« February 2017 | Main | April 2017 »

March 2017 Archives

March 4, 2017

Dead Man Walking and Talking

If asked to condense to one sentence the message of composer Jake Heggie's and librettist Terrence McNally's opera Dead Man Walking, the Dresser would say "the truth will set you free." In this political climate under the Trump administration where alternate facts and television reality shows keep changing the definition of truth, this opera about death row inmate Joseph De Rocher who claims innocence of two brutal murders and a rape weighs questions about social justice and personal responsibilities. De Rocher's foil is a young nun who agrees to be his spiritual advisor.Dead Man -Nun.jpg

Washington National Opera under the baton of maestro Michael Christie and direction of WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello have mounted WNO's premiere of Dead Man Walking, which the Dresser saw March 3, 2017. While not a perfect production, it is a strong one with baritone Michael Mayes admirably singing the role of Joseph De Rocher. Although the Dresser did not attend San Francisco Opera's world premiere of this work in 2000, she did see the second production created by seven American opera companies (executed by the Baltimore Opera) that included baritone John Packard as the original singer who developed the role of Joe De Rocher under the musical direction of the original developing conductor Patrick Summers. Zambello's production includes mezzo-soprano Susan Graham who originated the role of Sister Helen Prejean. However, in this 2017 production, Graham sings the more age-appropriate role of Mrs. De Rocher, the mother of the condemned man.
Dead Man Mom.jpg
Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey is certainly an admirable singer and actor. The Dresser loved Lindsey's impression of Elvis Presley during the one scene where something wonderfully humorous occurred. However, during much of the performance, Lindsey's voice was weak against the loudness of the orchestra. By contrast, Graham's voice showed better support and volume.

Dead Man.jpgThe musical palette of Dead Man is a mix of accessible and lyric dissonance coupled with traditional hymns and pop music some of which are original to Heggie, like the tunes played on the car radio of the teens who De Rocher and his brother brutalized and then killed. And yes, on stage is a big boat of a convertible car with top down and huge fins. Having seen this opera twice, the Dresser says Heggie's music works very well with the subject matter and Michael Christie has done a good job with the WNO orchestra.

Be certain this opera is not family entertainment. It treats deeply disturbing subjects that delve into the human psyche in various ways. In Elaine's Magarrell's poem "Good Girl," we learn about contradictions built into Western culture that prohibit a girl of good manners from telling the truth. Sister Helen is probed by her friend Sister Rose (sung by soprano Jacqueline Echols) to tell the truth about whether she has the spiritual fortitude to forgive De Rocher, who is clearly blaming the murders on his dead brother. This exegesis stands in contrast to De Rocher's mother who refuses to allow her criminal son to confess to her in his last minutes before execution that he has, in fact, murdered the teenage lovers. What Sister Helen must do is find her capacity to love Joe unconditionally so that he can tell her and then the grieving families that he committed the unspeakable crimes.


I know what a good girl is.
I have been a good girl,
flattered those who scorn me, 
listened hours to a bore.
I do anything to please.
I shut my mouth, 
feel guilty on demand.
I know what a good girl is.

I am such a good girl,
I dress up in a plain brown wrapper,
at parties I don't mix with men,
I would never kiss my doctor.
I know what a good girl is.

I will be a good girl,
smile until my mouth aches.
I will not tell the truth.
I will not tell the truth.

by Elaine Magarrell
from The Madness of Chefs

"Good Girl" copyright © 2017 by Elaine Magarrell

Photo Credits: Scott Suchmann

March 21, 2017

The Tonal Colors of Cathedral Choral Society & New York Polyphony

CathedralConcertsmall.jpgA friend invited the Dresser to the March 19, 2017, Cathedral Choral Society concert featuring New York Polyphony. She expected to be pleased and off duty regarding a review. However, this program known as "Amid a Crowd of Stars" was a world-class performance and should not go unnoted.

