Barry Bassis
Arts & Culture

Barry Bassis

Barry has been a music, theater and travel writer for over a decade for various publications, including Epoch Times. He is a voting member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle, two organizations of theater critics that give awards at the end of each season. He has also been a member of NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association)




Latest by Barry Bassis

  • Cav and Pag Together Again, and Still Powerful, at the Met

    During his performance as a clown, Canio (Marcelo Álvarez), snaps after learning his wife plans to run away with another man. (Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera)

    There are no happy marriages in “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci,” but the two one-act operas are permanently wedded together. In fact, the first house in which they were paired was the Metropolitan Opera.

    Now, the Met has unveiled a new production of these two verismo operas, directed by David McVicar, and both star tenor Marcelo Álvarez.

    Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” (“Rustic Chivalry”), which premiered in Rome in 1890, is based on a story and later a play, both by Giovanni Verga. Set in a Sicilian village on Easter Sunday, it deals with love and revenge.

    Before the action on stage begins, Turiddu had been in love with Lola. After he went into the army, she married Alfio. On his return, …


  • Songs for His Father: An Interview With James O’Neil About ‘Lonesome Traveler’

    Photo courtesy of 59E59St. Theaters

    One of the most pleasurable shows off-Broadway this season is “Lonesome Traveler.” James O’Neil, who wrote and directed the production, is the artistic director of Off-Broadway Across America and the Rubicon Theatre in California. He spoke to us about the development of “Lonesome Traveler.”

    O’Neil dedicated “Lonesome Traveler” to his father, who was born in 1910 in Missouri. He left college during the Depression and moved to California as a “Dust Bowl refugee.” He worked first as a ranch hand and later as the president of the local Retail Clerks Union.

    Woody Guthrie was one of his father’s artistic heroes (along with Will Rogers and later Pete Seeger). The show includes some of Guthrie’s Dust Bowl ballads (“Pastures of Plenty” …


  • A Folk Music Celebration at 59E59 Theaters

    Two of the folk singers in "Lonesome Traveler"

    If you know what a hootenanny is, then you will find “Lonesome Traveler” nostalgic. If you are too young to know the expression, then you will find the show educational. The revue, written and directed by James O’Neil, is light on the history but showcases more than 30 folk songs, well performed. Musical direction is by Trevor Wheetman and orchestrations are by George Grove.

    The cast members portray famous folk singers and folk groups. The women change their hairstyles, so Sylvie Davidson puts on a blond wig to become Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary (“Puff, the Magic Dragon”), and the men put on preppy shirts to play the Kingston Trio (“Tom Dooley”).

    The history starts with a field …


  • Celebrating Billie Holiday’s Centennial

    A new release of collected Billie Holiday works. (Sony Music)

    Billie Holiday (1915–1959) is one of the most iconic figures in jazz. One indication of her enduring influence is that last year, there were two plays about her in New York: “Lady Day”starring Dee Dee Bridgewater, who had won a Grammy Award for her Holiday tribute album, and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” starring Audra McDonald, for which she won a Tony Award for best actress. As Holiday’s 100th birthday approaches on April 7, the singer will be honored by the music world.

    The best way to remember a singer is to listen to her recordings, and Columbia Records/Legacy is releasing “Billie Holiday: The Centennial Collection.” The single disc contains 20 songs recorded between 1935 and 1945. …


  • Domingo Still Wears the Crown in ‘Ernani’

    Ernani

    Don Carlo is not the central figure in Verdi’s “Ernani,” but he makes the strongest impression in the current revival at the Metropolitan Opera. That’s because Placido Domingo (playing the role, written for a baritone) again shows off his still potent vocal talent and magnetism.

    The title character is a sort of Robin Hood bandit, and he, along with the other male leads, is in love with Elvira. However, by the end, the only victor in this melodrama is the Spanish code of honor. Enrico Caruso once quipped that it is easy to put on “Il Trovatore.” “All you need are the world’s four best singers.” The same might be said of this earlier work.

