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Works of Note: November 2011

Works of Note: November 2011

MARK BRADFORD

Dallas Museum of Art
October 16, 2011–January 15, 2012

Born, raised and trained as an artist in Los Angeles, Mark Bradford’s paintings seem an odd yet very precise matter of French and documentary film influence. That his work bears, in part, the look of the art by mid-20th century affichistes (literally French for “poster makers”), Jacques Villeglé and Raymond Hains, is less intentional than would be the connection to Chris Rock’s film “Good Hair” (2009), a documentary on the fake straight hair industry directed at African Americans.  From the former we locate a perhaps unwitting precedent for Bradford’s inclusion of everyday paper stuffs — signs, advertisements, and hair salon accessories — into the large lacerated, woven, and layered surfaces of his paintings. The latter, the link between Bradford and Rock’s “Good Hair,” would be in the spirit of a cultural bridge between high and low: the world of blue chip painting and everyday goings-on of a women’s hair salon, in particular his mother’s in LA and Bradford’s stealthy absconding of hair perm endpapers to use in his paintings.

“Enter and Exit the New Negro” (2001) is 9’x8’, midsized compared to most in the show, and covered in onion skin-like rectangular hair perm endpapers. There is a field of white acrylic paint underneath, which is given an off-white, almost yellow patina by the endpapers. While largely an abstract painting, the endpapers introduce a subtle sense of everyday life. Like Villeglé and Hain’s posters torn from the walls along the streets of Paris, the hair perm endpapers inject an unnamable force of urbanism — the city life of his mother’s hair salon – while at the same time create a sense of gesture in a white field of paint along the lines of a Robert Ryman. In later works, such as “Scorched Earth” (2006) and “Mithra” (2008), the hair perm endpapers disappear and the works becomes wholly about engagement in the city. “Scorched Earth” is a cartographic interpretation of the Tulsa race riots of 1921. A three-dimensional installation, “Mithra” is a three-story hull of a wooden ark Bradford installed in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans as part of Prospect.1 in 2008. The proverbial street — as a place for walking, ruminating, begging, sleeping, being beaten, and protesting — is vibrantly present in both of these pieces.

While Bradford’s work is extraordinary, collectively speaking a true feat for painting, the power of his work — its finesse, craft, and brilliant combination of sophistication and kitsch — is slightly dampened in this incarnation at the DMA. With the exception of “Mithra,” which is installed with frankness and aplomb, the work feels at times swallowed up in the vast precincts of the barrel vault. As a traveling show that originated under the auspices of Christopher Bedford at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, we might fathom a slightly tweaked exhibition space, something perhaps more contemporary and intimate and less Roman and anonymous than the barrel vault at the DMA.

— CHARISSA TERRANOVA

 


 

MICHAEL P. BERMAN: VARIATIONS 

Galleri Urbane, Dallas
October 18–November 8, 2011

A few of the most remote and quiet places in the southwestern desert have lifted their voices on the walls of Galleri Urbane with Michael Berman’s “Variations: Carbon Pigment, Aluminum.”

Berman’s large black and white photographic prints reveal landscapes that are simultaneously barren and rich with a sense of place. The images within “Variations” marry the monumental and fascinating entity that is our natural world with the silence of a moment spent alone within it.

The scale of Berman’s prints and the landscapes they depict allow us to become immersed in the scenes. Details captured by his field camera are so crisp that the viewer could count every blade of grass in a field, or every curve of a canyon. The power of these images is as effortless as the natural forms that have evolved to create them.

Berman’s work deals with an all too familiar subject, the beauty of our pristine natural world and the threat that human society poses to it. In “Bolts” we see a characteristically flat Texas scene obscured by a bolted metal structure. In this work priority has been given to the man-made object, and consequently the landscape is visually unreachable.

The compositional absence of land in some of the works, although unconventional for landscape photography, indirectly leads us to reflect more on the notion of landscape itself and its defenselessness in the face of our ever-expanding society. Though the images may have little effect on the environments from which they came, they serve as a window into an experience that many of us will never have. We may never stand alone in a storm at Chinati Peak, but we can find its value through the soft tones of a silver gelatin print.

