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 | March 4, 2014
I explained to my friend the idea of the Metropolitan Opera’s “The
Enchanted Island,” a pastiche baroque opera. It’s “Mama Mia,” she shot
back, referring to the Broadway musical that takes a plot (loosely based on
a 1969 film comedy “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell”) and shoehorns in songs by
Apparently the practice of putting together operas with arias that fit the
talents of the singers, with librettos stitched together from other sources
was done in Handel’s time. While the idea is the same as a jukebox musical,
the results may be a bit more elevated. In this instance, the Met audience
was completely won over.
“The Enchanted Island” was put together by Jeremy Sams at the suggestion of
By Barry Bassis | March 3, 2014
Alan Gilbert, the musical director of the New York Philharmonic, took two nights off and Vince Mendoza took over. The reason is that the featured artist in the concerts is singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter. She has a new album “Songs From the Movie,” arranged and conducted by Mendoza and this is part of her tour performing her songs with symphony orchestras. Guest artists at the concert are a starry group: Joan Baez, Shawn Colvin, Tift Merritt, Aoife O’Donovan and Jerry Douglas.
The evening began with Carpenter singing her songs I Have a Need for Solitude and This Shirt, her feminist rocker “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and “Transcendental Reunion” with her own group and various groupings of the female singers …
By Barry Bassis | February 24, 2014
Jules Massenet’s “Werther” has returned to the Metropolitan Opera in a new production directed by Richard Eyre. The opera is based Goethe’s novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther” and while the lead character may suffer, the audience is fascinated by the tenor playing the title role: Jonas Kaufmann.
Eyre makes some changes to the opera that do not detract from the impact of the work. First, he changes the time period from the late 18thto the late 19th century, basically moving it into the period when Massenet wrote the opera. Second, the director adds action during the playing of the overture: a mother dies and her family mourns her, after which winter turns into spring. The latter effect is achieved …
By Barry Bassis | February 22, 2014
The New York City Opera (“NYCO”) was started on February 21, 1944 as an affordable alternative to the Metropolitan Opera. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia dubbed it “The People’s Opera” and it lived up to that description until last year when its management declared bankruptcy. Many famous singers got their start here, including Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, Samuel Ramey, Shirley Verrett and Tatiana Troyanos.
To honor what would have been the company’s 70th birthday, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians presented a concert at City Center (NYCO’s original home) of singers who had appeared with the company accompanied by a full orchestra and chorus. The proceeds of the concert went to a good cause: the Musicians Emergency Relief Fund.
By Barry Bassis | February 17, 2014
Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) was one of the great melodists of Russian music but composing was a sideline for him. He was a renowned chemist and, while he worked on his opera “Prince Igor” over an 18-year period, it was unfinished at his death. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazounov orchestrated it and made their own deletions and additions.
The new production of “Prince Igor” at the Met is the first at the house since 1917, when it was performed in Italian. Now, it is back in a revised version, with direction and sets by the visionary Dmitri Tcherniakov (making his Met debut). There is quite a bit of musical tinkering; the overture is gone (despite the fact that Glazounov based his …
By Barry Bassis | February 12, 2014
The Scottish singer/actor Euan Morton became famous playing Boy George in the musical “Taboo” in London and on Broadway, for which he was nominated for most theater awards, including the Olivier and the Tony. He recently kicked off the Live from Gramercy Park cabaret series at The Players Club (at 16 Gramercy Park South).
The style of music was completely different from Boy George’s blue-eyed soul sounds. At the Player’s Club, Morton was singing songs from the Great American Songbook (mostly from the 1920’s and 30’s) backed by Grandpa Musselman & His Syncopators, a six-piece group playing in an early jazz style. The name “Grandpa” is a joke since they are all young Manhattan School of Music graduates. The sound …
By Barry Bassis | February 11, 2014
Ildar Abdrazakov is the man of the hour or maybe the whole month. The bass is on the cover of the February issue of Opera News. He is currently starring in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Prince Igor. To coincide with the opening, Delos has just released his first solo recording, “Power Players,” comprised of arias from Russian operas.
