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 | January 26, 2015
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 …
By Barry Bassis | January 23, 2015
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 …
By Barry Bassis | January 19, 2015
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:
By Barry Bassis | January 11, 2015
“Wiesenthal” is the one-man off-Broadway show about the Nazi hunter written by and starring Tom Dugan.
The play takes place in 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 on …
By Barry Bassis | January 10, 2015
When I started listening to jazz, I discovered that the one label I could trust was Blue Note Records. The music and even the covers were distinctive. While the label had a number of jazz hits, like “The Sidewinder” and “Song for my Father,” some of my favorite albums were those I picked off the discount rack by artists I hadn’t heard of, such as Andrew Hill, Sonny Clark and Sam Rivers (whose Soho loft I was later to frequent for avant garde jazz).
Blue Note is celebrating its 75th anniversary and to commemorate the event, there is a 400-page hardcover book and 5-CD singles box set, both titled “Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression.”
The book was written by jazz critic …
By Barry Bassis | January 10, 2015
Franz Lehar’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 is a beautiful widow from Pontevedro (a fictional Eastern European country …
By Barry Bassis | January 5, 2015
I spent New Year’s Eve, as I often do, at the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players. The troupe was founded by Albert Bergeret in 1974 and is still going strong. The operetta performed was the perennial favorite, “H.M.S. Pinafore” (one of the G&S big three, along with “Mikado” and “Pirates of Penzance”).
From the melodic overture, the audience knew it was in good hands. Bergeret was conductor and director, and. while I have a few qualms about his stagecraft, his way with the music was magisterial.
“H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass That Loved a Sailor,” like other G&S Players’ productions, has a full orchestra, first-rate scenery (by Albere), costumes (by Gail J. Wofferd), lively choreography (by Bill Fabris) and …
By Barry Bassis | December 25, 2014
Vince Giordano was the host and leader of his band, the Nighthawks Orchestra and they brought the ebullient sound of jazz to Town Hall to celebrate the holidays.
The band got off to a swinging start with a rollicking rendition of “Jingle Bells.” Then vocalist Molly Ryan came out in a red dress to sing Louis Prima’s “What Would Santa Say?”
The Xylopholks are a novelty jazz group that dresses up in animal costumes while they play clarinet, bass and xylophone. They first performed George Green’s “Charleston Capers” and returned later with a vocalist, Benjy Fox-Rosen, for a delightful rendition of Moshe Oysher’s “Drei Dreidel,” reminding the audience that Chanukah was also being celebrated.
There was quite a bit of …
By Barry Bassis | December 25, 2014
The Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s Welcome Return to City Center
By Barry Bassis
Under its current artistic director Robert Battle, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company continues to develop exciting new works and to present high quality interpretations of dances from outside choreographers.
The program I attended began with Hofesh Shechter’s “Uprising.” This is a testosterone-fueled piece, with an all-male cast and a percussive score by the choreographer and Vex’d. The muscular dancers don’t know whether to make love or war, so they do both. A chokehold ultimately turns into an embrace. Constantly moving, the seven dancers wrestle and try to escape one another. Finally, in a sort of Delacroix scene, one waves a flag, so apparently the uprising was successful. …
Three Opera Recordings Starring Pavarotti at his Peak: Turandot, Madama Butterfly and L’Elisir d’AmoreBy Barry Bassis | December 21, 2014
If asked to name the most popular recording by an opera singer during the past 50 years, the obvious answer is Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot.” Decca was Pavarotti’s label for his entire career and it treats his work with the proper respect.
Decca has just released three complete operas on Blu-ray Audio disks (with no video content) and they all capture the great tenor in his prime during the early 1970’s. The sound quality is superb and the entire package (which contains the full libretto with essays about each opera and Pavarotti’s career as well as photos taken at the sessions) is treasurable.
“Turandot” was Puccini’s last opera, unfinished at his death and completed by Franco …
By Barry Bassis | December 14, 2014
It’s hard to make news playing the national anthem, unless the performer messes up, as when singers mangle the words. Trumpeter Chris Botti performed “The Star Spangled Banner” recently at the New York Giants/Indianapolis Colts game. His rendition was so moving that Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne was caught on-camera shedding a tear. The video has become an internet sensation.
Botti spoke to us about that appearance, his career and his upcoming holiday shows at the Blue Note club.
He admits he was somewhat surprised at the reaction to the NFL performance since he had played the anthem previously in an a cappella version without it causing so much of a reaction. This time was a bit different since he …
By Barry Bassis | December 8, 2014
Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” clocks in at almost six hours, which may be too much of a good thing. Maybe not. The Metropolitan Opera’s revival has undeniable charm, some laughs and stirring sections, starting with the overture, beautifully played by the orchestra under the baton of James Levine.
This is the Otto Schenk production from 1993, with sets by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen, costumes by Rolf Langenfass and lighting by Gil Wechsler. The remaining performances this month will be the final ones for this production. It’s old fashioned in the best sense, not overly extravagant but carefully evoking the time and place of the opera. The audience applauded several times when the curtain went up.
