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 | July 24, 2014
As Pete Seeger lay dying at age 94 this past January, his wish was to have friends visiting his hospital room sing folksongs to him. And he certainly would have been pleased at the concert presented by Lincoln Center as part of its Out of Doors Festival in honor of Pete and Toshi, his wife of almost 70 years (who died in 2013).
The concert was not only a testament to Pete’s artistry but also to his and Toshi’s commitment to social causes. There were pro-union songs, anti-war, and pro-environmental pieces. Some of Pete’s songs on these subjects were performed while speakers recalled his extraordinary spirit and body of work.
The concert started with Judy Collins reminiscing about the first …
By Barry Bassis | July 20, 2014
Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” is a difficult play to present effectively and the production presented by Baruch Performing Arts Center and TGW Acting Studio and directed by Thomas G. Waites is uneven.
The play begins with a sort of prologue in which a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly (Joshua Walter) is tricked into believing, when he awakes from his stupor, that he is a married nobleman. Thus, the following story of Petruchio (Michael Moss) and Kate (Elissa Klie) becomes a play within a play. However, Sly doesn’t return at the end and so it’s unclear what the playwright intended by the first scene. (With all due respect to the Bard, I have always felt that the musical comedy …
By Barry Bassis | July 20, 2014
An unknown 20 year old with a history of psychiatric and drug problems arrived in London in 1968 and within days was recording his debut album for Apple Records. The label was founded that year by the Beatles and it was an artist-focused label, reflecting their tastes and those of Peter Asher (formerly a member of the duo Peter and Gordon, who became the head of the A&R (Artist & Repertoire) department at Apple). The young man who was given an introduction to Asher through a mutual friend was James Taylor and his debut album had Paul McCartney on bass and George Harrison on backup vocals.
James Taylor’s Apple album was not a hit but when he returned to the …
By Barry Bassis | July 15, 2014
The New York Musical Theatre Festival is presenting “The Mapmaker’s Opera,” an ambitious new musical based on the novel of the same name by Bea Gonzalez. Victor Kazan wrote the book and lyrics and Kevin Purcell the music. There is much to commend in the work despite its flaws.
The action takes place in the Yucatan in 1909, shortly before the Mexican Revolution.
The hero, Diego Clemente, is the impoverished illegitimate son of a Spanish don. He is an artist who specializes in sketching wildlife, inspired by John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.” Diego is recommended to American naturalist Edward Nelson and travels to Mexico to help prepare a guide to the indigenous birds. Comic relief is provided mainly by …
By Barry Bassis | July 7, 2014
Savion Glover’s dance work, “OM,” begins with a recording of Kenny Garrett’s “Calling,” a jazz piece in the spiritual style of John Coltrane. Then, the stage is filled with votive candles, religious artifacts (a crucifix, a statue of Buddha, and a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi) and the images of famous African-American dancers (Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis, Jr., etc.)
Glover is probably the most eminent tap dancer in the world and also the most adventurous. He is not only the star of the show, he is also the director and choreographer. While some of his artistic forebears might recognize some of his steps—there is even a modified “Moonwalk”—none of them produced an extended work of this magnitude.
This is …
By Barry Bassis | July 6, 2014
If you’re seeking an evening of charm and romance, head to the Irish Repertory Theater where Gardner McKay’s “Sea Marks” has been enchanting audiences.
This two character play starts an epistolary work, letters back and forth between a man and woman. Colm Primrose (Patrick Fitzgerald) is a fisherman in a remote island in the west of Ireland. Timothea Stiles (Xanthe Elbrick) is from the farm country in Wales but has made the move to a career in book publishing in Liverpool.
The two met at a wedding of one of Timothea’s relatives and Colm is immediately smitten. He writes poetic letters to her, describing his life. Though he has a tough existence battling the elements, Colm is the sheltered one, …
By Barry Bassis | July 1, 2014
The 1958 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at Covent Garden is legendary for its combination of remarkable talents, notably the conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, the director of Luchino Visconti, and three of the greatest singing actors of the last century: Jon Vickers, Tito Gobbi and Boris Christoff. Unfortunately, there is no video available but Andromeda has released a newly re-mastered 3-CD set and it shows that the production was worthy of its reputation.
