RIZZO  by Bruce Graham

directed by Joe Canuso


Theater Exile & Philadelphia Theatre Company

Suzanne Roberts Theatre, extended through Oct. 23

“Love me or hate me… you will never forget me.” So promised legendary Philly mayor Frank Rizzo used at a climatic end line Bruce Graham’s bio-play Rizzo.  Indeed, Rizzo’s rep lives on. At the 2016 Dem Convention in Philadelphia, members of Black Lives Matter placed a KKK hood over the Rizzo statue near City Hall to remind all what Rizzo represented to Philly’s African American population.

Rizzo premiered last year at Theater Exile and the revival with the same cast co-presented at The Roberts Theater by Philadelphia Theater Company.  The Mummers were in the lobby posing with former mayor Ed Rendell, who recounted a few stories about being DA under Rizzo before the play.

As police chief Rizzo was a flashpoint of racial and minority divides and his police state tactics continued when he became mayor.  White majority voters of the time elected him twice to ‘clean up the city’ and shut down crime, despite his own infamous scandals, like his lie-detector stunt which proved he lied, his flagrant cronyism and other abuses of office.

Graham’s explores the dualities of Rizzo’s character as well as the good, bad and ugly of Rizzo’s political life.  RIZZO debuted at Theater Exile last, directed by Joe Canuso and starring Scott Greer as Frank and Damon Bonetti as a political writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer who covered Rizzo’s years in office.

The story is told in flashback as Rizzo is mounting his 3rd term bid for office. Rizzo tries is muscling a police officer to swear an affidavit that he saw his opponent Ron Castille drunk and out of control. The highs and lows of his career are depicted in flashbacks about his life growing up in South Philly, becoming a beat cop, then police commissioner, and then twice mayor.

‘The showdowns in black neighborhoods, his routine raids on gay bars and hauling in “faggots” in Center City.  He calls on unions to shut down the Philadelphia Inquirer to prevent papers getting out an unflattering story. His enemies list and his publicity stunts to a lie detector test and Rizzo is exposed. Meanwhile, his affability in many neighborhoods and his personal touch out of the public arena, kept him in power.

Graham covers these episodes, many of them ‘told’ rather than ‘shown’, some with more fluency and dramatic fire than others, more consistently interesting is the private man. Graham builds a portrait of Rizzo as not just political myopic, but a man of uncontrolled impulses, private doubts and not to mention an untamable mouth.

One of the strongest scenes is the newly appointed Police commissioner being dressed down by his father, a beat cop, for using bullying tactics, including striking a “hooker” and giving her stitches.   And all too brief scenes with his wife Carmela.  His chess game with the reporter, also in clipped scenes, is eclipsed by big events.  So Graham constructs an erratic theatrical arc. But, they don’t overshadow the play’s many strengths, starting with a great cast.

Director Canuso keeps everything moving with invention and but Graham’s over use of characters describing action, rather than dialogue scenes, but the cast ably glides through some heavy handed monologues.

Damon Bonetti, in a largely narrating role, until the second act, brings wit and naturalism to this old –style nice guy reporter who still keeps digging until he has the real story.   Amanda Schoonover plays all the women’s roles, most impressive in her instant range from the protective Carmela Rizzo to Shelly Yanoff who took Rizzo on by gathering petitions for an election recall of his win.

All of the supporting players Steven Wright, Robert DaPonte, Paul L. Nolan, William Rahill juggling also juggling multiple roles with ensemble ease.  Wright a standout in his wry portrait of black civic leader Cecile B. Moore who goes head to head with Rizzo over the strife he causes in North Philly.

But the night belongs to Scott Greer, a fine musical theater actor, a five time Barrymore Award winner adds another portrait of flawless performances of a complex man.  His Frank accent perfect, without trying to imitate Rizzo, and embodies the image and conveys the inner turmoil of his many masks.



Four years ago Painted Bride music curator Lenny Seidman commissioned composers Josh Lawrence, Anwar Marshall and Jason Fraticelli to form a homegrown jazz band for the Painted Bride’s From the Vine series which champions new music. T

he 10-piece Fresh Cut Orchestra was born and hit the ground running and since then they have just recorded three albums and have been playing top venues including Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club. Introducing the band for their Bride return to launch concert for their new CD “Mind Behind Closed Eyes” released late August and already getting heavy play on WRTI, Lawrence told the crowd it was “Great to be home where we started.”