Wagner wrote the libretto for the …
By Barry Bassis | November 30, 2014
Giuseppe Verdi once called Gioachino Rossini’s 1816 “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (The Barber of Seville), “the finest opera buffa in existence.” The audience at the current revival at the Metropolitan Opera would no doubt heartily agree. The opera was first performed in the Met’s first season (1883-84) and has lost none of its luster.
The story, adapted from the French play by Beaumarchais, deals with a beautiful young woman, Rosina, who is under the control of her guardian, Dr. Bartolo. The pompous old man wants to marry his ward. Meanwhile, she is being romanced by Count Almaviva, who appears in a series of disguises. Rosina thinks he is a poor student named Lindoro. He has already won her heart with …
By Barry Bassis | November 28, 2014
One of the more entertaining plays last season was a dramatization of “Act One,” Moss Hart’s memoir about his early career culminating in his first collaboration with George S. Kaufman. The most successful of their plays together was the 1936 comedy “You Can’t Take it With You,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into an Oscar-winning movie. Now, the work is being revived, directed by Scott Ellis, with a wonderful cast and its wit and charm are undiminished.
The comedy is about an eccentric family, the Sycamores. Each member of the household is a character. The one thing they have in common is that they are good-natured and enjoy life, albeit in unconventional ways. Let’s just say that …
By Barry Bassis | November 27, 2014
“Lennon: Through a Glass Onion” is a modest, but effective homage to the late singer-songwriter.
The 65-year old John R. Waters doesn’t try to look like John Lennon or imitate his singing though he does approximate his Liverpudlian accent. This is simply a two man show. Waters handles the narrative, the lead vocals and plays the guitar. The other performer is also first-rate: Stewart D’Arrietta on piano and backup vocals.
The show uses songs from Lennon’s Beatles years and afterward and what sounds like Lennon’s own words. The only obvious exceptions are the parts dealing with the murder of the artist on the streets of New York by Mark David Chapman.
Lennon speaks about his first encounter with the musically …
By Barry Bassis | November 26, 2014
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has just issued its first release on its Fanfare label. “Hallowed Ground,” taken from concerts with the Orchestra’s new music director, Louis Langrée, is comprised of three works: Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” and two pieces commissioned by the Orchestra from composers David Lang and Nico Muhly.
A notable aspect of the recording is that the narrator of the “Lincoln Portrait” is Maya Angelou. During her extraordinary life, she was a dancer, singer, actress, poet, writer, magazine editor, playwright, film director, college professor and civil rights activist. Dr. Angelou died at age 86, months after she appeared with the Orchestra.
The Cincinnati Symphony has a special relationship with the work. André Kostelanetz commissioned the “Lincoln Portrait” and …
By Barry Bassis | November 18, 2014
Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky is one of the world’s leading opera singers. While he excels in Verdi—he will be appearing in “Un Ballo in Maschera” at the Met later this season—he is at his best in music of his homeland.
Hvorostovsky has made many recordings of Russian music of various types, including opera, art songs and folk music. His latest release is “The Bells of Dawn – Russian Sacred and Folk Songs” (on Ondine, distributed by Naxos). This is an a cappella album in which the baritone is joined on most of the pieces by The Grand Choir Masters of Choral Singing led by Lev Kontorovich.
The Russian Orthodox Church did not allow musical instruments and the performances on the …
By Barry Bassis | November 11, 2014
Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) wrote “Aida” on commission for the opening of the opera house in Cairo in 1871. Combining spectacle with a tragic love story, it is one of the most popular operas.
The Met’s revival of Sonja Frisell’s 1988 production is visually impressive and musically stirring. As drama, it is somewhat inert.
The plot of “Aida” was created by Auguste Mariette, an archaeologist who was the founder of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo, and Camille du Locle, who had worked with Verdi on “Don Carlo.” Antonio Ghislanzoni wrote the libretto.
“Aida,” set in ancient Egypt, is a love triangle. The Egyptian general Radamès is in love with Aida, an Ethiopian slave. She is the daughter of the …
By Barry Bassis | November 3, 2014
My idea of celebrating Halloween is to have someone else dress up. That’s why I chose to mark the occasion with a performance of “Ruddigore.” The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP), currently in its 40th Anniversary Season, brought back the operetta for two performances during Halloween weekend.
NYGASP is one of New York City’s treasures. The company is the brainchild of conductor/director Albert Bergeret. I have been going to their productions for years and they have everything: a full orchestra, a large cast, beautiful voices, lively choreography, colorful sets and costumes and comic performances.
Why is “Ruddigore” being performed for Halloween? Because it has ghosts, witches and curses. The operetta is so linked to horror that a 1982 …
By Barry Bassis | October 29, 2014
When you think “showstoppers,” lower Manhattan doesn’t usually come to mind. You have to re-think that position in light of the “American Showstoppers” series at Schimmel Center (3 Spruce Street between Park Row and Gold St.; (866) 811-4111) at Pace University. The latest installment was “An Evening of Cy Coleman,” featuring the Fred Barton Orchestra and stars from the Broadway stage.
Conductor-arranger-pianist Barton is responsible for the series. He picks the songs and the talents and he is especially well equipped for this tribute since he was friends with Coleman and worked with him on three shows. Barton is also the host of the Showstoppers concerts and spoke about the songwriter, the history of each number and about all of …