Month: February 2014

Brazilian Dream Team — If it’s Musicals You Want, Möeller-Botelho You’ll Get! (Part Two)

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Claudio Botelho, interviewer Marilia Gabriela & Charles Moeller (atelevisao.com)
Claudio Botelho, TV interviewer Marilia Gabriela & Charles Moeller (atelevisao.com)

This is Your Life!

Picking up where we left off, we continue with the biographies of the Brazilian “Kings of Musical Theater.” Today’s subject is the versatile actor, singer, musical director, adapter, composer, translator and lyricist Claudio Botelho, one of the major names of musical theater in Brazil.

Born in the town of Araguari (in the state of Minas Gerais), Claudio Botelho Pacheco was raised in Uberlândia, a principal city. “One of the first words I remember uttering was ‘radio.’ I loved listening to the radio, and I used to go crazy when a band would go down my street. I was a child of the 1970s, in the countryside of Minas Gerais, where the local bands would pass right under my window!

“Music played a large part in my upbringing,” he recalled. “My grandmother Raúla, my mother’s mother, was a violinist who worked in movie theaters when live music was the norm. My grandfather Nenê, my father’s father, used to play the accordion. No doubt their genes had an effect on my life.”

What about the theater? “Theater? I didn’t know such a thing existed. There weren’t many theaters in Uberlândia in the decade of the 70s. The biggest cultural event in the city was the annual show put on by pop star Roberto Carlos, who appeared at a soccer stadium directly across from our house.”

It was during these formative times that Claudio came into contact with the song output of many of the era’s top singing sensations, Chico Buarque chief among them.

“Our household was filled with the mellow sounds of Silvio Caldas and Nelson Gonçalves, who were my family’s favorites. When I first heard Chico, whose voice was nothing extraordinary, I went into shock. But little by little, as I listened closely, again and again, to his lyrics, what I initially thought was outlandish turned out to be a revelation: Chico Buarque quickly became my idol.”

In 1978 — coincidentally, the same year that Chico’s musical play, Ópera do Malandro (“The Street Hustler’s Opera”), made its premiere there — Claudio’s family uprooted itself and moved to Rio de Janeiro.

“My mother was invited to be the coordinator of the Sacré Coeur de Marie School in Rio … We went to live in Copacabana. That’s where the piano first entered my life: my aunt Maria Helena, who already lived there and would become our guardian angel, had a piano in her house. Whenever I used to visit her, I would go directly to her piano. And that’s how I learned to play, by myself.

“In 1980, I changed schools from Sacré Coeur to São Vicente de Paulo, where there was a strong artistic movement and more progressive air; that’s when I experienced a rebirth. It was there that I discovered a wider world than I had known in Uberlândia, that I began to understand and appreciate Rio de Janeiro which opened my eyes to a new life.”

Actor, singer, musical director Claudio Botelho (nabroadway.com)
Actor, singer, musical director Claudio Botelho (nabroadway.com)

That “new life” Claudio hinted at would comprise a career in musical theater. First, he began by studying theater at UNI-RIO, then letters at the State University of Rio (UERJ), graduating as an actor at the Art House of Laranjeiras (Casa das Artes de Laranjeiras – CAL).

After several youthful ventures, including an early adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s play, The Paul Street Boys, he almost gave up his dream of ever being on the stage. In a burst of “arrogance and audacity,” as he politely phrased it, Claudio went straight to the theater where actor, writer and director Ary Fontoura was appearing and, as Lady Luck would have it, convinced Fontoura to hear him out as Claudio presented his own musical version of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

“Ary must have thought it the oddest thing in the world … He told me (with all the patience of Job) that my version of Oliver would be difficult to mount, with more than 30 characters on stage, that he couldn’t possibly do it. However, he was about to put on a play that he was writing with a friend, in which he’d thought about inserting some music. Would I be interested?”

Indeed, he was. Not only did Claudio compose the score to Moça, Nunca Mais (“No More a Woman”), he also rewrote the song lyrics (“I thought the originals were awful”). After several more such endeavors, and many “ups and downs” in the musical-theater market, he started to rub elbows with other well-known theater personalities, to include the late Sergio Britto, Miguel Falabella and Ítalo Rossi.

During rehearsals for Rossi’s 1989 mounting of Tadeusz Rózewicz’s White Wedding (“Casamento Branco”), in the audience Claudio noticed “a young man with golden curls who answered to the name of Charles Möeller. He played Miguel Falabella’s son in a TV soap opera and was attending his friend’s rehearsal that day — and that’s how it all started.”

(To be continued…)

(The above information was compiled from the Möeller-Botelho Website, along with various excerpts from Tania Carvalho’s book, Os Reis dos Musicais, published by Imprensa Oficial, São Paulo, 2009. English translation by Josmar Lopes, with grateful acknowledgement to Charles Möeller and Claudio Botelho)

Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes

‘Die Fledermaus,’ ‘Eugene Onegin’ and ‘L’Elisir d’Amore’ — Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight (Part Two): A Last-Minute Cast Change

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Erwin Schrott & Anna Netrebko in L'Elisir d'Amore (Ken Howard/Met Opera)
Erwin Schrott & Anna Netrebko in L’Elisir d’Amore (Ken Howard/Met Opera)

Saturday Substitutions at the Met

There was a last-minute change in the cast of the January 25, 2014 Met Opera broadcast of Donizetti’s comic opera, L’Elisir d’Amore (“The Elixir of Love”), already reviewed by us when this colorful Bartlett Sher production was still new (see the following link: https://josmarlopes.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/lelisir-damore-the-elixir-of-love-old-wine-in-a-new-bottle/).

Instead of the previously announced Ramón Vargas in the key role of Nemorino — the not-too-bright, not-too-dumb lovesick hayseed — we had one of those all-too-frequent occurrences where a total unknown gets his or her million-to-one shot at stardom. For many artists, this could be the start of something big, that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that propels a heretofore obscure talent into the world spotlight of potential fame and fortune.

Wow, after a buildup like that, who could blame a singer if the mounting expectations and added pressure never manifest themselves into something extraordinary. There have been dozens if not hundreds (or more) examples of such situations whereby the substitute in question floundered before the footlights, or failed to make a lasting impression of any worth — more so than the usual rags to riches story, I assure you!

One such event took place at the Metropolitan Opera in 2006, with the last-minute scheduling of Swedish-born soprano Erika Sunnegårdh as Leonore, in the Saturday broadcast of Beethoven’s Fidelio. The star of that show, Karita Mattila, suddenly took ill, while the ensuing media hype surrounding Erika’s debut was simply astounding. You’d have thought such a thing had never occurred before in the annals of Met performance history.

As it happened, I heard this particular Fidelio matinee outing on the radio and, while Erika’s efforts were highly praised and had indeed saved the performance from being cancelled, most likely debut nerves hindered her innate abilities from completely shining through. That was not just my impression, but that of several others in the press as well.