Though one might assume a Russian singer would naturally gravitate to roles in his own language, Abdrazakov’s career hasn’t progressed that way. He made his international reputation mostly by singing Italian and French operas. At the Met, he has sung Verdi’s “Attila” and Berlioz’s “Damnation of Faust.” He portrayed the title role in the first and was Mephistofeles in the …
By Barry Bassis | February 8, 2014
Quinn Lemley may be the hardest working woman in show business. For almost two hours, in “Burlesque to Broadway” she is on-stage continuously singing and dancing. With four other comely showgirls and a nine-piece band, Lemley analyzes, and at the same time recreates, the history of this often misunderstood area of show business. I had already been a fan of the star since I had seen her Rita Hayworth tribute and had interviewed her at the time. She may be a knockout performer and act like a siren on stage but she is also a scholar of our musical theater history.
The evening starts with “Big Spender,” which wasn’t from burlesque but from the Broadway hit “Sweet Charity.” In fact, …
By Barry Bassis | February 5, 2014
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736) wrote his famous work about death as
he approached the premature end of his own life. He is known primarily for
comic operas, notably “La serva padrona” (The Maid as Mistress). “Stabat
Mater,” however, is based on a sacred text written in Latin. It depicts the
suffering of the Virgin Mary as she stands weeping before the cross where
the crucified Jesus is dying.
In fact, the 13th century text had been banned by the Roman Catholic Church
for being too emotional until 1727 when Pope Benedict XIII allowed its use
in the Feast of Seven Sorrows in Lent. Seven years later, a Neapolitan group
associated with Pergolesi’s patron, the Duke of Carafa Maddaloni,
commissioned a …
By Barry Bassis | February 1, 2014
To honor what would have been English composer Benjamin Britten’s 100th
birthday—he died in 1976—Warner Classics released a magnificent new
recording of his “War Requiem.”
Britten was a pacifist and he had considered writing an oratorio about the
horrors that had occurred during the first half of the 20th century,
including the devastation of World War II, the bombings of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
These ideas gestated over a period of years, during which he completed
operas and other works. In 1958, Britten was asked to write a piece to
commemorate the consecration of a cathedral that was being built in
The church in that city had been standing since the 15th century …
By Barry Bassis | January 16, 2014
“Verdi at the Met” is a new Sony Classical box set celebrating the bicentennial of Verdi’s
birth. His work has been a fixture at the house since the first season of
the Metropolitan Opera in 1883.
The 20 CD set is comprised of 10 radio broadcasts from 1935 to 1967 and
includes many of the leading singers of the era.
As soon as the set arrived, I pulled one of the operas out of the box and
listened to “Aida.” I saw the Met’s production last season, and it was an
eye-popping spectacle. However, the singing was uneven.
But the singing on this box set is superior. Indeed, for vocal splendor, I
don’t think any opera house in the world …
By Barry Bassis | January 12, 2014
“Thumbprint,” having its world premiere run as part of Beth Morrison Projects and HERE’s Prototype Opera Festival, is a powerful piece about a remarkable person. Mukhtar Mai is a Pakistani woman who was gang-raped in 2002 because her 12-year old brother was accused of seducing a girl from a neighboring tribe. Mukhtar (illiterate at the time of the attack) found the strength to open a school for girls and a women’s shelter with the money she received from the government as compensation.
The chamber opera has music by Kamala Sankaram (who also plays the lead role) and a libretto by Susan Yankowitz. Steven Osgood led the chamber ensemble, which contained piano, bass, percussion, flute, viola and violin.
The opera begins …
By Barry Bassis | January 11, 2014
NEW YORK—The Metropolitan Opera rang in the New Year with a new production of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s popular operetta “Die Fledermaus.” Like many parties, there was plenty of fun, but the festivities went on too long. (Note: I caught the production Jan. 4.)
Jeremy Sams wrote and is directing the new English-language lyrics and playwright Douglas Carter Beane is responsible for the spoken dialogue. Their contributions have both ups and downs.
The dazzling sets and costumes are by Robert Jones, the lighting is by Jennifer Schriever, and the zippy choreography is by Stephen Mear.
The production moves the action from New Year’s Eve in Vienna in the mid-19th century to the eve of the 20th century in the same city. …
By Barry Bassis | January 5, 2014
Recently, we were looking for a place to have my birthday lunch. We came up with the idea of SOB’s (Sounds of Brazil) (at 204 Varick St. at West Houston St.; 212-243-4940) for the Sunday Bossa Nova Brunch. On arrival, we found the colorful room had a party atmosphere, with balloons hanging down from the ceiling. In fact, we discovered our idea wasn’t so original. The lady in the next table with a bouquet of flowers was also celebrating her birthday with her family and friends.
