portland sacred harp

ArtsWatch Weekly: Outsmarting the Grinch

Stuck in an impeachment funk? Liberace, Liza, shape-note singing, and a whole lot of holiday shows to reset the mood.


IT’S BEEN SOMETHING OF A HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS WEEK across America. But if I can draw your attention away from the impeachment proceedings for a few minutes, let me gently remind you that it’s also a season of peace on Earth, good will toward men, and more holiday shows than you can shake a peppermint stick at. Ah, the traditions. Ah, the welcome rituals. Ah, the familiar faces of … Liberace and Liza Minnelli?

That’s the lively and somewhat tongue-in-cheek holiday duo arriving at CoHo Theatre for a limited run of A Very Liberace & Liza Christmas, a tribute cabaret starring the casino-lounge-smooth David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris. “The chemistry between the imagined pair gives off the sparks of a well-programmed Vegas act that’s being prepared for a television special,” Christa McIntyre wrote in an enthusiastic review for ArtsWatch three years ago. “Your foot will be tapping, and don’t expect the rest of you to remain idle in your seat.” The show gets four performances Dec. 26-29, and we’re giving you early warning in case it sells out, which it just might. Ring-a-ling ding. It’s a sequin thing.

David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris, bringing a bit of Liberace/Liza glamour to the holiday stage at CoHo Theatre. Photo: Mike Marchlewski 

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Singing across the centuries

Excoriated musical Americana lives on with Portland Sacred Harp’s recent shape note singing convention

By DANIEL HEILA

I was running a bit late for my visit to Portland Sacred Harp’s Pacific Northwest Convention at the Laurelhurst Club. The parking options were few on Ankeny Street down along the bottom of Laurelhurst Park, but I found a tight space about a quarter mile up the street from the club and squeezed in. Lucky me, since the stroll down to the event was alongside giant evergreens, quiet pathways, and distant green swards where folks walked or jogged, caught up in the serenity of the place. I admit, I was timid about attending the event. I am a bit of an introvert, and, although I like to sing, I was not sure I wanted to put myself out there in a crowd of strangers.

I shouldn’t have worried. That crowd on this October day was nowhere to be found. Instead, inside the woody confines of the lodge ballroom (complete with crackling fireplace blaze) I found a familiar family of folkways enthusiasts. Someone’s grandpa greeted me at the doorway with a smile (there was a definite edge of interest at my unfamiliar face) and thrust a loaner copy of The Sacred Harp songbook into my empty hands. I filled out a name tag with the dorky tagline “Talk to me about Sacred Harp!”, slapped it on my lapel and headed into my foray.

The singers were on a break and milling about saying hello to friends and being introduced to new faces. Volunteers were going about their duties, one of which was preparing the long banquet table for the potluck lunch to come at noon. The comforting smells issuing from the kitchen piqued my appetite, and I sheepishly considered being late to my next appointment. A glance around the room revealed a demographic that I have considerable experience with via the New England contradancing scene: mostly 30-60ish men and women, a handful of seniors and people of color, a few brave teens and twenty‑somethings, and a marauding flock of tweens, tots, and rug rats of various sizes. I started to relax.

Portland Sacred Harp performed shape note music in October. Photo by Daniel Heila.
Portland Sacred Harp performed shape note music in October.

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MusicWatch Weekly: nevertheless, she persisted

This week's Oregon concerts include music by and about women, Italian opera, piano powerhouses, and more

“Born on a day God was drunk,” Maria inhabits a Buenos Aires demimonde populated by ghosts, criminals, marionettes, pasta makers, psychoanalysts and and other shady characters. She’s seduced by tango, becomes a prostitute, is murdered — and then things get really weird.

Eugene Opera performs ‘Maria de Buenos Aires’ this weekend.

That’s just act one of Astor Piazzolla’s surreal, melancholy Maria de Buenos Aires, which Eugene Opera brings to the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater this Friday and Sunday. The great 20th century Argentine composer’s 1968 “tango operita” been performed often all over the world, including by Portland’s Third Angle. Set mostly in a shadowy Argentine night club, this production, this production features Colombian-born soprano Catalina Cuervo, who claims to have starred in the title role (with multiple opera companies) more often than anyone else, and also features experienced American baritone Paul La Rosa, Argentine born actor Milton Loayza, renowned Argentine tango dancers Fernanda Ghi and Guillermo Merlo, and a quartet of local dancers.

Piazzolla’s tango-tinged music is as dramatically seductive as poet/lyricist/editor/musician Horacio Ferrer’s story is strange. In act two, Maria goes to hell — yet still she persisted. Among other adventures, she bears a child who may be herself, maybe a metaphorical parallel to Eugene Opera’s own recent financial collapse and rebirth? It’s good to have both the company, contemporary opera, and, on her 50th birthday, Maria de Buenos Aires back from the brink.
On Monday at Portland’s Old Church, FearNoMusic closes its season devoted to music that responds to today’s troubled times with “Hope In The Dark,” a concert that, like the Rebecca Solnit book it draws its title from, offers more than just sonic despair. Quartets by Kevin Puts (Dark Vigil) and Arvo Part (Da Pacem Domine) were composed in the wake of the 1999 Columbine school slaughter and 2004 Madrid train bombings, respectively. Chinary Ung’s intense cello solo Khse Buon and Eve Beglarian’s haunting I will not be sad in this world arose from genocides that claimed the composers’ ancestors or family — the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and Turkey’s massacres of Armenians. But hope as well as haunt emerge in Chen Yi’s Night Thoughts, inspired by her youth in China’s notorious Cultural Revolution-era labor camps, and in the title of Georges Lifermann’s “Ça ira mieux demain” (Tomorrow Will Be Better). The French-born composer, whose parents died in Auschwitz, survived World War II German-imposed childhood labor duty, became a popular songwriter in France, and lived happily for decades in Corvallis until his death in March at age 95.

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