The distinguished bass-baritone Francois Loup joined with Opera Lafayette and young singers from the University of Maryland's Opera Studio on Sunday for a dazzling sweep through three centuries of comic opera. The French Embassy presentation ranged widely -- from a Renaissance madrigal and scenes from operas of Lully, Gluck, Pergolesi and Haydn to those of Beethoven, Bizet and Rossini. Ryan Brown led his period orchestra while playing his violin (an old conducting practice), leaving Loup and his singers a performance space not much larger than a closet. Yet the evening was remarkable from many perspectives.
Loup's voice radiates warmth, zest and an amazingly precise characterization of many comic styles, won by his jocular bearing outlined in facial gestures and amusing dancing. And he has transmitted all the art of charismatic stage presence to seven promising students -- Andrew Adelsberger, Adam Hall, Meghan McCall, Kara Morgan, Darren Perry, Eric Sampson and Abigail Wright. Like their teacher, they danced and cavorted around the "stage" with frothy confidence, thespian humor and resplendent voices. The secret, Loup confided on Sunday: "Maybe I'm a very hard teacher."
Brown has made an extraordinary name for himself in reviving operatic jewels of the 17th and 18th centuries, displaying astute sensitivity to historic style while also winning over today's audiences. On Sunday Brown's players showed their customary vivacity, close ensemble and stylistic adaptability.
-- Cecelia Porter
Pet Shop Boys
"Lovely to be here at this rather posh venue," said Neil Tennant, the singing half of Pet Shop Boys, which also features keyboardist Chris Lowe. Joined by three backup singers and two dancers (who were usually dressed like the Boys themselves), the iconic British duo performed nearly two hours of self-described "electronic entertainment" on Sunday at the classy if somewhat stuffy DAR Constitution Hall. The stage design, based on a giant cube, was wonderfully theatrical, but the "posh venue," with its fixed seating, waylaid an outright dance party.
The other thing that momentarily held back the celebration was the Pet Shop Boys' decision to play so many tunes from their latest CD, "Fundamental." Not that the new record is poor; in fact, it's one of the duo's best. But far too few in the crowd seemed to know the songs from "Fundamental," and the tracks "Psychological" and "Minimal" kept the audience sitting on their hands.
Whenever the classics came out, however, the crowd found its dancing shoes. Originals such as "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)," "West End Girls" and "It's a Sin," as well as hit covers of "Always on My Mind," "Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)" and "Go West," provided plenty of incentive to break a sweat.
But one "Fundamental" song did make a huge impact: "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show," a grandiose dance-pop number that was augmented by a bass player and a drummer. The dancers and backup singers were decked out in gold lamé military outfits, and the whole thing had a Mel Brooks-gone-disco- game-show feel. The song's performance encapsulated the smart, satirical camp that Pet Shop Boys have long mastered.
-- Christopher Porter
TV on the Radio
Brooklyn's TV on the Radio came to a sold-out 9:30 club Sunday night riding a tidal wave of momentum. The quintet's latest album, "Return to Cookie Mountain," has been hailed as an instant classic, and the band as the latest art-rock saviors. But it was a decidedly non-art-rock element that kept the show from getting bogged down in a murky din -- a captivating, charismatic frontman.
For all of the group's pseudo-experimental tendencies, singer Tunde Adebimpe and his remarkable pipes are clearly TV on the Radio's best asset. Whether he was channeling old gospel or spirituals with simple, enchanting "Ooh ooh oohs" on "Poppy" or letting loose with an all-out soul-rock howl on, appropriately enough, "Wolf Like Me," Adebimpe carried every song. His animated delivery -- highlighted by a left hand that seems to have a severe case of hyperactivity and gets more of a workout than even Mick Jagger's -- also added some needed levity to songs that could come off as overly serious and self-important.
All of Adebimpe's exploits were needed because there wasn't much noteworthy about the actual music. On record, TV on the Radio excels at creating densely layered soundscapes that make for intriguing if sometimes exhausting listening. It was harder to re-create those studio nuances in a live setting, and as the set wore on it was easy to spot a formulaic approach. Guitarists Kyp Malone and David Sitek created an almost impenetrable wall of noise with their electric guitars, the rhythm section provided a slightly off-kilter beat and random samples were sprinkled in. Were it not for Adebimpe's presence, there wouldn't have been much to differentiate the band from countless others that consider Radiohead's "OK Computer" the crowning musical achievement of the past decade.
-- David Malitz