‘Porgy and Bess’ review: Catfish Row Northwest

Seattle Opera’s elaborate new production complements Gershwin’s American classic 

by ANGELA ALLEN

The stars, and there were several, could have carried Seattle Opera’s Porgy and Bess. But they didn’t have to. Conceived by Francesca Zambello, the production was spot-on in so many ways—emotionally attuned, musically uplifting, edgily designed and lit— that there was no need for the fine singers, several on the rise, to work overtime.

A co-production with Glimmerglass, the three-hour opera, with a 30-minute intermission, continues with several performances through Aug. 25 at McCaw Hall. It is selling well, but not sold out.

Angel Blue (Bess) and Alfred Walker (Porgy) in Seattle Opera’s ‘Porgy and Bess.’ Photo: Philip Newton.

If you argue with George Gershwin’s music and librettists DuBose and Dorothy Heyward’s (with help from Ira Gershwin) portrait of Catfish Row in the mid-1930s, as many have over time, suspend your imagination. Just dive into this piece and leave the cultural politics for another time. Or another discussion. You can’t put this piece into a box: It’s sad, but not a tragedy. It’s funny but not a comedy. Porgy and Bess is utterly moving—hopeful yet stuffed with such tough realities as poverty, fatherlessness, drugs, unfaithfulness, racism, ostracism, crime.

The heart-rockin’ beauty of the music (“Summertime,” “I Got Plenty of Nuttin,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing,” and “My Man’s Gone Now”) and the libretto’s variety and cleverness outclass so many operas plagued with dull and stupid words and plots. The songs alone, and you’ve heard them over and over (“Summertime” is one of the most covered songs in history), place the opera at the top of the American repertoire.

John DeMain, 74, who conducted the opera for Seattle in 1987, was back on the podium for this run. He’s led this music many times (the first, at age 32), and his Tony-award-winning Houston conducting helped bring the opera back to life in 1976, so his Porgy history has been a storied one. The music is part of the seamless artistic blend that works so well in this show, with jazz, folk music, klezmer, gospel and classical influences mixed into Gershwin’s Americana pot. Some jazz- and folk-driven instruments are atypical for opera: trombones, saxophones, banjos, clarinets and trumpets, leaving out the strings, except the bass.

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Photo First: Saturday Market

Portland's iconic open-air market, the largest of its kind in the nation, is a bustling village of arts and crafts and people-watching in the city

Portland Saturday Market (which is, of course, open on Sundays as well) is a sort of curated street fair. Founded in 1974 by Sheri Teasdale and Andrea Scharf as a support for local artisans, it has grown over the years into the largest weekly open-air arts and crafts market in the United States. This is its 45th season, and it’s open most of the year, from March through Christmas Eve.

Incorporated as a special class of institution, the market (nonprofit) is governed by its members (for profit). At present there are about 250 booth spaces available every weekend. With more than 400 members, a steady stream of newcomers, and occasional participants, the mix of vendors is never quite the same on any given day. These vendors offer an amazing array of items—audio recordings, earrings, coffee mugs, sculptures, drawings, musical instruments, leatherwork, cat toys, curious cabinetry, jams and jellies, walking sticks, and more.

  Saturday Market is a bustling village inside the city.

Everything for sale at the market, which sprawls along Southwest Naito Parkway in Old Town south of the Steel Bridge, has been handmade by the people selling it. Each individual vendor has gone through a rigorous vetting process to assure compliance with market standards that focus heavily on artistic involvement and quality of craftsmanship.

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Noise Fest 2018 preview: art of noise

Eugene-based festival extends a century-long experimental music tradition

By DANIEL HEILA

Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. — John Cage.

On Saturday, Eugene’s WOW Hall will tremble, throb, and reverberate with the tweeter-searing, woofer-warping sounds of Noise Fest 2018. The festival, which resurrects itself every year or so, is a day of genre-stretching, noise-based performances that run the gamut from glitch (technology pushed to its limits) to noise pop, No Wave to industrial and post-digital “organized sound” (Edgar Varèse’s definition of his music).

