Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mapping out a future for culture in Charlotte

How do you see the future of the arts in Charlotte? The Arts & Science Council wants to know.

The ASC, a longtime producer of cultural plans, is working on a new one. It will lay out "a refreshed cultural vision for Charlotte-Mecklenburg," the ASC says. After holding seven sessions to collect the opinions of arts, business and civic leaders, the ASC has set up a website to let the public chime in.

The site -- www.CMCulturalPlan.org -- will be online through Dec. 31.

"We want to find new ways to make Charlotte-Mecklenburg's cultural opportunities more valued and vital to those who live and visit here," ASC president Scott Provancher said in a statement.

This will be the fourth cultural action plan -- as the ASC calls them -- since 1975, ASC vice president Robert Bush says. The ASC sees it as a complement to the cultural facilities plan that led to the building of the Levine Center for the Arts on South Tryon Street. This time, the ASC is looking for ways to:

  • encourage residents and visitors to take part in more cultural activities.
  • "nurture the totality of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's cultural community."
  • enrich neighborhoods across the county.
  • promote opportunities for lifelong learning.
In February, the ASC will hold town-hall meetings in Charlotte, Matthews and Cornelius to gather further points of view. The ASC hopes to complete its plans and recommendations by May, ASC vice president Robert Bush said.

While the ASC doesn't frame the project this way, there's no doubt that recession-hit Charlotte needs new ways to nurture its arts community.

The ASC's fundraising plummeted in the downturn. Cultural groups were forced into severe belt-tightening. N.C. Dance Theatre, for instance, laments that dancers have been leaving town for cities that offer more weeks of work. But even before the crisis, the arts community was showing strain.

The Charlotte Symphony's financial troubles began nearly a decade ago. Money woes put Charlotte Repertory Theatre out of business. Moving Poets Theatre of Dance, rather than land in that kind of trouble, shut down in the face of tough fundraising.

Charlotte and its vaunted can-do spirit have their work cut out.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Never seen an opera? Now's the time

Even though you're reading an arts blog at the moment, you may not have sampled every art form that's out there. So: If you've never seen an opera -- or never seen one presented by Opera Carolina -- here's your chance to try it. For free.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation essentially has bought up a performance of one the all-time favorites -- Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" -- and let Opera Carolina give away the seats.

So 1,850 tickets to the Jan. 28 performance will be up for grabs. Anyone who has never attended an Opera Carolina performance is eligible to sign up online beginning Dec. 5. The company will give out the tickets -- a maximum of two per entry -- on a first-come, first served basis.

"Seeing 'Madama Butterfly' is a wonderful reminder of how the arts can enrich our lives," Knight Foundation executive Dennis Scholl said in a statement. "We hope first-time operagoers in Charlotte will take us up on our offer of a free seat and get a taste of all the opera has to offer." The foundation was established by former owners of the Charlotte Observer and other newspapers.

To sign up, go to www.win.operacarolina.org beginning Dec. 5. To keep everybody honest and make sure that the free tickets served their intended purpose, Opera Carolina will check names against its database.

Newcomers to opera won't be the only people to have an eye-opening experience. This "Butterfly" will have a colorful new look, thanks to sets and costumes by Jun Kaneko, a Japanese artist with works in the Mint Museum's collection. His "Butterfly" designs premiered at Nebraska's Opera Omaha in 2006.

By the way, no operagoers will be harmed in the making of this giveaway. The Jan. 28 performance, on a Saturday, is an extra that Opera Carolina added to take advantage of the popularity of "Madama Butterfly." So no one has to be bumped.

Friday, November 25, 2011

'Rodelinda' boasts more than Fleming

Renee Fleming is the main box-office draw in "Rodelinda," which is the next of the Metropolitan Opera's movie-theater showings. But if you'll let me look back at when I saw Handel's four-hour feast of arias during its first Met run, I'll point out a couple of other things to be on alert for besides the prima donna.

Like the Dec. 3 showing of "Rodelinda" -- a drama centering on a queen of Lombardy whose husband is thought to have been killed in war -- the 2004 performances also featured Stephanie Blythe in the other female role, a woman who schemes against the heroine but eventually changes her ways. For veteran opera buffs, Blythe's red-blooded singing may bring back memories of Marilyn Horne, who was famed for dispatching Handel's and Rossini's acrobatics with aplomb.

When the vocal line plummets, the very sound of Blythe's voice harks back to Horne's walloping impact. In Handel's lyrical spots, Blythe has a warmth and poise that, for my money, outdo even Horne. But even if Horne isn't your frame of reference, Blythe is a force to be reckoned with.

