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Portland Opera’s ‘Italian Girl’: Topsy turvy playground

Wacky production gives Rossini’s bubbly East-West comic tale contemporary appeal

by ANGELA ALLEN

Pizza, bathing suits, peeping-Tom camels, selfie-sticks, a chorus dressed in modest underwear and a ruler in a loin cloth were among wacky details in Portland Opera’s The Italian Girl in Algiers (L’Italiana in Algeri) at its July 22 premiere in Portland’s Newmark Theatre.

Aleksandra Romano stars as Isabella in Portland Opera's 'The Italian Girl in Algiers.' Photo: James Daniel.

Aleksandra Romano stars as Isabella in Portland Opera’s ‘The Italian Girl in Algiers.’ Photo: James Daniel.

These contemporary comic touches enlivened Gioachino Rossini’s silly laugh-happy story about a kidnapped Italian tourist who turns the tables on her bombastic bejeweled captor, Mustafa, the harem-holding head honcho of Algiers. This production’s direction, set, timing, choreography and acting combined to make this Italian Girl so appealing, so au courant, so unstuffy.

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Chamber Music Northwest reviews: Unspoiled by success

Where does a composer go after reaching the peak of popularity? Two concerts trace Beethoven's path from excellence to exploration

by JEFF WINSLOW

Ludwig van Beethoven’s extraordinary fame rests mostly on works he wrote in his mid- to late 30s. Even if you’re not a classical music fan, you probably know parts of his third (“Heroic”) and fifth (da-da-da-DAH) symphonies. If you are, you undoubtedly know his “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” piano sonatas, his violin concerto, and his last two piano concertos. String quartet lovers have his three “Razumovsky” quartets, informally named after the generous patron who commissioned them. They’re the only string quartets in the pantheon, but they fully measure up to their fellow icons.

The Dover Quartet played Beethoven at Reed College. Photo: Tom Emerson.

The Dover Quartet played Beethoven at Reed College. Photo: Tom Emerson.

The Dover Quartet, Chamber Music Northwest Protégé Project Artists just a few years ago, have since catapulted themselves toward a different pantheon after sweeping the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, winning First Prize and all three Special Prizes. Who better to bring Portland audiences Beethoven’s mid period string quartet masterpieces, as they did at CMNW’s July 11 concert at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium? They showed such mastery that even a critic could just relax and luxuriate in Beethoven’s endlessly inventive music.

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The Emerson Quartet honors the Haydn-Beethoven link

Chamber Music Northwest's examination of Beethoven continues with the Emerson Quartet

By ANGELA ALLEN

If any group can make us hear how radical and innovative Ludwig van Beethoven’s music is, it’s the Emerson String Quartet, a regular at Chamber Music Northwest. This year marks their 11th season at the summer festival; they’ll be back for more Portland concerts throughout 2016-17.

The group played two of Beethoven’s early string quartets: String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2 and String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6. The Beethoven pieces alternated with Joseph Haydn’s quartets from his String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3 (“Emperor”)” and String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 76, No. 6.

The Emerson String Quartet at Chamber Music Northwest in 2015/Photo by Tom Emerson

The Emerson String Quartet at Chamber Music Northwest in 2015/Photo by Tom Emerson

The Sunday concert exceeded two hours, not including intermission, at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall in the last of a three-performance program called “Passing the Torch.” The Grammy Award-winners are CMNW’s Artists-in-Residence for the 2016-17 season. Along with CMNW artistic director David Shifrin, they came up with the idea of the centerpiece three-performance Haydn-Beethoven program. The title speaks to the relationship between the older Haydn and Beethoven, and to the festival’s efforts to mentor “protégé” musicians.

Adding fuel to the Emerson program, Beethoven’s quartets have been showcased throughout CMNW’s five-week run this summer.

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Ectoplasm in the City: The new “Ghostbusters”

This female-led reboot of the comedy classic has good intentions, but how well does it realize its feminist mission?

by KOURTNEY PARANTEAU

Since Sony greenlit the “Ghostbusters” reboot back in the fall of 2014, the uproar regarding director Paul Feig’s decision to cast an all-female team of Ghostbusters controlled the conversation and nearly drowned out any mention of the film’s potential. Because much of the Internet’s issue with the franchise’s reboot centered on misogynistic outrage, little attention was paid to the possibility that this well-intentioned, estrogen-inspired reboot could be misguided in its “feminist” stance.

