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 | 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 …
By Barry Bassis | October 26, 2014
Usually, the kinds of events in opera that spark controversy are when a tenor misses a high note and is booed off the stage or the soprano playing Salome is not wearing anything under her seven veils. It’s unusual to have protests and even more rare for politicians to weigh in.
“”The Death of Klinghoffer,” the 1991 opera by the composer John Adams and the librettist Alice Goodman, has finally reached the Metropolitan Opera and the controversy has not ended.
Reportedly about 400 protesters gathered outside the opera house to protest the first performance on October 20th. Rudy Giuliani spoke and also wrote an article in The Daily Beast, in which he conceded that “[t]he Met has the First Amendment …
By Barry Bassis | October 24, 2014
At the beginning of the Richard Tucker Gala at Avery Fisher Hall, the late tenor’s son Barry Tucker announced some cancellations. The most disappointing was Anna Netrebko, who sent a note saying she was not going to appear because she had just played Lady Macbeth in the Verdi opera the night before and she found that the role was more taxing than she had anticipated. The other no-shows were for colds.
In any event, the audience was still treated to a series of arias and scenes from top flight opera singers accompanied by the Richard Tucker Gala Orchestra led by Emmanuel Villaume (who was recently named Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Prague Philharmonia). The New York Choral Society …
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, …