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
By Barry Bassis | October 15, 2014
Thankfully, the Metropolitan Opera resolved its labor problems and opened the season on time. With Mozart’s music, James Levine in the pit, and a top-flight cast, the season is off to a splendid start.
The first opera of the season is “Le nozze di Figaro” (“The Marriage of Figaro”), and I caught the third performance.
Pierre Beaumarchais wrote the play “The Barber of Seville” about Count Almaviva wooing and winning the hand of beautiful Rosine. The count, with the help of the wily barber Figaro, helped trick the young woman’s guardian, Doctor Bartolo.
The playwright wrote a sequel, taking place years later, when the count’s marriage is on the rocks because of his womanizing. Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da …
Stunning Talents at Town Hall: Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer, with Cameron Carpenter and Judy Collins Later This MonthBy Barry Bassis | October 14, 2014
What happens when two geniuses square off? As Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer demonstrated at their Town Hall concert, the result is beautiful music.
Thile and Meyer are MacArthur “genius grant” winners. Thile plays the mandolin with occasional guitar and Meyer the double bass with occasional piano. They are each composers of distinction and are virtuosos on their instruments. Their eclectic music encompasses bluegrass, country, folk, jazz and classical.
The titles of their tunes indicate their instrumental playfulness, for example, “Ham and Cheese,” “Monkey Actually,” “FRB” and “French Post in the Front Yard.” Thile and Meyer have won Grammy’s for their work together (“The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and fiddler Stuart Duncan).
However, as they demonstrated at …
By Barry Bassis | October 6, 2014
Sir Richard Eyre’s production of Bizet’s “Carmen” at the Metropolitan Opera is not for the faint of heart. Even before the music starts, the audience is placed on notice that they are about to witness a tragedy by the jagged red line, like a stab wound, across the curtain. The main reason for the enduring popularity of the opera is that Georges Bizet penned one memorable melody after another and the Met’s cast and orchestra, conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado, largely deliver.
The opera takes place in Seville and begins with an innocent young woman, Micaëla, looking for the man she wants to marry, army corporal Don José. He returns from guard duty and spots Carmen, a gypsy who works in …
By Barry Bassis | September 28, 2014
Is romance dead? Not at the Metropolitan Opera as long as it is still presenting the Franco Zeffirelli production of Puccini’s “La Boheme.” The Met has been phasing out some of Zeffirelli’s productions (with mixed results) but it is wise to keep this one, which has been satisfying audiences since 1981.
The combination of Puccini and Zeffirelli is for people who want to be swept away by melody, to be wowed by the scenery and can tolerate the sentimentality. (Unlike Verdi, who was an intellectual inspired by serious writers (such as Shakespeare and Schiller), Puccini went for potboilers (such as those by Belasco and Sardou). And, since this is the Met, you get to hear the world’s finest singers, some …
By Barry Bassis | September 22, 2014
A Far Cry is a self-conducted chamber orchestra, made up mostly of graduates of the New England Conservatory. The Boston based group, founded in 2007, has started its own label, Crier Records, and has a debut release, “Dreams & Prayers.”
The imaginative program was conceived by one of the violinists in the group, Miki-Sophia Cloud. She describes the album in the liner notes as “a passageway between the physical and the divine as expressed over the mystical branches of three faith traditions and 1000 years of history.”
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), born in Germany, was given as a child to the Church. She eventually became abbess of a Benedictine monastery. She claimed to have visions (which some believe were the …
By Barry Bassis | September 21, 2014
The Blue Note (131 W 3rd St, NY, NY; 212-475-8592) is one of those jazz clubs where you can wander in any night and find top-notch jazz musicians. In fact, I’ve met people from around the world who do just that.
My most recent visit was to catch the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. The group has a rotating group of players, ranging from up and comers to old masters. The leader and mc is bass player John Lee. The time before that when I saw the band, tenor saxophonist/composer/arranger Jimmy Heath and the band performed a piece to celebrate James Moody, who was then playing with the group. Now, Moody has sadly passed away, but Heath is still a wonder. …
By Barry Bassis | September 16, 2014
Alison Balsom is about as famous as any trumpeter in classical music today. The English virtuoso has received a number of honors; she was named Gramophone Awards Artist of the Year 2013 and has won three Classic BRIT Awards, including the Female Artist of the Year award in 2011. The fact that she has movie star looks doesn’t hurt.