The second notable item: the set. As that 2004 performance unfolded, I realized that I had never seen a set like this one. The first scene took place in the interior of an Italian villa. It was a realistic-style set, nothing unusual. Then came the surprise. For the next scene, the entire set -- the whole darn thing, filling the enormous Met stage -- moved to the left, bringing the villa's courtyard into view. Later, everything moved still further left, revealing the stable across the courtyard.

How's that for a home tour? The viewers stay put, and the house moves. It's isn't a flashy or high-tech effect, but the very simplicity makes it powerful. And it's a reminder that the Met has one of the largest, best-equipped stages in the world. You won't see the likes of this in Charlotte.

The "Rodelinda" showing will start at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at the usual two Charlotte-area theaters: the Stonecrest 22 near Ballantyne and the Concord Mills 24.

Monday, November 21, 2011

'Mummies' liven up Discovery Place

It looks like Discovery Place has a live one with "Mummies of the World." The galleries were full when I took some out-of-town company to see it over the weekend. To judge from the attendance figures, that was no fluke.

More than 11,000 people visited show through Nov. 20 -- in other words, the show's first eight days -- according to Discovery Place. Including advance sales, the ticket total is 28,000.

Over the past few decades, Egyptians laid out in swanky sarcophagi have gotten most of the publicity. So the up-close-and-personal view of the dearly departed that we get from other cultures is all the more dramatic.

Even before coming within range of the artistic touch that gives the Tattoed Woman her nickname, seeing her upright position is startling enough. To me, she's even more eerie because her tilted head and flowing tresses hark back to another woman known for her artistic statements: Note the photo of Martha Argerich, the charismatic Argentine pianist, on the cover of her first LP.

If you go, here's a tip: Discovery Place says the most strategic time to visit is on school-day afternoons, beginning about 2 p.m. The daily busloads of students are usually out by then, and the galleries are less crowded than on weekends.

If voting with my feet counts as a testimony: I'm expecting to pay a return visit in a couple of weeks. I have another houseguest on the way, and this one is a dentist. He should have some interesting perspectives on the ancient teeth.

Tattooed Woman photo: T. Ortega Gaines.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bearden billboard attracts New York attention

It may not supply as much of a box-office boost as a rave review in the New York Times. But the Mint Museum Uptown's Romare Bearden show landed a spot in the Times' business section, and from the vantage point of a Charlotte cultural group, that still qualifies as big-city attention.

It was the advertising campaign devised by the Charlotte firm of BooneOakley that did the trick. The story's online version is headed by a photo of a Bearden double-image: In front of a billboard emblazoned with a Bearden artwork depicting three musicians, a flesh-and-blood trio is playing away.

It was an eye-catcher that BooneOakley and the Mint put into action near Bank of American Stadium on the day of a Panthers game.

"Art ... sometimes goes unnoticed," BooneOakley's David Oakley told the Times. "But we're trying to make it more part of the culture, and more three-dimensional and alive."

The billboard still comes alive on a BooneOakley video:

Bearden Outdoor LIVE from BooneOakley on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You and Warren-Green, face to face

Did you ever wonder what an orchestral conductor and his exertions look like from the players’ vantage point? Here’s your chance to find out.

The Charlotte Symphony will let listeners this week sit in a new location: onstage.

The Bach and Beethoven works on the agenda don’t demand a stageful of players. So the orchestra will sell tickets to seats behind the orchestra – the ones the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte used in last week’s concerts.

If you listen from there, the experience is more "visceral," executive director Jonathan Martin said. He has tried it.

"What you’re going to hear is a great deal of immediacy and a lot of volume," Martin said. On the other hand, he added, the sound won’t be as "blended" as what the audience out in the auditorium hears.

The orchestra’s music director, Christopher Warren-Green, has wanted to bring listeners onstage "for a while," Martin said. It's part of the effort to "make the orchestra more accessible and more connected with audiences," Martin said. "We hope it will give people a new appreciation for our musicians and what their experience is."

Banking on the popularity of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the orchestra will perform the program three nights – adding Thursday, Nov. 17, to the usual Friday-Saturday pair. Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 are also in store.

Some concert halls have built-in seats behind the orchestra. The Belk Theater doesn’t. So the orchestra had to make special arrangements for ushering the listeners onstage – and even had to get the fire department’s OK.

Putting listeners onstage isn't feasible at every concert, Martin said. But the orchestra's leaders are looking for more opportunities this season.

“We’ll learn from this first weekend,” Martin said. “I think we’re going to want to do this as much as we can.”

The orchestra will sell 60-70 tickets for stage seats. The price: $26.50. They're available only from the Charlotte Symphony box office, 704-972-2000. Sales will cut off at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Symphony honors longtime booster Bernstein

The Charlotte Symphony paid tribute Friday night to one of its most faithful backers: Mark Bernstein, who has been a board member, donor and concertgoer for half a century.

