‘Cosí fan tutte’ review: psychedelic shtick

Portland Opera's new production adds 21st century multimedia and more to Mozart's comedy

by TERRY ROSS

Portland Opera has done itself proud with its production of Mozart’s silly, sexist, lighthearted, and hilarious opera Cosí fan tutte, written in 1790 and now playing in Portland5’s cozy little Newmark Theatre. The opening night show on Bastille Day showed all hands on deck and also all the shtick one could ask for, including some psychedelic business from the 21st century’s drug culture.

Aaron Short, Daniel Mobbs, Ryan Thorn in Portland Opera’s ‘Cosí fan tutte.’ Photo: Cory Weaver.

Although performed only five times in Mozart’s lifetime due to the untimely death of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II, considered at the time to have commissioned the opera, Cosí has been in almost continuous production somewhere in the world ever since. The reasons are simple. The music, although not serious in the vein of Don Giovanni or even Idomeneo, is vivacious and beautifully crafted. And the story, all about whether young lovers can be sexually faithful, is universal. If the focus is entirely on the faithfulness of the women in the two featured couples, and not on their menfolk, chalk it up to the patriarchal mores of 18th-century Europe’s dominant culture. And to the 18th-century seats of power, in the arts, in politics, and in all walks of life.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: a Persian R&J

Outdoor Shakespeare with a twist; more music festivals; Mozart & Bach; an ArtsWatch apology; a profusion of prints

Summer and Shakespeare seem to go together like Abbott and Costello, or toast and jam: You can have one without the other, but somehow they’d feel incomplete. Little danger of that in Oregon, where we get our summer Shakespeare aplenty, often with a twist.

 

Nicholas Granato as Romeo/Majnun in Bag&Baggage’s “Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun).” Casey Campbell Photography

Consider Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun), an interweaving of Shakespeare’s romance and the 12th century Persian poet Nizami’s epic tale of a feud between families. Bag&Baggage’s premiere opens Thursday on the outdoor stage of the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza in downtown Hillsboro, in a production that B&B artistic director Scott Palmer believes blends R&J with one of its primary sources. “When you read the texts side by side, the parallels between the two tales are really astounding,” Palmer tells ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell. “There’s no smoking gun, but we do know (Shakespeare) was reading Italian sources and those were heavily influenced by Persian masterpieces from the 11th and 12 centuries. There is just no question that Layla and Majnun had a powerful, although indirect, influence on Romeo and Juliet.” Read Campbell’s full story here.

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The Art of Inclusion

ArtsWatch apologizes for concert review's errors of judgment and fact

by BRETT CAMPBELL, BOB HICKS, and BARRY JOHNSON

“Reviews now are different kinds of battlefields. Who is writing them is just as important — perhaps more important — than what is being reviewed.”

That’s from an insightful and important story called “Like it or not, we are in the midst of a second arts revolution,” published a few weeks ago by our friend and colleague Chris Jones, chief theater writer for the Chicago Tribune. We thought it said so much about the state of the arts and arts journalism that we immediately posted a link to ArtsWatch’s Facebook page. “Administrators, artists and critics all have to get used to the intensity of amplified opinion, and the widespread desire for empowered involvement, that now surrounds their work.”

A few days later, ArtsWatch found itself engaged on such a battlefield. One of our regular freelance writers, Terry Ross, who’s covered classical music for decades, wrote a review of a June 17 concert by Portland’s Resonance Ensemble that sparked outrage — “amplified opinion.” You can follow the action here.

Resonance Ensemble performed music by Renee Favand-See and welcomed other musicians in its last concert. Photo: Rachel Hadiashar.

To give our readers the chance to express themselves, we have let that battle play out before weighing in ourselves, and in general we’ve been impressed by the passion and thoughtfulness of many of the responses. The comments taught us important lessons about our community’s arts culture. As hard as it was to read them without contributing ourselves, we thought this thread was important beyond anything we could add. Now it’s time to state clearly where we editors stand, and to apologize, appreciate, and explain.

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‘Romeo & Juliet (Layla & Majnun)’: cross cultural combination

Bag and Baggage's new theatrical mashup of Shakespearean and Persian classic tales involved collaboration across cultures

Scott Palmer was stuck. The Bag & Baggage Productions artistic director had just auctioned off the choice of its annual summer Shakespeare production to a patron, and this year’s choice was… Romeo and Juliet.

Palmer silently groaned. They’d staged the popular perennial ten years earlier and Palmer, an expert on the Bard of Avon’s work, didn’t want to revisit it so soon. Now he had no choice. How could he do it differently than before?

Lawrence Siulagi as the Sayyed in Bag & Baggage Productions’ “Romeo & Juliet/ Layla & Majnun.” Photo: Casey Campbell Photography.