    The plot is so absurd …


  • The Met Presents a Spectacular ‘Manon’

    Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo in "Manon" (photo by Ken Howard)

    NEW YORK—Sometimes in the opera house, everything clicks. The stars were certainly aligned for the current production of Massenet’s “Manon” at the Metropolitan Opera. The audience sensed right from the beginning that it was experiencing something special, even in a house that regularly presents the world’s leading singers.

    The character of Manon is quite demanding, requiring a singer-actress to make the transition from innocent teenager to young lover to worldly courtesan/temptress and finally dying prisoner. German soprano Diana Damrau made all of these shifts credible and, as one might expect, her singing was glorious.

    As her lover, tenor Vittorio Grigolo was also in his element. With his matinee idol looks and opulent tone, he was visually and vocally ideal for …


  • Ferruccio Furlanetto Rules in ‘Don Carlo’ and ‘Boris Godunov’

    Live recordings from 1997-2012

    Usually, when I review an operatic production, I don’t return to see it again until there is a new cast member I am interested in seeing. One of the rare exceptions took place when I attended Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at the Metropolitan Opera. The main reason I wanted to experience it again was because I was fascinated by one singer: the bass Ferruccio Furlanetto. He played King Philip II of Spain, one of his signature roles.

    Orfeo has released a CD, “Wiener Staatsoper: Ferruccio Furlanetto,” combining excerpts from live performances of “Don Carlo” and another of his acclaimed roles, Boris Godunov in Mussorgsky’s opera. These were recorded at the Vienna opera house between 1997 and 2012. What the two roles …


  • DiDonato and Cabell Soar in Bellini’s ‘I Capuleti e i Montecchi’

    The DVD cover of "I Capuleti e i Montecchi," starring Joyce DiDonato and Nicole Cabell. (EuroArts)

    The EuroArts DVD of Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” (“The Capulets and the Montagues”), filmed at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco in 2012, stars two superb opera singers: mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and soprano Nicole Cabell.

    Bellini’s bel canto opera, with a libretto by Felice Romani, is a version of the Romeo and Juliet story, based on Italian sources. The plot differs in a number of respects from Shakespeare’s play.

    Here, when the opera begins, Romeo (the leader of the Montagues) has already slain the son of Capellio (head of the Capulets). Romeo arrives at the Capulet palace in disguise, pretending to be an ambassador sent to make peace between the warring families. He proposes a …


  • Judi Silvano Sings Her Own Songs on “My Dance”

    Silvano sings her own tunes with Mike Abene on piano

    Judi Silvano is a singer whose work I have enjoyed for many years. Her 11th album as a leader, “My Dance” (on JSL Records) confirms that her vocal powers are intact and her imagination as free as ever. She is one of those singers who can animate an old pop song or even cross over into classical music. But, she has always been an adventurous improviser and remains one on her new CD.

    Silvano wrote all of the compositions, four have lyrics (which she also penned) and the others are wordless.

    “My Dance” is a duo album. All the piano work is by Mike Abene. He has a two-handed style and it would be wrong to consider him an accompanist. …


  • Everyone Loves Elena in “La Donna del Lago”

    Joyce DiDonato as Elena in  "La Donna del Lago" (photo by Ken Howard)

    Hardly anyone reads Sir Walter Scott’s novels and poems anymore, but he inspired many movies (e.g., “Ivanhoe” and “Quentin Durward” in the 1950’s) and musical works, notably Donizetti’s “Lucia de Lammermoor.” His narrative poem, “The Lady of the Lake,” was adapted into a bel canto opera by Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) that was popular for a time, but sank into obscurity.

    Now, almost 200 years after its debut in Naples, “La donna del Lago” has been revived at the Metropolitan Opera. While the opera has some dull patches, it also features spectacular singing by perhaps the leading bel canto pair in opera today: mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and tenor Juan Diego Florez.