Shakespeare wrote that “music is the food of love” and a key reason for picking SOB’s was the soothing sound of Brazilian music. The leader at the Sunday brunches is Nanny Assis (a mellow …
By Barry Bassis | January 3, 2014
The Metropolitan Opera came up with a sublime ending to the Verdi Bicentennial Year: a new production of the composer’s final work, “Falstaff.” I have fond memories of Franco Zeffirelli’s version, especially when the lead was played by the remarkable Giuseppe Taddei. Nevertheless, the new production by Robert Carsen is very funny and musically engaging, with a terrific cast and James Levine conducting.
The action has been updated, from the Elizabethan era to 1950’s England. Sir John Falstaff is first seen at the Garter Inn, which has the atmosphere of a men’s club. He spends his time hatching schemes with his confederates and fending off creditors. He foolishly pens the same love letter to two of the well-heeled local wives …
By Barry Bassis | January 1, 2014
When I entered the 59 East 59th Street Theater to catch Barb Jungr’s Christmas eve show, “Dancing in the Dark,” I felt as if I had crashed a private party. I was apparently one of the few audience members who had never seen her perform before. I was already an admirer of her work because I have some of her CDs, but as I was to discover, there is nothing like seeing her in person. She was accompanied by a superb pianist Tracy Stark, who sometimes joined in on vocals.
Jungr is a British cabaret singer, but a singular kind. While many perform what is known as the Great American Songbook (which generally covers songs from the 1920’s to the …
By Barry Bassis | January 1, 2014
Classical music audiences are familiar with original instruments performances but theater goers rarely get to see historically accurate revivals of classic works. Thanks to the London Globe theater, we now have the option of two of Shakespeare’s plays, “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III,” done in mostly authentic productions. (The original pronunciations are not used because a modern audience wouldn’t tolerate them.)
Both plays are directed by Tim Carroll and star the always astonishing Mark Rylance. From the time the audience enters, and for these two, you should arrive at least half an hour early, the musicians are playing the entrancing scores by Claire van Kampen on Elizabethan era instruments. The stage is lit with candles and the actors get into …
By Barry Bassis | December 24, 2013
NEW YORK—For those seeking a bit of high culture for holiday family entertainment, the Metropolitan Opera has brought back Julie Taymor’s 2004 production of “The Magic Flute” (Die Zauberflöte).
This is a stripped-down, 100-minute version of the opera, performed in English. Although I prefer Mozart’s music unabridged, I confess that I prefer the dialogue in my own language rather than German.
The translation by American poet J.D. McClatchy is witty and clarifies the action, though the singing was not always intelligible. (As always, the translation appeared on the back of the seat in front of each audience member.)
Children of all ages (including me) were entranced by the puppets designed by Taymor and Michael Curry, as well as the cast …
By Barry Bassis | December 17, 2013
The Teatro alla Scala Memories series (on Skira Classica) make wonderful gifts for opera lovers, especially those interested in historic performances. Each set comes in a hard cover book with essays, photos of the production, sketches of the sets and costumes, the complete libretto in Italian and English, a listing of all casts in the opera since it was first performed at La Scala, and an opera recorded live at the opera house.
A new release in the series presents a truly historic recording: Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (“A Masked Ball”) in a 1957 live performance starring Maria Callas as Amelia.
The supporting cast is exceptionally strong— her frequent partner on stage and in recordings tenor Giuseppe di Stefano …
By Barry Bassis | December 16, 2013
“Così fan tutte,” which premiered in 1790, was the last collaboration between Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte, the librettist of “Don Giovanni” and “Le Nozze di Figaro.” Though it has not become as popular as the other two Mozart and Da Ponte collaborations, “Così” is frequently revived and is being performed this season at the Metropolitan Opera.
The script is cynical and was rarely performed in the 19th century. The title means “All women are like that” and the contention that women are basically unfaithful is the premise of the opera.
At the beginning, two friends (Ferrando and Guglielmo) in 18th century Naples express their belief in the fidelity of their fiancées, who happen to be sisters. An elderly cynic …