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 | August 26, 2014
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 …
By Barry Bassis | August 19, 2014
“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 …
By Barry Bassis | August 13, 2014
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.)…
By Barry Bassis | August 11, 2014
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 …
By Barry Bassis | August 4, 2014
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. …
By Barry Bassis | July 27, 2014
“Atomic” is a new off-Broadway musical about the creation of the first nuclear bomb.
The show has a book and lyrics by Danny Ginges and Gregory Bonsignore, and music and lyrics by Philip Foxman. “Atomic” was first performed in Australia. The New York production has a new cast of top-flight performers but they fail to overcome the flaws of the show.
The Manhattan Project has been the subject of movies (such as “The Beginning or the End” and “Fat Man and Little Boy”) and even an opera (John Adams’ “Dr. Atomic”). Most focus on J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is a character here as well. However, he is used in “Atomic” mostly as a framing device because the focus is on …
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 sitting, 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 …