Thursday, March 29, 2012

Operatic epic comes to the silver screen

After introducing it piecemeal across two seasons, the Metropolitan Opera will bring Richard Wagner's monumental "The Ring of the Nibelung" to movie theaters in sequence in May.

Tickets go on sale Friday, March 30, to Wagner's four-opera saga of gods and gold. The Charlotte showings, according to the theater listing, will only be at Stonecrest near Ballantyne -- skipping the usual other option for the Met, Concord Mills.

The original high-definition relays, live from New York, were spread from October 2010 to last February. Obviously, that blocked the story's sweep. Now, Wagner lovers -- or any intrepid souls with a taste for monumental yarns -- can take in the whole "Ring" in a 10-day period.

The Met will preface the cycle with "Wagner's Dream," a documentary film about the creation of the Met's "Ring" -- which was an epic unto itself.

The staging, by Canadian director Robert LePage, is built around a 45-ton set consisting of giant metal planks manipulated by computer. As the four dramas unfold, it takes a myriad of forms -- sometimes becoming the screen for video projections of forests, mountain peaks and the final, flaming apocalypse.

The contraption also malfunctioned before the original broadcast of "The Valkyrie," delaying the start by about 45 minutes. But that won't be a problem at the re-broadcasts. Here's the schedule:

"Wagner's Dream": 6:30 p.m. May 7. Running time: 1 hours, 52 minutes.

"The Rhine Gold": 6:30 p.m. May 9. Running time: 168 minutes with no intermission.

"The Valkyrie": 6:30 p.m. May 14. Running time: 259 minutes including one intermission.

"Siegfried": 6:30 p.m. May 16. Running time: 258 minutes including one intermission.

"Twilight of the Gods": noon May 19. Running time: 287 minutes including one intermission. (Photo by Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera.)

You'll notice that the last three evenings have been condensed a little, so that there's just one intermission for showings that are four hours-plus. Be ready to sit!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Take off to Neverland with NCDT

If this year's invasion of Charlotte by political operatives or any other facets of modern-day reality get to be too much for you, N.C. Dance Theatre will offer you an antidote: a trip to Neverland.

NCDT will bring back Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's "Peter Pan" during its 2012-13 season, which it unveiled after last weekend's KnightSounds performance with the Charlotte Symphony and Opera Carolina. I'll publish the schedule after NCDT supplies dates and such. For the moment, here are some highlights:

  • NCDT will commission a new work by Jiri Bubenicek, the young Czech choreographer whose "Le Souffle de l'Esprit" -- "The Breath of the Spirit" -- was one of last year's highlights. If you saw it, you're sure to remember. In images drawn from Renaissance artworks, women gazed out from the backdrop. Beneath them, Bubenicek swept the dancers up in inventive, fluid movement propelled by music of Bach. In one section, nothing was visible except Pete Walker's hands, flexing in their own little pool of light.
  • The Golden Section," the Twyla Tharp showpiece was last season's whirlwind finale, will return to give the dancers -- and audience -- another workout.
  • "Innovative Works" will include a new work by NCDT's David Ingram, who leaves the company at the end of this season to rejoin his wife in Indiana, where she heads a dance school.
  • Bonnefoux's "Peter Pan" retells the beloved story in about 70 action-packed minutes, propelled by ebullient Rossini music. In 2004, when it premiered, NCDT's Jason Jacobs (photo by Christopher Record) was a natural for the title role. Since then, Jacobs has moved on. So Bonnefoux will have to pick a new dancer to wire up and send aloft.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Orchestra will give new range to KnightSounds

For the third season of its KnightSounds series, the Charlotte Symphony will not only broaden its musical scope but welcome a much-needed addition to the Knight Theater.

The KnightSounds concerts, aimed mainly at newcomers to classical music, will range next season from medieval chant to Mozart to John Lennon. One night will be devoted to the glitter of ballroom dancing. There even will be an orchestral work inspired by the electronic group Aphex Twin.

All the music will get a boost from the theater's installation of an acoustical shell -- a movable enclosure that surrounds the stage to help project the sound toward the audience. Blumenthal Performing Arts, which operates the Knight Theater, will buy a shell and install it in time for KnightSounds to open in September.