    Set in the Scottish highlands during the 16th century, the …


  • The Art of Elena Obraztsova

    Elena Obraztsova, The Fiery Mezzo-Soprano

    On Monday, January 12, 2015, the great Russian mezzo-soprano Elena Obraztsova died, at age 77, in a clinic in Germany. Coincidentally, the Melodiya label released a tribute album (distributed by Naxos) in its Stars of the Bolshoi Theatre series titled simply “Elena Obraztsova.”

    Obraztsova was born in Leningrad in 1939 and survived the siege of that city during World War II. Her father was sent to the front, while she remained with her mother.

    After she won several voice competitions, Obraztsova made her Bolshoi debut in 1963 as Marina in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov.” Although still a student, she created a sensation and the following year went on tours in Japan and Italy, where she sang at La Scala opera house. …


  • One is Blind and the Other Sees Too Much: The Heroines of “Iolanta” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” at the Met

    Tchaikovsky's opera makes its debut at the Met

    The Metropolitan Opera has a new production, pairing Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta” with Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle.” A co-production with the Polish National Opera, directed by Mariusz Trelinski, the two pieces are linked visually and benefit from starring two of the most dynamic singers on the international scene, Anna Netrebko in the Tchaikovsky opera and Nadja Michael in the Bartok as well as Valery Gergiev leading the Met’s superb orchestra.

    “Iolanta” was first presented in St. Petersburg in 1892 as the opening piece on a double bill with “The Nutcracker.” The ballet has become a seasonal favorite but the opera is not well known outside of Russia. The new production marks its debut at the Met. This oversight is surprising since the opera …


  • Abdrazakov Earns a Standing Ovation at Carnegie Hall

    Russian bass brings the audience at Carnegie Hall to its feet

    Ildar Abdrazakov made his highly anticipated American solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall on January 29th. The Russian bass was accompanied on piano by Mzia Bakhtouridze. The charismatic singer showed off the many facets of his art—from producing a rich sound with a range of colors to conveying the meaning of each piece, from songs of love to the horrors of war.

    The first half of the concert was devoted to Russian music. Initially, when Abdrazakov became an international star, singing at La Scala and then at the Metropolitan Opera, he mostly concentrated on Italian bel canto operas. In recent years, he has included operas from his homeland, such as “Prince Igor” and “Khovanshchina,” though he opened the Met season …


  • Pergament’s ‘The Jewish Song': A Holocaust Memorial

    The cover of the recording of “The Jewish Song.” (Caprice Records)

    The reissue on CD of Moses Pergament’s “The Jewish Song” (“Den Judiska Sangen”) on Caprice brings to light a work that has musical and historical significance. It is a cry of pain in the aftermath of the Holocaust and is unfortunately still timely with the rising anti-Semitism in Europe, including the Scandinavian countries.

    Composed in 1944, near the end of World War II, the large-scale composition (for soloists, choir, and orchestra) is described by its composer in a statement contained in the liner notes as a “choral symphony.”

    Moses Pergament (1893–1977) was born to a Jewish family in Finland. At the time his Lithuanian father settled there, the country didn’t allow Jewish immigration. An exception was given for those who …


  • Pergament’s “The Jewish Song:” A Holocaust Memorial

    A Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust

    The reissue on CD of Moses Pergament’s “The Jewish Song” (“Den Judiska Sang”) on Caprice brings to light a work that has musical and historical significance. Composed in 1944, near the end of World War II, the large-scale composition (for soloists, choir and orchestra) is described by its composer (in a statement contained in the liner notes) as a “choral symphony.” It is a cry of pain in the aftermath of the Holocaust and is unfortunately still timely with the rising anti-Semitism in Europe, including the Scandinavian countries.

    Moses Pergament (1893-1977) was born to a Jewish family in Finland. At the time his father (who came from Lithuania) settled there, the country didn’t allow Jewish immigration. An exception was given …


  • Opera Star Ildar Abdrazakov to Perform at Carnegie Hall

    The great Russian bass will give a recital at Carnegie Hall

    Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov’s international career took off after he won the Maria Callas International Television Competition in Italy during 2000. He made his debut in “La Sonambula” at La Scala the following year when he was only 25 years old and quickly established himself as one of the world’s leading basses.