This is a young band has joyous camaraderie and a sense of musical occasion and adventure. For well over two hours they traversed a number of jazz genres, including their prowess that is steeped in big-band legacies.

FCO ignites jazz fusion, created by Miles Davis 45 years ago and mostly out of fashion since. This band weighs in with new compositional structures and ideas with especially aggressive jazz funk/ rock experimentation. They are equally exploratory with Latin jazz and America classicism and all along you get the distinct impression that their artistic prism is not only musically substantive but borderless. One of the connecting themes of this orchestra is that they careen into different jazz genres even in one number and it still makes all musical sense.

Among the random musical highlights on this night

To kick off the concert Jason Fraticelli ambled on stage playing a simple ballade he composed “My Summer in Puerto Rico” on the Cuatro, a four string folk guitar (an heirloom from his musician grandfather). Then drummer Anmar Marshall and percussionist Francois Zayas joins him and eventually, the rest of the band as the song builds to a gushing orchestral stream. Then the electric string percussive jazz rock jam of Fraticelli’s “Mind Behind Closed Eyes” followed by “Gallo Y Gallina” an raucous adaptation of a Puerto Rican folkloric dance tune.

Fresh Cut conjured the jazz ‘cool’ atmospherics of the early 60s on “An Uptown Romance” from their first album “From The Vine” which features Lawrence’s golden tones and lustrous phrasing on muted trumpet that hands off to Brian Marsella solo on piano goes stride blues territory and at several points with electric segues on his Rhodes keyboard. Later, on Lawrence shows equal compositional range with his Latin tune “Frederico,” a rowdy horn and percussion salsa laced with Marsella’s delirious piano runs and Mark Allen’s lusty baritone sax.

The first set concluded with Anwar Marshall’s compositions “Indecision” and “New Expectations” also from “Mind Behind Closed Eyes” Marshall fires the rhythmic engine with Zayas and Marsella into a dynamic matrix of sound.

Meanwhile, Lawrence leads the horns- Mike Cemprola (alto sax) and Mark Allen (baritone sax), Brent White (trombone) and all a four players at various times in fiery exchanges, their combined chemistry one of the defining qualities of this orchestra.
In the second half of the concert guitarist Tim Conley (originally from the West Coast) commands on electric bass, when he isn’t unleashing sonic effects on his laptop, which has been dubbed ‘Starship.’

The orchestra was invited to perform at the Sinatra Centennial event at Lincoln Center last year and Lawrence said they performed Sinatra’s standard “It Was a Very Good Year” because it embodied Frank’s vocal artistry. The opening orchestral lushness gives way to an intimacy (ala Sinatra) but then Frank’s voice is heard in a voiceover joking about growing up a skinny kid in his family’s 5th floor walkup in Hoboken. Conley then distorts this shtick with Starship effects, and then he blasts off into acid jazz guitar riff worthy of Monterey circa ’67. Wonder what Sinatra would have said about this version- bet ‘New York, New York’ Sinatra would have hated it, but big-band sousy Frank would have loved the ride. Meanwhile, the Bride crowd was enthralled.

Lawrence then announced that the concert closer would be a piece they had recorded the day before call “Life Mosaic” a piece jointly composed by Lawrence, Fraticelli, Marshall and Conley. The work previewed two years ago at the Kimmel Center’s jazz residency programming and it sounds like a signature piece already. It is a sprawling, four-movement piece, with each musician weighing in and the full effect closer to a concerto for full jazz orchestra.

A great night of jazz and another auspicious sign that the Philadelphia is doing more than reclaiming its great jazz history, but investing in a jazz renaissance which seems to be in full vanguard swing.