The works are monuments to the fleeting fragile nature of the landscape as a whole, or the ever-changing detail of a field of reeds. Berman’s images become grave markers for moments that have passed. Like a reverse oasis, Berman brings a vision of the desert to our lives of clutter and convenience. Berman’s images capture the natural beauty of the landscape, but also the odd beauty of the man-made structures that change and impede it. The result is a reflection not only of these spaces with which we have less and less contact, but a reflection of our current way of life.

Hopefully the future value of Berman’s photographs will not be as a documentation of long lost “wastelands” but as reminders of places we can still say exist.

— KASTEN SEARLES

 


 

FORREST BESS: 100 YEARS

Kirk Hopper Fine Art, Dallas
October 1–23, 2011

Forrest Bess (1911–1977) lived about 70 miles south of Houston on a sliver of scruffy land where he eked out a living by fishing and trawling for shrimp. Letters he sent to friends were regularly punctuated by pleas for cash. He was hungry and hunkered down in a flipped-over barge covered with tar and shells. While he was destitute, the art he produced is rich. In fact, it’s been called “Texas’s best.”

Bess’s work ranges from representational woodcuts to abstract pieces that lure us into areas deep and dark as compost. The latter are hauntingly thick, murky images that insinuate tribal legend and a coagulated elixir of flesh and psychological symbols. They’re simultaneously crudely rendered yet sufficiently eloquent to end up in Houston’s prestigious Menil Collection as well as the home of the legendary arbiter of taste, Stanley Marcus. The French adore him — but Texans have been reticent to give him his fair due. Consequently, Kirk Hopper Fine Art should be commended for putting together one of the more interesting and important shows Dallas has seen in years. One way to imagine Bess paintings is to think of them as contemporary Lascaux cave drawings. Instead of bison, he shows us unfiltered images that defy language. They can’t be trapped. He gives us ideograms that are primitive and mysterious and nearly as deeply charged as a Rothko. It’s clear that they were dredged from dreams and obsessions. Bess explains his work: “I close my eyes and paint what I see on the insides of my eyelids.”

His paintings are obscure and fraught with a baffling and indecipherable pre-language. And the cave? It’s the inside of his haunted noggin, his “space traveler’s helmet.” He was fascinated with hermaphroditism and the secrets of eternal life. He mutilated his genitalia and ended up in a mental institution — and we’re left to wonder if his behavior was mere pathology or an obscure gift of a brilliant mind extraordinarily adept at traversing boundaries and inhibitions. In the end, his personal life offers only increasingly baffling vectors into his work. To equate his intermittent schizophrenic episodes with his intriguing art is to shortchange it. Why not visit Rusk and Terrell State Hospitals in search of genius? The odds of finding it there are slim to zero. Consequently, what’s far more important are the contours and color of works like “Tree of Life.” The piece comes across as a hierophantic emblem of depth and rupture.

Bess enjoys making the hidden manifest and he explicitly explained that this particular piece could be read in two ways. When it’s upright, in the shape of a trident, he dubbed it “Tree of Life.” On its side, it became “Sign of the Hermaphrodite.” His ability to posit things in multiple ways can be construed as shamanic. He brought things up from the depths and offered them to the skies. He traveled a vertical path and left signposts at every juncture.

Bess was transfixed by libidinal symbols and gave societal norms little consideration. As another example, he also thought that a crest shape held the key to alchemical quests for eternal life. Bess’s theories aren’t party talk for PTA gatherings but it certainly makes for interesting art. His work is infinitely more raw than the images rendered in Jung’s “Red Book” and that’s terrific. Great even. Kirk Hopper has brought some spirited and deep work to a city widely recognized for being over-run by coiffed blondes in Escalades. Give the man credit. It’s certainly due.

— PATRICIA MORA

 


 

NEW VARIATIONS 

Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas
September 10–October 22, 2011

Nic Nicosia’s work, “I See Light,” is so splendid it should start bar fights. Composed of 20 highly geometrical and gorgeously lit pieces, the work features circles and squares as repetitive motifs. They occupy individual rooms that become tropes for memory, lithe bodily movements and heaping emotion. We’re reminded that visual space is freighted with psychological heft. I have no idea how heaping filigree in an eerily green room is transfigured into the stuff of Jungian undertow, but Nicosia does it.