Since then, Erika has gone on to a successful career abroad, mostly in Europe and elsewhere. She even pinched hit for an indisposed Andrea Gruber in the Met’s luxurious Zeffirelli presentation of Puccini’s Turandot back in 2007. So to say that her surprise appearances have not led to further operatic assignments is a gross exaggeration where this soprano is concerned. Could history repeat itself?

Tenor Salvatore Cordella saves the day
Tenor Salvatore Cordella saves the day

Well, about that alleged Elixir of Love: the fellow who stepped into Vargas’ shoes was an Italian tenor named Salvatore Cordella. I must say that the flu season this winter has really hit the artistic side of things hard! I was therefore surprised — as I’m sure many of my fellow listeners were, too — that a suitable cover artist had not been booked ahead of time. Where was Matthew Polenzani? Busy, I presume? How about Piotr Beczala? Is Rolando Villazon still active? Or maybe, Roberto Alagna? Were they all out of town or indisposed?

Still, Signore Cordella dealt the best that he could with the situation at hand. In light of it all, the end results weren’t so bad. It wasn’t a great performance by any stretch, but what the heck! As that old comic genius, Gioachino Rossini, would undoubtedly say (were he alive to say it), “L’occasione fa il ladro!” Translation: “Opportunity makes the thief!”

Nemorino is, in my view, a surefire winner of a part. The tenor who takes on this lovable oaf cannot fail to win sympathy and support. The opportunity was definitely there for Cordella to steal the public’s heart. A great artist can surely make an audience melt with a lilting rendition of that gorgeous second act aria, “Una furtiva lagrima” (“A furtive tear”).

While Cordella didn’t exactly bring down the house — I felt his voice was short at both ends, and a bit on the wiry and thin side — he earned a respectable ovation overall. And that’s the long and the short of it: Cordella gave a respectable showing, no more, no less. He did his job, he won the day, we can all move on now.

His colleagues on this occasion, Russian soprano Anna Netrebko as the spunky and spirited Adina, her real-life husband Erwin Schrott as the shyster salesman Dr. Dulcamara, and Nicola Alaimo as a rough and tumble Sgt. Belcore, all stepped in to help out. Of the principals, one could sense the comic timing and increased rapport between Ms. Netrebko and Mr. Schrott — indeed, that’s as it should be.

Erwin Schrott as Dr. Dulcamara (Ken Howard/Met Opera)
Erwin Schrott as Dr. Dulcamara (Ken Howard/Met Opera)

Erwin Schrott in particular put in a marvelous turn as Dulcamara, his ringing bass-baritone lending a slightly wily sound, a snarly bite and rapid banter to this normally broadly-interpreted part. He knowingly made the good doctor a serious “rival,” if that’s the term, for Adina’s affections. And he looked smashing in his broad-brimmed hat, long “hippie” locks, scraggly beard and flowing red cape.

His predecessor, the gigantic Ambrogio Maestri, was delightful in the part, but his was an entirely different take all-together. Mr. Schrott, if I may be so bold, gave the old charlatan a more “dangerous” aspect to his mien, more rakish if you prefer, using his youthful physique and sexy appeal to marvelous effect. If I were Adina, I’d give this guy a second look.

Anna Netrebko has matured so much in the last few years — her voice is now of true Verdian size, scope and heft — that I was pleased as Punch to learn she would be singing Lady Macbeth in next season’s production of the same composer’s Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth. As Donizetti’s Adina, she was as charming and outgoing as ever, and her Italian diction has improved immensely.

Alaimo, too, brought his native language skills and pointed voice to the overbearing Belcore. And the conductor of this performance, Maurizio Benini, as noted on previous occasions, used his knowledge and skill on the podium to bring out the freshness and italianità of this and other staples of the bel canto repertoire.

All in all, this was a fairly pleasant performance, well played and well sung; nothing too challenging or daunting, and certainly nothing over-the-top. Another Saturday matinee, come and gone, in the long line of radio broadcasts. But now, on to bigger and better matters! Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten await!!!

Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes

‘Don’t Let Me Down’ — The Beatles 50th Anniversary ‘Grammy Salute’ Review

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Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr (tulsaworld.com)
Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr (tulsaworld.com)

It Was 50 Years Ago Today

Before I begin this review, let me get this off my chest: I’m a Beatles fan. I have always been a Beatles fan. And I have every intention of remaining a Beatles fan — not only when I get older, but many years from now (I’ve already lost my hair, all right?).

With this caveat out of the way, I have a few words to say about last Sunday’s The Beatles: The Night that Changed America – A Grammy Salute program, taped on January 27 and broadcast on the CBS network on February 9, 2014 — exactly 50 years to the day (and to the minute) the Beatles made their historic American television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.

I was eight at the time, when my family and I settled down in front of our little 13” black-and-white set to watch an audience of mostly teenage girls (and a handful of well-behaved adults) scream their fool heads off non-stop for damn near an hour. Heck, you should’ve heard the yelling when the Beatles themselves came out! Beneath the deafening noise and carrying-on, one could make out some pretty decent music-making — even under those far from ideal conditions.

Well, here we are again, several generations later, with this up-to-the-minute salute to the Liverpool lads’ classic song output, done by a bevy of pop stars and purportedly top-drawer entertainers. The kitchen-sink approach taken by the show’s producers, however, had its pluses and minuses. Overall, I’d say it too was decent, and the music won out as expected. Now, was I completely satisfied with the results? Yes and no. I’ll get to the details in a moment.

Adam Levine (gazettenet.com)
Adam Levine (gazettenet.com)

First, here’s a brief rundown of the assembled talent: Adam Levine and Maroon 5, Stevie Wonder, Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne, Ed Sheeran, Keith Urban, John Mayer, Katy Perry, Imagine Dragons, Dave Grohl (a true dyed-in-the-wool Beatles fan), the reunited Eurythmics, Alicia Keys in a piano-and-voice duet with John Legend (now you’re talking!), Pharrell Williams, Brad Paisley, Gary Clark Jr., and — for good measure — the two surviving members of the onetime Fab Four, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. Whew! I’m already exhausted from just typing out the names.

It’s obvious to us fans, both in and out of the auditorium, that great things were expected from the above lineup. Did viewers get their money’s worth? That depends on whether the standard arrangements of Beatles songs were what people tuned in for. In some cases, that’s exactly what we got. But in others… hmm…

Let’s cut to the chase, then, shall we? Adam Levine and his band, Maroon 5, came out with guns blazing in a rip-roaring “All My Loving.” This was followed by his solo take on “Ticket to Ride.” Both were respectful and hard-driving but hardly jubilant affairs. Levine could have used some backup on “Ticket to Ride” to move the harmony along. Worse, the clip of the real Beatles singing “All My Loving” unfairly contrasted the original with this less than stellar run.

