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 | May 17, 2015
When you think of French popular music, the first name that comes to mind is Edith Piaf (1915-1963). “The Little Sparrow,” as she was called, is celebrated in RIOULT Dance NY’s world premiere of “STREET SINGER–Celebrating the Life of Edith Piaf.”
Choreographer Pascal Rioult has created and appears in a unique dance/theater piece. Broadway veteran Christine Andreas appears as Piaf, singing her songs (mostly in the original French, but sometimes adding the English versions) and portraying her with a French accent.
Wearing a copy of Piaf’s trademark black dress, she is magnificent. The performance would be worth attending just to enjoy her singing. However, there is much more.
Rioult wanted to present the work in a cabaret theater similar to …
By Barry Bassis | May 10, 2015
There are many famous sibling groups in jazz, and even identical twins (for example, saxophonist Marcus Strickland and drummer E.J. Strickland), but Peter and Will Anderson are unusual in that they play the same instruments.
In Kyle Athayde’s large-scale work, “Reed Reflections,” which was written for them, they show their mastery of clarinets, flutes, and saxophones.
On their new CD, “Déjà Vu” and in “The Joy of Sax” (their recent live show at 59 East 59th Street Theaters), Peter played tenor sax and Will alto. Each of their outings is a fresh project with a different sound.
On the recording, the group is composed of Jeb Patton on piano, David Wong on bass, and Phil Stewart alternating on …
By Barry Bassis | May 3, 2015
Igor Stravinsky’s opera, “The Rake’s Progress,” gets more respect than love from opera houses. The good news at the Metropolitan Opera is that the stunning Jonathan Miller production is back. The bad news is that it is running for only three performances and closes May 9.
The opera, which has a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, was inspired by a series of paintings by William Hogarth (1697–1764). Like the paintings, the opera presents the rise and fall of a weak-willed young man.
The Miller production moves the action to the 20th century, but the tale of corruption is just as relevant in the current Gilded Age. With politicians and secret service members caught with prostitutes, and massive …
By Barry Bassis | April 27, 2015
Mosaic is a label dedicated to high-quality reissues of jazz recordings. Its recently released box set, “The Complete Dial Masters,” documents the achievements of one of the most important independent labels, Dial Records, which was owned by Ross Russell (1909-2000).
Russell owned the Tempo Music Shop in L.A. and, when he started his own record label, he managed to document the young lions of the new bebop music. Not that it was an easy task, since the most important figure, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker (aka “Bird”), abused both heroin and alcohol (which led to his death at age 34) and many of the others had similar problems.
Russell and the musicians at the sessions had to be flexible. In February …
By Barry Bassis | April 26, 2015
With Renée Fleming playing a narcissistic opera star, will “Living on Love” bring new audiences to opera? No, it’s not likely. More probably, the show will induce some opera fans to catch a famous soprano doing something completely different from her usual gig at opera houses, where her characters are usually dying for love. But they had better act soon because this vehicle is not sturdy enough for a long run.
“Living on Love” is derived from a 1985 comedy, “Peccadillo, by Garson Kanin. Though he wrote a number of famous screenplays (often with his wife, Ruth Gordon) and the Broadway hit “Born Yesterday” (which was also made into a successful movie), “Peccadillo” closed out of town. Now, Joe DiPietro …
By Barry Bassis | April 19, 2015
There are no happy marriages in “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci,” but the two one-act operas are permanently wedded together. In fact, the first house in which they were paired was the Metropolitan Opera.
Now, the Met has unveiled a new production of these two verismo operas, directed by David McVicar, and both star tenor Marcelo Álvarez.
Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” (“Rustic Chivalry”), which premiered in Rome in 1890, is based on a story and later a play, both by Giovanni Verga. Set in a Sicilian village on Easter Sunday, it deals with love and revenge.
Before the action on stage begins, Turiddu had been in love with Lola. After he went into the army, she married Alfio. On his return, …
By Barry Bassis | April 12, 2015
One of the most pleasurable shows off-Broadway this season is “Lonesome Traveler.” James O’Neil, who wrote and directed the production, is the artistic director of Off-Broadway Across America and the Rubicon Theatre in California. He spoke to us about the development of “Lonesome Traveler.”
O’Neil dedicated “Lonesome Traveler” to his father, who was born in 1910 in Missouri. He left college during the Depression and moved to California as a “Dust Bowl refugee.” He worked first as a ranch hand and later as the president of the local Retail Clerks Union.
