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 | 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 …
By Barry Bassis | March 31, 2014
For sheer entertainment, nothing beats “After Midnight” (at the Brooks Atkinson Theater), a fast-paced 90 minutes evoking the Cotton Club (the Harlem nightspot during the 1920’s and 1930’s). The original club’s band was led by the young Duke Ellington and the Broadway show’s band was hand-picked by Wynton Marsalis, assuring authenticity and swing.
There are 27 musical numbers (mostly by Ellington and Harold Arlen) performed by outstanding singers and dancers. In the past, director/choreographer Warren Carlyle’s work has sometimes been hampered by sluggish scripts. No such problem here. The only spoken words are from Langston Hughes, the jazz-loving poet of the Harlem Renaissance. The charming host (who also sings and dances) is Dule Hill.
The guest artist when the show …
By Barry Bassis | March 31, 2014
Umberto Giordano’s verismo opera “Andrea Chenier” still has the power to excite audiences when the right singers are cast. While the current revival at the Metropolitan Opera scores in many respects and is easily as good as the Met’s 2007 production, it has its ups and downs.
One of the chief assets of the opera is that it has four famous arias. Two for the tenor lead (“Un di all’azzurro spazio,” and “Come un bel di di Maggio”) plus one for the soprano (“La Mamma Morta”) and one for the baritone (“Nemico della patria”). While there are other arias and duets of interest, these four are frequently recorded and performed in concerts. Perhaps the most intense scene in the movie …
By Barry Bassis | March 23, 2014
Rosanne Cash’s latest CD, “The River & the Thread” (on Blue Note Records) is a journey through the south, a mixture of geographical travels, history, different styles of roots music and reflections on relationships, mortality and religion. The only thing better than listening to the album was seeing her perform it at Town Hall with her husband John Levanthal (co-writer of the songs [she wrote most of the poetic lyrics and he supplied most of the music], producer of the album and guitarist) and seven other musicians.
Cash was in sterling voice and ebullient form as she performed her songs with what she called “the tightest band” she had ever toured with. She told the audience that she had once …
By Barry Bassis | March 16, 2014
Alban Berg’s opera “Wozzeck” is based on Georg Buchner’s expressionistic play, which in turn was based on an actual case. In 1821, a former soldier named Woyzeck (a slightly different spelling than the opera title) stabbed to death his unfaithful mistress. His lawyer pleaded insanity but the defense was unsuccessful and he was executed. In adapting the play into an opera, Berg distilled the work from 26 scenes to 15. When the opera begins, Wozzeck is shaving the Captain, who criticizes him for having an illegitimate child. Wozzeck answers that virtue is a luxury not meant for the poor. The opera makes clear that Wozzeck is unbalanced; he sees visions and hears noises, which a quack doctor who uses him …
By Barry Bassis | March 16, 2014
Amy Porter is in demand around the world as a performer and as an educator. She hails from Wilmington, Delaware and is a graduate of the Juilliard School.
Two new releases on Equlibrium show off Porter’s supreme technique as well as her versatility and scholarship. “In Translation” is a double-CD solo set in which she plays her own transcriptions of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites. The composer himself was open to the idea of transcribing works from one instrument to another (such as violin to harpsichord) and others have continued this practice. Bach, in fact, wrote only one piece for the flute, “the Partita in A minor.”
The title of the set alludes to the fact that Porter does not try …
By Barry Bassis | March 4, 2014
I explained to my friend the idea of the Metropolitan Opera’s “The
Enchanted Island,” a pastiche baroque opera. It’s “Mama Mia,” she shot
back, referring to the Broadway musical that takes a plot (loosely based on
a 1969 film comedy “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell”) and shoehorns in songs by
Apparently the practice of putting together operas with arias that fit the
talents of the singers, with librettos stitched together from other sources
was done in Handel’s time. While the idea is the same as a jukebox musical,
the results may be a bit more elevated. In this instance, the Met audience
was completely won over.