Palmer, an inveterate Shakespeare nerd whose MO involves plunging deeply into historical and dramaturgical research, started investigating the play’s provenance. He and learned that one of the most famous plays in Western literature was actually based on a 12th century epic poem by one of the most famous Muslim writers in history. He got a translation of Layla and Majnun by Persian poet Nizami (1141-1209), read it — and was instantly hooked. He knew he wanted to produce it.

But Palmer quickly realized that couldn’t do it alone. “It’s the greatest epic piece of Muslim literature. I immediately realized I was in over my head,” Palmer recalls. “I had no clue about 12th century Persian culture.” He needed help.

And he found much of it in a surprising place — his theater’s own home of Hillsboro. Both onstage and in creation, Palmer’s brand new mashup of Romeo and Juliet and Layla and Majnun, which opens this weekend, represents a cultural combination — and cross cultural collaboration.

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Prints on demand: Want to see my etchings?

Portland Art Museum, Michael Parsons Fine Art, and Augen Gallery offer a summer course in print appreciation

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

The question “Do you want to see my etchings?” was the Victorian version of the mid-twentieth-century “Would you like to come up for a nightcap?” which somehow has been supplanted by “Netflix and chill?” in the twenty-first century. Prints may have lost their footing as the go-to euphemism for sex, but the many examples and varieties of printmaking on view right now at the Portland Art Museum, Michael Parsons Fine Art, and Augen Gallery prove that they haven’t lost their allure.

Printmaking may not be the flashiest of art forms, even for connoisseurs of Victorian art. It rewards slow, close looking and an appreciation of technical processes. Prints are realized through an intermediary: The artist doesn’t manipulate the product directly but instead acts upon a matrix be this a plate, a stone, or a screen. The print is the product of the transfer of the matrix to a substrate, traditionally paper. The matrix can be used multiple times resulting in multiple impressions, and this potential for multiplicity makes printmaking so powerful, socially. Artists exchange prints. Prints enable the circulation of ideas, forms, and styles. Prints provide artists the opportunity to explore themes and ideas in a different format; many painters are also printmakers. Because prints are often conceived of as forming groups or suites, an artist can offer multiple ruminations on a single topic. Prints are for collectors. It is rare for someone to have just one: like humans they exist in relationship to one another, defined by the company kept and enriched by one another. In short, prints fuel art.

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Chamber Music Northwest review: from trifles to triumphs

Summer festival’s Eastern European-oriented concert makes up for opening night’s inconsistent programming

by TERRY ROSS

Chamber Music Northwest’s Summer Festival, which runs from June 26-July 30, 2017, has chosen as its focus female composers, from past to present. Three made an appearance in the festival’s opening night concert on June 27 in Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall.

Which seems like a fine idea, except that two of the three pieces shouldn’t have been programmed.

Clara Schumann’s 1879 March for Piano, Four Hands, in E-flat Major, although well enough played by Anna Polonsky and Orion Weiss, is a mere five-minute trifle without arresting harmony or melody: perhaps an encore, nothing more. Fanny Mendelssohn’s Pieces for Piano, Four Hands , although a bit longer, remind us that she and not her brother Felix may have been the originator of the so-called “song without words.” But her two songs, although conventionally pretty enough, and again well rendered by Polonsky and Weiss, don’t reach the level of Felix’s, which for him were mere bagatelles. These two female composers (I reject the term “women composers” — after all, we don’t say “men composers”) wrote better pieces than we heard here, and it is a disservice to them and to the audience to program some of their least interesting music, when there are more substantial pieces available by both composers, such as Mendelssohn’s piano trio and Easter Sonata or Schumann’s Romances for Violin and Piano, to name just a few.

Chamber Music Northwest artists played music by American composer Amy Beach. Photo: Tom Emerson.

The third woman on the ticket, Amy Beach, was the first of her sex to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra (the Boston Symphony). Four years later, in 1900, she played her own piano concerto with the same orchestra. Having performed Johannes Brahms’s Piano Quintet that same year, she used a theme from its closing Finale to put together her own Piano Quintet, Op. 67, which the CMNW group of pianist Anna Polonsky, violinists Ani Kavafian and Bella Hristova, violist Paul Neubauer, and cellist Peter Wiley played with great feeling.

Beach’s quintet has many charms of its own. In musical language that is firmly of the mid to late 19th century (in other words, Brahmsian), Beach demonstrates structural economy in each of the three movements, never going on too long with any thematic idea or repeating passages too often. The opening movement, which begins with unison strings, is moody and weighty, and the second-movement Andante, played quietly with mutes, is lovely in its melodic simplicity. The third movement Allegro agitato provides a lively conclusion, and the echo of unison playing from the first movement is extremely effective.

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DanceWatch Weekly: It’s a Rantum Scoot

A busy summer dance weekend issues an invitation to be here now!

It’s all kind of up in the air this weekend. Will it work or won’t it? Who cares where we’re going—it’s beautiful outside. Just relax. Forget about the destination or the drive. Let intuition take over. Be here now.

It’s that kind of dance weekend.

Enjoy the ride!

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