Before Friday night's all-Mozart program at the Belk Theater, Bernstein received the orchestra's Sally Ann Hall Spirit of the Symphony Award. The award, presented each year, memorializes another longtime supporter of the orchestra.

Presenting the award, executive director Jonathan Martin noted that when Bernstein was on the orchestra's board of directors int he 1980s, he was drawn in to the point of serving on the board of the nationwide association now known as the League of American Orchestras. Bernstein put in a year as the group's president.

Bernstein has played an array of other roles in the city's arts community. Two decades ago, he served with the groups that planned and raised money for the building of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. More recently, he worked for the building of what is now the Levine Center for the Arts on South Tryon Street.

Besides being the recipient of numerous community awards, Bernstein was honored a few months ago by his own family. As a birthday present, they sponsored in his name a new ballet that was performed by N.C. Dance Theatre.

Accepting the Hall award, Bernstein said he had received more from working with the orchestra than he gave. He urged the people in the audience to pitch in with the orchestra, too.

"Support it," Bernstein said. "Do what you can for it. Take care of it. It's one of our most important assets."

Bernstein said

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mint celebrates its home state's art

The Mint Museum is showcasing one of its specialties in a show that will settle into the Mint's Randolph Road branch for a year.

"A Thriving Tradition: 75 years of Collecting North Carolina Pottery" will run from Saturday, Nov. 12, through Jan. 5, 2013. The show, part of the Mint's 75th-anniversary celebration, spotlights 75 artists who have molded the state's rich pottery tradition.

The 100-plus works include a Ben Owen vase (at right) that was given to the museum the year after the former U.S. Mint began its new incarnation in 1936.

"The exhibition pays tribute to the many collectors, past and present, whose passion, connoisseurship and generosity have enabled The Mint Museum to develop the most comprehensive collection of North Carolina pottery in the county," the museum's decorative-arts curator, Brian Gallagher, said via e-mail.

The show features N.C.'s homegrown traditions as well as works embodying influences from across the world. A face jug by Burlon Craig, a longtime Catawba Valley potter who died in 2002, represents traditional methods whose results became popular with tourists and collectors alike.

That Ben Owen item from the Mint's first year draws on the shape of Chinese pottery of the Han Dynasty. And a large vessel by Erich Knoche, a young potter working in Asheville, calls on techniques he learned by watching a potter in Thailand.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Roths put their money where their music was

When most people retire, their co-workers or employers give them a going-away present, right? The Charlotte Symphony's Wolfgang and Bette Roth have turned the practice around.

The Roths, who retired last summer after more than 30 years with the orchestra, have made "a substantial gift" to its endowment fund, the orchestra announced today. As a thank-you, the orchestra has established the Wolfgang Roth Principal Second Violin Chair.

The Roths made the donation "out of gratitude," Wolfgang Roth said in a statement.

"Reflecting on the past 40 years, I realize how blessed I have been by the CSO, the city of Charlotte and even this country," German-born Roth said.

With the Roths' donation as a jump-start, the orchestra's goal is to raise money to endow the chair. That will call for a total of about $1 million, executive director Jonathan Martin said. Investing that would generate enough money to cover the player's salary.

The Roths' donation "exemplifies the dedication, character and the deep love of this institution that they brought to work every day," Martin said in a statement.

Wolfgang Roth, who joined the orchestra in 1971, signed its first full-time contract when it began to go professional. He became its principal second violinist in 1976. Bette began as a part-time member of the orchestra, then became its first full-time harpist in 1983.

Though the orchestra's announcement didn't point it out, honoring Bette with the harp chair wasn't an option. It's already named for Billy Graham.

Photo: Todd Sumlin

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Charlotte-born sculptor creates Reagan No. 3

The Charlotte sculptor who brought Captain Jack to Central Piedmont Community College has produced his third likeness of the country's 40th president.

Chas Fagan's latest monument to Ronald Reagan stands at Washington's Reagan National Airport, where it was unveiled Tuesday by former N.C. Sen. Elizabeth Dole and other Washington figures. Dole, who served as transporation secretary in Reagan's cabinet, led the fund drive that brought in $900,000 to pay for the sculpture.

Fagan's 9-foot-tall Reagan appears to be in motion, taking a step across the monument's setting outside the airport's Terminal A. In Fagan's first Reagan likeness, a 7-foot bronze across the Potomac inside the Capitol, the president stands with his left hand resting on a pedestal. All the way across the Atlantic, the artist's 10-foot Reagan has stood in a
park near the U.S. Embassy in London since last July 4.

Photo: AP