Now, nearly two years later, “Ghostbusters” is upon us. In addition, an all-female reimagining of “Ocean’s Eleven,” led by Sandra Bullock, is in the works. Though the increase in female-led casts demonstrates a shift in Hollywood’s marketing, simply plugging in women into previously masculine films, proves about as progressive as remaking “The First Wives Club” with Channing Tatum, Adam Scott and Steve Carell. Or opening a chain of chicken shacks, hiring tan, chiseled, men to wear fitted cut-offs, and naming it Ding Dongs.  Cinema should not reduce itself to the level of the WNBA, wherein women perform a game designed by and for men with, paradoxically, increased scrutiny and blatant disinterest.

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Chamber Music Northwest: All hands on the grands

Chamber Music Northwest put the piano front and center for "Six Hands, Two Grands"

By ANGELA ALLEN

Who says classical music isn’t a hoot and a holler?

At Tuesday evening’s “Two Grands, Six Hands” concert in Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, part of Chamber Music Northwest’s summer festival, eight hands played Romantic composer Albert Lavignac’s “Galop-marche.”

Somehow four pianists, three of them relatively tall men, squeezed onto three small piano benches behind one Steinway. Their overdrive friskiness left starchiness and formality in its wake. Throughout the 5-minute piece, not counting moments when each musician had a few “hands” breaks with which to goof around, each played like a maniacal pro. They never once tangled any of their 40 fingers.

Sometimes the six hands became eight at Chamber Music Northwest's "Six Hands, Two Grands" concert/Photo by Jonathan Lange

Sometimes the six hands became eight at Chamber Music Northwest’s “Six Hands, Two Grands” concert/Photo by Jonathan Lange

Hilda Huang was the fourth pianist. The Yale University chemistry major shared a bench with her Yale music mentor, Melvin Chen. She is a Chamber Music Northwest protege artist, and before the “Galope” encore, she endeared herself to listeners in a six-hand, one-grand version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, K. 492.

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The soulful Zorá Quartet deserved a bigger audience

A free Chamber Music Northwest community concert was sparsely attended, but the Zorá Quartet came to play

By ANGELA ALLEN

Sunday evening’s Zorá Quartet concert at Clackamas Community College was refreshingly short (about an hour) and delightfully performed. Unfortunately, the free concert was deplorably attended. About 50 people heard this high-spirited soulful presentation of Beethoven and Debussy string quartets at Niemeyer Center. The concert was Chamber Music Northwest’s first free offering in the area in its 46-year history. Let’s hope the poor turnout doesn’t make it the last for Clackamas County or other suburban communities.

Zorá, which means “sunrise” in Bulgarian, is a protégé, or apprentice, group at the festival this summer. Its members – from Bangkok, the United States, Shanghai, and Melilla, Spain – are stupendous musicians in graduate chamber-music studies at Indiana University. They play like well-seasoned pros tuned into one another for years, but they play with so much exuberant passion, they practically fall out of their seats. They are the future of chamber music.

You’ll have another chance to hear them. They perform again at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 13, at Alberta Rose Theater.

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At Portland Opera, a tale of Russian love lost

The Portland Opera's "Eugene Onegin" successfully time travels without losing its sense of tragedy

By BRUCE BROWNE

The star of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s opera version of Eugene Onegin is a young Russian gentleman who makes his way through the world without apparent care for anything or anybody beyond his erudite nose. Not his best friend Lensky, and not even the lovely Tatiana. As played by Alexander Elliot in the production by the Portland Opera, he is almost pathologically cold.

Fortunately, the warmth is supplied by Jennifer Forni as Tatiana, whose performance signaled to me that, again, the Portland Opera has put exactly the right artists under the lights.

Forni’s voice has the power and brilliance of a roman candle, and yet is never pushed, always in control. She has the best messa di voce (getting softer and louder on one note) I’ve heard in a long time. And she convincingly brought to life the facets of her teenage angst, brought about attempting to deal with Onegin.

Tatiana (Jennifer Forni) records her love letter to Eugene on her boom box/Photo by Cory Weaver.

Tatiana (Jennifer Forni) records her love letter to Eugene on her boom box/Photo by Cory Weaver.

But then all the singers were well cast. Lead male, baritone Elliot as the eponymous Eugene Onegin, is a chameleon. Last month we heard him in “Sweeney Todd” as Anthony Hope, a part that’s much more a tenor caste. But last night, he was thoroughly a baritone, cutting through the Newmark Hall with the trenchant power of a Husqvarna chain saw. And yet he possesses a velvety timbre when necessary.

Aaron Short as Lensky, Onegin’s poet friend, and Abigail Dock, Tatiana’s sister, Olga, rounded out the more youthful roles. Allison Swensen-Mitchell was Madame Larina, Tatiana and Olga’s mother; Andrea Compton was the beloved Nanny, Filipievna; and Konstantin Kvach was Prince Gremin. This was a sterling cast.

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