Stevie Wonder (metacafe.com)
Stevie Wonder (metacafe.com)

Moving on, next up was the irrepressible Stevie Wonder in a funky retread of “We Can Work It Out.” I’m told that Stevie has performed this version on previous occasions. However, the song’s melodic line, as he envisioned it, became all but unrecognizable. We’ve had excellent cover versions of other artists’ material before — I’m thinking of Ike and Tina Turner’s adrenaline-inducing take on Creedence Clearwater’s “Proud Mary” (“Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river”). Talk about jumpin’ jack flash, it’s a real foot stomper and totally faithful to the spirit of the original.

If we’re going to mention the Beatles in this context, my own preferred cover of their work is blue-eyed-soul singer Joe Cocker’s call-and-response rendition of “With a Little Help from My Friends.” With its “Ray Charles meets the Staple Singers” revivalist touches, Cocker got to the heart of this song’s content by drawing out its gospel-flavored roots.

Now, Stevie Wonder is a great artist. But if he wanted to reach the heights of Cocker’s classic, he overshot the mark. Part of the problem is that the middle section of “We Can Work It Out” is in a minor key. Unless I’m very much mistaken, most jazz-funk outgrowths are decidedly up-tempo and in a major mode. On this occasion, Wonder’s choice of keys and rhythm were, how should I put this… less than wondrous.

After veering off course for a bit, the show got back on track with superb guitar and vocal licks by the Eagles’ Joe Walsh and former Electric Light Orchestra magus, Jeff Lynne. Lending an air of legitimacy to the gathering was George Harrison’s son, Dhani. The rising tide of their account of his father’s classic “Something” (the title and first line of which were lifted from a James Taylor song) seemed to lift all boats as well — proof that if you stick to the originals, you can’t go wrong.

Ed Sheeran (zimbio.com)
Ed Sheeran (zimbio.com)

For a change of pace, the Suffolk-born singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was featured in a pared down “In My Life,” sans Beatles’ producer George Martin’s Baroque-era piano accompaniment. Sheeran’s minimalist reworking (acoustic guitar and hushed vocals) was reverent if a shade below the original’s solipsism.

This was followed by Keith Urban and John Mayer’s “dueling banjos” delineation of John Lennon’s “Don’t Let Me Down,” made famous in that notorious Apple Record Studios rooftop concert in London. While not even close to topping Lennon’s commanding delivery, Urban and Mayer had the time of their lives trying to outdo one another in the show’s most successful vibe.

Time Out for a Commercial Break…

Katy Perry (metro.co.uk)
Katy Perry (metro.co.uk)

When we returned, there stood pop singer Katy Perry front and center, with a candy-colored, psychedelic backdrop flowing behind her. She surrounded herself with strings and cellos (actually, a bit more than required), in preparation for a weepy, heart-on-sleeve, quivery-toned “Yesterday.”

Overly dramatic and needlessly weighty given the song’s simple message of lost love, Perry could have benefited from a less is more approach (especially that enormous floral mantle she was wearing). Television’s America’s Got Talent and The Voice, please take note as well!

Making amends for that disastrous wrong turn, we were treated to Imagine Dragons’ re-imagining of “Revolution.” Taking out some of the original’s verbal stridency and instrumental distortion, this alternative band’s acoustic way with the song — reminiscent of the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over sessions — was not only listenable but consistently pleasurable for such an explicitly political statement.

Time now for Dave Grohl and Jeff Lynne’s growling “Hey Bulldog,” one of Lennon’s least inspired creations (a “filler track,” as he termed it). Good as their playing was, it could not turn a so-so vehicle into a first-rate one.

Annie Lennox’s soulful singing style and gray-eyed visage (little changed despite the years) proved a most welcome presence. She was joined by ex-bandmate and former husband, Dave Stewart, in an exuberantly executed “Fool on the Hill.” Here’s another Beatles masterwork, whose most celebrated cover version, as recorded by Sergio Mendes and his group, Brasil ’66, remains the undisputed jazz-pop standard.

Lennox, to her credit, gave the song her unrivaled vocal abilities. Stewart was more low-key on guitar. Still, they had the audience on their feet at the end, which put to shame some of their younger colleagues’ attempts at roof-raising. Welcome back, Eurythmics!

Alicia Keys & John Legend
Alicia Keys & John Legend

Next, we were off to the races with Alicia Keys and John Legend’s gorgeously sung tribute to Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be.” If this song sounds suspiciously like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” chalk it up to one of those once-in-a-lifetime quirks. In reality, Paul’s homage to his mother Mary was written the year before and recorded six months’ prior to S & G’s release.

Ms. Keys positively glowed with fondness for the number, while Mr. Legend revealed a honeyed, tenor timbre to go with his smoother-than-silk harmonizing. Here at last were two recognized pop stylists who could sing in sync and in tune! What a concept in these days of shouters, squealers and other horrors!

Not to be outdone, along came singer-songwriter, producer, rapper and musician Pharrell Williams, sporting what looked like a beat-up Royal Canadian Mounted Police hat. Joined for the second verse by country-music sensation Brad Paisley, together they presented an unexpectedly twangy “Here Comes the Sun,” which was not without its inner-city charm.

Up above their heads, we were treated to aerial acrobatics by members of the Cirque du Soleil troupe, who distracted more than they entertained.

Joe Walsh, Dave Grohl & Gary Clark Jr. (zimbio.com)
Joe Walsh, Dave Grohl & Gary Clark Jr. (zimbio.com)

This last session of guest artists concluded with the return of Joe Walsh on guitar and Dave Grohl on drums. Accompanying them was Grammy-winning guitarist and actor Gary Clark Jr., who played with Walsh on the affecting “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Walsh may have missed some of the lyrics’ original poignancy (abetted, admittedly, by George Harrison’s double-tracked delivery), but his and Clark’s energetic strumming made short work of the solos, played by blues-man Eric Clapton on The Beatles’ White Album.

For the pièce de résistance, the group’s erstwhile drummer Ringo eagerly stepped up to the platform for a recap of his earlier hits, Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” and “Boys,” first recorded by the Shirelles. Next, the audience (and the viewers at home, no doubt), were treated to a rousing rendition of that old favorite, “Yellow Submarine.”

Seeing Dave Grohl partaking of the festivities, with his primary school daughter singing along to the music, was enough to understand the impact the Beatles have had on America’s youth. Ringo had been itching all night for a chance to lead the crowd. And he got it, by George, John and Paul!

He did it again when it was Paul’s turn to deliver the goods. His throaty, half-barked “Birthday” did not go down well. Nevertheless, Paul found surer footing with “Get Back” and a bit later with a raucous “I Saw Her Standing There.” In the interview portion of the program, when David Letterman showed the boys around the old Ed Sullivan Theater where they first performed, Paul seemed uptight and tense. He just couldn’t loosen up for some reason, whereas Ringo was as lively and bubbly and jovial as he’s always been.

