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 | November 29, 2015
“Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way” by six-time Tony Award winning producer Stewart F. Lane is the perfect gift for theater lovers. It will enlighten readers about the racial history of New York and important theatrical figures of the past and present. The book is also invaluable for the 300 photographs (many of which are in color), posters and other memorabilia, reproduced on high quality paper.
Running along the bottom of each page is a chronology of events relating to the country’s racial history. For example, relevant to the current controversy about Woodrow Wilson is the fact that, after he took office as president, he segregated federal workplaces and either fired or downgraded black workers, a policy …
By Barry Bassis | November 22, 2015
NEW YORK—Cooder-White-Skaggs is a bluegrass/country super-group that came together at the suggestion of Rosanne Cash, who enlisted them to perform in her Carnegie Hall Perspectives series. The concert at Zankel Hall, which Cash introduced, was a night of dazzling instrumental virtuosity but also a testament to the artists’ musical predecessors as well as their religious faith and family bonds.
Sharon White is the singing star of the Whites and her father Buck White and sister Cheryl White joined the group on stage, Buck as a constant presence on piano and Cheryl occasionally joining in on vocals. Ricky Skaggs has been married to Sharon for more than 30 years, and the drummer Joachim Cooder is Ry Cooder’s son. The only one …
By Barry Bassis | November 15, 2015
NEW YORK—When I mentioned to a friend that I was going to a concert of Spanish music, he asked if it was flamenco. No, I answered, the concert is a voice and guitar duo. Though some of the music was inspired by the gypsy music of Spain, the singing would not be rough or raspy as it usually is in flamenco. The singer was Metropolitan Opera star mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard and the guitarist was Sharon Isbin.
The pair have been appearing together around the country, and this concert was at Zankel Hall—a more intimate hall within the Carnegie Hall complex.
At the Met, I have heard Leonard sing in French, Italian, and English, the latter in Thomas Adès’s “The Tempest,” …
By Barry Bassis | November 8, 2015
Erroll Garner (1923–1977) was a one-of-a-kind jazz pianist. A Puckish figure, he was 5-foot-2 and usually sat on a telephone book when he performed. He never learned how to read music, yet he penned the ballad “Misty” and was an intrepid improviser. Garner usually played in a trio, and his bass player and drummer had to be alert to keep up with him.
His album “Concert by the Sea,” recorded live in Carmel, California, in 1955, is one of the best-selling albums of all time. Yet, the original LP contained only about half of the music that was performed that day.
To honor the 60th anniversary of the concert, Sony Legacy and Octave Music Publishing have released the complete concert…
By Barry Bassis | November 1, 2015
NEW YORK—”Rigoletto” is Giuseppe Verdi’s opera based on a Victor Hugo play, “Le roi s’amuse” (“The king takes his amusement”), about the corrupt king of France during the 16th century, François I.
When the opera ran into censorship problems, Verdi and his librettist Francesco Maria Piave moved the locale to Italy and made the amoral ruler the Duke of Mantua. The Metropolitan Opera’s production, under Michael Mayer, updates the action to 1960 Las Vegas and the Duke is a Sinatra-style nightclub singer.
While the characters are singing the words penned by Piave, the English subtitles have been changed so that they sound like the dialogue in a Rat Pack movie, such as the original “Ocean’s Eleven.” Women are called “baby” …
By Barry Bassis | October 24, 2015
NEW YORK—Franco Zeffirelli’s production of “Turandot” at the Metropolitan Opera is visually spectacular, but since this is a Puccini opera, the audience won’t leave humming the scenery. With the Met’s top-flight orchestra, chorus, and strong cast, the music casts its own spell.
Although “Turandot” takes place in ancient China, the work is based on a 1762 play by Italian writer Carlo Gozzi. Like Verdi, Puccini’s talent lasted until the end of his life. In fact, “Turandot” was unfinished at his death in 1924 and completed by Franco Alfano.
While Puccini was usually attracted to weepy stories, like “Madame Butterfly” or “La Bohème,” “Turandot” is not especially heartwarming.
Icy Princess Turandot is eligible to be married, but the dating ritual is …
By Barry Bassis | October 20, 2015
NEW YORK—This year, October has felt like Black History Month at Lincoln Center. First, there was Robert Sims’s concert dedicated to the memory of Roland Hayes, the first African-American to sing with a symphony orchestra. Then later in the month, the New York Philharmonic began the series curated by its Artist-in-Residence Eric Owens.