For future dates & album links check <a href=”; target=”_hplink”></a&gt;

fr Right before I met Vincent

decoendlessly, from last night

the pulse
blue echo

the concussive

spying my belly button
in a drawer
with shredded  biker socks
at 7:40 molting

rusty whispers
from vodka-quaalude
on geometric bodyink

out of mind so
lusting off
to eternity
the trail of clothes
ending in a
glitteringly butch
dreamt of once before

now hover in
diamond movement of
à l’après-midi d’un faune
Angling over a
busted wall
-when did you
share me
with candy-
from the other club last night
it is time to go out to dance, no?
is it still 3:20
1972 drenched
In sex forgotten in a flash with  all the
beautiful ones inhabiting the
busted open in the rumbling
strata of
anonymous  and so liberated from any former crime
but the faith of knowing we
we are giving our bodies to each
other, unlost
A sane human havoc
sounds of falling onyx
and crystals
on marble
crack below on
scrapping branches
mercury running through
Fingers onto
the temples
we hear
sonic psalms
La la la Sacre du Printemps
to escape the sound
Of the blood pulsing together

inside a
Coldest room
waiting for scarred
voices down here, below
Flamingo tangerine fucshia
Dahlia darling ascending
soul & sugar



et. fuckin’ al. baby
nobody walked away
empty hearted
the corners
of the rooms folded up
not inside shadow
on bluer shadow
pulsing resonance
concussive dissonance
as the body starburst
endlessly through that smashed atom
still dancing with Shiva we dance for you&we dance for with you perpetuo molto

on ink-night beholden to our rainbow warriors
so mighty real


may24 003

– Andrea Clearfield’s Salon botanicals – 5.24.2016LJW-


From The Music Rooms

prelude in transit

~wordless darkness that underlies all verbal truth~Perhaps something only music could suggest|Timebends Arthur Miller
Steel shadows
dragged out of the room
Sutured behind a wing
vanished into sky
Unwritten, unspoken
mourned to infinity
swallowing illusion, escape
through the hands
retold through time
vanquished eye
Secreted away
swallowed day
absent of reason
of any
but that
progression of scarred waltz time
conjured from the pages
Of a burned book
prelude in transit
Riveted to the track
pulverized repeatedly
then entering a new night
When it is played again
for the first time


Inis Nua Theatre Company

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
by Tim Price
directed by Tom Reing

The Proscenium Theatre at The Drake through May 155 Inis Nua - The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning - Photo by Kory Aversa(photo Kory Aversa)

Private Chelsea Manning is a transgender woman serving a 35 year sentence at Leavenworth Prison for leaking classified military secrets to WikiLeaks in 2010 when she was then army tech specialist Bradley Manning serving in the Iraq War. In the eyes of the military, she is a condemned traitor, but for others who champion whistle blowers, including Sweden’s 2014 nominating Nobel Peace Prize Committee, she is a hero.

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, a bold 2013 play by Welsh playwright Tim Price is in its US premiere by Inis Nua Theater Company in Philadelphia. Inis director Tom Reing orchestrating a visually compelling production at the Drake Theater and directing a uniformly fine ensemble cast. Price’s visceral, sometimes surreal theatrical account of the key events leading up to Manning’s imprisonment, is more impressive as an incisive character study to investigate what made Manning a born rebel with a cause.

Price intriguingly depicts the psychological journey of Manning, without coming to any quick answers and this device proves powerfully eloquent with this cast, all playing multiple roles, including each portraying Manning at different times. The cast- Trevor Fayle, David Glover, Campbell O’Hare, David Pica, Isa St. Clair and Johnny Smith- each bringing out different aspects of Manning’s character. There is a lot of stage business and physical demands as the actors play soldiers, officers, lovers, family members and a formidable theatrical boot camp. David Glover, for instance, is a nail-hard drill sergeant and minutes later equally believable a scene later as Manning going through a humiliating interrogation.

It opens with Bradley being dressed and undressed, literally and figuratively, by his platoon mates while they hurl a torrent of accusations and slurs about Manning exposed the realities of atrocities and raw war footage; data that was data is cited by some as being a catalyst for anti-American sentiments in the Mideast.
The play bounces back and forth in time, jarringly at times, to the year Manning spent in a Welsh high school. Johnny Smith conveys so much of Manning’s inner turmoil in these scenes and Isa St. Clair is great as the outwardly sympathetic Welsh schoolteacher who nonetheless tries to force Manning to rat out other students for their classroom antics.

In his early 20s, Manning is now stateside trying to get into MIT, while working dead-end jobs. He begs his disdainful father to pay his tuition and his father orders him to join the army to get a free education. Manning signs up and is targeted as the weakest link in boot camp and is continually singled out for rough treatment as a perceived gay soldier under the military’s DADT policies. He even joins protests of Prop 8 in California where he meets a grad student and they fall in love.