Ringo & Paul on "Hey Jude" (latimes.com)
Ringo & Paul on “Hey Jude” (latimes.com)

As a wrap-up to the two-and-a-half-hour love fest, Paul started in on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” following this up with Ringo’s buoyant reappearance for a throwaway version of “With a Little Help from My Friends.” There was more joy and an infectious sense of well-being during the drummer’s brief gigs on stage than at any time in the broadcast.

He even helped perk old Paul up for a simply smashing finale: with Ringo back on drums, Paul wound up the evening on piano, warbling as sweetly as his 70+-year-old vocals could permit, on the heaven-sent “Hey Jude.” Do I hear a “na-na-na na-na-na-na” out there? Everybody joined in at that point!

My final comment on this 50th anniversary gala for one of the world’s most influential music groups is this: it was certainly a thrill to see so many pop stars, young and old — regardless of race, color, religion or political affiliation — join hands together “Across the Universe” in song over the Beatles’ inclusive catalog of hits.

It was particularly heartwarming to see the likes of Alicia Keys, John Legend, Gary Clark Jr., Adam Levine, Stevie Wonder and other performers not normally associated with the Beatles’ music, sing and play their numbers with such obvious affection.

Beyond anything else, this is what Beatles fans should strive to take away from this salute, the “All Together Now” sense that we’re all part of one big, fantastically diverse world. We do all live in a “Yellow Submarine,” believe it or not. And I’m glad to note that, despite some patchy spots, this concert did not let me down.

Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes

‘Die Fledermaus,’ ‘Eugene Onegin’ and ‘L’Elisir d’Amore’ — Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight: A Triple Threat at the Met

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Patrick Carfizzi, Michael Fabiano & Susanna Phillips in Act I of Die Fledermaus
Patrick Carfizzi, Michael Fabiano & Susanna Phillips in Act I of Die Fledermaus

The Bat’s in the Belfry

It’s the nearest thing there is to a 1930’s screwball comedy in song. I’m referring, of course, to Johann Strauss Jr.’s delightful 1874 operetta Die Fledermaus, given at the Metropolitan Opera House on Saturday, January 11, 2014, in a new English-language version directed by Jeremy Sams, who also adapted the lyrics. The dialogue is the work of Douglas Carter Beane.

The original German libretto, by Carl Haffner and Richard Genée, was based on a French burlesque, Le Réveillon (“New Year’s Eve”) by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, the team that helped bring those wonderful French farces from the hand of Jacques Offenbach to light; which in turn was derived from a German comedy of manners, Die Gefängnis, or “The Prison,” by Julius Roderich Benedix. What goes around, comes around, at least where this work is concerned.

An exceedingly sprightly showpiece, with a bubbly and effervescent score, Die Fledermaus — even in translation, it’s never been called by the off-putting English title of “The Bat” — has been presented regularly in Austria since its debut there. Strauss the Younger (along with dear old Papa Johann before him) was dubbed the city’s “Waltz King” for his justly famous On the Beautiful Blue Danube and Tales from the Vienna Woods, among other familiar tunes. All of which earned Old Vienna the distinction of “Waltz Capital” of Europe. In addition to the aforementioned Fledermaus, Strauss also wrote the enchanting One Night in Venice and Der Ziegeunerbaron, or “The Gypsy Baron,” which hasn’t been seen at the Met since the 1959-1960 seasons.

The operetta’s elaborate plot involves a certain Dr. Falke (Paulo Szot), who we learn is seeking revenge on his old drinking buddy, Herr Gabriel von Eisenstein (Christopher Maltman), for a prank he once played on him several years back. That prank, such as it was, involved the good doctor being forced to parade around town in an unflattering bat costume — hence the eponymous heading of the work.

As the story takes shape, we realize that the plot is there purely to pay lip service to the wonderful assemblage of lively vocal numbers and energetic ensemble displays. Couples are cuckolded, identities are mistaken and brotherhood is saluted, with some of the cast members finding themselves behind bars, along with a drunken, wise-cracking jailor for company. Before that happens, however, the party revelers come together in praise of wine, women and song in the unparalleled comradeship of Act II, which climaxes in a riotous New Year’s Eve celebration.

At this point, most productions insist on presenting their panoply of star performers in favorite encores, a scintillating hodgepodge of musical hors d’oeuvres as depicted in the Decca/London “Gala Sequence” recording from 1960 (highly recommended, by the way). Simply stated, there are enough comings and goings in Die Fledermaus to occupy three banquet tables, let alone one. With that said, this lavish new Met production is just what the doctor ordered. It arrived on cue, on December 31, 2013, and went off without a hitch. So if you’re game for a sample of Strauss’ sparkling concoction, give a listen to the overture. It will put you in the party-hearty mood quicker than you can say “Auld Langsyne!”

My biggest misfortune, however, was in having to miss the bulk of the broadcast due to a previous engagement. However, let me say this about the new translation: it certainly updates the dialogue to a noticeable degree, sometimes anachronistically so. I’ve heard all sorts of linguistic contortions of the text throughout the years, some with unexpectedly decent results and others distressingly sub-par. This newest edition has a touch of both. It’s not bad but it’s not perfect, either. But then, what translation is?

What little I heard of the singing was relegated to my favorite portion: i.e., the madcap scene between Alfred, Rosalinde and Frank near the end of Act I. Tenor Michael Fabiano, who you may remember was one of the young artists featured in the 2007 documentary The Audition, has come a long way in the last few years. Still only 29, Fabiano gave the libidinous Alfred (who’s supposed to be an egotistical Italian tenor) all the élan and sidesplitting spunk that were required of him. His limitless high A’s in the rousing “Trinken liebchen, trinken schnell” (“Drink, my darling, drink it fast”) were highly welcome, too. He was ably partnered by bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as Frank, and soprano Susanna Phillips as a this-side-of-ditzy Rosalinde. Unfortunately, “The Bat” flew off on its own propulsion after that.

I wouldn’t be honest if I did not confess to readers that this work isn’t exactly my cup of tea (or a glass of champagne in this instance). It’s not that I’m against bedroom farces, and I do love comic operas per se: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and the frequently stirring Don Giovanni and The Abduction from the Seraglio are among my favorites, as well as The Barber of Seville and anything else by Rossini. But I’ve never been bowled over by the forced hilarity of Die Fledermaus‘ plot or its undisciplined attempts at characterization.

I seem to recall a by-the-numbers New York City Opera production back in the mid-1980’s that, while acceptably sung, was as far away from the Viennese performing style as to barely pass muster. Still, no matter what some enterprising directors and adapters do to it, for the most part Strauss’ music remains indestructible and intact. I’m just not the biggest Fledermaus fan, simple as that.

I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

Mariusz Kwiecien & Anna Netrebko in Act I of Eugene Onegin (rebelmouse.com)
Mariusz Kwiecien & Anna Netrebko in Act I of Eugene Onegin (rebelmouse.com)

But I am a huge devotee of Russian opera, having studied the language and culture of the country since before my university days. While the citizens of Vienna waltzed the night away to Strauss, over in Moscow and St. Petersburg, they were taking their music a trifle more seriously.

