.

Disney's "Peter and the Wolf"
Photo from rotoscopers.com

The suite Stravinsky prepared in 1922 from the score for his 1920 ballet “Pulcinella” puts the cap on the concerts. Or maybe that should read “cap and bells,” since the titular character was an obstreperous clown from seventeenth-century Neapolitan commedia dell’arte. Commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev, for whose Ballets Russes Stravinsky had composed his previous hits “The Firebird” and “Le Sacre du Printemps,” “Pulcinella” was a major departure from the composer and marked his embrace of the style that would later by called Neoclassical, with its emphasis on smaller orchestras and the emotional restraint of “absolute” as opposed to “program” music.

Stravinsky’s Neoclassicism would take a more serious turn over the coming years, but in “Pulcinella” it mainly takes the form of a collection of sprightly pastiches on tunes by the short-lived (1710-1736) Italian Baroque composer Giovanni Battista Draghi (a.k.a. Giovanni Battista Pergolesi after his birthplace in Pergola). Later research would reveal that many of them were the result of historical misattributions, but since Stravinsky put his own personal stamp on all of them, it probably matters only to scholars these days. Stravinsky’s full score consists of 21 numbers, including several songs. The suite you’ll hear this weekend includes only eight of those numbers (and none of the songs), but they’re all winners.

This is light, transparent, and melodically rich music with plenty of solo bits to highlight the skills of individual players—as you can hear in a joyful 2017 performance by the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich under Alondra de la Parra. As Mr. Denève says in the program notes, Stravinsky “captures the spirit of several 18th century composers and others in Pulcinella. He treats them with such respect, creating such tender and charming music.”

Tenderness and charm seem to be in short supply these days. A bit more is always welcome.

The Essentials: Stéphane Denève conducts Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” ballet suite, and settings of Czech poet Adolf Heyduk’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me” by Antonín Dvořák and Charles Ives, as arranged by contemporary American violinist/composer Michi Wiancko. Performances are Friday at 11 am, Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm, May 7-9. Only 300 tickets will be sold for each performance, and strict health protocols will be in place. For more information, visit the SLSO web site.

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Symphony Review: The winds are favorable in the SLSO's program of serenades by Strauss and Mozart

We had our share of rain here last weekend (April 30 – May 2), but inside Powell Symphony Hall the forecast was consistently sunny and breezy as Stéphane Denève and members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) winds performed a thoroughly engaging pair of serenades by Mozart and Richard Strauss.

[Find out more about the music with my symphony preview.]

In a reversal of the usual musical cliché, the Strauss Serenade for Winds in E-flat major, op. 7 that opened the concert Saturday night is the short and pithy one, while Mozart's Serenade No. 10 in B-flat major, K. 361 (370a) is the symphony-length work with seven entrancing movements. Both got exceptionally well-crafted performances by Maestro Denève and his musicians, beginning with a pleasant trip through Strauss’s musical terrain.

Stéphane Denève conducts the Strauss Serenade, Op. 7

Written when the composer was a lad of 17 who had yet to graduate from high school, the Op. 7 serenade has often been called a surprisingly mature-sounding work. Presumably that’s a reflection of the mood of quiet contemplation that can be heard in some of the composer’s much later work. Scored for a 13- member ensemble (three pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, four horns, and either contrabassoon or double bass) the work got a warm and welcoming treatment from Mr. Denève that neatly balanced the calm outer sections with the more stormy B-minor interlude in the middle.

It’s as if a serene sunset were briefly interrupted by a sudden squall that subsides into a euphonious horn chorale before returning to the more contemplative mood of the opening. Principal Horn Roger Kaza and his fellow players Julie Thayer, Tod Bowermaster, and Victoria Knudtson truly distinguished themselves here and in the Mozart that followed.

Speaking of which: Mozart was only a few years older than Strauss when he wrote the Serenade No. 10. The composition date is a bit obscured by the fog of history, but it probably dates from around 1781—almost exactly a century before the Strauss serenade. Equally obscure is the nickname the work has picked up over the centuries, “Gran Partita” (literally “Large Suite”). Someone other than Mozart scribbled it on the manuscript, and it has clung, like a stubborn barnacle, over the years.