Woody Guthrie was one of his father’s artistic heroes (along with Will Rogers and later Pete Seeger). The show includes some of Guthrie’s Dust Bowl ballads (“Pastures of Plenty” …
By Barry Bassis | April 4, 2015
If you know what a hootenanny is, then you will find “Lonesome Traveler” nostalgic. If you are too young to know the expression, then you will find the show educational. The revue, written and directed by James O’Neil, is light on the history but showcases more than 30 folk songs, well performed. Musical direction is by Trevor Wheetman and orchestrations are by George Grove.
The cast members portray famous folk singers and folk groups. The women change their hairstyles, so Sylvie Davidson puts on a blond wig to become Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary (“Puff, the Magic Dragon”), and the men put on preppy shirts to play the Kingston Trio (“Tom Dooley”).
The history starts with a field …
By Barry Bassis | March 29, 2015
Billie Holiday (1915–1959) is one of the most iconic figures in jazz. One indication of her enduring influence is that last year, there were two plays about her in New York: “Lady Day”starring Dee Dee Bridgewater, who had won a Grammy Award for her Holiday tribute album, and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” starring Audra McDonald, for which she won a Tony Award for best actress. As Holiday’s 100th birthday approaches on April 7, the singer will be honored by the music world.
The best way to remember a singer is to listen to her recordings, and Columbia Records/Legacy is releasing “Billie Holiday: The Centennial Collection.” The single disc contains 20 songs recorded between 1935 and 1945. …
By Barry Bassis | March 22, 2015
Don Carlo is not the central figure in Verdi’s “Ernani,” but he makes the strongest impression in the current revival at the Metropolitan Opera. That’s because Placido Domingo (playing the role, written for a baritone) again shows off his still potent vocal talent and magnetism.
The title character is a sort of Robin Hood bandit, and he, along with the other male leads, is in love with Elvira. However, by the end, the only victor in this melodrama is the Spanish code of honor. Enrico Caruso once quipped that it is easy to put on “Il Trovatore.” “All you need are the world’s four best singers.” The same might be said of this earlier work.
The plot is so absurd …
By Barry Bassis | March 15, 2015
NEW YORK—Sometimes in the opera house, everything clicks. The stars were certainly aligned for the current production of Massenet’s “Manon” at the Metropolitan Opera. The audience sensed right from the beginning that it was experiencing something special, even in a house that regularly presents the world’s leading singers.
The character of Manon is quite demanding, requiring a singer-actress to make the transition from innocent teenager to young lover to worldly courtesan/temptress and finally dying prisoner. German soprano Diana Damrau made all of these shifts credible and, as one might expect, her singing was glorious.
As her lover, tenor Vittorio Grigolo was also in his element. With his matinee idol looks and opulent tone, he was visually and vocally ideal for …
By Barry Bassis | March 8, 2015
Usually, when I review an operatic production, I don’t return to see it again until there is a new cast member I am interested in seeing. One of the rare exceptions took place when I attended Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at the Metropolitan Opera. The main reason I wanted to experience it again was because I was fascinated by one singer: the bass Ferruccio Furlanetto. He played King Philip II of Spain, one of his signature roles.
Orfeo has released a CD, “Wiener Staatsoper: Ferruccio Furlanetto,” combining excerpts from live performances of “Don Carlo” and another of his acclaimed roles, Boris Godunov in Mussorgsky’s opera. These were recorded at the Vienna opera house between 1997 and 2012. What the two roles …
By Barry Bassis | March 1, 2015
The EuroArts DVD of Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” (“The Capulets and the Montagues”), filmed at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco in 2012, stars two superb opera singers: mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and soprano Nicole Cabell.
Bellini’s bel canto opera, with a libretto by Felice Romani, is a version of the Romeo and Juliet story, based on Italian sources. The plot differs in a number of respects from Shakespeare’s play.
Here, when the opera begins, Romeo (the leader of the Montagues) has already slain the son of Capellio (head of the Capulets). Romeo arrives at the Capulet palace in disguise, pretending to be an ambassador sent to make peace between the warring families. He proposes a …
By Barry Bassis | February 23, 2015
Judi Silvano is a singer whose work I have enjoyed for many years. Her 11th album as a leader, “My Dance” (on JSL Records) confirms that her vocal powers are intact and her imagination as free as ever. She is one of those singers who can animate an old pop song or even cross over into classical music. But, she has always been an adventurous improviser and remains one on her new CD.
