MusicWatch Weekly: indoor opera, outdoor jazz

Operas, musicals, and sounds from China to South America lure listeners in from the heat, while jazz beckons them back outside

When Portland Opera switched to a summer season last year, one stated reason was to avoid competition with other similar events. But operas and their American-born cousins, stage musicals, seem to be proliferating this summer.

There’s no glass slipper or fairy godmother, but Rossini’s classic operatic recounting of the Cinderella story returns in the company’s family friendly production of La Cenerentola, which runs through July 28 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. Read Bob Hicks’s ArtsWatch review.

All dressed up and somewhere to go: From left, Laura Beckel Thoreson, Alasdair Kent (kneeling), Ryan Thorn, and Helen Huang in Sue Bonde’s costumes. Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.

Speaking of comic opera that involves class divisions, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro highlights this weekend’s Aquilon Music Festival program. Barbara Day Turner conducts a chamber orchestra and Daniel Helfgot directs the action in Friday and Saturday nights’ fully staged performances at Linfield College’s Marshall Theatre.

“[O]ne of the very few lyricists who were genuinely funny,” writes Stephen Sondheim in Finishing the Hat, “[Frank] Loesser was able to perform the rare trick of sounding modestly conversational and brilliantly dexterous at the same time….Most impressive to me are the ideas behind Loesser’s songs. The lyrics need not be brilliant in execution; they can ride on their notions alone and bring the house down. Which they did, and still do.”

Now being staged in a new production at The Shedd in Eugene, Loesser’s Guys and Dolls follows the adventures of a trio of petty gamblers who need a spot to continue “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.” With a plot contrived from short stories by Damon Runyan, whose stories captured the colorful characters and slanguage of 1920s New York’s gamblers, gangsters, and other hustlers, Guys and Dolls turned out to be one of the great success stories in American musical theater. It earned unanimous critical raves, running for 1200 performances in its first production, scoring five 1951 Tony Awards (and more in subsequent revivals) and being cheated of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama only by right-wing, red-baiting McCarthyism.

Revived often on Broadway (most recently in 2009) and everywhere else, it was turned into a movie with Brando and Sinatra. The musical’s spirited combination of catchy tunes (“Luck Be a Lady,” “If I Were a Bell,” “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” “Fugue for Tinhorns,” better known by its chorus, “Can do, can do,” and more), sly humor, and just enough street grit to avoid over-sentimentality make it a popular perennial. Directed by Peg Major and conducted by Robert Ashens, the Shedd’s production (which runs July 20-29) stars Shirley Andress as Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown and Ron Daum as the gambler Nathan Detroit.

Even Chamber Music Northwest is getting in on the operatic action with Bright Sheng’s one-act opera, The Silver River, originally commissioned two decades ago by CMNW and performed at Portland State Saturday and Sunday with dancers, actors, and singers, and the Monday performance of Tan Dun’s well-known Ghost Opera (which isn’t really opera as we know it). Both feature the world’s most renowned pipa (Chinese lute) virtuosa, Wu Man, with chamber ensemble.

They’re part of CMNW’s Beyond the Cultural Revolution, a series that offers an overview of music by the first generation of pent-up composers to emerge from China after the disastrous Cultural Revolution ebbed and universities and conservatories were reopened. Along with works by Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Tan Dun and Sheng, the series includes music by the next generations of composers of Chinese heritage, including Vivian Fung and Xiaogang Ye. The series also includes composer talks, open rehearsals, and more. Read my ArtsWatch preview.

Chamber Music

Before heading off to China, CMNW tangoes to Argentina. Wednesday night’s concert at Alberta Rose Theatre features a crack band of tango specialists in music by Astor Piazzolla, Osvaldo Pugliese and more. Thursday night’s concert at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium features fab film/TV/concert composer Lalo Schifrin’s nostalgic Letters from Argentina, a series of vignettes recalling his childhood there. The splendid program also includes nuevo tango classics by Schifrin’s great older compatriot Astor Piazzolla.

There’s more chamber music onstage at the culminating concerts in Portland Summer Ensembles / Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s chamber music camp. On Thursday at Portland’s Old Church, the instructors — all current or former Oregon Symphony stars led by former concertmaster Jun Iwasaki, play Sergei Taneyev’s Piano Quintet and a Beethoven string trio. And in Saturday’s free concert at Marylhurst University’s St. Anne’s Chapel, student musicians play movements from classics by Mendelssohn, Mozart, Beethoven and Dvorak.

Stephanie & Saar perform at Portland Piano Company.

The terrific piano DUO Stephanie & Saar return to Portland Piano Company Sunday afternoon to celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s centennial with music from his simultaneous Broadway triumphs West Side Story and Candide, plus his two-piano arrangement of his friend and mentor Aaron Copland’s El Salon Mexico. They’re joined by Oregon pianist-composer Alexander Schwarzkopf in one of his new compositions and more.

Jazz and More

More music from South America arrives via multiple Grammy nominee Bebel Gilberto this Sunday at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. The renowned Brazilian composer/singer has done for traditional bossa nova what Piazzolla did for tango, updating them for a new century, in this case the 21st.

Dayramir Gonzalez and his quartet perform Tuesday at Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Still more Latin rhythms inform Dayramir Gonzalez & Habana enTRANCé’s Tuesday show at Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden. The Havana-born jazz pianist and his quartet blend rock, pop, jazz, and Afro-Cuban elements in his originals.

And speaking of jazz, for almost 40 years, Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, which runs all weekend at Cathedral Park under Portland’s St. John’s Bridge, has been a summer highlight and one of the city’s longest-running free community events. This year’s edition of the free festival of jazz, blues, soul and other music includes 15 acts. Friday’s shows feature blues stars like Reggie Houston and Norman Sylvester and a tribute to Northwest women who play rhythms & blues. Saturday’s program showcases some of Portland’s finest female jazz musicians, including Rebecca Kilgore doing Western swing, Quadraphonnes sax quartet, and more. Sunday’s highlights include a tribute to Ray Charles, the funk-jazz of Under the Lake, and the Grammy-finalist team of the sublime singer and Portland jazz legend Nancy King and pianist Randy Porter with his tight trio.

Cathedral Park Jazz Festival happens this weekend under Portland’s St. John’s Bridge.

Got more musical recommendations, indoor or out? By all means let us know in the comments section below.

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