“Don Carlo,” based on Friedrich Schiller’s play, is an epic opera, a love story and father-son conflict set during the Spanish Inquisition. The romantic hero of the play and opera is the opposite of the real figure, who was disfigured and malignant, more like Shakespeare’s Richard …
By Barry Bassis | June 29, 2014
I recently had a conversation with two of my colleagues at work. The man was telling about his plan to fly to California with his husband and one-year old child. The woman recounted her experiences traveling with infants. That conversation could not have happened a decade ago and, just as President Obama evolved on the issue, so did much of the rest of the country (the retrogressive Family Rights Council and the Ricks, Perry and Santorum, notwithstanding).
The new America is on view on Broadway in Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons” (having a limited run at Golden Theatre at 252 West 45th Street).
Tyne Daly plays the mother (named Katharine Gerard) who appears without prior warning (or invitation) at the …
By Barry Bassis | June 24, 2014
Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” is one of the comic gems of Italian opera. The work premiered in 1843, five years before the prolific composer’s death. Opus Arte has just released a DVD of the winning 2013 Glyndebourne Festival production. The main attraction is the star turn by the captivating Danielle de Niese, but other pleasures abound.
The title character is a wealthy old bachelor, who is annoyed at his nephew, Ernesto, for not going along with an arranged marriage. The young man has his sights on a pretty widow named Norina. The devious Dr. Malatesta talks Don Pasquale into marrying an innocent young girl, his own sister “Sofronia,” who turns out to be Norina in disguise.
After the ceremony, the …
By Barry Bassis | June 16, 2014
The Italian musical comedy “Rugantino” last played in New York for three weeks in 1964. For the 50th anniversary of the Broadway production, a revival returned to City Center (131 West 55th Street) for three performances (June 12, 13 and 14).
With a large cast, an impressive revolving set, singing and dancing and a lot of comedy (both verbal and physical), it was probably too much of a good thing since the show ran over three hours. On the other hand, no one could deny that the audience got its money’s worth and the cast deserved the standing ovation at the end.
The locale is Rome in the 1830′s. The title character is the sort of rogue who could have …
By Barry Bassis | June 10, 2014
“Zdenek Otava: Baritone” is a 2-CD/1-DVD set (on ArcoDiva) of a superb singer, who is unknown in the United States. Otava (1902–1980) was a star in his native Czechoslovakia for half a century, but his name doesn’t even appear in any of my reference books on classical music or opera. Perhaps politics had something to do with it since he lived through the Nazi and Soviet eras.
As a boy in secondary school, Otava sang in the choir of the Old Brno Monastery. He was given his entrance exam by none other than Leos Janacek. The noted composer praised the 10-year-old as a “skylark.” Neither could have known that the youngster would eventually become an important interpreter of Janacek’s work …
By Barry Bassis | June 8, 2014
There seems to be a new type of play: a show that depicts a show business legend at the end of his or her career, which is also the end of their lives. First, there was “End of the Rainbow” about Judy Garland. This season there have been two about Billie Holiday. First was “Lady Day — The Billie Holiday Musical,” starring the excellent jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. Now, we have Lanie Robertson ‘s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” starring Audra McDonald. One notable fact that comes through in shows about African-American artists is their experience with racism, especially if they had to tour through the segregated south.
Although I am an unabashed fan of Audra McDonald, …
By Barry Bassis | June 1, 2014
The new album, “Love Duets” (on Warner Classics) is not one of those combinations put together by a record company. The two American singers, soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello, are in fact married. They are both winners of the Richard Tucker Award (Pérez 2012, Costello 2009) and their acting and good looks receive as many favorable notices as their singing. The rising stars are on the cover of the latest issue of Opera Now Magazine. This past month they have been appearing at Covent Garden as the ill-fated lovers in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” The selection from this opera and all of the operatic duets on the CD are from works that the couple has performed on stage.
By Barry Bassis | May 18, 2014
My parents once took me to a concert at which the featured performer was folk/blues singer Odetta. The opening act was the electrified (and sometimes electrifying) Paul Butterfield Blues Band. They especially knocked me out with a long instrumental, an Indian raga rock fusion piece, titled “East-West.” From where I was seating, I could see Odetta dancing to the music on the side of the stage. The work featured two guitarists, Elvin Bishop and the lead guitarist of the group, Mike Bloomfield. I followed Bloomfield’s career with interest, though eventually he fell into obscurity and died of a drug overdose.