Although the name Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky has forever been associated with ballet — The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake are among his most cherished accomplishments — the St. Petersburg-trained composer managed to ingratiate his works into the permanent operatic repertoire with the likes of Pique Dame (“The Queen of Spades”) and especially Eugene Onegin from 1879.

Based on the novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin, one of Czarist Russia’s greatest poets, Eugene Onegin is a story of social mores and the restrictions society placed on an individual’s life that had particular resonance for Tchaikovsky and his world (See my article on Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for details: https://josmarlopes.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/from-verdis-violetta-to-tolstoys-anna-karenina-part-three-two-fallen-sisters-under-the-skin-a-vodka-tonic-with-a-slice-of-shepherds-pie/). Incredibly, both the opera and the novel are classic examples of the old cliché that art imitates life, and vice versa. Pushkin’s tale of the vibrant and naïve girl Tatiana Larina, who falls madly in love at first sight with the remotely handsome title character, rang true not only for the composer but for the work’s original author as well.

Poet Alexander Pushkin (Bridgeman Art Library)
Poet Alexander Pushkin (Bridgeman Art Library)

In the novel (and also in the opera), the bored aristocrat Onegin seeks relief from his circle’s endless balls and persistent gossip in the company of his friend, the impetuous poet Lensky. While visiting the country estate of the teenaged Tatiana’s parents, Onegin flirts openly with her sister Olga, as vivaciously impulsive as her fiancé Lensky. Olga is the exact opposite of the contemplative Tatiana whose adolescent fawning Onegin had previously dismissed.

Seeing his betrothed hit on by his best friend, Lensky angrily berates him in front of the gathering, which ends with his challenging Onegin to a duel. Unable to ignore this affront to his honor, Onegin accepts the challenge. As a result, Lensky is killed much to the remorseful Onegin’s regret.

As a fictitious narrative, it’s certainly tragic enough. But unfortunately, the real tragedy was yet to come. In 1837, an equally hotheaded 37-year-old Pushkin became the victim of his own reckless behavior, when he was shot dead in a duel with a French cavalry officer suspected of having had an affair with the poet’s wife, Natalia. Years earlier, while intermittently working on Onegin, Pushkin had interrupted his labors to pen several amorous letters and poems, some of which may have been inspired by alleged trysts with married women. It wasn’t boredom that drove the real-life poet to distraction, but the perpetual need to live his life to the fullest.

If poems and letters lent fame and notoriety to Pushkin’s literary legacy, they only brought pain and disillusionment to Tchaikovsky’s musical one. Around the time he took up the composition of his greatest opera (ca. June-July 1877), Tchaikovsky received a letter from a mysterious female admirer: a widowed aristocrat and patroness of the arts by the name of Nadezhda von Meck. Over the next thirteen years, von Meck would help support the composer’s endeavors through annual subsidies that left Tchaikovsky free to devote full-time to his music.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The catch to their platonic arrangement, however, was the condition set forth by von Meck herself: that neither she nor the composer would actively seek each other’s company (they did, quite by accident, come upon one another’s presence, but fled the encounter in discomfiture). While this kind of long-distance relationship may have sounded like a spurious flirtation with social media gone haywire, at the time it was considered a perfectly acceptable means of communication. Over a thousand letters were exchanged between them, many of which reveal their respective writers’ innermost wants and desires.

In the interim, Tchaikovsky became engaged to and subsequently married a former pupil of his, one Antonina Miliukova (again, through highly impassioned correspondence). The marriage turned out to be an unmitigated disaster: Tchaikovsky was a closet homosexual, while Antonina professed heterosexual tendencies (very much so, according to reports). Legally, the couple’s marital status was maintained until the composer’s death, although Tchaikovsky broke with Antonina only months after trying to live together as husband and wife.

What bearing does any of this have on Eugene Onegin? Quite a lot! In fact, the most famous episode from the opera’s three acts, Tatiana’s Letter Scene, is comprised of the lovesick girl pouring her heart and soul out into an emotionally overwrought letter to Onegin. Declaring her undying affection for him, Tatiana confesses rather more than she should.

Later in the act, Onegin pays her a visit and nonchalantly counsels that she should keep her sentiments to herself and in check. Another man in his place would have taken undue advantage of her innocence, he admonishes. As for him, he can only offer Tatiana a brother’s love, but no more. He then casually saunters off. The girl is crushed by Onegin’s brusqueness.

Never Gonna Let You Go!

Kwiecien & Netrebko in the finale to Eugene Onegin
Kwiecien & Netrebko in the finale to Eugene Onegin

Though not the titular attraction, Russian diva Anna Netrebko, in the Met’s January 18 broadcast (taped from the October 5, 2013 opening night performance), was the center of attention nonetheless and in her natural element here. Her wistfully sung, finely sculpted portrait of youthful idealism, her premature dreams of married bliss crushed by harsh reality were conveyed with full, burnished tone, steely high notes, and a deep commitment to the part of Tatiana.

It should be evident that this was singing and acting of the highest caliber. Her letter scene was magnificently realized in every way and earned the most prolonged applause of the day. Despite her matronly appearance, Netrebko easily captured the heroine’s charm and boundless enthusiasm in the early going, as well as her burgeoning maturity later on.

Of the principals, Tchaikovsky gave her character his most psychologically probing music. Moreover, Netrebko’s final confrontation with Onegin was an electrifying moment for both protagonists. The soprano’s full-blown admission of love was tempered by the realization that her newfound station in life — as the respectable wife of the much older Prince Gremin — has bound her to be faithful to him no matter how she personally feels toward Onegin.

As Onegin, Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien kept a low profile throughout, until his final agonized outburst. If he made less of a vocal and/or dramatic impression than Netrebko, Kwiecien could not be blamed. In the hands of a lesser artist, the role can seem an ungrateful one. After all, he is the only lead without a lengthy solo to unburden his thoughts. He does have a brief arioso in his initial rejection of Tatiana in Act I, and a more fervent declaration in the last scene where he admits to falling desperately in love with the womanly object of his desire.

For many listeners, that confession may have come too late to matter — but this is exactly the point of how Tchaikovsky envisioned this harsh character: as a cynical, inward-looking, totally detached observer of life’s foibles and all the players who inhabit it; one who exudes a melancholy world-weariness, along with a total lack of empathy for others (even for his deceased uncle, according to the novel, whose fortune he had inherited).

Today, this kind of aloof personality would be diagnosed with and treated for Asperger’s syndrome. We were fortunate that Kwiecien was the complete fulfillment of this interpretation. As noted in my review of The Elixir of Love (https://josmarlopes.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/lelisir-damore-the-elixir-of-love-old-wine-in-a-new-bottle/), he and Netrebko make a terrific team. Their return to the Met stage was greeted with roars of approval.

