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 31, 2016
NEW YORK—The audience issued a collective groan when an announcer stepped on stage before the first performance this season of “Maria Stuarda.” He said that the star, Sondra Radvanovsky, was battling a cold but would go on anyway and asked for the audience’s indulgence. If he had not made the announcement, no one would have suspected that the soprano had any health issues because she sang this demanding music, which includes coloratura runs, pianissimos, and so on, with beauty and skill and the most powerful voice on stage. She also acted with her usual intensity, delivering a moving portrayal of the doomed Maria.
Gaetano Donizetti’s 1834 opera is based on Friedrich Schiller’s play “Mary Stuart” about the conflict between Queen …
By Barry Bassis | January 17, 2016
NEW YORK—”Tappin’ Thru Life” is a singing and dancing trip down memory lane by the dazzling Maurice Hines. The show, written and choreographed by the star, is a tribute to his family. At 72, Maurice is a remarkably spry dancer, and he is also a likeable singer and entertaining raconteur.
Hines began dancing professionally with his younger brother, Gregory, when they were children. They eventually formed a team with their father, “Hines, Hines and Dad.” Later, the two brothers appeared together in nightclubs, Broadway shows, such as “Eubie,” and on film. Their last appearance together was in the 1984 Francis Ford Coppola movie, “The Cotton Club.”
The Hines family took a lot of photos, and many are projected on the …
By Barry Bassis | January 10, 2016
NEW YORK—Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” is one of the most popular operas ever written. His earlier work “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” (“The Pearl Fishers”) has languished in relative obscurity, except for the famous duet and a tenor aria.
“The Pearl Fishers” is back at the Metropolitan Opera, where the work was last performed in 1916. Anyone seeing this wonderful staging (a co-production with the English National Opera) will wonder why it took so long to revive the opera.
The British director and filmmaker Penny Woolcock (who was born in an expatriate community in Argentina) is primarily known for tackling provocative modern pieces, such as “Doctor Atomic” (which she directed at the Met) and “The Death of Klinghoffer” as well as documentaries …
By Barry Bassis | January 3, 2016
NEW YORK—Each year during the holiday season, the Metropolitan Opera puts on an opera aimed at young children. The opera is performed in English in an abridged version. In recent seasons, the operas have been “Hansel and Gretel” and “The Magic Flute.” This year, the Met is putting on Bartlett Sher’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s 1816 “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (“The Barber of Seville”). J.D. McClatchy prepared the English translation.
Giuseppe Verdi once called “The Barber of Seville” “the finest opera buffa in existence.” The audience, especially the children, seemed to agree. If anything, the performers mugged more than their counterparts did when the full Italian version ran a couple of seasons ago.
The opera was first performed in the …
By Barry Bassis | December 27, 2015
Under the direction of Robert Battle, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has continued to maintain its high standards of performance while expanding the company’s repertoire.
One example of this is “Piazzolla Caldera,” a 1997 work by choreographer Paul Taylor, which the Ailey dancers first performed earlier in the current run at City Center. The piece is set to music by Astor Piazzolla and Jerzy Peterburshsky. The set, décor and costumes are by Santo Loquasto. The recorded music is all played by violinist Gidon Kremer.
The work is not a tango piece per se but a mixture of tango and modern dance, exploring the underpinnings of the form. It omits the intricate footwork of tango (as seen in shows like …
By Barry Bassis | December 20, 2015
NEW YORK—Sir Walter Scott’s novels and poems have faded in popularity, but he inspired movies (such as “Ivanhoe” and “Quentin Durward” in the 1950s) and enduring musical works, notably Donizetti’s “Lucia de Lammermoor.” His narrative poem “The Lady of the Lake” was adapted into a bel canto opera by Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868) that was a hit for a time, but sank into obscurity.
Last season, almost 200 years after its debut in Naples, “La Donna del Lago” was revived at the Metropolitan Opera. The opera is quite melodic and challenging since the score was written for the leading virtuosos of the opera scene in the early 19th century.
The Met supplied the requisite vocal talent last season and does so …
By Barry Bassis | December 13, 2015
Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf were all born in 1915. Perhaps the most popular and influential singer born that year was Frank Sinatra, whose centennial is being celebrated this month.
Sinatra began as a big band singer, first with Harry James and then with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra. He soon became a solo star (with legions of bobby soxer fans) and began appearing in movies. At first, he was a lightweight, physically and dramatically.
Though he made some movie musicals when he was in his vocal prime, Hollywood usually let him down. For example, in “On the Town,” the studio rejected most of the Leonard Bernstein songs. Sinatra pleaded with them to let him sing the ballad …
By Barry Bassis | December 6, 2015
Jazz singer Catherine Russell blew me away when I first saw her perform at the Mohonk Blues on the Mountain Festival. She sang a blues and jazz set with her group and then returned on Sunday morning for a gospel show. Since then, I have been collecting her recordings and try to catch her whenever she is in town.
A native New Yorker, Russell was born into jazz royalty. Her father, Luis Russell, was the longtime bandleader-pianist for Louis Armstrong. (On Catherine’s website, there are photos of her with Satchmo when she was 4 years old.)
Her mother, Carline Ray, was also an accomplished musician. A guitarist in the female International Sweethearts of Rhythm jazz band of the 1940s, she …
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 that continued …
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 …