Her latest release, “Paris” (on Warner Classics), is a tribute to the city where she studied, at the Conservatoire. The selections cover a broad range of music, but they have a link to the French capital. Although Balsom has recorded baroque and later pieces written for the trumpet, she has also performed new works as well as transcriptions of music written …
By Barry Bassis | September 8, 2014
Soprano Corinne Winters has been garnering acclaim in opera houses and concert halls around the world. Her debut album, “Canción amorosa—Songs of Spain” (on GPR Records), is devoted to Spanish love songs. The Spanish word “duende” is defined as “the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm.” It could be used to describe the alluring performances on this CD.
Winters is striking vocally and is also very attractive, pictured on the album cover in a sort of Louise Brooks hairstyle.
Winters has found the ideal collaborator in pianist Steven Blier, artistic director and co-founder of the New York Festival of Song. In addition to his superb accompaniment, he provided the English translations for all but one of the songs, …
By Barry Bassis | September 2, 2014
The title of Joyce DiDonato’s new Erato album is “Stella di Napoli” (Star of Naples). The title is appropriate since no opera star today shines more brightly than this mezzo soprano. The collection brings together arias from the early days of bel canto. Her earlier collection of bel canto arias, “Diva, Divo,” won a Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo and this one is just as praiseworthy.
The CD includes forgotten works as well as those from the three most prominent bel canto composers: Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti. DiDonato has found the perfect collaborator in conductor Riccardo Minasi since, in addition to his dynamic conducting, he shares her interest in musical research. He is responsible for discovering many of …
By Barry Bassis | August 26, 2014
By the mid-1950′s, big band jazz was in decline. Duke Ellington (1899-1974) kept his group together with money from his music royalties. (During his lifetime, Ellington composed more than 3,000 songs.) He signed a deal to record two albums for the Bethlehem label in 1956. “Duke Ellington Presents” and “Historically Speaking” were the two LP’s and both are now released on CD by Naxos Records.
Shortly after recording these albums, the Ellington band appeared at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival and electrified the audience. That performance, especially tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves’ 27 consecutive improvised choruses on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” revived interest in Ellington and Duke continued to tour and compose until his death in 1974. His music played …
By Barry Bassis | August 19, 2014
“The Drop That Contained the Sea” is an ambitious work by Chinese-American composer Christopher Tin. It is also successful, artistically and commercially. The CD (on the composer’s own label, Tin Works) debuted as number one on Billboard Music’s traditional classical albums. Tin has won two Grammy Awards, one for his 2009 classical crossover album “Calling All Dawns” and the other for “Baba Yetu” (which he composed for a video game).
The composer is inspired by different styles of singing and the ten pieces on the album are each in a different language (some ancient) reflecting vocal traditions from different areas. The theme is water in all its forms, from moisture to snow to mountain streams and oceans. The pieces were …
By Barry Bassis | August 13, 2014
The life of Joan of Arc has inspired countless works (of varying quality), including plays by Schiller, Shaw, Anderson and Anouilh and films by Dreyer, Bresson, Fleming and Preminger. The play by Schiller inspired Verdi’s opera, “Giovanna D’Arco” and was one of the sources of Tchaikovsky’s opera, “The Maid of Orleans.” The Schiller play and the operas based on it take liberties with the historical record, adding a romance and, in the case of the play and Verdi opera, having the heroine die in battle rather than being burned at the stake. (One of the striking facts about Joan of Arc’s life is that it is so well documented. There is actually a written record of her trial in 1431.)…
By Barry Bassis | August 11, 2014
Pilar Lorengar (1928-1996) was a leading opera singer for over three decades. The one time I saw her in person was at a Promenades concert at Lincoln Center. (For these summertime concerts at Philharmonic Hall, now known as Avery Fisher Hall, the seats were removed and replaced by small tables and chairs.) My family was sitting right in front of the stage and at one point, Lorengar came out with a guitar and sang Spanish songs to her own accompaniment. She seemed to enjoy herself as much as the audience did.