Piotr Beczala as the poet Lensky
Piotr Beczala as the poet Lensky

As the dreamy Lensky, tenor Piotr Beczala brought warmth and sensitivity to the poet’s first aria, “Ya lyublyu vas, Olga” (“I love you, Olga”), along with a tragic demeanor for his second act scena prior to his duel. The music for this piece, as well as the scoring for the work in total, is a masterful depiction of sorrow mixed with bittersweet longing for carefree times gone by. Although the role of Lensky is not especially taxing, it requires an artist of great flexibility and sweetness of tone on the one hand, with that extra degree of support on the other for the lower-lying passages of “Kuda, kuda, kuda vy udalilis” (“Where, oh where have you gone, golden days of my youth?”). Beczala dutifully met and passed the challenge.

Valery Gergiev, whose experience with this and dozens of other Russian works at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, led the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in a fast-paced but responsive reading of this achingly passionate score. The orchestral introduction to the last scene stands as the perfect embodiment of his art: all the fervent intensity, the throbbing anticipation and dark foreboding called for were present. Gergiev milked every last ounce of pathos from the string section, while Donald Palumbo’s chorus proved once again they are more than capable of delivering the goods in any language, including Pushkin’s Russian. I only missed that last measure of Slavic “ping” so beloved of native performers.

Speaking of which, Oksana Volkova as Olga, Elena Zaremba as Mme. Larina, and Larissa Diadkova as Filippyevna rounded out the female contingent in fine order. John Graham-Hall delivered Triquet’s couplets in perfectly accurate French, while bass Alexei Tanovitski lent height and gravity to Prince Gremin’s praise of his young wife, the beautiful Tatiana.

Will You Still Need Me When I’m 64?

So how did the Tchaikovsky-von Meck relationship finally end up? We need only look to the opera for clues. In the last scene of Eugene Onegin, after the tables are turned and Tatiana is now the one who rejects Onegin’s advances, she leaves him to bitterly lament his despair over losing her forever. Coincidentally, in October 1890 Nadezhda von Meck sent a farewell letter to Tchaikovsky claiming financial hardship and irrevocably breaking off their thirteen-year correspondence. She advanced him a year’s subsidy and begged him not to forget her.

Nadezhda von Meck
Nadezhda von Meck

The despairing composer was left without an explanation for her apparent “betrayal” (his words). It has been speculated that the reasons for von Meck’s letter ran the gamut from terminal illness (i.e., tuberculosis) to permanent paralysis of her writing arm or other health-related issue. Quite possibly, Tchaikovsky’s latent homosexuality may have had a hand in the termination of their relationship, but at that late stage it was highly unlikely.

Suffice it to say that neither party would hear from the other again. On November 6, 1893, not nine days after the successful premiere of his Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”), Tchaikovsky died, at age 53, in St. Petersburg from a cholera epidemic. Two months later, in January 1894, von Meck passed away in Nice, France, at the age of 64.

Had Tchaikovsky and Pushkin known what their futures would bring or that their lives would be reflected in their earlier work, they might never have completed Eugene Onegin, much less started it. And if art doesn’t imitate life in their case, then I don’t know what does.

(End of Part One… To be continued)

Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes

‘There’s Somethin’ Happenin’ Here’ — Songs that Celebrate a Turbulent Time (Part One)

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Come On, People Now

Bob Dylan in the recording studio (theawl.com)
Bob Dylan in the recording studio (theawl.com)

That’s a great title for an article about the music of the Swinging Sixties. And with so much happening right here, right now, in the good ole USA — from the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the passing of folk legend and peace activist Pete Seeger and the upcoming half-century celebration of the Beatles’ landmark invasion of our shores — there’s no better time like the present to rekindle one’s association with that long-ago period from about 1962 up through 1971 when popular songs and colorful individuals formed the backbone of various movements.

The songs and individuals I had in mind, however, were ones I personally remember listening to on the radio and/or watching on TV. What’s more, I recall hearing a handful of these tracks in my school’s English and Social Studies classrooms — in some cases, within a few months of their release. How many of us can say we experienced that sense of having belonged to a tiny part of history in the making?

Today, I am grateful to have lived through those turbulent times. Granted, the impetus for posting this piece comprises the thinnest hint of nostalgia for songs that actually meant something. Besides the obvious sentimental value, I wanted to make the case for the enduring efficacy of these unforgettable artworks, as well as pay belated tribute to their creators.

Now that I’ve reached a point in life where maturity and understanding have merged with a writer’s ability to come to grips with these matters, I felt compelled to pursue the mystery of why these songs still haunt our memories after so many years in circulation.

Maybe it was my disgust at the poor quality of this year’s Grammy nominees. Maybe it was my disappointment at seeing how worn and jowly ex-Beatle Paul McCartney had gotten in that spiritless duet with drummer Ringo Starr — and how unremarkable Sir Paul’s output has become of late (“bland” is the word I would use).

Whatever the reason, I needed little motivation to remind readers of what true folk, pop and rock once sounded like to a generation that learned to appreciate song lyrics that were as dense and meaningful as they were occasionally diffuse; with instantly recognizable tunes that, despite the passage of time, have continued to celebrate a momentous era in America.

If I have left a favorite singer or two out, please accept my apologies. The ones I’ve chosen reflect my own preferences and are, in no way, a commentary on the abilities (good or bad) of those artists excluded from this list. To paraphrase a line from Spencer Tracy in Pat and Mike: “Not much meat, but what there is, is ‘cherce.’”

Album cover for The Times They Are A-Changin' (fplreference.blogspot.com)
Album cover for The Times They Are A-Changin’ (fplreference.blogspot.com)

It’s fair to say that Dylan ushered in the times, and from there went on to inspire an entire generation of like-minded artists. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24, 1941, musician, performer and songwriter Bob Dylan (he took his surname from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, whose dictum, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” he took to heart) rose to fame in the Sixties as the unofficial, if habitually unwilling, spokesperson for social and civil causes (“Don’t follow leaders!” he famously insisted in 1965).

Influenced early on by Woody Guthrie, the father and pioneer of folk and protest songs, along with rocker Little Richard and Country & Western star Hank Williams, Dylan used the power and substance of language (drawing from the likes of Walt Whitman, French Symbolism, and the Beat poets) to venture forth on his own as the voice and conscience of America’s disheartened youth.

With such classics as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” made popular by the trio of Peter, Paul and Mary (who smoothed over the song’s edges with the pristine purity of their vocals), and the droning, prophetic “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Dylan sang with the stridency of a picketing union worker, the immediacy of a Baptist preacher, and the disarming yet wise-beyond-his-years boyishness that captivated audiences used to less offensive material.