Next season's programs:

Sept. 28: "The Power of the Song," a tribute to melody as embodied in Gregorian chant and works by Mozart, John Lennon and others. Christopher Warren-Green conducts.

Jan. 25, 2013: "Ballroom!" Dancers from Metropolitan Ballroom help the orchestra spotlight the waltz, rumba, samba and more. Jacomo Rafael Bairos conducts.

Feb. 15: "Pop-Up Opera." The Oratorio Singers of Charlotte join the orchestra for a night of opera choruses. Translations of the words will be projected onto a screen, interspersed with other texts supplying background about the music or other tidbits. Scott Allen Jarrett conducts.

April 19: "American Music Masters and Pioneers." The orchestra plays Gershwin's "An American in Paris"; Aaron Copland's "El Salon Mexico"; John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine"; and Paul Dooley's "Point Blank," inspired by music of Aphex Twin. Bairos conducts.

The KnightSounds concerts aim for a more casual atmosphere than traditional concerts. Video or other extramusical components often figure in. Concertgoers mingle over hors d'oeuvres beforehand, and there sometimes are social activities afterward.

The concerts have been a box-office success. Musically, though, they've been dimmed by the lack of an acoustical shell surrounding the orchestra. Without one, some of the sound escapes offstage rather than reaching the audience. As a result, the orchestra's sound has less body and impact.

The installation of the acoustical shell "completes the originally intended design of the Knight," said Jonathan Martin, the orchestra's executive director, in a statement. The shell, he said, "will greatly enhance not only our audiences' experiences, but will ultimately lead to significantly more performances by the Charlotte Symphony in the Knight."

When the theater, which opened in 2009, was planned, the specifications called for a shell. But it was eliminated during cost-cutting before construction. That saved $600,000 to $700,000, planners said at the time.

That's still the price range, Blumenthal president Tom Gabbard said in an interview. Blumenthal, operator of both theaters, decided to buy the shell because the orchestra has committed to doing more concerts at the Knight, justifying the expenditure. Another justification: Shifting performances to the Knight from the Belk Theater will free up the Belk for uses that bring in more revenue, Gabbard said.

"We think everybody wins from this," Gabbard said. The wood-veneer shell will complement the Knight Theater's interior.

"We're prepared to fund it ourselves," Gabbard said. "But if we found a donor who was ready to help us, that would be even better."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

'Classical Idol' will spotlight performers' passions

Moving in where television leaves off, an array of Charlotte's musicians and dancers will compete Saturday in "Classical Idol," a combination concert-variety show-multimedia event benefiting the Charlotte Symphony.

The contestants will range from Charlotte Symphony players and N.C. Dance Theatre performers to ballroom dancers and a Celtic fiddler. They don't necessarily divide up the way you'd expect: The ballroom group Passion for Tango includes the orchestra's principal flutist, Elizabeth Landon. She puts on dancing shoes as a hobby.

Landon says her own passion for Argentine tango goes along with being a musician.

"It's all about listening, " Landon says. Because the tango is improvised on the spot, the partners listen to the music, take cues from each other, and go with what they feel.

"When I began dancing tango just over a year ago, I felt like I was learning to play a new instrument," Landon says. "It opened up a world of expression to me that does not include the flute -- for a change. It provides a new way for me to enjoy and express music. This excites and refreshes me as an artist."

In "Classical Idol," just as on the TV phenomenon that inspired it, judges will weigh in on the acts, and the viewers will vote. Video clips will tell more about the performers. The show, created by the Symphony Guild of Charlotte, also includes these contestants:

  • A Charlotte Symphony string sextet will play the zesty first movement of Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence." If they dig into it with the gusto they did last weekend during a chamber-music concert for the city's Tchaikovsky festival, they should make a big impression.
  • Dawn Pierce, who plays Olga in Opera Carolina's staging of "Eugene Onegin" this weekend, will sing opera and Broadway numbers.
  • Passion for Tango will perform to the strains of the Charlotte Strings, a quartet of Charlotte Symphony players.
  • Harpist Alexandra Katelyn Mullins, a member of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra and winner of the Symphony Guild's young-artist contest, will play a pair of solos -- one of them inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven."
  • Celtic fiddler Jamie Laval and youth-orchestra violinist Annika Bowers will lead Charlotte Symphony members in a fantasy on British folk melodies.
  • The five dancers of NCDT 2, a subsidiary of N.C. Dance Theatre, will perform to Mozart's "A Little Night Music" as performed by the Rhodora Winds Trio, an ensemble of Charlotte Symphony players.
  • Witness, a vocal group made up of members of the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte and others, will sing a gospel medley.