Manning was targeted and harassed under the military’s draconian DADT policies, except when his expertise in the field was needed. He was forced to pretend his boyfriend in the states was a woman to his officers and comrades. Trevor Fayle and David Pica has instant chemistry in Price’s economic scenes that establish their relationship and how its emotional reality inspires Manning’s convictions.

But the pressures of military life and his delayed career plans continue to weigh on him. He starts rebelling in the military and protest being bullied by fellow soldiers and has a reputation for being difficult and acting out inappropriately, including charges of striking a female officer.

Expected to be dishonorably discharged, his programming skills are deemed too valuable as the wars in the Iraq spirals out of control. He works in intelligence gathering and has clearance in the repository of raw Intel, electronic and video of massive atrocities and questionable missions and cover-ups. Manning turns whistle-blower and releases thousands of pages of documents on the internet, is incarcerated, put on suicide watch and, in Price’s narrative, subject to psychological torture by the military.

Some of Price’s jarring narrative structure, especially the high school scenes border on redundant. Meanwhile, Reing’s physical theater elements, with fight direction by Glover, are consistently inventive. A droning scene of mental torture that keeps hitting the same blunt note is contrasted with an inspired breakout dance denouement to GaGa’s LGBTQ anthem Born This Way.
Gritty set designs by Meghan Jones in tandem with precision video projections (Janelle Kaufmann), sound (Zack McKenna) and lighting design (Shon Causer) all well orchestrated elements. The disturbing sights and sounds of war, admirably, more thought provoking than facilitating mere flashy effects.

Delphinium a gay garden May 2000 (revisited)

may3flore 018
Delphinium ~ a gay garden, revisited
May 2000

‘Till the shadows
on his past
In a separate garden.

Except that we were
they too
were full silhouettes

in bloom

& not to bother

to intrude on mindless
heads thrown back for
That late brunch
sun mocking itself
a frond noir
Tricking the eye into
Thinking that it is

reseeing a day of youth
the shade of shadows
in shadows
we don’t really remember
even 20 years ago before

the last fall
When everyone was
million-rooted blood hydra
just another monster
to be melted

who were we but
all of us

to be still here

on this day buried
behind black purple
Siberian irises
splashed with cheap mimosas
or aubergine

sweated morning glories
all flora

staying out for a long
nevermore luxuriant

fox gloves
slap each

other with tired lilies
forgetting a century
of black Pagliaci tears)

Spilled over lips
With winds swirls
making us blink vs
red or violet afterburns
to champagne
pink fade
leaves of grass
swat and sway
all afternoon
Trying to dance against
the lazy chorus of chive hammers
the entrada of
blurviolet organza
brushing by
Spiked feathers
Tripped over bowl of clover
Whispered over
villainous amaryllis

With such beautiful intent

Snapdragons in
snarky venereal poses
Under arc of skid row
rails repopulated with lilac clematis
(ear-ringed, dreadlocked)
And Camille


enough to
On neon Medusa

granite dragon
unbloomed with doubt
certain of the galaxy
if it survives
Root map of the ants
cotillion next door to
The red speck-flies
Amok on mauve silk belles

spiraled in
gnarled beauty
because of the early heat
and forget-me-nots
lost on other endless afternoons
the amber showdown
vaporized our outfits
reassemble from last
unforced bloomed
in the twilight

of blue roses
we’ve never

knew the worse

The lovers gone
Friends silenced
out of the
heroic sea
of unwanted souls
What we
were once
& need to be again
Will always be

kept like the
Ghosts of the gardens at Versailles.
Those forgotten blooms
still lost in someone else’s time

no we did not
remember promises not to
fall in love
Have sex
Not to cheat on our lovers
Or press leaves between
The pages of the pact that
We are finally
loving witness for each other
that is our sanctified root
the perpetual motion

on this last day

So the light changed
there is laughter
same larkspur
flying out of Troy
To drown out
cry for the next rain
soaring in this
dank metropolis
so supple
so fetid sometimes
she soars
in the field of

So instead do not
turn our back
On the blinded warriors
going back in
to say goodbye

Queens of the Garden

(For Jack & those beautiful men gathered

May 2000)



annual revisit & some replanting to Delphinium, A Gay Garden

from Gyroscopes

From Gyroscopes  (appendix)

The NYTimes 4.25.2016 reports that

……………..half of which includes “candidate phyla radiation” that are still waiting to be discovered. Humans are in the bottom branch of eukaryotes…