“The Enchanted Island” was put together by Jeremy Sams at the suggestion of
By Barry Bassis | March 3, 2014
Alan Gilbert, the musical director of the New York Philharmonic, took two nights off and Vince Mendoza took over. The reason is that the featured artist in the concerts is singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter. She has a new album “Songs From the Movie,” arranged and conducted by Mendoza and this is part of her tour performing her songs with symphony orchestras. Guest artists at the concert are a starry group: Joan Baez, Shawn Colvin, Tift Merritt, Aoife O’Donovan and Jerry Douglas.
The evening began with Carpenter singing her songs I Have a Need for Solitude and This Shirt, her feminist rocker “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and “Transcendental Reunion” with her own group and various groupings of the female singers …
By Barry Bassis | February 24, 2014
Jules Massenet’s “Werther” has returned to the Metropolitan Opera in a new production directed by Richard Eyre. The opera is based Goethe’s novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther” and while the lead character may suffer, the audience is fascinated by the tenor playing the title role: Jonas Kaufmann.
Eyre makes some changes to the opera that do not detract from the impact of the work. First, he changes the time period from the late 18thto the late 19th century, basically moving it into the period when Massenet wrote the opera. Second, the director adds action during the playing of the overture: a mother dies and her family mourns her, after which winter turns into spring. The latter effect is achieved …
By Barry Bassis | February 22, 2014
The New York City Opera (“NYCO”) was started on February 21, 1944 as an affordable alternative to the Metropolitan Opera. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia dubbed it “The People’s Opera” and it lived up to that description until last year when its management declared bankruptcy. Many famous singers got their start here, including Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, Samuel Ramey, Shirley Verrett and Tatiana Troyanos.
To honor what would have been the company’s 70th birthday, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians presented a concert at City Center (NYCO’s original home) of singers who had appeared with the company accompanied by a full orchestra and chorus. The proceeds of the concert went to a good cause: the Musicians Emergency Relief Fund.
By Barry Bassis | February 17, 2014
Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) was one of the great melodists of Russian music but composing was a sideline for him. He was a renowned chemist and, while he worked on his opera “Prince Igor” over an 18-year period, it was unfinished at his death. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazounov orchestrated it and made their own deletions and additions.
The new production of “Prince Igor” at the Met is the first at the house since 1917, when it was performed in Italian. Now, it is back in a revised version, with direction and sets by the visionary Dmitri Tcherniakov (making his Met debut). There is quite a bit of musical tinkering; the overture is gone (despite the fact that Glazounov based his …
By Barry Bassis | February 12, 2014
The Scottish singer/actor Euan Morton became famous playing Boy George in the musical “Taboo” in London and on Broadway, for which he was nominated for most theater awards, including the Olivier and the Tony. He recently kicked off the Live from Gramercy Park cabaret series at The Players Club (at 16 Gramercy Park South).
The style of music was completely different from Boy George’s blue-eyed soul sounds. At the Player’s Club, Morton was singing songs from the Great American Songbook (mostly from the 1920’s and 30’s) backed by Grandpa Musselman & His Syncopators, a six-piece group playing in an early jazz style. The name “Grandpa” is a joke since they are all young Manhattan School of Music graduates. The sound …
By Barry Bassis | February 11, 2014
Ildar Abdrazakov is the man of the hour or maybe the whole month. The bass is on the cover of the February issue of Opera News. He is currently starring in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Prince Igor. To coincide with the opening, Delos has just released his first solo recording, “Power Players,” comprised of arias from Russian operas.