    He is married to the outstanding Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina and they frequently perform together. They co-starred at the Metropolitan Opera in “Damnation of Faust” and “Khovanshchina.” The husband and wife won Grammy’s for “The Best Classical Album” and “The Best Choral Performance” for their recording of Verdi’s Requiem, conducted by Riccardo Muti. Mussorgsky’s “Khovanshchina” marked the first time Abdrazakov had appeared in a Russian opera outside his …


  • Recordings Prove Long-Standing Stature of London’s Royal Opera

    The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, home to The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet, on March 29, 2012 in London, England. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

    The Royal Opera was formed, along with the Royal Ballet, after World War II. Performing in a theater in Covent Garden in London, the company has developed its own stars and brought in talent from around the world. Opus Arte (distributed by Naxos) has recently released a mammoth 32-CD box set titled “Great Performances,” containing 12 operas recorded between 1955 and 1997. All the performances were broadcast live by the BBC.

    The set is basically no-frills, with details about the recordings (dates and artists) and an introductory essay, “Golden Evenings at the Royal Opera House,” by Nicolas Payne, former director of the company.

    Here is a rundown of the operas, all of which are performed in the original language:

    CDs …


  • Four Decades of Live Recordings by the Royal Opera

    OA-CD9024-D ROH Great Performances clm v10_.

    The Royal Opera was formed, along with the Royal Ballet, after World War II. Performing in a theater in Covent Garden in London, the company has developed its own stars and brought in talents from around the world. Opus Arte (distributed by Naxos) has recently released a mammoth 32-CD box set titled, “Great Performances,” containing 12 operas recorded between 1955 and 1997. All the performances were broadcast live by the BBC.

    The set is basically no-frills, with details about the recordings (dates and artists) and an introductory essay, “Golden Evenings at the Royal Opera House,” by Nicolas Payne, former director of the company.

    Here is a rundown of the operas, all of which are performed in the original language:

    CDs …


  • Opera Review: The Merry Widow Waltzes Into the Met

    A scene from Lehár’s “The Merry Widow.” (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

    NEW YORK—Franz Lehár’s 1905 “The Merry Widow” (“Die Lustige Witwe”) is one of the most popular operettas, and the new production at the Metropolitan Opera shows why. Two Broadway veterans in their Met debuts are among the reasons for the success of the revival: director-choreographer Susan Stroman (of “The Producers,” “Contact,” and “Crazy for You”) and musical theater star Kelli O’Hara.

    Other notable talents on hand were Renée Fleming in the title role, Sir Thomas Allen as Baron Mirko Zeta, and Nathan Gunn as Count Danilo. The production was unveiled on New Year’s Eve, but I caught a later performance.

    The operetta takes place in Paris during 1900. Hanna Glawari (Renée Fleming) is a beautiful widow from Pontevedro (a fictional …


  • Theater Review: ‘Wiesenthal,’ Nazi Hunter Comes to Life on Stage

    Tom Dugan as Simon Wisenthal, a Nazi-camp survivor, who becomes a determined Nazi hunter after the war. (Carol Rosegg)

    NEW YORK—”Wiesenthal” is the one-man off-Broadway show about the Nazi hunter written by and starring Tom Dugan.

    The play takes place in Simon Wiesenthal’s office (the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, Austria) during April 2003. It is the last day before the 93-year-old retired—he died two years later—and he speaks to a group of visitors about his life and career.

    While the man who brought 1,100 Nazis to justice was certainly obsessive, Dugan’s script and his acting highlight his dry sense of humor. A frumpy nonagenarian, he pokes fun at the description of himself as a “Jewish James Bond,” pointing out that he drives an old Peugeot, not an Aston Martin. He does claim he has sex appeal.

    He goes …



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