Eukaryotes the gods

Through smashing logic

mirrors to obliterata

I reckon for the bottom of the ocean

Not a glimpse or                                        word will be revealed l

vaporized on our way

So the creatures stay undernorth or

don’t acknowledge heavenward

fly unsidedownoverandover

to reckon the bottom of

The oceanic

There is a clue that

A million blood tongue hydra sleeps

For now gurgles

In a cell

& in a parallel spiral

Throwing the dice into to a new black hole

chains of lifeforms, devolved sobriquets

unvoided              reheard                            randomly swallowed

fucking     unvoidedly

ibidibidibid- randomly time reveals the next

occurrence of

confirmed reality when  Igor unleashes Le Sacre

Cocteau smokes Beauty and the Beast

Isadora materializes through the trees of Moscow

Renaldo escapes in the ocean to write in water for all eternity

in beautiful unknown realness

The infinite if                when moments are not

so  we start to create


2015-12-18-1450465686-9951940-GentlemenVolunteers.jpg Michael Castillejos in Gentlemen Volunteers (photo Lindsay Browning)

Pig Iron Theater Company is renowned as one of Philly’s most innovative theatrical troupes. They are celebrating their 20th anniversary by restaging their production of Gentlemen Volunteers by Suli Holum who was also one of PITC ‘s founders. First staged by the company in 1998, its powerful antiwar message resonates more that ever. Set in 1916-17 as America was about to enter the WWI, it follows the lives of Red Cross nurses and soon to be US recruits on the front lines in France.

The play is deftly staged at in the rustic brick and iron foundry space at Christ Church Neighborhood House and co-directed by PITC founders Dan Rothenberg, Quinn Bauriedel and Dito van Reigersberg.
The audience is instructed to move around en la ‘promenade’ around these scenes, which leads to some audience scrambling, but this element, playing to the scene, jars the senses.

There is a captivating musical prologue as the audience files in the theater as Francoise de la Tour (Melissa Krodman) sings a rousing French cabaret song and if followed by Jean (Michael Castillejos) her accordionist who then sings the saucy Ragtime tune “Everybody’s doing it!”

The story starts on the Yale athletics field where a recruiter is looking for volunteers to assist in France in anticipation of the US entry into the war. Yalies Rich Conwell (Bryant Martin) dreams of learning how to drive a Model T, while Vincent Barrington (Scott Sheppard) a budding poet looking to chronicle his experiences in the service of a good cause.

They head ‘over there’ as drivers and assistants in a Red Cross field hospital near the front where Francoise is head nurse, who runs her unit with steely command. Her English cousin Mary Pinknell (Lauren Ashley Carter) has also just arrived to start as a nurse volunteer. She starts off on the wrong foot, but Francoise gets her up to speed without pause. Mary is attending her first patient, with Rich suddenly at her side, who then faints she attends to a wounded soldier’s wound. The chance meeting turns into something more, but not before Francoise walks in admonishes them “this is not a cabaret.” she barks. Later she tells her nurse corps (aka, the audience) “You are here working between life and death….and don’t you forget it.”

2015-12-18-1450465598-9610270-GentlemenVolunteers2.jpg Lauren Ashley Carter & Bryant Martin (photo Lindsay Browning)

But Francoise forgets it and falls into a torrid affair with Vincent, after they get drunk in a bar. Now she doesn’t have time to keep an eye on Mary, who spends every off duty hour in bed with Rich.

The directors devise elements of physical theater, mime and ensemble acting to orchestrate Holum’s gritty, economic, sometimes whimsical dialogue, elegiac meditations about war.

Some of pantomime scenes – in the operating room or operating an ambulance crank-shaft on period vehicles are easy to decipher, but there is also more cryptic mime relating to the senses and emotional motives between the characters, who remain tentative under the stress and trauma of war.

The lover scenes are particularly well handled with tension and tenderness of the circumstances. Francoise and Vincent fall in love and their after hours affairs unravels la Tour’s guarded secrets. When they are separated Vincent writes her passionate letters, but she can’t bring herself to read them. Meanwhile Mary has surprising news for Rich, but he has joined up as a commissioned Doughboy off to fight in Italy. Everybody looses. Vincent articulates the pyrhic victories and vows to write about the realities of war.

