ArtsWatch Weekly: Really big show

Going big: Perséphone with puppets, an American in Paris, Mahler's grand sweep, the sounds of Cuba and Lou Harrison

At the Portland Showtime Bistro, audiences like things well-done, but often served small to medium. We enjoy our intimacy, from compact ensembles like Portland Baroque Orchestra and FearNoMusic to closeup theater spaces like CoHo, the Back Door, the Ellyn Bye Studio, Shoebox, and Shaking the Tree. Summer’s coming, and with it, once again, that sprawling celebration of good things in small packages, the Chamber Music Northwest summer festival (with a welcome emphasis this year on women composers).

But sometimes you want the whole darned smorgasbord, and only big will do. Portland can provide that, too, and lately it’s been doing so … well, big-time.

Big night on the town: Portland Opera’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Cory Weaver.

Portland Opera’s just completed its grand-scale production of Puccini’s overflowing romantic potboiler La Bohème (Terry Ross reviewed it for ArtsWatch here) and is saddling up for a June musical-theater adventure in giant-windmill territory with Man of La Mancha (featuring Grimm star Reggie Lee as one of the best sidekicks in history, Sancho Panza).

Big puppets, big show: Stravinsky’s (and Michael Curry’s) “Perséphone.” Oregon Symphony photo.

Over the weekend the Oregon Symphony filled every inch of the stage at the Arlene Concert Hall (and pretty much every inch of space reaching up to the ceiling) with a gloriously visual performance of Perséphone, the rarely seen or heard collaboration on a classical-Greek theme between composer Igor Stravinsky and librettist André Gide. The orchestra turned to Michael Curry, the magnificent puppeteer and creator of transfixing visual universes, to transform the myth into tactile reality, a modern version of what Richard Wagner liked to call “gesantkunstwerk,” or “total work of art.” (Conductor Carlos Kalmar noted in a pre-performance speech that the collaboration between Stravinsky and Gide was not a happy one, but a clash of the titans.)

Then, in concerts coming up Saturday through Monday, the symphony wraps up its current season with Gustav Mahler’s grand, sweeping, and near-overwhelming Symphony No. 2, the “Resurrection” – see Brett Campbell’s remarks below on that program. Watch ArtsWatch’s home page for reviews of both Perséphone and the Mahler.

Big Broadway splash: “An American in Paris,” opening Tuesday in the Keller. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Running tonight, Tuesday, through Sunday in the opera’s Broadway series in the Keller Auditorium is the national touring-company production of An American in Paris, the acclaimed, multiple-Tony-winning musical with songs by the Gershwins, book by playwright Craig Lucas, and choreography by the talented Christopher Wheeldon, who also directs. Not to give anything away, but these young lovers in Paris fare considerably better than Puccini’s poor bohemians.

And the holder of the city’s biggest art collection, the Portland Art Museum, has free admission this Saturday, May 20. The free day is part of Art Museum Day, an event in museums across the nation. That means that, among many other possibilities, you can catch up with the museum’s current big show Constructing Identity, the fascinating overview of African American art from the late 19th to the early 21st century, which continues through June 18. Big stuff, as it turns out, keeps happening all over town.

Big art: Nelson Stevens’ “Spirit Sister” in the exhibit “Constructing Identity” at the Portland Art Museum. 2013, serigraph, 31 1/2 x 30 1/2 in. © Nelson Stevens. Licensed by the Experimental Printmaking Institute, Easton, PA.




It’s a pretty big week on the city’s smaller stages, too, with lots and lots going on.

The Language Archive. Adriana Baer directs Julia Cho’s appealing cultural romance, which was introduced to town a while back in an all-Asian-cast staged reading by Theatre Diaspora. Portland Playhouse’s full production, which will be performed at CoHo Theatre while the Playhouse’s home space s being renovated, has a promising cast, too, among them Greg Watanabe, Victor Mack, Nikki Weaver, and Sharonlee McLean. Through June 11.

Constellations. What happens when a beekeeper and a theoretical physicist meet? You might call it the science of mutual attraction. Chris Coleman, Portland Center State’s artistic director, directs Nick Payne’s two-hander starring Dana Green and Silas Weir Mitchell, fresh off his gig as the immensely likable wolflike character Monroe in the TV series Grimm. Main Stage at The Armory, through June 11.

OUTwright Theatre Festival. A great big celebration of LGBTQ performers and performance, opening Friday with Del Shores’ Sordid Lives and Saturday with Jane Comers’ workshop I Am an Actress. Through June 11 at Funhouse Lounge.

The Importance of Being Earnest. Artists Rep’s new production of Oscar Wilde’s comedy classic bends genders with an all-woman cast, and it’s an excellent lineup: Sarah Lucht, Ayanna Berkshire, Jamie M. Rea, Linda Alper, Kailey Rhodes, Vana O’Brien, Crystal Ann Muñoz, JoAnn Johnson. Through June 11.

BodyVox’s Junior Artist Generator. BodyVox’s showcase for its elite students features, besides the fresh young dancers, choreography by several of the city’s leading contemporary dance figures, Friday through Sunday, BodyVox Dance Center.

The Art of Nuttavangum. An afternoon of South Indian classical music and dance from Anjali School of Dance. It’s free, but you need a reservation. 2 p.m. Saturday, on the good dance floor at New Expressive Works.

The Future Is Female. Mixd Dance Company celebrates the power of women in dance. Saturday-Sunday, World Trade Center Auditorium.





Not so far from here/ There’s a very lively atmosphere,/ Everybody’s going there this year,/ And there’s a reason,/ The season opened last July,/ Ever since the USA went dry,/ Everybody’s going there and I’m going too!