The festival is the brainchild of designer, artist, and noise musician Don Haugen, who started it in the early 2000s when he was associated with the newly formed Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts (DIVA). The large gallery space at DIVA (now a Buy 2 convenience store) was the scene of endlessly creative expressions of noise in all its guises, including virtual silence, violent caterwauling, circuit-bent sweetness, and rich feedback decomposition.

klowd and Don Haugen at Noise Fest.

A couple of memorable acts from the first festival come to mind: Portland artist Daniel Menche’s foundation-shaking, additive, minimalistic performance, using only a contact mic at his throat, a few foot-pedal effects, and a giant speaker cabinet. Menche ended his set by doing a backward flip onto his bank of foot pedals which he then beat into silence with his fists (he happened to have a fractured collarbone at the time). And IDX1274, a dude dressed in work clothes and a snap back, who dropped an active microphone onto a steel plate and then attacked it with a power grinder.

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Describing a work of art as “classic” can mean many things, but it usually connotes a sense of durability, of solidity, of wholeness. Those qualities are likely to come in handy for the four theatrical classics currently being run through the modernizing, re-energizing, hybridizing, multi-disciplinary mill of the CoHo Lab.

Continuing to emphasize the development of new work, CoHo Productions has hosted four projects for workshop time during the past two weeks. On Sunday evening it will present excerpts from the four plays in-progress:

Crucible — Philip Cuomo, CoHo’s producing artistic director, flexes his creative artistic muscles with a radical take on the Arthur Miller classic, re-imagined with the help of the CoHo Clown Cohort. Consider it a follow-up to his highly successful comic-yet-poignant clown version of The Glass Menagerie.

 

Scary clowns: A cross-wielding Maureen Porter terrorizes Olivia Weiss in rehearsal for Philip Cuomo’s clowning adaptation of “The Crucible.” Photo: Jessica Dart

House of the Living — director Samantha Shay’s dance-theater interpretation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler as “psychosexual grande ballet.”

Girl v Troll (or Dam Things) — A.R. Nicholas (collaborating with a cast that includes such fine actors as Nick Ferrucci and Cecily Overman) braves a troll’s lair, but somehow infuses an internet-age story with the tragic princess Electra as a sort of Greek chorus.

Fire & Meat — writer/director Eve Johnstone looks at the ancient poem Beowulf by way of John Gardner’s perspective-shifting 1971 novel Grendel, employing both feminist analysis and puppetry.

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MORE THAN THREE HUNDRED NEWSPAPERS AND OTHER PERIODICALS across the United States have published editorials in today’s editions denouncing President Trump’s continuing attacks on the news media, which he has repeatedly characterized as “enemies of the people.” The media campaign, coordinated by the Boston Globe, is a daring and in some quarters controversial, yet necessary, step. The political tactic of deliberately confusing the public about what is truth and what is a lie is deeply dangerous to the core values of the nation, and to make a public enemy of the institution that exists to bring truth into the public view is to, in fact, endanger the nation as a whole. We shouldn’t have to say this. Unfortunately, in the nation’s current extreme circumstances, we do. Freedom relies on a free and open press. A government that denies this is a government that denies the rights and freedoms of its own people. Unwarranted attacks on the value and necessity of the press degrade and imperil the culture itself. We at ArtsWatch stand with the publications that have taken this stand, and with the journalists who strive every day to publish and broadcast what is true in spite of intense pressures to hide the truth from them and shake the public’s confidence in them. We hope you’ll stand with them, too.

Manzanita’s Dave Dillon curates Northwest film series

The former Hollywood liaison for the Navy screens regional films and leads monthly post-show discussions

Nosferatu, a 1922 classic horror film based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, might seem an unlikely start for a film series that prides itself on being all Pacific Northwest, all the time. The silent movie was the first offering, eight years ago, in the monthly Manzanita Film Series led by a local resident who has ties to another unlikely horror classic. More on that later.