“Blowin’ in the Wind,” the first item on our list, betrays strong African-American spiritual roots. In the rhetorical form of a question and answer — a mini sermon, if you will — it’s a give-and-take lifted in part from the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel. The words are simple and direct, the instrumentation (acoustic guitar with intermittent bursts from Dylan’s harmonica) Spartan and lean, the voice solemn and sincere, all persuasively arrayed to point up man’s longing for freedom and dignity in his continuing struggles against injustice:

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man…?

The lyrics have something to say as well about outlawing armed conflict long before our country’s involvement in Southeast Asia took hold:

Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banned…?

A year or more before President Kennedy was killed, Dylan chanted this prescient verse:

Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?

And what’s the sought-after solution to these problems? It’s simple, really:

The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Dylan himself has clarified the meaning: “Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some … But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know … and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong.”

Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head and pretend he just doesn’t see…?

Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?

Yes, ‘n’ how many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?

Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?

If there is any way out of these intractable conditions, it can be found in a later musical number — a suitably spiritual one, we should add — written by our friend Mr. McCartney in 1969, after a dream he had involving his long departed mom, Mary:

When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom: let it be

And in my hour of darkness She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom: let it be

Let it be, let it be,

Let it be, yeah, let it be

There will be an answer: let it be.

His song offered a slightly more consoling message “in times of trouble” than, say, the lyrical fist-shaking that Mr. Dylan previously propounded. Still, Paul’s late-in-the-day composition, “Let It Be,” came at the tail end of the decade and was the last single the Beatles released before they disbanded.

Better Times Ahead?

One of Dylan’s most challenging outpourings, an oracular expression of holy-rolling writ large (and a jeremiad standard in its day), is his “The Times They Are A-Changin’” from 1964. At the time, his vision of the coming inundation, of “wars and rumors of war,” of political turmoil, of parents forced to give way to their offspring, of generational divide and quasi-scriptural proclamations that the “first shall be last” — compounded by his mumbling vocals — smacked of the ravings of a street-corner lunatic on the fringe of society.

Sadly, most if not all of Dylan’s apocalyptic imagery would de facto come to pass with the outbreak of the Vietnam War conflict. Conversely, it was exactly this kind of verbal warning shot, cloaked in the formal structure of popular song (shades of composer Kurt Weill), that so enraged the senior members of “society,” i.e., the “establishment,” as it was known back then. At the risk of making it sound like a lengthy diatribe, I print the song’s thought-provoking lyrics in full:

Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

His namesake, poet Dylan Thomas, once wrote that, “Old age should burn and rave at close of day.” Not only that, but it should “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Bob Dylan, who raged and fumed so early on in his career, crashed and burned much sooner than most — and long before the dying of his light.

Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, July 24, 1965 (rirocks.net)
Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, July 24, 1965 (rirocks.net)

To many of his diehard fans, Dylan had betrayed the folkie “cause” by going all-out electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. And the lyric wordplay, by turns virulent and elegiac, witty and bizarre, were more oblique than ever in his corresponding Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited releases, as well as the classic double-album Blonde on Blonde.

On the morning of July 29, 1966, upon his recent return from an exhausting nine-month world tour the month before, Dylan was involved in a life-changing motorbike crash near his home in Woodstock, New York, which led to his subsequent withdrawal from performing. His forty days and forty nights in the wilderness stretched into a year and a half of self-imposed isolation.

“When I had that motorcycle accident,” Dylan told a reporter in 1984, “I woke up and caught my senses. I realized that I was just workin’ for all these leeches. And I really didn’t want to do that … I was pretty wound up before that accident happened. I probably would have died if I had kept on going the way I had been.” This begs the question of whether Dylan had also been dabbling in booze and drugs, thereby using the extended “timeout” to undergo detoxification. His absence from the scene has never been fully explained.

Emerging from the dark, Dylan released two back-to-back albums of new material: the introspective John Wesley Harding in 1968, and the country-flavored Nashville Skyline in 1969. The public soon learned that he and his Butterfield Blues Band (a.k.a. The Band) had been busy documenting their latest efforts in the experimental recordings dubbed The Basement Tapes (1975), which confirmed the singer-songwriter’s growing obsession with Country & Western themes fused with rural rock.

He would not perform live again until a 1974 concert tour. Five years later, Dylan, who was born into the Jewish faith, would formally convert to Christianity. He was no longer the proverbial “Mad Prophet of the Airwaves” (that honor would go to the fictional Howard Beale from the movie Network), but a man trying to confront the expected norms of artistic life. He would celebrate his conversion with the launch of Slow Train Coming (1979).

Bob Dylan’s abandonment of live performing, and the acid-tripped rock-n-roll lifestyle that went with it and that he formerly espoused, had a heavy impact on other bands and individuals, as we shall see.

(End of Part One – To Be Continued…)

Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes

‘7’ the Winner! The Brazilian Musical Comes of Age — Part Three: The Critics Agree!

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REVIEWS OF MÖELLER & BOTELHO’S 7 – THE MUSICAL, ONE OF THE FINEST MUSICAL-THEATER PIECES EVER TO HIT THE BRAZILIAN STAGE

"Seven Curses" from 7 - The Musical
“Seven Curses” from 7 – The Musical

Intermission Feature

    “With their considerable knowledge brought to the area of musical theater, the team of Charles Möeller and Claudio Botelho has, for the first time, forged a path toward that of the musical as stage spectacular with 7 – The Musical. This new work— with a book by Möeller, lyrics by Botelho and music by Ed Motta — follows the example set by Stephen Sondheim, with a play that is more erudite and adult than traditional popular American musicals have been…

    “As always, Claudio’s lyrics, sung as well as they are, sound so impeccably right for the dramatic situation at hand… Charles’ direction strongly guides the large cast along, favoring behavior according to character type, as dictated by the text, and is especially efficient when dealing with massed ensembles.”

Barbara Heliodora, O Globo

    “With the premiere of 7 – The Musical, Brazilian musical theater has reached full maturity. Its parents – Charles Möeller and Claudio Botelho – have been carefully nurturing it, with affinity and gratitude… but with the launch of their 15th joint venture, [they have] presented to the public their most ambitious project yet, one that is 100 percent by their own hands. If before the team had bent itself backwards [to do justice to] the grand masters of musical theater, this time it has started from scratch: the elegant songs of ‘7’, a good portion of which are semi-operatic in tone, were written by Ed Motta specifically for this staging. This is musical theater in its natural state, with songs that serve the narrative to perfection – the lyrics by Botelho, musical director of the show, side by side with Motta’s music, are both touching and thrilling, but are there to advance the plot…

    “From the looks of it, the tale that’s being told reveals the ease with which Möeller, the author and director of the text, has in uniting subject matter with lightness of touch. The excellent cast assembled for this production sings about the absence of love, and the fate that drives them to the play’s ultimate realization: that moving forward is better than looking backward. Rogerio Falcão’s lovely but somber sets cause an immediate impact in their recreation of first a forest, then several balconies, along with allusions to the familiar landscape of the Lapa Arches.”