– Irving Berlin, (I’ll See You In) C-U-B-A

ArtsWatch is going to Cuba this week too, courtesy of Cascadia Composers and FearNoMusic, who are presenting a concert of music by Cuban composers this Saturday. We’ll have three stories about Cascadians and Cuban music this week. And some of the other recommended shows this week require just a little travel for Portlanders, but only as far as Ashland, Vancouver, Eugene, and Beaverton.

Delgani String Quartet
One of Oregon’s most visionary chamber ensembles closes its second full season with music for percussion and string quartet, including the premiere of a new work by University of Oregon prof Pius Cheung, another new piece by Canadian composer Alice Ping Yee Ho, and that most wondrous of string quartets, the one composed by Maurice Ravel. Tuesday, Temple Beth Israel, 1175 E. 29th Ave., Eugene.

Delgani Quartet. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Northwest Art Song
Portland classical music groups may be ignoring the 100th anniversary of our own greatest composer, Lou Harrison, but several have managed to celebrate the 450th birthday of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi with various madrigal concerts, including this one featuring some of the city’s top singers and Seattle theorbo virtuoso John Lenti. Wednesday, Old Church Concert Hall, Portland.

Lou Harrison 100th Birthday Tribute
At least Southern Oregon University recognizes the occasion of Harrison’s centennial, as its percussion ensembles perform some of the Portland-born composer’s pioneering works for percussion ensemble that he and his partner John Cage created in the 1930s. See my ArtsWatch story Lou Harrison at 100: a global musical legacy, born in Oregon for background. Thursday, SOU Music Recital Hall, 450 South Mountain Avenue, Ashland.

“New Pearls from the Antilles”
Cascadia Composers and FearNoMusic break the embargo by bringing music by some of today’s top Cuban composers to Oregon. Stay tuned for ArtsWatch’s preview. Friday, Temple Baptist Church, 1319 N.E. Seventh Ave., Portland.

Beaverton Symphony
The orchestra performs Northwest composer Emily Doolittle’s new composition green/blue (part of its valuable Northwest Composers Project), plus a springy symphony by Schumann and, with help from its concerto competition winners, concertos by Wieniawski, Saint- Saëns, and Popper. Friday and Sunday, Village Baptist Church, 330 S.W. Murray Blvd., Beaverton

“Sense of Place – Sounds of the Pacific Northwest”
Cascadia Composers’ second (!) concert of the weekend presents new music inspired by our own environment by Jack Gabel, Christina Rusnak, Liz Nedela, ArtsWatch’s Matthew Andrews, and some newcomers to the Cascadia concert scene. Stay tuned for ArtsWatch’s preview. Saturday, Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church, 2828 S.E. Stephens St., Portland.

The lesbian chorus sings hits from several decades of Broadway music, from The Pajama Game to Fun Home. Saturday, Soreng Theater, Eugene.

Consonare Chorale
The choir sings dinner-oriented music by Bobby McFerrin, Rheinberger, a Russian folk song, and more. Saturday, Imago Dei Community, 1302 S.E. Ankeny St., Portland.

Oregon Symphony
With help from Portland State’s award-winning choirs and vocal soloists Tamara Wilson and Elizabeth DeShong, the orchestra closes its season with one of the few musical works that truly earns the epithet “epic”: Mahler’s mighty second symphony. Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Portland Cello Project: strings attached. Photo: Jason Quigley/2016

Portland Cello Project
The band celebrates its new EP release featuring Black Prairie singer Annalisa Tornfelt and PCP’s own Gideon Freudmann. Saturday, Revolution Hall, 1300 SE Stark Street, Portland.

Portland Symphonic Choir
The ever-popular Carmina Burana follows performances by more than 150 young singers in the first Portland High School Choir Festival. Saturday, Grant High School Auditorium, Portland.

“A Place Where You Belong”
Aurora Chorus celebrates its 25th anniversary with a pair of premieres, by Portland’s own Joan Szymko and the excellent contemporary American composer Carol Barnett. Sunday, First Congregational Church, 1126 S.W. Park Ave., Portland.

Grand Cru Baroque
Music by J. S. Bach, C. P. E. Bach (a superb composer in his own right, unfortunately overshadowed by his immortal dad’s legacy), and French Baroque master Jean-Marie Leclair highlight this program by the historically informed ensemble featuring Portland Baroque Orchestra cellist Joanna Blendulf, flute and recorder master Kim Pineda, Eugene keyboardist Julia Brown, and Seattle Baroque guitar/lute specialist August Denhard. Sunday, First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive St., Eugene.

“City Girl”
Vancouver Symphony’s Chamber Music Series features a quartet of VSO musicians performing an original score by the fine local composer John Paul to Charlie Chaplin’s 1930 silent classic. Sunday, Kiggins Theatre, 1101 Main Street St., Vancouver, Wash.


ArtsWatch links


Boss bassoonist, going for Baroque. “He might as well be a rock star.” Terry Ross reviews Nate Helgeson’s bright and shining performance with Portland Baroque Orchestra.

Janie’s got her gun. Christa McIntyre reviews Sheila Callaghan’s That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play at defunkt theatre – “a radical Pandora’s box of no-apologies theater, gender-identity bending, and raw angst dusted with a heavy sugar-coating of pop culture.”

Chor Leoni: Manlandia. Bruce Browne reviews the “cornucopia of choral contentment” that was the Vancouver, Canada, choir’s performance amid a basketful of concerts featuring male choirs.

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