According to the guest conductor Michael McCarthy, who stepped in after the death of Cathedral Choral Conductor J. Reilly Lewis, the invitation to the four-man quartet known as New York Polyphony was initiated by Lewis before his death June 9, 2016. New York Polyphony comprised of countertenor Geoffrey Williams, tenor Steven Caldicott Wilson, baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert, and bass Craig Phillips, are known for their uncanny ability to deliver work ranging from Gregorian chant to cutting-edge contemporary compositions. Much of this mysterious ability has to do with wondrous and steady voice of the countertenor.

Several times McCarthy mentioned how this particular program of sacred music that seamlessly flowed from old music to new was selected particularly for the acoustic challenges of the Washington National Cathedral. This chorus, very attentive to McCarthy's direction, produced a multi-layered sea of sound. Here is a list of the music performed in the order it was played. Note how the contemporary music is woven in with the old music.

Part I
Dominus custodiet te (2015) Andrew Smith (b. 1970)
Pater noster (?) Adreian Willaert (c. 1490-1562)
Whispers (2002) Steven Stucky (1949-2016)
Ave Maria (1934/1949) Igor Stravinsky (1882-1972)
Rejoice, O Virgin (1915) Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Quae est ista/Surge propera (1555) Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599)
Levavi oculos meos (2015) Andrew Smith
Amid a crowd of stars (2015) Andrew Smith
Miserere mei, Deus (-1630s/1976) Gregorio Allegri (c. 1582-1621)

Part II
Conditor alme siderum (world premiere) Plainsong, 11th Century, arr. Michael McCarthy (b. 1966)
Loquebantur variis linguis (?) Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)
Vespers Sequence (2016) Ivan Moody (b. 1964) (selections)
The Spheres (2008) Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978)
Lux aeterna (?) Antoine Brumel (c. 1460-c.1512)
A Hymn to the Mother of God (1985) John Taverner (1944-2013)
Super flumina Babylonis (2015) Andrew Smith
Lux aeterna (1899/1996) Edward Elgar (1857-1934) arr. John Cameron (b. 1944)

Of the 17 compositions performed, ten were written in the 20th or 21st Centuries. These pieces flowed as if they were meant to be heard in a single stream of sound. Most surprising was Stravinsky's "Ave Maria," which the Dresser heard but initially didn't register that it was by the ground-breaking composer who turned classical music on its head. Featured were four compositions by Andrew Smith. Some pieces, especially those done by New York Polyphony--and what a rare treat to hear the voice of the counter tenor in contrast to base, baritone and tenor voices--were done a cappella. Other pieces had accompaniment by a nine-piece string ensemble or an organ.
NY Polyphony small.jpg
In this troubled world complicated by the recent presidential election, this concert restored inner calm to the Dresser.

In Nathalie Anderson's poem "Stain: Six Meditations on the Craft," the fourth meditation examines the process of creating stain glass with all its layers of color reminding the Dresser of the tonal colors working together in this outstanding concert. Anderson's poem fragment also points to suffering so often illuminated in sacred texts and certainly in the texts of this Cathedral Choral Society concert.


Or flash glass: a layer of hue--brilliant, pungent, thunderous--
laid down on a color less extreme, say white glass dipped in red;
or moss shadowed by yew; wine spilled over plum; wisteria
in smoke; peacocks at midnight; lapis over jade--so when scratched
away, the dark layer lightens, softens, cools, quiets, modulates,
and the pale layer--no longer coated, clouded, or benighted--dawns--
as here: flames clawing through the sooted flesh
behind the pyromaniac's back; or here:
the ligature of ligament, the tendon
torqued, the muscle clenched; or
here: the gartered fishnet tugged up, squirmed in, worn
over the bruise, the scab, the open vein; each skin
scraped and abraded, one pain
bolted over another.

by Nathalie Anderson
from Stain

"Stain: Six Meditations on the Craft" copyright © 2017 by Nathalie Anderson

About March 2017

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in March 2017. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2017 is the previous archive.

April 2017 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.