Bloomfield was viewed with awe and affection by other rock musicians of the era. Bob Dylan said he was quite …
By Barry Bassis | May 18, 2014
The inaugural concert of this season’s Spring for Music Festival at Carnegie Hall started with the New York Philharmonic and added forces playing the local premiere of composer-in-residence Christopher Rouse’s Requiem. The massive piece, written about a dozen years ago, requires a symphony orchestra, baritone soloist and two choirs. With the energetic Alan Gilbert conducting and the composer in attendance, the work was a resounding success.
Rouse has said that he was inspired by the Berlioz Requiem and wrote the work in part to mark the bicentennial of the French composer’s birth. Another influence is Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, which mixes the Latin text with 20th century poems. Rouse uses the same Latin text as Berlioz but interpolates poems by …
By Barry Bassis | May 4, 2014
Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Puritani” is the third of the composer’s works to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera this season. (The others were “La Sonnambula” and “Norma.”) The opera was so popular from the time of its premiere in 1835 that the four lead singers– soprano Giulia Grisi, baritone Antonio Tamburini, tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini and bass Luigi Lablache—toured for many years as the Puritani Quartet. The Met production may not be as historic as the first one or later revivals with Joan Sutherland or Maria Callas but it had some spectacular singing and marked the debut of a rising star: Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko.
“I Puritani” has an absurd plot, taken from a French play derived from a novel …
By Barry Bassis | April 28, 2014
The Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez has just released his first solo album in four years and he stakes out new territory. The CD, entitled “L’Amour” (on Decca) is comprised of French operatic arias from the 19th century. The tenor is well accompanied by the “Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna”, conducted by Roberto Abbado.
Flórez is probably the world’s leading bel canto tenor, though in recent years he has faced some competition from Lawrence Brownlee and Javier Camarena. This month he was named one of the five honorees for the ninth annual Opera News Awards.
“L’Amour” contains a mix of popular and obscure pieces and several that portend that Flórez is planning to tackle heavier roles.
By Barry Bassis | April 28, 2014
Giacomo Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” has its premiere in Rome in 1877 but it did not play at the Metropolitan Opera until 1997. The Cesare Lievi production is back with a new cast and the opera is as sparkling as ever. The action has been moved into the early twentieth century with a sort of surreal Magritte look. Maurizio Balò designed the set and costumes.
“La Cenerentola” is Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story with some alterations. The heroine, Angelina (a/k/a La Cenerentola), still has two nasty sisters (Clorinda and Tisbe) but instead of a stepmother, she has a stepfather, Don Magnifico. The prince (Don Ramiro) comes disguised as his valet (Dandini), while the latter pretends to be the prince. The …
By Barry Bassis | April 13, 2014
Opera audiences often have to suspend their disbelief, for example, when an overweight soprano sings one of those roles where the heroine is wasting away from tuberculosis. If the singer has the glorious voice of a Sutherland or Caballe, that’s enough. However, in the current production of “Arabella” at the Metropolitan Opera, the title character is portrayed by Swedish soprano Malin Bystrom, a singer as lovely in appearance as in sound.
This was the sixth and last collaboration between composer Richard Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Described as “a lyric comedy in three acts,” the music is captivating while the plot turns often don’t make much sense. The opera had its premiere in Dresden in 1933.
Set in …
By Barry Bassis | April 13, 2014
Jarmila Novotna (1907 -1994) was an opera star for 30 years, but she may be best known today for her non-singing roles in two Hollywood films. In the 1947 film, “The Search,” directed by Fred Zinnemann, Novotna gave a moving performance as a mother searching for her son after World War II. She also appeared as opera singer Maria Selka in the Mario Lanza hit, “The Great Caruso.”
A superb new CD, Jarmila Novotna “Opera Recital” (on Supraphon), provides ample proof as to why she was regarded as one of the leading sopranos for such a long period. She made her debut on the opera stage when she was only 17 years old and was a star in Europe before …