We’re shown a room with a light overhead and a rectangular panel. In the foreground, there’s mounded stuff on the floor circled by brilliant light. Forget Rorschach tests; this is the stuff that makes your mind whirl. It’s an algorithm for calculating the things numbers can’t describe or keep. It’s “Star Trek” for thinking folks and, with any luck you’ll surely be beamed up.

Other pieces depict coiled light zagging into space, a buzzing golden streak fastened to a wall and a glowing orb that occupies a room, wall-to-wall. How startling, then, to discover that these aren’t rooms at all. They’re identical stage sets Nicosia made magical with the aid of mere handyman-ish stuff. Ping pong balls, nails, steel washers and wire mesh. They’re closely photographed and so skillfully manipulated that they become as luminous and entrancing as Proustian lanterns. Okay, maybe it’s not worth a bar fight. But this is a good as it gets. Nicosia’s “I See Light” eclipses everything else in the Talley Dunn’s “New Variations” show. Or maybe after seeing it I was blinded and jonesing for another landscape depicting “sacred space” and “divine proportion.”

This is a visual feast fit for gods. Nic Nicosia, a Dallas native, has done right and well by his hometown and good on him.

— PATRICIA MORA

 


 

CALEB DULOCK AND JESSICA FUENTES: SEARCHING FROM MEMORY

Gallery 76102, Fort Worth
October 13–November 30, 2011

“Searching From Memory,” a dynamic photography exhibition at Gallery 76102 in downtown Fort Worth, showcases the work of two emerging artists to great effect. The show melds Caleb Dulock’s giclee prints with Jessica Fuentes’ old-school Type C prints, an interesting marriage of old- and new-school photography techniques.

The artists’ themes are congruous — loneliness, isolated dreamscapes and haunted images — but they diverge from there. Dulock seems interested in creating an abstract amalgam of discordant visuals. In “The Waiting,” a shrunken man is perched on a doorstep, against the backdrop of a twine and cardboard shanty town. Dulock plays with perspective, successfully advancing his ideas of alienation and maturation altogether. This is apparent, too, in “Approach Collapse,” where a man appears distorted and clearly disoriented, as he stands amid a large “rubble” of cardboard paper. There’s a gritty reality in his work.

Fuentes, on the other hand, mines familiar Fort Worth locales like Burton Hill and the Trinity River trails, imbuing them with blurry, nighttime-almost-nightmarish qualities. “Burtonhill_0013” depicts an eerie scene at a green traffic light. At first glance, it seems nothing’s doing. But further review reveals Fuentes has an inherent knack for framing the mundane, in sad and sometimes heartbreaking ways, especially in “1409 Fairmount_0008,” a weirdly haunting interior of a south Fort Worth home.

“Texascity_0010” comes the closest to bridging the artists’ subject matter. A typical refinery is lit up at night, spewing flames. Amid the rubble, cardboard, flames, water and asphalt in these works are timid figures, both rendered and implied. “Searching From Memory,” is one of the strongest Gallery 76102 has mounted in recent memory.

— ANNA CAPLAN

 


 

HARRY GEFFERT: TRIBUTE

Cris Worley Fine Arts, Dallas
October 15–November 12, 2011

Geffert, an expert bronze sculptor and founder, has cast hundreds of fragments of Texas foliage to create a series of beautifully elaborate wall-mounted sculptures. The delicate bronze twigs, flowers, and vines are arranged to create their own abstracted and imagined landscapes. These familiar objects compellingly join and multiply to become a near-illustrative forest, field, or stand of trees bent in the wind.Natural forms have a simple beauty and systemic complexity that is often unmatched by the human ability to create or describe. Harry Geffert’s cast bronze sculptures at Cris Worley Fine Arts work with plant forms as building blocks to construct work that is both organic in its structure and highly refined in its execution.

The works within “Tribute” overflow with the texture of organic growth and cast a web of complicated shadows behind them. In the piece “Forest” the branches are so closely clustered that the individual forms fade into a richly entangled crosshatch texture. With the work “Vineyard”, elements have been neatly and evenly spaced in a pattern that recalls unraveling fabric. Geffert adeptly recreates the chaos of a wild forest with as much ease as the regulated growth of an agricultural scene.

Geffert’s sculptures are so delicate that from a distance they can appear to be drawings on the gallery wall. Though Geffert’s work is pieced together and cast from a variety of local plant forms, the resulting works do not assert that they are representations of the Texas landscape.

Apart from occasional painted flowers, the sculptures lack warmth, and their branches appear leafless and brittle. These growths on the stark white of the gallery walls evoke the mood of cold northern winters, not the typically snowless seasons of Texas. The landscapes exist as an odd fusion of the inherent warmth of the living thing and the inherent lifelessness of the white wall. Within a living landscape, these plant forms can grow to fill all available spaces and to connect with all available resources they need to live. Within the gallery, Geffert’s landscapes appear confined to an unseen frame or rectangular composition and are rooted to nothing. This structural disconnect makes it clear that “Tribute” is in fact a tribute to nature and not an attempt to approximate nature itself. The sculptures are necessarily an unnatural representation of nature.

Geffert’s sculptural work is indeed a tribute to the natural world as it remains in the spirit of nature: both complicated and beautifully simple.

— KASTEN SEARLES

 


 

FRESH MEAT: COLLEGE EXPO

500X Gallery, Dallas
October 15–31, 2011

You usually think a show successful if you find the work in it intriguing, but, strangely, this logic does not hold for openings. Such was the case for 500X’s juried show for Texas college students, “Fresh Meat.” Occasionally the atmosphere — the feel — of a particular place and time elevate an experience above its material qualities. Galleries and museums already do this by their very nature. Everyday objects become found art, for example, when housed within such institutions. That is, things become more important largely due to where we put them and how we situate them. Dedicated art spaces — with their large, open areas and tall, white walls — are designed to do just this.

Now, if you add to the equation already at play some cooler October weather, a bustling state fair, and burgers being grilled for gallery goers, then you shouldn’t have too much trouble understanding how an exhibition restricted by the limits of student work ends up a success (at least on opening night). Had this show opened at some other time of the year, at some other space with less character, it probably would not have come off as well. Yet, it came when and where it came, and so it had some life; a major boon considering the number of imitative and still developing works on display. Of course, I should hasten to say, not all the work was wanting.

Jurors Cris Worley and Erick Swenson found enough compelling pieces to pull together an effective show around the rubric, and to stage it smartly. And there was a healthy diversity of media and mood with which to work as well. Curving up the unevenness was Trey Egan with his handsome abstract, “More Affirming Than the Place you Just Left” (2011); Giovanni Valderas’ “Untitled” (2011) was thoughtful and well-developed; Bradley Brown’s whimsical “Donkey Punch” (2008) warranted closer inspection; and Rusty Chapman’s humorous and painterly video projection, “Creation Myth #1” (2011) was also strong. Still, whether or not any of the work grabbed you or made you laugh or pause was not the selling point here. The event was. Taken altogether, there was enough variety on hand to pique your interest and enough ambiance and spirit to elevate the experience above its apparent substance.

— ANDY AMATO

 


 

 THE TEMPERAMENTALS

Uptown Players, Dallas
October 7–23, 2011

It is urgent and essential to enlighten the public while entertaining, in light of the ongoing devastation the LGBT community suffers from ignorant demagogues and brainwashed thugs. It may also be aiming very high. “The Temperamentals,” an off-Broadway hit by Jon Marans in 2010, lays out the story of the Mattachine Society. In 1950s Los Angeles, Harry Hay and Rudi Gernreich’s surreptitiously established an empowering group for gay men, named for French theatrical troupes that wore masks while performing political pieces. Such was the case with Hay and Gernreich, and other gay men at the time. Exposure could mean collapse of life, family and career.

“The Temperamentals” also challenges the popular notion that the Gay Rights Movement started with The Stonewall Riots of 1969. “The Temperamentals” begins with a clandestine meeting between Hay and Gernreich, when their attraction for each other was emerging. Hay produces a manifesto for a society where gay men can support and protect each other, without fear of persecution. They are in a restaurant, and foot play becomes a metaphor for the way they are forced to live. Their terror of discovery makes them secret agents, meticulously passing for straight in a hostile culture. Vigilantly searching for codified signals they’ve met another man of the same orientation. This theme of pervasive dread and underground activity suffuses “The Temperamentals.”

As the attachment between Gernreich and Hays deepens, the fledgling group takes shape. The nature of masculinity and maleness is explored as well. All characters are played by men. Drag performances are exaggerated, consistent with distinctions made between “effeminate” and “virile” males. Oddly enough, when Kevin Moore lip synchs to “Secret Love” he wears a big, curly, blonde wig and feather boa, as opposed to the butch, Calamity Jane drag Doris Day wore in the film. More subtle riffs on gender expression are evinced before the show has concluded. Post epilogue, Harry Hay goes on to create The Radical Faeries, a group of men who flagrantly reject the warrior paradigm. More than once I was moved to tears by “The Temperamentals,” and there’s plenty of information for any sentient, intelligent individual to surmise the climate that created pioneers like Hay, Gernreich, Chuck Rowland, Dale Jennings and Bob Hull. Director Bruce Coleman has taken great pains to create a temporal context for the story, and I’m hoping this remarkable, vital show will offer some hint to straight audience members what it’s like to live in a world where thousands are still being taught you are beneath contempt; a place where Jimmy Swaggart can still tell his congregation if a gay man looked at him romantically, he’d murder him.

— CHRISTOPHER SODEN

 


 

WEST SIDE STORY

Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park
October 4–23, 2011

The bevy of dancers dazzle — shimmy, boogie, leap and slide — beyond expectation and imagination, from balletic jetés to rumble rhumba. Disciplined, talented, energetic, attractive, perfectly matched, the ensemble makes Dallas’ official 2011 State Fair musical, the national touring revival of the Broadway hit “West Side Story” presented by Dallas Summer Musicals, pure joy to experience. Snap, snap.

Yes, there’s that fabulous love story and musical score, too, with book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by multiple Tony-winner Stephen Sondheim (in his Broadway debut) and music by the incomparable Leonard Bernstein. With the right sort of singers, two generations younger than the original Broadway cast, it’s a win all around. Starring Kyle Harris as Tony, Ali Ewoldt as Maria, Michelle Aravena as Anita, Joseph J. Simeone as Riff and German Santiago as Bernardo, this touring revival mixes a fine-tuned homage to singing styles of a bygone era with contemporary tempos and interpretation and the expansion of Hispanic elements in song and speech, adding authentic ethnicity. When this revival of the 1957 show opened to critical acclaim in 2009, it broke box office records at the Palace Theatre and recouped its $14 million investment after running only 30 weeks.

Originally conceived of as a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” set in New York’s Lower East Side, “West Side Story” became a special project for legendary director/choreographer Jerome Robbins. His magnificent production, emphasizing the trials and emotion of underprivileged urban youth, won the Tony for Best Musical in 1957, along with Best Choreography (Robbins) and Scenic Design (Oliver Smith).

James Youmans’ scenic design for the current revival maintains nostalgic street feel of 1950’s New York and elements of Smith’s design but adds height and industrial dimension with striking color washes, rolling crane balconies and massive chain link drops. Tony and Anita’s tender love still plays on an epic scale with their soaring voices; but their love’s future feels doom-shadowed in a repressive cultural landscape framed in cold, hard-edged metal. Today’s fully engaged energy leaps out from the classical past with Joey McKneely’s world-class choreography in ensemble scenes. McKneely, originally a Robbins dancer, made his designated directorial debut at La Scala Opera House with “West Side Story.” His productions of the show have toured the world’s finest venues; cast members in this State Fair production also danced the show’s recent international tour. You won’t see better dancing or choreography, anywhere in the world.

— ALEXANDRA BONIFIELD, www.criticalrant.com

 


 

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Casa Manana, Fort Worth
September 24–October 2, 2011

Dallas Theater Center
October 21–November 20, 2011

“A sprawling, somewhat old-fashioned family entertainment that floods the stage with actors and scenery”— that’s how New York Times critic Stephen Holden described a 1991 production of a version of Christopher Sergel’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” adapted from the Pulitzer prize-winning 1960 Harper Lee novel of the same name. He might have been describing the local co-production by Dallas Theater Center and Fort Worth’s Casa Mañana. It’s a graceful, genteel production, majestic at times, honoring in spirit — if not in depth, character development or dialogue — the timeless, classic beauty of the book and relevant potency of its themes.

Its subject matter involves racial injustice, rape and the destruction of innocence, told primarily, as in the book, from a pre-teen girl’s point of view. If that combination would seem to make awkward bedfellows for dramatic realization, it presents challenges in a family-friendly production.

Adaptor Sergel seemed to acknowledge the quandary, as he continued revising his Mockingbird, which was intended for middle and high schools, for more than 20 years, even while it was being produced. The current DTC/Casa production, directed by Wendy Dann, uses Sergel’s version that tells the tale from the child’s perspective, with her brother and several other children chiming in. On stage performance with children, as with animals, can get dicey. For the most part, the child actor ensemble in Mockingbird — Morgan Richards as Scout, David Allen Norton as Jem, Aidan Langford as Dill — works effectively. Dann’s tightly paced direction keeps them moving crisply through the story and across Donna Marquet’s open, multi-level set without looking stiffly “blocked;” they occasionally rush lines in unintelligible high-pitched agitation but not enough to discomfort or confuse the audience. On the other hand, the adult ensemble is beautifully cast for the period (1930s) and consists of some of the strongest, most experienced professionals in the region.

— ALEXANDRA BONIFIELD, www.criticalrant.com

 


 

ARMS AND THE MAN

Stage West, Fort Worth
October 20–November 27

Any play that draws inspiration from Virgil’s Aeneid perks my ears up. One of GB Shaw’s early commercial “hits,” “Arms and the Man,” first produced in 1891, plucks its title from the opening lines of The Aeneid (Arma virumque cano: literally, I sing of arms and the man, meaning “I sing of the deeds of war and Aeneas”).

The play is a scathing social commentary, satirizing the folly of war and idealized romance in an age of encroaching mechanization, class division breakdown and crass opportunism. Surely Shaw would be pleased with the merits of Stage West’s current comedic production of the farcical work. Directed by Stage West’s Artistic Director Jim Covault with wry restraint, it feels like a long form prototype of a “Polack joke,” where the Bulgarians become the uncouth jokes and an enterprising, working class Swiss mercenary calls the entire charade to account. Foreshadowing in uncanny ways the cult film successes “King of Hearts” (1966, starring Alan Bates) and Robert Altman’s 1970 Oscar and Golden Globe winning “M*A*S*H” (based on Richard Hooker’s novel), the play’s three acts skewer along with witty repartee, faux danger, intimations of torrid titillation and a predictable and utterly satisfying cheesy denouement.

All the while, Shaw’s serious points about the false glorification of war and romantic infatuation linger just below the surface, offering contemplative substance after giddy aperitif. Covault assembled a strong cast for the Stage West production, each actor equally adept at negotiating the complex comic text and creating believable, endearing characters out of stylized stereotypes. Mark Shum as Bluntschli wins the audience over in the opening moments with his pitiful neediness and fondness for chocolates then keeps them enraptured as his true opportunistic nature reveals itself. Cassie Bann’s simpering, but scheming, ingénue, Raina, feels like a classic Jane Austen character with a quaint twist, and bats her eyes with the calculating, demure charm of a black widow spider. As her betrothed Sergius, Samuel West Swanson, tall, dark and dashingly handsome, buckles (and unbuckles) his swash with itinerant, amoral and slightly dense abandon. He not only gets what he wants, but what he deserves. As the scheming servants defiant Louka and obsequious Nicola, Morgan McClure and Dwight Greene must make Swedish playwright August Strindberg, Shaw’s contemporary, spin in his grave and gnash teeth at their delicious antithesis in character portrayal to his dark class struggle masterpiece “Miss Julie”. Michael Robinson’s period costumes complement each character with rhetorical flair and are a stunning visual to view en ensemble. Sally forth on yon silver steed; laugh your bloody spats off.

— ALEXANDRA BONIFIELD, www.criticalrant.com

 


 

LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR

Dallas Opera
October 21–November 6, 2011

On a balmy Friday evening, October 21, The Dallas Opera’s opening night production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera house put together everything you could ask for to create a stellar production. As far as singers go, you could hardly ask for better. All of them are impressive vocally, and physically resemble the characters.