While the judges ponder their decision, the audience will listen to a percussion call-and-response by the Bucket Band from east Charlotte's Winterfield Elementary School. While the Winterfield kids won't be part of the competition, I have a hunch that they just might steal the show anyway.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Imagine yourself under the stars at Summer Pops

Since it practically feels like summer, go ahead and mark your calendar for one of Charlotte's favorite outdoor activities: the Charlotte Symphony's Summer Pops concerts.

Beginning the weekend of June 8, the orchestra will spend nearly a month playing under the stars in Symphony Park at SouthPark and other venues across the Charlotte area.

The annual ritual centers on the Sunday night concerts at SouthPark (photo by Jeff Cravotta). They'll take place weekly from June 10 through July 1, with the annual Independence Day concert rounding things off on July 3.

As part of its effort to get its finances in order, the orchestra will bring back the $10 ticket price for adults it inaugurated at SouthPark last year. Passes that cover all five concerts are $35. Children under 18 get in free.

The orchestra also travels to the towns surrounding Charlotte. The dates for those concerts:

June 8: Stumptown Park, Matthews.
June 22: Duke Energy Explorium, Huntersville.
June 28: Belle Johnston Park, Pineville.
June 29: Village Park, Kannapolis.
June 30: Bailey Road Park, Cornelius.

The concerts at those locations are typically free because of sponsorships from the various towns.

Albert-George Schram will return as the conductor for most nights. The orchestra's associate conductor, Jacomo Rafael Bairos, will step in at SouthPark on June 17. The orchestra will announce the musical selections later. When it does, I'll pass them along.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Designer will take us on a walk in the parks

As we wait for the long-discussed uptown park to actually get built, we at least can enjoy parks secondhand during a presentation Thursday, March 22, by a Charlotte native who has designed them from New York to California to China.

Walter Hood, born in Charlotte in 1958, is a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. He'll come to the Mint Museum Uptown for a talk titled "Charlotte's Web: Enmeshed Landscapes."

Hood, who also heads his own design firm in Oakland, Calif., thinks parks should be places where people can come in and discover their own ways to enjoy themselves.

"Think about the history of civilization," Hood says in a profile in Fast Company. "The agora, the piazza, the theater, the street, the Colosseum -- we define ourselves in the public realm. And in America, our public realm is sad. We have to be told how to act. Sit here, look there, understand this, don't walk here, don't do that. It's crazy."

Hood's designs range from the grounds of a high-profile San Francisco institution, the De Young Museum, to a park in what was originally a traffic island underneath a freeway in Oakland. In the latter, Splashpad Park, (photo above from UC Berkeley) what previously was useless territory is now home to open-air markets and other activities.

Activity, rather than formality, is what he's after.

"I would rather design for a place that gets worn and messy," Hood says, "than try to keep something in a pristine state that doesn't seem lived in."

In his talk here, "Charlotte's Web," maybe Hood will weave that together with what he sees now in his hometown.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Sleeping Beauty" travels down memory lane

N.C. Dance Theatre brought in reinforcements for its first-ever staging of "Sleeping Beauty," and the guests may bring back memories for dance lovers who have been here a while.

Until someone develops on-the-spot cloning, a company of 16 dancers needs help fleshing out a 2 1/2 hour story ballet. When NCDT staged "Romeo and Juliet" in 2008, its executive director -- Doug Singleton, who isn't a dancer at all -- had to pitch in by doing a walk-on as Romeo's father. A dancer who was injured played Romeo's mother, also a walk-on. During the ball scene in NCDT's "Cinderella," some of the revelers' dance partners were life-sized puppets -- which may sound odd, but suited the fantasy atmosphere.

NCDT sticks with flesh-and-blood performers for "Sleeping Beauty." Members of the NCDT 2 pre-professional company and a phalanx of students from NCDT's school play fairies, storybook characters and royal courtiers. And the company has reached even further.