Silvano wrote all of the compositions, four have lyrics (which she also penned) and the others are wordless.
“My Dance” is a duo album. All the piano work is by Mike Abene. He has a two-handed style and it would be wrong to consider him an accompanist. …
By Barry Bassis | February 22, 2015
Hardly anyone reads Sir Walter Scott’s novels and poems anymore, but he inspired many movies (e.g., “Ivanhoe” and “Quentin Durward” in the 1950’s) and 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 popular for a time, but sank into obscurity.
Now, almost 200 years after its debut in Naples, “La donna del Lago” has been revived at the Metropolitan Opera. While the opera has some dull patches, it also features spectacular singing by perhaps the leading bel canto pair in opera today: mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and tenor Juan Diego Florez.
Set in the Scottish highlands during the 16th century, the …
By Barry Bassis | February 16, 2015
On Monday, January 12, 2015, the great Russian mezzo-soprano Elena Obraztsova died, at age 77, in a clinic in Germany. Coincidentally, the Melodiya label released a tribute album (distributed by Naxos) in its Stars of the Bolshoi Theatre series titled simply “Elena Obraztsova.”
Obraztsova was born in Leningrad in 1939 and survived the siege of that city during World War II. Her father was sent to the front, while she remained with her mother.
After she won several voice competitions, Obraztsova made her Bolshoi debut in 1963 as Marina in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov.” Although still a student, she created a sensation and the following year went on tours in Japan and Italy, where she sang at La Scala opera house. …
One is Blind and the Other Sees Too Much: The Heroines of “Iolanta” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” at the MetBy Barry Bassis | February 14, 2015
The Metropolitan Opera has a new production, pairing Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta” with Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle.” A co-production with the Polish National Opera, directed by Mariusz Trelinski, the two pieces are linked visually and benefit from starring two of the most dynamic singers on the international scene, Anna Netrebko in the Tchaikovsky opera and Nadja Michael in the Bartok as well as Valery Gergiev leading the Met’s superb orchestra.
“Iolanta” was first presented in St. Petersburg in 1892 as the opening piece on a double bill with “The Nutcracker.” The ballet has become a seasonal favorite but the opera is not well known outside of Russia. The new production marks its debut at the Met. This oversight is surprising since the opera …
By Barry Bassis | February 2, 2015
Ildar Abdrazakov made his highly anticipated American solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall on January 29th. The Russian bass was accompanied on piano by Mzia Bakhtouridze. The charismatic singer showed off the many facets of his art—from producing a rich sound with a range of colors to conveying the meaning of each piece, from songs of love to the horrors of war.
The first half of the concert was devoted to Russian music. Initially, when Abdrazakov became an international star, singing at La Scala and then at the Metropolitan Opera, he mostly concentrated on Italian bel canto operas. In recent years, he has included operas from his homeland, such as “Prince Igor” and “Khovanshchina,” though he opened the Met season …
By Barry Bassis | January 27, 2015
The reissue on CD of Moses Pergament’s “The Jewish Song” (“Den Judiska Sangen”) on Caprice brings to light a work that has musical and historical significance. It is a cry of pain in the aftermath of the Holocaust and is unfortunately still timely with the rising anti-Semitism in Europe, including the Scandinavian countries.
Composed in 1944, near the end of World War II, the large-scale composition (for soloists, choir, and orchestra) is described by its composer in a statement contained in the liner notes as a “choral symphony.”
Moses Pergament (1893–1977) was born to a Jewish family in Finland. At the time his Lithuanian father settled there, the country didn’t allow Jewish immigration. An exception was given for those who …
By Barry Bassis | January 26, 2015
The reissue on CD of Moses Pergament’s “The Jewish Song” (“Den Judiska Sang”) on Caprice brings to light a work that has musical and historical significance. Composed in 1944, near the end of World War II, the large-scale composition (for soloists, choir and orchestra) is described by its composer (in a statement contained in the liner notes) as a “choral symphony.” It is a cry of pain in the aftermath of the Holocaust and is unfortunately still timely with the rising anti-Semitism in Europe, including the Scandinavian countries.
Moses Pergament (1893-1977) was born to a Jewish family in Finland. At the time his father (who came from Lithuania) settled there, the country didn’t allow Jewish immigration. An exception was given …