Spain has produced many outstanding opera singers and Lorengar is not as well-known as she deserves to be. I therefore was happy to receive a new 3-CD set (on …
By Barry Bassis | August 4, 2014
Bass-baritone George London (1920 –1985) was born in Montreal to Russian Jewish immigrants. When he was 15, his family moved to Los Angeles and he attended Hollywood High School and then Los Angeles City College, where he enrolled in an opera workshop. In 1947, he toured as a member of the Bel Canto Trio with soprano Frances Yeend and tenor Mario Lanza. At the end of the tour, Lanza was snatched up by the movies. London decided to get serious about his opera career and went to Europe.
After a triumphant audition, he was immediately signed to the Vienna State Opera and made his debut as Amonasro in “Aida.” He created a sensation and went on to other starring roles. …
By Barry Bassis | July 27, 2014
“Atomic” is a new off-Broadway musical about the creation of the first nuclear bomb.
The show has a book and lyrics by Danny Ginges and Gregory Bonsignore, and music and lyrics by Philip Foxman. “Atomic” was first performed in Australia. The New York production has a new cast of top-flight performers but they fail to overcome the flaws of the show.
The Manhattan Project has been the subject of movies (such as “The Beginning or the End” and “Fat Man and Little Boy”) and even an opera (John Adams’ “Dr. Atomic”). Most focus on J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is a character here as well. However, he is used in “Atomic” mostly as a framing device because the focus is on …
By Barry Bassis | July 24, 2014
As Pete Seeger lay dying at age 94 this past January, his wish was to have friends visiting his hospital room sing folksongs to him. And he certainly would have been pleased at the concert presented by Lincoln Center as part of its Out of Doors Festival in honor of Pete and Toshi, his wife of almost 70 years (who died in 2013).
The concert was not only a testament to Pete’s artistry but also to his and Toshi’s commitment to social causes. There were pro-union songs, anti-war, and pro-environmental pieces. Some of Pete’s songs on these subjects were performed while speakers recalled his extraordinary spirit and body of work.
The concert started with Judy Collins reminiscing about the first …
By Barry Bassis | July 20, 2014
Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” is a difficult play to present effectively and the production presented by Baruch Performing Arts Center and TGW Acting Studio and directed by Thomas G. Waites is uneven.
The play begins with a sort of prologue in which a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly (Joshua Walter) is tricked into believing, when he awakes from his stupor, that he is a married nobleman. Thus, the following story of Petruchio (Michael Moss) and Kate (Elissa Klie) becomes a play within a play. However, Sly doesn’t return at the end and so it’s unclear what the playwright intended by the first scene. (With all due respect to the Bard, I have always felt that the musical comedy …
By Barry Bassis | July 20, 2014
An unknown 20 year old with a history of psychiatric and drug problems arrived in London in 1968 and within days was recording his debut album for Apple Records. The label was founded that year by the Beatles and it was an artist-focused label, reflecting their tastes and those of Peter Asher (formerly a member of the duo Peter and Gordon, who became the head of the A&R (Artist & Repertoire) department at Apple). The young man who was given an introduction to Asher through a mutual friend was James Taylor and his debut album had Paul McCartney on bass and George Harrison on backup vocals.
James Taylor’s Apple album was not a hit but when he returned to the …
By Barry Bassis | July 15, 2014
The New York Musical Theatre Festival is presenting “The Mapmaker’s Opera,” an ambitious new musical based on the novel of the same name by Bea Gonzalez. Victor Kazan wrote the book and lyrics and Kevin Purcell the music. There is much to commend in the work despite its flaws.
The action takes place in the Yucatan in 1909, shortly before the Mexican Revolution.
The hero, Diego Clemente, is the impoverished illegitimate son of a Spanish don. He is an artist who specializes in sketching wildlife, inspired by John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.” Diego is recommended to American naturalist Edward Nelson and travels to Mexico to help prepare a guide to the indigenous birds. Comic relief is provided mainly by …
By Barry Bassis | July 7, 2014
Savion Glover’s dance work, “OM,” begins with a recording of Kenny Garrett’s “Calling,” a jazz piece in the spiritual style of John Coltrane. Then, the stage is filled with votive candles, religious artifacts (a crucifix, a statue of Buddha, and a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi) and the images of famous African-American dancers (Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis, Jr., etc.)
Glover is probably the most eminent tap dancer in the world and also the most adventurous. He is not only the star of the show, he is also the director and choreographer. While some of his artistic forebears might recognize some of his steps—there is even a modified “Moonwalk”—none of them produced an extended work of this magnitude.
This is …