The first concert at David Geffen Hall (formerly Avery Fisher Hall) was “In Their Footsteps,” a tribute to Marian Anderson, Betty Allen, George Shirley, and William Warfield, all of whom had appeared with the Orchestra. Shirley had acted as narrator at the Hayes concert and even sang a cappella a spine-tingling rendition of the spiritual “Were You There?” at the end.
Before each segment of “In …
By Barry Bassis | October 18, 2015
NEW YORK—MasterVoices (formerly The Collegiate Chorale) began its season at City Center with Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance; or, the Slave of Duty.” The star-studded semi-staged production may have lacked the polish of the NY Gilbert & Sullivan Players, but it had some sublime performances.
Under the baton of Ted Sperling, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s started the evening with the effervescent overture, sprinkled with the familiar melodies (including “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here”). The chorus was seated in the back of the stage, and the actors were in costume, but all had the texts in hand. Nevertheless, there was witty choreography supplied by Gustavo Zajac, who also serves as associate director.
Among the joys of the evening …
By Barry Bassis | October 11, 2015
NEW YORK—”Il Trovatore” is one of those operas where great music prevails over a ridiculous plot. The Marx Brothers highlighted and heightened the absurdity in “A Night at the Opera.” This season, the Metropolitan Opera is demonstrating that Verdi’s opera is as potent as ever when the production has a top-flight cast; this one led by superstar Anna Netrebko.
The action takes place during the Spanish Civil War of the 15th century. Sir David McVicar, who originally staged the production in 2009, moved the events to the 19th century.
Count di Luna (leader of the royalist troops) and the leader of the rebels, Manrico, are both in love with Leonora. The two rivals and enemies are unaware that they are …
By Barry Bassis | October 4, 2015
NEW YORK—Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) died without knowing he had written the “Three Tudor Queens” trilogy. Actually, he had written three separate operas and didn’t even have the same singer in mind to star in all of them. Beverly Sills introduced the idea; she had performed the taxing roles at the New York City Opera during the 1970s.
This season, the Metropolitan Opera is giving Sondra Radvanovsky the opportunity to sing all three roles, and she has made a spectacular start with “Anna Bolena.”
King Henry VIII and his six marriages have been the subject of numerous films, novels, television dramatizations, and plays, most recently “Wolf Hall” on Broadway. Thomas Cromwell, who was a central figure in the latter, …
By Barry Bassis | September 27, 2015
The Metropolitan Opera began its fall season with a new production of “Otello,” directed by Bartlett Sher with Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role. The Met generated publicity when it announced that it was dropping its practice of having the Moor of Venice appear in blackface. In light of our troubled racial history, this is long overdue. In other respects, the production had its ups and downs.
The director moved the action from the 15th to the 19th century (a change evident only in Catherine Zuber’s costumes) with no resulting loss to the tragic power generated by Verdi’s and his librettist Arrigo Boito’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.
The opera begins with a storm in the harbor …
By Barry Bassis | September 20, 2015
Joan of Arc (1412-1431), the peasant girl who led the French army against the British during the 100 Years War, has been the subject of numerous artistic works: films by Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson, plays by Friedrich Schiller, George Bernard Shaw, and Jean Anouilh and operas by Giuseppe Verdi and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, among others.
During the 1930s, the composer Arthur Honegger and the poet Paul Claudel created one of the most striking depictions of the Maid of Orleans in the oratorio “Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher” (Joan of Arc at the Stake). The Academy Award-winning French actress Marion Cotillard has played Joan in performances with different orchestras, most recently the New York Philharmonic last June.
Medici TV filmed a …
By Barry Bassis | September 13, 2015
The book “Roland Hayes: The Legacy of an American Tenor” by Christopher A. Brooks and Robert Sims begins with a remarkable scene. In 1926, the famous African-American singer traveled to Georgia to meet with Joseph Mann, who had owned Hayes’s mother and other relatives and on whose property the singer had been born.
Hayes wanted information about his family history and learned that some of his ancestors were known for their singing ability. At the time of the meeting, Hayes was prosperous and the former slave-owner was destitute. The meeting was cordial, especially considering that Mann had been brutal toward his slaves and had had Hayes’s maternal grandfather beaten to death for running off. Hayes had the satisfaction of buying …
By Barry Bassis | September 6, 2015
Cécile McLorin Salvant, who just turned 26, has been hailed as the most exciting jazz singer to appear in years. She won the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition and her first U.S. album, “WomanChild,” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2014. Now, she has released her follow-up CD, “For One to Love” (on Mack Avenue) and she performed the whole album at Jazz Standard, wearing her signature big-framed glasses.