Though one might assume a Russian singer would naturally gravitate to roles in his own language, Abdrazakov’s career hasn’t progressed that way. He made his international reputation mostly by singing Italian and French operas. At the Met, he has sung Verdi’s “Attila” and Berlioz’s “Damnation of Faust.” He portrayed the title role in the first and was Mephistofeles in the …
By Barry Bassis | February 8, 2014
Quinn Lemley may be the hardest working woman in show business. For almost two hours, in “Burlesque to Broadway” she is on-stage continuously singing and dancing. With four other comely showgirls and a nine-piece band, Lemley analyzes, and at the same time recreates, the history of this often misunderstood area of show business. I had already been a fan of the star since I had seen her Rita Hayworth tribute and had interviewed her at the time. She may be a knockout performer and act like a siren on stage but she is also a scholar of our musical theater history.
The evening starts with “Big Spender,” which wasn’t from burlesque but from the Broadway hit “Sweet Charity.” In fact, …
By Barry Bassis | February 5, 2014
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736) wrote his famous work about death as
he approached the premature end of his own life. He is known primarily for
comic operas, notably “La serva padrona” (The Maid as Mistress). “Stabat
Mater,” however, is based on a sacred text written in Latin. It depicts the
suffering of the Virgin Mary as she stands weeping before the cross where
the crucified Jesus is dying.
In fact, the 13th century text had been banned by the Roman Catholic Church
for being too emotional until 1727 when Pope Benedict XIII allowed its use
in the Feast of Seven Sorrows in Lent. Seven years later, a Neapolitan group
associated with Pergolesi’s patron, the Duke of Carafa Maddaloni,
commissioned a …
By Barry Bassis | February 1, 2014
To honor what would have been English composer Benjamin Britten’s 100th
birthday—he died in 1976—Warner Classics released a magnificent new
recording of his “War Requiem.”
Britten was a pacifist and he had considered writing an oratorio about the
horrors that had occurred during the first half of the 20th century,
including the devastation of World War II, the bombings of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
These ideas gestated over a period of years, during which he completed
operas and other works. In 1958, Britten was asked to write a piece to
commemorate the consecration of a cathedral that was being built in
The church in that city had been standing since the 15th century …
By Barry Bassis | January 16, 2014
“Verdi at the Met” is a new Sony Classical box set celebrating the bicentennial of Verdi’s
birth. His work has been a fixture at the house since the first season of
the Metropolitan Opera in 1883.
The 20 CD set is comprised of 10 radio broadcasts from 1935 to 1967 and
includes many of the leading singers of the era.
As soon as the set arrived, I pulled one of the operas out of the box and
listened to “Aida.” I saw the Met’s production last season, and it was an
eye-popping spectacle. However, the singing was uneven.
But the singing on this box set is superior. Indeed, for vocal splendor, I
don’t think any opera house in the world …
By Barry Bassis | January 12, 2014
“Thumbprint,” having its world premiere run as part of Beth Morrison Projects and HERE’s Prototype Opera Festival, is a powerful piece about a remarkable person. Mukhtar Mai is a Pakistani woman who was gang-raped in 2002 because her 12-year old brother was accused of seducing a girl from a neighboring tribe. Mukhtar (illiterate at the time of the attack) found the strength to open a school for girls and a women’s shelter with the money she received from the government as compensation.
The chamber opera has music by Kamala Sankaram (who also plays the lead role) and a libretto by Susan Yankowitz. Steven Osgood led the chamber ensemble, which contained piano, bass, percussion, flute, viola and violin.
The opera begins …
By Barry Bassis | January 11, 2014
NEW YORK—The Metropolitan Opera rang in the New Year with a new production of Johann Strauss, Jr.’s popular operetta “Die Fledermaus.” Like many parties, there was plenty of fun, but the festivities went on too long. (Note: I caught the production Jan. 4.)
Jeremy Sams wrote and is directing the new English-language lyrics and playwright Douglas Carter Beane is responsible for the spoken dialogue. Their contributions have both ups and downs.
The dazzling sets and costumes are by Robert Jones, the lighting is by Jennifer Schriever, and the zippy choreography is by Stephen Mear.
The production moves the action from New Year’s Eve in Vienna in the mid-19th century to the eve of the 20th century in the same city. …