– André Gomes, O Dia Newspaper

Alessandra Verney (Bianca) & Raul Veiga (Herculano) abroadwayeaqui.com.br
Alessandra Verney (Bianca) & Raul Veiga (Herculano) http://www.abroadwayeaqui.com.br

“The show argues the case for what a Brazilian musical can be. The production… reveals its national identity by means of elements found in the universality of its themes. Inspired by confabulated tales of witches and witchcraft, in traditional narrative recollections, they are transferred to a Rio of the imagination where snowflakes begin to fall. The characters relive the archetypes previously conferred on them by the Brothers Grimm, singing as if they had stepped out of a Sondheim musical. There’s nothing more Brazilian, by the spirit of playfulness present throughout – with the needless necessity of labeling itself ‘native’ in origin – than to prove that an Anglo-Saxon matrix can receive a treatment that celebrates, by sheer force, this very identity.

“Ed Motta’s music, with inventive and dazzling lyrics by Claudio Botelho, boasts a refinement and rhythmic variance that adjusts itself to the evolution of the dramatic context. With complex but no less melodious harmonies, Motta’s score is attractive to the point that, upon leaving the theater, one wants to hear it all over again from the start. The musical direction, the arrangements, the conducting and musicianship establish a sonorous quality that gives full weight to the beauty of this score… Director Charles Möeller, in his most ambitious assignment yet, orchestrates each individual detail, creating compositions and frames of great beauty, and leading the surprisingly competent cast with sureness and ease.”

Macksen Luiz, Jornal do Brasil

“It’s difficult to associate Ed Motta who debuted in the record market in 1988… with his theatrical debut as the sophisticated composer of 7 – The Musical. Ed wrote the score (the lyrics are by Claudio Botelho) and provided the musical direction (together with Botelho) of the team comprised of Möeller & Botelho on their 15th joint production. The melodic refinement is in complete harmony with Ed’s recent repertory of works.

“What is surprising – and most reassuring – is the composer’s ability to place his music at the disposal of the theater. Ed wouldn’t fare too badly on Broadway, with such numbers as ‘Dance Around the Dead Man,’ ‘My Friends the Cards,’ ‘Oh, Look at Me,’ ‘If This Pathway’ (with echoes from the children’s song ‘If This Street Were Mine’) and ‘My Heart on Your Heart.’ Motta’s music has a sullen and somber quality that manages to provide the dark tone called for in Möeller’s script, [which is] made up of references to the stories of the Brothers Grimm, along with various allusions to witchcraft.”

Mauro Ferreira (The Blog Notas Musicais – “Musical Notes”)

Rogeria (Odette), Marya Bravo (Madeleine) & Gottscha (Elvira)
Rogeria (Odette), Marya Bravo (Madeleine) & Gottscha (Elvira)

“The use of the Gothic tale of Snow White… in parallel with, or as a basis for, the intriguing book by author Charles Möeller, resulted in the unusually notorious universe of Nelson Rodrigues, our best-known transgressor of dramaturgy, with all that we’ve grown accustomed to in his works, from its mythical aspects to the suburban phase [of development]: a woman scorned and ill-resigned to her fate; a wandering and womanizing husband (nothing less than a certain Herculano!); as well as whores, prostitutes, and conniving clairvoyants. It’s a veritable bubbling cauldron of melodramatic ingredients: hate, jealousy, revenge, knives literally ripping apart impetuous hearts…

“The tone is of a tragicomedy, a grandiloquent and solemn one at that, with tidbits of comic relief and humor of a typically carioca nature…The musical direction and reduced orchestrations are worthy of Ed Motta’s original score, as are Claudio Botelho’s lyrics, unbeatable as usual in this context.”

Afonso Gentil (Theater Critic associated with APCA)

Creative Team:

Book and Direction: Charles Möeller
Music: Ed Motta
Lyrics: Claudio Botelho
Musical Direction: Ed Motta and Claudio Botelho
Musical Supervision: Marcelo Castro
Arrangements / Orchestrations: Delia Fisher
Musical Preparation / Conductor: André Távora Kacowicz
Assistant Directors: Paula Sandroni, Tina Salles
Sets: Rogério Falcão
Costumes: Rita Murtinho
Scenic Design: Beto Carramanhos
Choreography: Renato Vieira
Sound Design: Marcelo Claret
Lighting: Paulo César Medeiros
Public Relations and Press: Marcia Niemeyer
Production Directors: Aniela Jordan, Beatriz Secchin Braga, Monica Athayde Lopes

A show by Charles Möeller and Claudio Botelho

Original Cast (2007 Season – João Caetano Theater – Rio de Janeiro)

Alessandra Maestrini – Amelia
Alessandra Verney – Bianca
Eliana Pittman – Rosa
Gottsha – Elvira
Ida Gomes – Old Stepmother
Marya Bravo – Madeleine
Rogéria – Odette
Zezé Motta – Carmen
Tatih Köhler – Clara
Raul Veiga – Herculano
Jonas Hammar – Alvaro
Cristiano Penna
Fabrício Negri
Jules Vandystadt
Rodrigo Cirne
Tuto Gonçalves

2008/2009 Season Cast (Carlos Gomes Theater – RJ)

Alessandra Maestrini – Amelia
Alessandra Verney – Bianca
Eliana Pittman – Rosa
Janaina Azevedo – Elvira
Ida Gomes / Myriam Thereza – Old Stepmother
Ivana Domenico – Madeleine
Marina Ruy Barbosa – Clara
Rogéria – Odette
Zezé Motta – Carmen
Jarbas Homem de Mello – Herculano
Pedro Sol – Alvaro
Betto Serrador
Marcel Octavio
Otavio Zobaran
Stein Junior
Tuto Gonçalves

2009 Season Cast – São Paulo (Sérgio Cardoso Theater)

Alessandra Maestrini – Amelia
Alessandra Verney – Bianca
Eliana Pittman – Rosa
Ivana Domenico – Madeleine
Janaina Azevedo / Renata Celidonio – Elvira
Malu Rodrigues – Clara
Rogéria – Odette
Suzana Faini – Old Stepmother
Zezé Motta – Carmen
Jarbas Homem de Mello – Herculano
Pedro Sol – Alvaro
Beto Serrador
Daniel Nunes
Marcel Octavio
Otávio Zobaran
Tuto Gonçalves

Orchestra:

Alexandre Brasil / Omar Cavalheiro – bass, guitar
Alex Freitas / Levi Chaves – alto sax, flute, clarinet
Gabriel Guenther / Marcio Romano – drums, percussion, vibraphone
Pedro Mibielli / Anderson Pequeno / Tomaz Soares – violin
Thaís Ferreira / Luciano Corrêa – cello
Vitor Gonçalves / Marcelo de Castro – piano, keyboard

(With gratitude and acknowledgement to Charles Möeller, Claudio Botelho, Ed Motta, and Tania Carvalho)

Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes