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 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 …
By Barry Bassis | July 5, 2015
When I go to a Shakespeare production, I pay attention to all the elements, as I would for any other play, but I especially listen to the language of our greatest playwright and poet.
For example, at the current Shakespeare in the Park production of “The Tempest,” Sam Waterston’s doddering Prospero was only fitfully effective and the beauty of the words was often lost. (To be fair, he sounded rather hoarse at the performance I attended.)
The gold standard for the handling of Shakespeare’s language is Sir John Gielgud (1904–2000). As Harold Bloom once noted in an Atlantic Unbound interview:
“I’ve seen only one Hamlet that immensely moved me. It was, of course, Sir John Gielgud. Somehow his gestures were …
By Barry Bassis | June 30, 2015
Appearing at Town Hall with a big band (featuring Billy Stritch on piano) and two backup singers, Natalie Cole managed to make the concert feel like an intimate event.
Whether performing her own hits or standards from the Great American Songbook, Cole proved that her singing is as good as ever. Whether crooning, scatting or swinging, she was in complete control. She also looked chic in a sparkly white top and black pants.
Cole started with the Peggy Lee hit “Fever” (mostly a duo between her sultry vocal and the acoustic bass) and segued in the middle into “Summertime.” She sounded girlish on the Ella Fitzgerald hit “A Tisket, A Tasket.” Cole paid homage to Dinah Washington with “What a …
By Barry Bassis | June 28, 2015
Producers Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta brought their semi-annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival back to the Birdland jazz club (315 W. 44th St.). This is the 16th year of the festival. Sponsor Air France flew most of the artists from Europe, and the band was supplemented each night by special guest artists. This is music that epitomizes swing and joie de vivre.
If this music doesn’t put a smile on your face, nothing will.
The Belgian Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910–1953) is considered the first great jazz artist to come out of Europe. His group, the Hot Club of France, was co-led by violinist Stéphane Grappelli (1908–1997), who emerged as a full-fledged star on the international circuit after Django’s …
By Barry Bassis | June 21, 2015
American composer Aaron Jay Kernis has received many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. The latest release of his music, the beguiling “Three Flavors” (on Naxos) is further evidence of his talent. Those who think they don’t like contemporary music should give this a try. Kernis’s work, usually labeled neo-romantic, is both eclectic and imaginative, suggesting his influences without descending into mimicry.
“Three Flavors” is a work for piano and orchestra. The soloist on the recording is Andrew Russo, who has long been a champion of Kernis’s music, and he is accompanied by the Albany Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Alan Miller.
Originally “Three Flavors” was written in 2002 as a concerto for an amplified toy piano, played by Margaret Leng …
By Barry Bassis | June 14, 2015
When you attend a Cheyenne Jackson concert, you not only learn the range of his vocal talent but also discover a lot about his life.
The natty Jackson first appeared in a white dinner jacket with a bow tie, later changing to a black jacket. His music was an eclectic mix of show tunes and pop hits from various eras. He started with “Stand by Me” and performed a number of songs that he had heard on recordings of jazz singers. From Ella Fitzgerald, he took “A Foggy Day” and from Diana Krall he appropriated her arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” The latter was done as a tribute to his mother, who exposed him to the singer-songwriters …
By Barry Bassis | June 14, 2015
Looking for a musical for the whole family that will not break the bank? The answer is Theatre East’s “Devil and the Deep,” a new musical retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s classic, “Treasure Island.”
The big name in the production is Graham Russell of Air Supply, who wrote the music and lyrics with Katie McGhie. Melissa Bell wrote the book and additional lyrics.
The show basically follows the plot of the novel, albeit with some modifications. Stevenson’s story, written for his stepson, omitted women except for Jim Hawkins’s mother. “Devil and the Deep” includes a number of female characters, one of whom is a pirate. The Playbill contains a history of women pirates as well as a glossary of …
By Barry Bassis | June 7, 2015
Gabriela Montero occupies a unique position in the music world. A classical artist who performs the core piano literature with leading orchestras around the world, she is also an intrepid improviser. At her concerts, she often asks the audience to suggest songs and she then plays them as baroque, romantic, or whatever style occurs to her at the moment.
Montero is also an outspoken critic of the corrupt government of her native country, Venezuela. Now based in the United States, Montero has won awards for her piano playing (including the International Chopin Piano Competition and the Rockefeller Award for her contributions to the arts) as well as her humanitarian efforts. She was recently named Honorary Consul by Amnesty International.
By Barry Bassis | May 31, 2015
Soprano Jessica Rivera has distinguished herself on the opera and concert stage with performances of classical music of the past and the present. She has performed works by contemporary composers John Adams, Gabriela Lena Frank, Osvaldo Golijov, Jonathan Leshnoff, and Nico Muhly, among others.
An American of Peruvian descent, Rivera has just released a beautiful album (on Urtext Digital Classics) titled “Spanish-American Songs” with the outstanding pianist Mark Carver. They bring to light an important body of art songs that are not familiar to many classical music listeners in this country.
Rodolfo Halffter (1900–1987) was born in Spain but lived much of his life in Mexico. He comes from a distinguished musical family. His brother Ernesto was a composer as …
By Barry Bassis | May 24, 2015
New Orleans native Bryan Hymel became a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic when he stepped in to replace the tenor stars in the highly demanding role of Énée in Hector Berlioz’s “Les Troyens.” First, he filled in for Jonas Kaufmann at Covent Garden, and six months later in 2012, he took over the same role for Marcello Giordani at the Metropolitan Opera.
Among other awards, in 2013, he won the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera and the Metropolitan Opera’s Beverly Sills Artist Award.
Now, Warner Classics has released Hymel’s first solo debut for the label, “Héroïque: French Opera Arias,” and the tenor stakes out a repertoire in which he has little, if any, competition.
The CD …