Barry Bassis
Arts & Culture

Barry Bassis

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

  • Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s “The Bells of Dawn – Russian Sacred and Folk Songs”

    Dmitri Hvorostovsky Sings Russian Sacred and Folk Songs

    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 …

  • ‘Aida’ at the Met, a Big Spectacle With Voices to Match

    A scene from Act 2 of Verdi’s “Aida,” with a stunning set by Gianni Quaranta, which evoked applause. (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

    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.

    The Plot

    “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 …

  • A Haunted Operetta: Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘Ruddigore’

    David Wannen (C) portrays the ghost of Sir Roderic Murgatroyd in the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ production of “Ruddigore.” (David Sigafoose)

    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 …

  • “American Showstoppers” Highlights the Songs of Cy Coleman

    The Fred Barton Orchestra. (C. Kevin Yatarola)

    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 …

  • Murder at Sea: “The Death of Klinghoffer” at the Met

    (Courtesy of Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

    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 …

  • Richard Tucker Gala Delivers Despite Some No-Shows

    Dario Acosta Photography/  Richard Tucker Music Foundation

    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 …

  • The Met Unveils Its Welcome New Production of “The Marriage of Figaro”

    Marlis Petersen and Ildar Abdrazakov in Le Nozze di Figaro. (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera). (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

    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 Month

    The  Nonesuch album cover of the bass and mandolin stars

    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 …

  • Love and Death in the Met’s Doom-Ridden “Carmen”

    Don Jose Warning Carmen to Love Him or Die

    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 …

  • Love Blossoms and Fades at the Met’s Vivid “La Boheme”

    Photo courtesy of Cory Weaver

    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 …

  • Mysticism in Music—”Dreams & Prayers” by A Far Cry

    A Far Cry's "Dreams & Prayers

    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 …

  • Jane Bunnett’s Cuban Jazz and The Cookers’ Hard Bop at the Blue Note this week

    The Canadian flute and saxophone player forms a formidable group with Cuban female jazz artists.

    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. …

  • Trumpeter Alison Balsom’s “Paris” Honors the City of Love

    The English trumpet star plays works connected to the City of Love

    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 …

  • A Spanish Recital by an American Beauty: Corinne Winters Sings Songs of Spain

    Corrine Winters Sings Spanish Love Songs

    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, …

  • Joyce DiDonato Uncovers Bel Canto Gems

    Joyce DiDonato Shows Why She is a Great Singer of Bel Canto arias

    The title of Joyce DiDonato’s new Erato album is “Stella di Napoli” (Star of Naples). The title is appropriate since no opera star today shines more brightly than this mezzo soprano. The collection brings together arias from the early days of bel canto. Her earlier collection of bel canto arias, “Diva, Divo,” won a Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo and this one is just as praiseworthy.

    The CD includes forgotten works as well as those from the three most prominent bel canto composers: Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti. DiDonato has found the perfect collaborator in conductor Riccardo Minasi since, in addition to his dynamic conducting, he shares her interest in musical research. He is responsible for discovering many of …

  • Duke Ellington’s Rare Bethlehem Albums Are Available on CD

    30 Years of Duke Ellington Hits

    By the mid-1950′s, big band jazz was in decline. Duke Ellington (1899-1974) kept his group together with money from his music royalties. (During his lifetime, Ellington composed more than 3,000 songs.) He signed a deal to record two albums for the Bethlehem label in 1956. “Duke Ellington Presents” and “Historically Speaking” were the two LP’s and both are now released on CD by Naxos Records.

    Shortly after recording these albums, the Ellington band appeared at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival and electrified the audience. That performance, especially tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves’ 27 consecutive improvised choruses on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” revived interest in Ellington and Duke continued to tour and compose until his death in 1974.  His music played …

  • Christopher Tin’s Masterful Work on the Theme of Water

    The large scale choral work  describes water in all its forms

    “The Drop That Contained the Sea” is an ambitious work by Chinese-American composer Christopher Tin. It is also successful, artistically and commercially. The CD (on the composer’s own label, Tin Works) debuted as number one on Billboard Music’s traditional classical albums. Tin has won two Grammy Awards, one for his 2009 classical crossover album “Calling All Dawns” and the other for “Baba Yetu” (which he composed for a video game).

    The composer is inspired by different styles of singing and the ten pieces on the album are each in a different language (some ancient) reflecting vocal traditions from different areas. The theme is water in all its forms, from moisture to snow to mountain streams and oceans. The pieces were …

  • Netrebko Sings Divinely as Verdi’s Giovanna D’Arco

    Anna Netrebko and Placido Domingo as Father and Daughter

    The life of Joan of Arc has inspired countless works (of varying quality), including plays by Schiller, Shaw, Anderson and Anouilh and films by Dreyer, Bresson, Fleming and Preminger. The play by Schiller inspired Verdi’s opera, “Giovanna D’Arco” and was one of the sources of Tchaikovsky’s opera, “The Maid of Orleans.” The Schiller play and the operas based on it take liberties with the historical record, adding a romance and, in the case of the play and Verdi opera, having the heroine die in battle rather than being burned at the stake. (One of the striking facts about Joan of Arc’s life is that it is so well documented. There is actually a written record of her trial in 1431.)…

  • Remembering One of Spain’s Leading Sopranos: Pilar Lorengar

    A new set featuring the Spanish soprano singing opera and songs

    Pilar Lorengar (1928-1996) was a leading opera singer for over three decades. The one time I saw her in person was at a Promenades concert at Lincoln Center.  (For these summertime concerts at Philharmonic Hall, now known as Avery Fisher Hall, the seats were removed and replaced by small tables and chairs.) My family was sitting right in front of the stage and at one point, Lorengar came out with a guitar and sang Spanish songs to her own accompaniment. She seemed to enjoy herself as much as the audience did.

    Spain has produced many outstanding opera singers and Lorengar is not as well-known as she deserves to be.  I therefore was happy to receive a new 3-CD set (on …

  • George London’s Artistry in the Opera House and in Show Tunes

    The Great American Bass-Baritone Singing Show Tunes and Wagner Arias

    Bass-baritone George London (1920 –1985) was born in Montreal to Russian Jewish immigrants. When he was 15, his family moved to Los Angeles and he attended Hollywood High School and then Los Angeles City College, where he enrolled in an opera workshop. In 1947, he toured as a member of the Bel Canto Trio with soprano Frances Yeend and tenor Mario Lanza. At the end of the tour, Lanza was snatched up by the movies. London decided to get serious about his opera career and went to Europe.

    After a triumphant audition, he was immediately signed to the Vienna State Opera and made his debut as Amonasro in “Aida.” He created a sensation and went on to other starring roles. …