In brief flashbacks, Castillejos is a dynamic Jean, revealed as Francoise’s husband, a casualty of war. He also is L’Homme d’ Orchestre, playing a Ravel nocturne on clarinet timpani for various precision battlefield effects. He also performs the original (award winning) sound designs by James Sugg. As in the days of radio they are performed manually with such items as paper, fabric, typewriter, eggbeater, enamel basin, surgical instruments, etc.

As Vincent, Scott Sheppard conveys warmth and humor and a sober drive of a writer witnessing fateful events. As Rich, Bryant Martin has the spunk of an All-American and deftly communicates his growing disillusionment observing the real cost of war. Lauren Ashley Carter is all heart and courage as Mary and has a hilarious mis-en-scene doubling as an snarky cockney war photographer. Melissa Krodman gives nothing less than a tour de force performance as the heroic and tragic Francoise de la Tour.

During the run, there are two scheduled benefit performances performed by the original 1998 cast which included Dito van Reigersberg and Quinn Bauriedel as Rich and Vincent, Cassie Friend as Mary, Emmanuelle Delpech as Francoise and James Sugg as Jean.

Gentlemen Volunteers runs through Dec. 27, 2015 with performances at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American Street, Philadelphia.

World of Music

Yannick celebrates awardYannick celebrates backstage with a Citation from Mayor Michael Nutter & the announcement that he is Musical America’s Artist of the Year (photo courtesy of Philadelphia Orchestra FB)

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Yannick Nezet-Seguin, conductor
Hilary Hahn, violin
The Firebird

In late Noveember, Conductor Gianandrea Noseda kept the Philadelphia Orchestra warm with two weeks of programming of Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and most intriguingly, the US premiere of Alfred Casella’s Symphony No. 4, 106 years after he wrote it.  Phil Orch musical director Yannick Nezet-Seguin returned early December to put his imprimatur on some rare French repertoire and Igor Stravinsky’s complete ballet score to The Firebird.

Nezet-Seguin’s opened the concert with Georges Bizet’s Carmen Suite in an altogether anemic reduction by Fritz Hoffman composed in the 1990s. Nezet-Seguin leans on the Toreador fanfares to ignite it, but otherwise the orchestra sounding rote with this dimensionless paste-up.

Perhaps all attention was focused on French composer Henri Vieuxtemps rarely performed Violin Concerto No. 4, a fascinating and challenging rarity composed in 1849-50, with classical-romantic atmospherics and but violin solos that anticipate modernist, experimental lines. You can see its appeal for soloist Hilary Hahn.

The first movement has a lengthy and static orchestral opening before the violin makes its vertiginous, her tone sonorous and reserved. Hahn brings her full artistry, eventually, to the lengthy piece.

Hahn is not just in her own soloist zone; she sways to the orchestrals and turns toward the other players, the interlocks with the orchestra building the theatricality of the piece. At times Hahn is passionately technical, and even with gorgeous, resonate tone and bow and bridge dexterity in the 3rd raucous solo movement, and Hahn’s essaying its Vieuxtemps’ fiery temperament in the long, staccato lines, yet still sounding like a gypsy fiddler of in this symphonic template.

Nezet-Seguin kept the edge to Stravinsky’s La Sacre du Printemps at its most lush earthy atmosphere that careened into its most savage dimension. The recording with the Philadelphians 2013 for Deutsche Grammophon deservedly became a bestselling classical album and won a Grammy.

The atmospherics he brings to La Sacre, he has also applied to The Firebird, but the result is different. The complete ballet score is actually a rarity in the concert hall, with most orchestras opting for the Firebird Suite and for good reason.

The complete ballet score has less of a forward thrust in its collaborative element for the ballet stage, is stellar Stravinsky, without doubt, but the flight of the firebird is the main attraction, and Stravinsky is also providing support to the action onstage, akin to what a film composer does, so Firebird has essentially musical divertissement for the choreography.

In the concert hall all this reads as a lot of symphonic foreplay, interrupted with fanfares, the dynamic contrasts get tired mid-way though and in this performance sounding under glass. Still, there was outstanding playing among the soloists, even within its lackluster cohesive musical arc.

The woodwinds, especially, a rescuing band- among the stellar line-up igniting the Firebird- Jeffrey Khaner flute, Daniel Matsukawa, bassoon, Ricardo Morales, clarinet. At the cool end, that trio of Harps, led by Elizabeth Hainen, proved nothing less than lustrous. David Bilger leading the brass into the crescendo, matched with penetrating clarity by premier French hornist Jennifer Montone.