One of NCDT's leading women for more than a decade, Kati Hanlon Mayo, is back from retirement playing the Queen (photo by T. Ortega Gaines). Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's choreography doesn't call for Mayo to dance again -- not even to kick up her heels at the climactic wedding celebration -- so her fans will have to be satisfied by seeing the broad smile Mayo displayed in the "Nutcracker" and other ballets.

At Mayo's side is Hardin Minor as the King. Since the veteran mime usually performs in deep disguise -- as Marilyn Monroe, for instance -- many people who see him in action probably don't have much idea what he actually looks like. They still may not after "Sleeping Beauty," where his 17th-century finery includes a capacious, flowing wig that almost eclipses his face. But that's him in there amid the tresses.

The King's loyal subjects include two men who performed in NCDT alongside Mayo around a decade ago: Lance Hardin and Benjamin Kubie. Hardin now teaches in Colorado, NCDT says. Kubie still lives in Charlotte and sometimes teaches at the Charlotte School of Ballet. During "Sleeping Beauty," they're among the guests in the scenes at the royal court. Unlike Mayo and Minor, they do go into action in the finale's wedding dance. It must bring back memories for them.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Goosebumps at Winthrop University

It took seven years, but Winthrop University finally finished its fund drive for preserving one of the area's cultural gems.

A $50,000 gift from an anonymous donor tops off the $400,000 renovation fund for the Byrnes Auditorium pipe organ, whose sumptuous tones supply some of the best sonic thrills in the Piedmont. The instrument, installed in 1955, is the work of a venerable name in American organ-building: the Boston firm Aeolian-Skinner, which was then in its heyday.

It's not a minute to soon for the recent donor to swing into action: After launching the fund drive in 2005, Winthrop moved into action without waiting for the money to come in.

The instrument was carted off to Quebec in 2007 for the restoration. )The firm that did the work, the Letourneau Organ Company, around the same time built an instrument for St. John's Baptist Church in Charlotte.) After two years of refurbishing, the instrument made its second debut in 2009, when Winthrop put on a festival featuring 13 organists associated with the school over the decades. I still remember the goosebumps I got when Rock Hill native Robert Ridgell, now music director for a cathedral in St. Paul, Minn., put the pedal(s) to the metal.

In Charlotte, Myers Park Baptist Church and Covenant Presbyterian Church both have Aeolian-Skinners of about the same vintage. For all their richness, though, I think Byrnes has them beat. While I've never been able to ask an acoustician about it, my hunch is that the difference may be the buildings more than the instruments. At Byrnes, the pipes speak straight out into the auditorium; at the churches, the organs primarily aim crossways at the altars, so the sound has to reflect around before it goes out to the congregations. I suspect that takes away some of the punch.

Winthrop says there are no more concerts scheduled for the Byrnes instrument this spring. But it usually goes into action a time or two each summer, when the American Guild of Organists puts on its annual Sunday-night concert series. If it shows up on this year's schedule, I'll sound the alarm.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The baby at the ballet

Here's one view of how big a deal the opening of N.C. Dance Theatre's "Sleeping Beauty" was: A baby was so excited to be there that it squeaked and cooed the whole night.

Unfortunately, I'm not talking about the infant princess who's christened in the ballet's opening scene. This was a real one in the Knight Theater on Thursday. And it was no sleeping beauty.

Even in the last scenes of Tchaikovsky's ballet, when you'd think any child would've long since passed out, the baby's prattle broke in on pauses in the music. There may actually have been more of it as the evening went on. So much for dramatic silences.

The people behind me noticed it, too. But there was no one we could nudge or glare at in hopes of quieting the baby down. The racket was coming from another part of the theater. Noises like that travel farther than negligent moms and dads may realize -- especially when everyone else in a theater is quiet.

Exposing youngsters to the arts while they're curious and impressionable is all for the good, when it's cannily done. But let's be realistic. A child who's still at the babbling stage won't get anything from "Sleeping Beauty," will it? All it does is disturb people who are trying to enjoy the performance.