It not hard to understand why, though. At around 45-50 minutes and boasting a 13-piece orchestra (like Strauss’s serenade, but with two basset horns instead of flutes) the piece is over twice the size of the conventional aristocratic garden party wind band of the late 18th century. Everything about it is, for its time, larger than life, from the opening Largo—Allegro molto that feels more like an opera overture, to the theme and virtuoso variations of the sixth movement and the high-stepping Finale seventh movement.

Mr. Denève’s interpretation was appropriately grand and expansive without ever getting within even hailing distance of stodgy. The first Menuetto was dignified and graceful—aristos gliding in the garden—with a bubbly, bucolic trio featuring Scott Andrews and Tzuying Huang on clarinets and Ryan Toher and Jane Carl on the larger and lower-pitched basset horns. The second Menuetto got a good-humored treatment that suggested the servants dancing in the cellar—more openly jolly with a Ländler trio that brings in a bit of brisk Tyrolean air.

Anyone who has seen Peter Shaffer’s play "Amadeus" in any of its multiple stage revisions or its 1984 film adaptation will recognize the exquisite Adagio third movement as the music whose beauty drives poor Salieri to distraction. Here in the real world, Erik Smith has called the Adagio “the loveliest of all movements written for wind instruments.” It was easy to believe both, given the lovely treatment of this music by oboists Xiomara Mass and Cally Banham (usually heard on English horn), along with Mr. Andrews, Ms. Huang, Mr. Toher, and Ms. Carl.

The Thema mit Variationen gave everyone a chance to show off a bit, including bassoonists Andy Gott and Felicia Foland, along with the redoubtable Erik Harris providing a solid foundation on double bass, just as he did in the Strauss. Mr. Denève followed that attacca (without pause) with a frolicsome Finale (to steal a phrase from Benjamin Britten) that brought everything to a happy conclusion. To quote Caitlin Custer’s program notes on that last movement: “Serve the coffee, gather the coats, get the guests on their way!”

Next at Powell Hall: Stéphane Denève returns to conduct a program of music that “connects with our inner child,” featuring Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” ballet suite, and settings of Czech poet Adolf Heyduk’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me” by Antonín Dvořák and Charles Ives, as arranged by contemporary American violinist/composer Michi Wiancko. Performances are Friday at 11:30 am, Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm, May 7-9. Only 300 tickets will be sold for each performance, and strict health protocols will be in place. For more information, visit the SLSO web site.

Meanwhile, the SLSO’s digital concert series continues with on-demand performances of “The Heart of the Matter,” through May 8; and a concert from last fall’s chamber music series featuring works by Debussy, Ravel, and the mightily underrated Germaine Tailleferre through May 22.

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of May 3, 2021

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

Arts for Life presents an on-demand video stream of their fifth annual Theatre Mask Awards, honoring excellence in community theatre productions during 2020, on their YouTube channel. Act Two Theatre’s production of the farce “Who’s in Bed with the Butler?” leads this year’s Theatre Mask Awards nominations with nine. Alton Little Theater, with its two productions of “Inherit the Wind” and “The Miracle Worker,” earned 12 nominations in total – six for each. Two classic comedies by Clayton Community Theatre, “The Philadelphia Story,” and Monroe Actors Stage Company, “The Solid Gold Cadillac,” both received eight nominations apiece. Arts For Life announced the TMA nominations on March 12, during the nonprofit organization’s first-ever virtual trivia night. For more information: www.artsforlife.org

The Black Mirror Theatre Company presents Nuts and Bolts: Playwriting 101, an interactive, 6-week introductory class on Zoom, Thursdays from 7 to 9 pm through May 6. "Are you interested in writing your first short play, improving your playwriting basics or simply joining a short-term writing group to give your skills a spring work out? Join local playwright Michelle Zielinski in an exploration of the elements that make a good play." For more information, send emtil to blackmirrortheatrestl [at] gmail.com.

The Blue Strawberry presents Stephanie and Marty Fox in But Here You Are Friday, May 7, at 7:30 pm. "Join Stephanie and Marty Fox as they chronicle their love story through song.  Witness the highs, the lows, and everything in between as they recount their journey and rediscover why it's so important to have someone you love along for the ride." The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity, mask requirements, and other precautions. Tickets are also available for a live video stream of the show. The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