Nezet-Seguin was having a great week otherwise. He was named Music America’s Artist of the Year, and the announcement was made in Philly, along with a special Citation from Philly Mayor Nutter for the occasion, then the official presentation of the award in Carnegie Hall the following day. Days later, maestro Yan also picked up 2015 Grammy nominations for his Deutsch Grammophon recording of the the Fab Phil’s Rachmaninoff Variations conducting 24 year old Russian superstar pianist Daniil Trifanov.


Don Gio


bass-baritone Daniel Noyola as the dastardly Don serenading his next conquest. (photo courtesy AVA)

Academy of Vocal Arts
Don Giovanni
By W.A.Mozart
Directed by Jeffrey Buchman
Conducted by Christofer Macatsoris
AVA’s Helen Corning Warden Theater & area venues
Nov. 7-21

The Academy of Vocal Arts’ mounts Mozart’s Don Giovanni every few years and it always seems to show them at their best. Their 2011 production, directed by the Tito Capobianco, and had the lusty Don Giovanni, in flagrante delicate all during the overture in just his breeches as he pretends to be Donna Anna’s fiancé Octavio. In their current production, director Jeffrey Buchman chose to be more discreet until later, but all of the lustiness was rendered by the orchestra alone in maestro Christofer Macatsoris vibrant interpretation conjures nothing less than glorious Mozart.
Macatsoris accents the darker themes right, the clamor of the first scene, an attempted rape and a death, seemed a bit too clamorously paced. When Donna Anna discovers the ruse and her father the Commendatore comes on the scene to challenge Giovanni to a duel. And Octavio, who resembles Giovanni, adding to the confusion as DG and Leporello steal away.
Meanwhile, Elvira, just jilted by Giovanni, chases him in anguish, but realizes what a philandering cur he is, after Leporello shows her the log of his many trysts (1003 in Spain alone). While nearby, Giovanni happens on the wedding of Zerlina and Masetto. He lures the party to his, and seduces the bride right under Maestro jealous nose.
The mob turns on him, but not before he sets off on a new round of dalliances and deceptions. He tries to win Elvira back by having Leporello stand in for him while she pines on her balcony. It’s all a ruse though to throw his pursuers off his scent. Things come to a head as he hides in the graveyard and the specter of the Commendatore gets his revenge on the doomed Giovanni.
The opera is a great barometer of AVA’s roster of singers in its vocal demands and to test their acting chops with equal parts drama and comedy. Soprano Vanessa Vasquez’s Donna Anna and her fiancé Octavio, sung by tenor Jonas Hacker have charming low-key chemistry in their scenes together, but it is in their solos toward the end that they triumph. Hacker nails the lengthy sung soliloquy in the final act. Two breakout performances by baritone Jorge Espino and mezzo-soprano Allegra Di Vita as Masetto and Zerlina. Espino conveying his jealousy with humorous gravitas. Di Vita so vocally powerful and a fine comic actress playing a gorgeous flirt.
Stellar performance by Anush Avetisyan as Elvira. She conveys every emotion as she goes from rage against Don Gio to giving in to his charms. Bass-baritones Andre Courville and Daniel Nayola as Leperello and Don Giovanni, sustain balance, and vocal clarity, with sardonic wit, in two of the most demanding vocal roles in all of opera. And the chilling finale of the stony presence out of the graveyard to exact Don Giovanni’s mortal damnation is sung with engulfing basso gravitas by Anthony Schneider.
Director Buchman opening scenes could use some streamlining, but he keeps the cast in motion throughout and uses the tight space at the Warden Theater to maximum effect. Peter Harrison’s set of modular grey panels frame Val Starr costume design of velvet doublets, plumed hats and breeches on the men and Versailles gowns on the women, seems in moments like an animated Renaissance painting.
Macatsoris’ and the AVA orchestra is a separate review and the intimate AVA Helen Corning Warden Theater a perfect venue to hear this orchestra’s dimension and detailing. Among the standout players’, the harpsichord continuo by Richard A Raub and first violin lines of Igor Szwec, essaying lustrous Mozart. Not to mention the voluptuous counterpoint lower strings by cellists Vivian Barton Dozor and Lynee Beiler.