In the leading role, Romanian soprano Elena Mosuc, making her Dallas Opera debut, has a luscious voice capable of a lovely floating soft sound. Cynthia Hanna is a fine mezzo-soprano making her Dallas Opera debut as Lucia’s lady-in-waiting, Alisa. Luca Grassi, whose debut has been eagerly anticipated, has a smaller baritone than is usually heard in the role of Enrico Ashton. However, it is a beautiful chocolaty sound that mingles richness with terrific placement. Jordan Bisch as Raimondo, a stunning bass from Washington State, has a huge sound that doesn’t sacrifice his bright placement for depth.

The-Best-Voice-of-the-Evening award has to go to another Dallas Opera debut artist, New Orleans born tenor Bryan Hymel as Edgardo. While predominately a full-bodied Italian sound full of “ping”, there is some baritone-ish overtones that burnish his sound. In the pit, the orchestra was spectacular. Music Director and conductor Graeme Jenkins was at his very best in whipping up a storm (literally) with Donizetti’s innovative score. The late great costume designer Peter Hall supplied magnificent costumes. Each one was unique — no standard female chorus frock here — and built with amazing attention to detail. High marks also to scenic designer Henry Bardon, who sets the action in what appears to be the ruins of a once stately castle and grounds, much like the crumbling fortunes of the Ashton family itself. But stage director Garnett Bruce, when handed such a riches of elements, was basically AWOL. The show was blocked (you stand here, then move there) but it was not directed in any manner that brought the drama to vivid life. The chorus stood around in the dreaded semi-circle. Even trotting the dead body of Arturo through the crowd didn’t seem to faze them. In fact, the body bearers had trouble making their way through the blasé guests. (Excuse me, excuse me, body coming through). But, in the final scene, Hymel gave the most convincing performance of the evening as the distraught lover. The chorus ambled on and, brought the knife (it is a relic by now). Since it was there, and so handy, Hymel was able to use it for his own demise.

— GREGORY SULLIVAN ISAACS

 


 

TWO BY TWO

Blue Candlelight Music Series, Dallas
October 9, 2011

Dual piano teams used to be a staple of local concert series. There is a great repertoire to explore and two grand pianos can make a really big and thrilling sound. Unfortunately, in the last few decades, the touring piano duo has fallen out of favor. Maybe that is because the local concert series themselves have fallen on hard times with the wide availability of more commercial competition for the entertainment dollar.

For this reason, the opening concert of the new season of Blue Candlelight Music Series, featuring the outstanding Mexico-based and Russian-born pianists that make up Duo Petrof, was so eagerly anticipated. Vlada Vassilieva and Anatoly Zatin are fine pianists, both with a wall full of competition prizes as well as being on the faculty of the University of Colima, Mexico. Zatin is equally well known as a conductor with a number of highly regarded recordings with major orchestras on the market.

Two gleaming Petrof pianos greeted the audience at Brook Hollow Country Club. While these Blue Candlelight concerts are usually held at the Baron Mansion in Highland Park, this one presumably had to be moved to a larger space to accommodate the pianos. And real beauties they were, with a glorious full and rich sound. While the two pianos matched, the two pianists aren’t so similar. Zatin is compact and solidly built while Vassilieva is taller and slender. At the keyboard, Zatin is aggressive and leans over the piano as if to keep it under his complete control. Vassilieva sits upright and lets the keyboard come to her. Together, these two opposites meld into a single entity — Duo Petrof — much as yin and yang make a complete circle.

The program they played was built around dance music, except for Mozart’s “Sonata for Four Hands in D major, K.381” that opened the program. Duo Petrof made real magic in the second movement, which finds Mozart writing in his high “opera aria” style. A rushed final movement only slightly distracted from the overall effect. Bohuslav Martinu’s “Three Czech Dances” ended the first half and a suite from the Slonimsky ballet “Icarus,” arranged for two pianos by Zatin, ended the program. Both of these pieces make transcendental demands on the two pianists technically and rhythmically. Grigory Korchmar’s “Farewell, Dear Friend,” built on a theme by deceased composer Valery Gavrilin, was a somber, and very Russian, musical tribute that offered some reflection and contrast to the dance music around it. The highlight of the evening was a piece of pianistic tomfoolery, by the irreverent composer Aleksey Igudesman, entitled “Imaginary Dances from Fictional Places.” They required some words of explanation. Violinist Gary Levinson read the fantastical descriptions of the dances and their bizarre origins.

— GREGORY SULLIVAN ISAACS