Dave Dillon finds many of the films shown at the Hoffman Center for the Arts by searching the NW Film Center and paying attention to what other film festivals around the state are showing. “If it’s of, by and/or about the Pacific Northwest, we’re all for it,” he said. When he finds a film he likes, he pays the $100 screening fee and puts the film on the schedule.

Dave Dillon leads the film series at Manzanita’s Hoffman Center for the Arts. Photo courtesy: Hoffman Center for the Arts

“It’s just another little artistic cultural thing,” he said. “We get a good variety of locals, a bunch of steady customers. Twenty is a good crowd.”

The most popular evenings among local film fans are nights that showcase six or eight short films, Dillon said.

“They can be one minute, eight minutes, two. They can be features, documentaries, animated,” he said, adding that the biggest hits come from the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival in Portland. “From that they put together a DVD of eight to 12 shorts. When they bring that out, everybody loves it. It’s fascinating to see what filmmakers come up with showing off their passion.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: hot summer jazz

Smoke gets in your eyes, jazz gets in your ears this week as summer festivals continue despite the blazes

What began as an informal neighborhood musical soiree has blossomed into one of Portland’s jazz treasures. The fifth annual Montavilla Jazz Festival  at Portland Metro Arts, 9003 SE Stark, is headlined by the Grammy-nominated team of primo pianist Randy Porter’s Trio with jazz singing living legend Nancy King, performing the music from their recent Grammy-finalist album featuring Cole Porter tunes and more. The lyrical jazz duo of flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny and pianist Darrell Grant also reunites after too long a break, co-leading a quartet in new chamber jazz compositions.

Maybe the most intriguing act on the program was inspired by Tamolitch Pool on the McKenzie River near Blue River. One of our area’s most magnificent natural spaces, its allure inspired Salem-based composer-pianist James Miley’s evocative, ambitious new Watershed Suite, which Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble performs at Montavilla and at a free show Thursday at (appropriately) Springfield’s Roaring Rapids. Miley, a Willamette University music prof who directs Willamette Jazz Collective, combines classical and jazz influences in a multifaceted work that translates the complex beauty Oregon’s watersheds, including the mighty Columbia River and Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge, into music. One of the state’s most valuable music institutions, PJCE features top Portland area performers and also continuously nurtures both performances and recordings of new, original jazz music compositions some of Oregon’s finest emerging and accomplished musicians.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble performs at this weekend’s Montavilla Jazz Festival.

Other performers constitute an all-star lineup of Portland jazz performers leading expert ensembles, including national award winning pianist/organist/drummer/trumpeter George Colligan’s fun, multigenerational new electric trio Other Barry and guitar demon Ryan Meagher’s Evil Twin, both celebrating cool new releases on PJCE’s label that you can hear at the links above. Erstwhile Portlander Nicole Glover returns from New York to jam with local greats, and the festival also includes omnipresent drummer Alan Jones, saxophonist Tim Willcox, Christopher Brown, jazz/funk trumpet star Farnell Newton, bassist Shao Way Wu, and sets featuring some of the top improviser/composer/performers from PJCE and Creative Music Guild.

Nicole Glover performs at Montavilla Jazz Festival. Photo: Diaz Duran.

Tonight, Roaring Rapids also features Bossa PDX, with Portland jazz pianist/singer Kerry Politzer, Colligan (who happens to be her spouse) on drums, sax titan Joe Manis, guitarist Enzo Irace (who shreds in Other Barry) and bassist Damian Erskine playing new arrangements of Brazilian classics. And there’s modern chamber jazz tonight in Portland, too, with Simone Baron’s piano trio in an intimate house concert at Casa Della Zisa, 4624 NE Fremont St.

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