Salvant had the same outstanding backup group as on the recording: Aaron Diehl on piano, Paul Sikivie on bass, and Lawrence Leathers on drums. The multi-talented singer even supplied art work for the CD.
What first sets her apart from most of her peers is the power, range, …
By Barry Bassis | August 25, 2015
The Metropolitan Opera is opening its season with Verdi’s “Otello.” Although it has been staged here for over a century, there will be one difference: The title character will not appear with dark makeup. The events of recent months, especially the mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina, and the protests about the Confederate flag, have had an impact.
While no one who saw Plácido Domingo or Jon Vickers play the Moor of Venice would mistake it for minstrelsy, still seeing Caucasian actors in blackface evokes a painful part of our history. Banishing the practice is sensible.
The opera will undoubtedly retain its dramatic and musical clout: The title role will be played by tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, who was an intense …
By Barry Bassis | August 19, 2015
About a year ago, singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli received an offer he couldn’t refuse. A letter came in the mail from Sir Paul McCartney suggesting that Pizzarelli make an album of his post-Beatles songs, including some of his lesser known tunes, in a mellow jazz style. He even came up with the title—”Midnight McCartney.”
Sir Paul met Pizzarelli when they worked together on the 2012 album, “Kisses on the Bottom,” made up of songs from the 1930s and 1940s. Pizzarelli subsequently played guitar at some of McCartney’s high-profile appearances, such as the Grammy Awards. “Midnight McCartney” is now completed and Pizzarelli appeared at Birdland to celebrate the release.
With Pizzarelli, music is always a family affair. His brother Martin plays bass …
By Barry Bassis | August 5, 2015
Jazzman John Yao has been garnering acclaim for his big band, but why does he call it an “instrument”? In an exclusive interview with Epoch Times, he provided an explanation and discussed his career.
The idea came from Duke Ellington, who used to say that he thought of his big band as an instrument. Like Ellington, Yao often writes with specific players in mind. Another influence is Count Basie. Yao loved the sound of that historic ensemble “swinging together.”
While Yao’s style is not retro, he knows where the music has been and has a developing vision of where he wants to take it.
What makes his new CD, “Flip-Flop” (on See Tao Recordings), so exciting is that the music, …
By Barry Bassis | July 27, 2015
Sparks fly on “Alieva & Antonenko” (on Delos), a CD of arias and duets by Verdi, Puccini, and Tchaikovsky by two acclaimed young singers. The CD could be called Love and Death because all the operas end with tragedy.
Soprano Dinara Alieva was born in Azerbaijan and has sung at the Bolshoi as well as the Vienna State Opera, Frankfurt Opera, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. She has also won a number of international competitions and appeared at Carnegie Hall. She studied with Montserrat Caballé, who described Alieva’s talent as a “gift of Heaven.”
One sign that Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko has achieved stardom is the fact that he will play the title role in Verdi’s “Otello” for the opening night …
By Barry Bassis | July 13, 2015
The Jazz Standard was sold out for the album release party for Charenee Wade’s CD “Offering: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson” (on Motema). There were two apparent reasons: the performance of rising-star vocalist Wade and the material she performed on the CD and at the club—a collection of songs by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson.
Wade is the genuine article—a singer of distinction as well as a songwriter and educator. She cites Sarah Vaughan as an influence and Dianne Reeves seems to be part of her musical DNA, especially in her scatting.
Scott-Heron’s work remains timely as long as the racial divide exists in America. He was singing about black lives mattering before the expression was coined.…
By Barry Bassis | July 5, 2015
Leslie Caron is, to the best of my knowledge, alive and well and living in Paris. Two of her most famous movie roles, in “An American in Paris” and in “Gigi,” came to Broadway this season. They could also be considered tributes to Vincente Minnelli (the director of both films) and Alan Jay Lerner (the screenwriter for the first and the lyricist/screenwriter for the second). Ironically, the men won Academy Awards each time; Caron didn’t.
The 1951 movie “An American in Paris” was an early example of a jukebox musical. Lerner created the story of a GI in postwar Paris (played by the great Gene Kelly) falling in love with a French dancer. All the music was by George Gershwin …