The Blue Strawberry
presents Open Mic Night with Sean Skrbec and Patrick White Sundays at 7 pm. "Come on down and sing, come on down to play, or come on down to listen and enjoy." The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity, mask requirements, and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Sister City Circus
Circus Harmony in St. Louis and Circus Circuli in Stuttgart, St. Louis's German sister city, present Sister City Circus, on Circus Harmony’s YouTube page.  "Through a series of online meetings, workshops, and classes the two troupes created 6 different circus acts and then filmed them at iconic architectural locations in each of their cities." This and many other Circus Harmony videos are available at the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Fistful of Hollers through May 8. "Gun slingers, dance hall girls, cowboys, gold diggers, cowboy boots and ten-gallon-hats will abound. Rowdy cowboys will duel to the death as the crooked sheriff watches with glee. But none of these characters are as dangerous as Nasty Nate, he’s the orneriest gun in the west and word is that he’s going to be stirring up trouble at the Lemp Mansion." The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show
Metro Theater Company presents The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show (La Oruga Muy Hambrienta Espectáculo), a bilingual production based on the books by Eric Carle, through May 16. "He's enchanted generations of readers since he first began nibbling his way to our hearts in 1969. Now, everyone's favorite caterpillar takes the stage in a dazzling, critically acclaimed production – featuring a menagerie of more than 75 larger-than-life, magical puppets." Live performances take place outdoors at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Monroe Avenue in Kirkwood. MO. The production is also available via on-demand video streaming April 28 through May 16. For more information: www.metroplays.org

Moonstone Theatre Company presents Moonstone Connections, a series of in-depth interviews with arts leaders by company founder Sharon Hunter. New episodes air the third Tuesday of each month; see linktr.ee/moonstoneconnections for more information.

The Muny presents Attuned: Cast Me at the Muny, a nine-part podcast that "showcases audition tips and funny stories, while offering an inside look at what makes casting a Muny show so challenging." The series is available on demand at the Classic 107.3 web site. For more information: classic1073.org/podcasts

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

Deal Orlandersmith in
After the Flood
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and All Arts present Until the Flood, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, via on-demand streaming. "On August 9, 2014, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an African American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting ignited weeks of social unrest, propelled the Black Lives Matter movement and prompted a controversial investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Celebrated writer, performer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith traveled to St. Louis and conducted interviews with dozens of people who were grievously shaken by Brown’s shooting and the turbulent aftermath. From these intimate conversations, Orlandersmith created eight unforgettable characters who embody a community struggling to come to terms with the personal damage caused by these events." For more information: allarts.org

R-S Theatrics presents While the Ghostlight Burns, a virtual discussion series featuring R-S Artistic Director Sarah Lynne Holt in conversation with St. Louis theatre artists, Mondays at 7 pm.  Conversations will be archived at the R-S Theatrics YouTube channel. For more information: r-stheatrics.com/while-the-ghostlight-burns.html

Come Together
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents streaming videos from the SHAKE20 festival, including re-imagined, condensed versions of classic Shakespeare plays and new takes on old favorites like Joe Hanrahan's Come Together, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pg/STLShakesFest/videos

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of Rita Winters's play Dead Names Walking on Monday, MY 3, at 6:30 pm via Zoom. "They’ve been walking together for years. But now, will an old secret, and someone new, come between them?" For more information, visit the St. Louis Writers' Group Facebook page.

SATE, in collaboration with COCA and Prison Performing Arts, presents Project Verse: Creativity in the Time of Quarantine. Project Verse presents two new plays: Quatrains in Quarantine by e.k. doolin and Dream On, Black Girl: Reflections in Quarantine by Maxine du Maine. The performances are streamed free of charge on SATE’s website and Facebook page. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Classic Mystery Game
SATE also offers streaming performances of the shows originally scheduled for live 2020 productions: The Mary Shelley Monster Show, As You Like It (produced for SHAKE20, Project Verse, and Classic Mystery Game. The shows are available on their YouTube channel.

Upstream Theater presents Healing: an Upstream Theater Retrospective available on demand at the company's YouTube channel Fridays at 8 pm through Sundays at 9 pm through May 9th. "We hope you are as eager to return to the stage as we are. In the meantime, we asked some of our Upstream artists to revisit a few of our past productions that in one way or the other explored the theme of healing." For more information: https://www.upstreamtheater.org

Supper
The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Washington University Dance Collective production Supper via on-demand video through May 16. "Defined as a meal of an intimate nature, this is what you will experience, small but delightful morsels of creatively short dance offerings that work together to create a feast for the “virtual” senses.  Join us for an evening of dance that is both fulfilling and satisfying." For more information: edison.wustl.edu

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.