I guess I should've complained to an usher during intermission. Being an optimist, I thought surely that an adult in charge of the child would take it home. Silly me. But I can't help wondering: Why didn't the Knight Theater's ushers pick up on it and clear the baby out?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Blue Cross grant will help take kids to parks

Using the Arts & Science Council's power2give website, a $15,000 challenge grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield N.C. will help raise money for educational programs in Mecklenburg parks.

Children from low-income households would attend Adventure Camp, young people would learn about growing food, and kids would grow closer to the environment through the four projects that need funding. Mecklenburg's Park and Recreation department would run the projects.

"We want to give children in Mecklenburg County the opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle," Blue Cross executive Ellison Clary said in a statement.

The ASC, regrouping after the pounding it took from the recession, is trying to expand its influence beyond its traditional annual fund drive. That could include working with Park and Rec, ASC president Scott Provancher said recently. For example, the ASC might someday arrange cultural events in parks -- such as a Charlotte Symphony concert at the Romare Bearden Park in the works uptown.

But that would be in the future. For the moment, the focus is on Blue Cross' matching grant.

The power2give site, launched by the ASC last summer, enables nonprofits to post projects that need funding. Viewers can scan the proposals and donate to those they find appealing. For the parks projects, donations will go from the ASC's power2give through Partners for Parks, a Charlotte nonprofit, and finally to Park and Rec.

The first project eligible for the Blue Cross challenge grant is the Adventure Camp Scholarship Fund. It provides "unique ways for youth from low-income households to become engaged with the outdoors," the ASC's announcement says. The funding goal is $6,350.

That project will be on power2give for 90 days or until it meets its goal. Then three more projects will have their turns:
  • The greenhouse at McDowell Nature Center would be set up so young people can grow food.
  • After-School Outdoor Clubs would provide activities for 120 young people to learn about their connection to the natural world.
  • Environmental Education Scholarship Fund would enable 330 at-risk elementary and middle-school students to have "hands-on environmental education experiences," the ASC's announcement says.

"Many park and recreation programs have been impacted by cuts in government funding," Provancher said in a statement. The power2give site can "connect donors to these projects and projects and bring them to life."

Including a $100,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, power2 give has raised more than $250,000 for more than 100 projects. The power2give site says the ASC takes about 12 cents per dollar to cover administrative costs. Partners for Parks won't take a cut for the Park and Rec donations, the ASC says.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Take WDAV with you anywhere

WDAV can go with you wherever your smartphone does.

The Davidson classical station has created Android, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad apps that make live streams and on-demand programming available anywhere. The apps are free, and they're available from the Android Market and the iTunes App Store.

The apps hook listeners up with live streams of WDAV's main channel -- the one that goes out over the air on 89.9 FM -- or its Spanish-English "Concierto" programming. There's also a library of WDAV's original programs, such as "Carolina Live" and "Biscuits and Bach." Listeners can bookmark programs for later listening, share bookmarks via email, or turn WDAV's music into a wake-up call.

"I hope our loyal listeners will soon download, rank and comment on their listening experience with the new apps," WDAV's Rachel Stewart said in a statement, "and let us know their suggestions for new features!"

Friday, March 2, 2012

Winterfield kids demonstrate music's power

When budding string players from Winterfield Elementary in east Charlotte performed alongside the Charlotte Symphony last year, conductor Christopher Warren-Green put their efforts in perspective.

"This isn't just about the future of music, but -- dare I say it -- the future of humanity," Warren-Green told the audience. Warren-Green knew what he was talking about: He has worked in Brazil with a program that lets children who have few opportunities in life study music and play in an orchestra. He says it has changed lives.

Back in Charlotte, Winterfield's young musicians will perform again Tuesday at their school. Since 2007, when classroom teacher Courtney Hollenbeck launched the program on her own, the Charlotte Symphony has stepped in to help. Now, more than 60 students study violin, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet and percussion.

Members of the orchestra teach, as does Rosemary Furniss (photo by Todd Sumlin), who's an accomplished violinist apart from being married to Warren-Green. eachers at Winterfield say that music has helped lift the students' attitude, attedance and grades.

Tuesday's concert is part of "Connecting Families Through Music," a program that's mainly aimed at Winterfield's students, parents and teachers. But others are welcome to come, too, and see what the children can do. The concert is free and starts at 6 p.m. at the school, 3100 Summerfield Place in east Charlotte.