beaverton community band

MusicWatch Weekly: stagy sounds

From opera to musicals to concerts influenced by musical theater, this week’s Oregon stages teem with music written for dramatic productions.

This year’s PAMTA Awards may be history, Cabaret has closed and Les Miz and Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s United States of Broadway don’t arrive till next week, but this week still offers abundant opportunities to hear music that originated in musicals, opera and other dramatic productions. 

 “Portland Opera’s brewing up a deal with the devil with its latest production of Charles Gounod’s Faust, opening June 8, and it’s likely to attract sizable audiences,” ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks, who apparently traded his soul for extensive knowledge of visual art, theater and music, told subscribers to our newsletter last week. “Something about this legend’s been fascinating readers and theater- and music-lovers for centuries. The thirst for knowledge, the overwhelming desire for pleasure and experience, the human who would be more than a god, the man with the ambition and arrogance to believe he can outwit the devil, or who just cares about winning right now so much that he doesn’t quite believe the future price he’s agreed to pay. The ripples of the story are everywhere, from politics to business to people’s love lives: win now, and damn the consequences.

Portland Opera’s ‘Faust’ opens this weekend. Photo: Corey Weaver.

“Portland Opera’s new Faust – a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago, where it premiered in March – is based visually on a world created by sculptor and artist John Frame. But the story he interprets is ageless. Gounod’s opera is based mostly on Part 1 of Goethe’s famous version of a legend that stretches back to a real person from the 15th and 16th centuries, Johann Georg Faust (and various other medieval/Renaissance folk characters) and forward to, well, at least now. Christopher Marlowe famously dropped in for a visit, as did traveling puppeteers who used Faust and Mephistopheles as sort of stock Punch-and-Judy characters. Turgenev and Thomas Mann tackled the subject. So did Berlioz and Wagner and Mahler and Liszt. Stephen Vincent Benét had fun with it in “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” and legend has it that the blues guitarist Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads and sold his soul in exchange for musical greatness (practice and innate talent no doubt had more to do with it). In István Szabó’s great 1981 movie Mephisto, based on Klaus Mann’s novel, a German actor essentially sells his soul to the Nazis in exchange for prestige and success.

“So, here comes Gounod’s Faust again. Our advice? Give the devil his due. But lend the opera your eyes and ears.” Our kissin’ cousin Artslandia’s new Toi Toi Toi magazine for Portland Opera has interviews with production designer Frame and star soprano Angel Blue. Stay tuned for Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review. And ArtsWatch’s Marty Hughley will soon have the scoop on a couple of other musical theater productions onstage, Portland Center Stage’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill and Mocks Crest’s The Light in the Piazza.

When it appeared in 1970s, Leonard Bernstein’s Mass was, er, crucified by some who disapproved of the great American composer/conductor transforming sacred music into show tunes, or, even worse, rock and/or roll. Bernstein, whose centenary this year has occasioned numerous performances of his always dramatic music, just couldn’t keep theater out of even his non-Broadway compositions. He even called his Mass “a theater piece.”

Directed by Jon Kretzu and conducted by Justin Smith, Stumptown Stages’ new production Saturday and Sunday at Marylhurst University’s St. Anne Chapel stars stalwart baritone Douglas Webster as the Celebrant (a role he pretty much owns) plus the terrific Julianne Johnson, Katie Harman and Broadway veteran Kirk Mouser, experienced local soloists, Marylhurst Choral Union, Women’s Chorale and Pacific Youth Choir. Co-created by Marylhurst University’s music department, it’s an example of the loss to Oregon arts caused by the school’s impending closure.

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