Wolf Trap Opera Company
Blessed with an unusually talented group of young singers this summer, the Wolf Trap Opera Company seized the opportunity to present Puccini's entire "La Boheme" for the first time, with the National Symphony Orchestra on Friday evening at Filene Center. Not only was the music first-rate, but the acting was fit for the country's top opera houses.
Directed by Ellen Douglas Schlaefer, the strong cast convincingly portrayed the lives of struggling artists in love and at play, under simple lighting designed by Emily Becher.
James Valenti was the perfect Rodolpho -- assured and fluid in voice, energetic and sincere in mien. Melissa Shippen played Rodolpho's flame, Mimi, singing with an angelic, hopeful soprano. As Marcello, Brian Mulligan sent his voluminous baritone soaring above the orchestra. The spunky Kristin Reiersen played his lover, Musetta. Rounding out the bohemian bachelor quartet were Morris Robinson as Colline and Markus Beam as Schaunard. Jason Hardy turned in fine, albeit too short, performances as Benoit and Alcindoro.
Conductor Stephen Lord kept the orchestra and cast tightly braided, allowing fermatas to billow like a sail and punctuating other statements like a pin to a balloon. The NSO shifted from lilting passages to elegiac chords under his baton and the impressive children's chorus, which bounded onstage for the cafe scene, followed his every cue.
-- Grace Jean
From Sabbath to Slipknot, Slayer to Sepultura, heavy metal is a male-dominated genre. But by welding dark metal guitars and chest-rattling rhythms to a philosophy inspired by seminal artists like Lita Ford and Diamanda Galas, the female quartet Kittie makes a noise as brutish as anything mustered by the boys. The members of the Ontario band were the stars of a five-act bill at the 9:30 club Saturday night, and though their sound was appropriate, their tendency to fall back on heavy metal cliche kept the hour-plus set from ever transcending another night of ho-hum headbanging.
Released just last week, "Until the End" is Kittie's third full-length album and the band's current U.S. tour is the first to incorporate guitarist Lisa Marx. The newest Kittie proved her mettle, slashing through the new "Red Flag" as well as older songs such as "Charlotte." But the real grit came from Morgan Lander's vocals, which went from power drill to ringing to their default setting -- a howl about two steps below guttural. Those vocals were Kittie's most galvanizing force, though the drums of Morgan's sister, Mercedes, and the bass of D.C. native Jennifer Arroyo provided the muscle.
But after repeated battering of songs like "Into the Darkness" and "Mouthful of Poison," the band's dramatic head-flipping and manic lurches about the stage began to wear thin. If Kittie could manage to temper its assault, it may soon be notable for being more than just one of the better female metal bands on the planet.
-- Patrick Foster
As the lights came up after KDNY's Saturday performance at Dance Place, an audience member exhaled loudly with empathetic exhaustion. The dancers had come back for section after section of director Kathleen Dyer's aerobic, wry take on motherhood, "Attending Kinneely."
Dyer's sense of humor infected "East Whistwaddle Ladies" most thoroughly. A picnic of big-hatted, proper southern women transforms into an afternoon of liberating frolic, initiated by Theresa Duhon, who caught the eye all evening. Her luxurious roll on the floor evoked the smell of freshly cut grass in spring, appealing to her fellow dancers to relent and join the reeling romp of long limbs.
Dyer seems to have never created a phrase without an arabesque. Though her dancers' pretty extensions deserve showcasing, the repeated arabesque and lunging turns that finish with a leg whipping overhead grow repetitive. In tiny, sharp movements -- like little shakes of the head -- Dyer brims with personality. But the steps' intent does not always transfer to her dancers, who look stiff instead of playful.
In Dyer's "Flowers on the Table by the Open Window," Lauren Jaynes's unrelenting hopefulness acts as a foil for the wistful sadness, fierce anger and jaded pain of other women. The program also included "At the Passing," where three women come alive from a sepia-toned portrait.
-- Clare Croft
Jeffrey Cohan, George Shangrow
Though an arcing Romanesque sanctuary and an antebellum exterior might seem to make strange bedfellows, they're a perfect match for St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill and for musicmaking. This week flutist Jeffrey Cohan is showing how beautifully all these elements mesh in the fifth Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival. He starred Saturday on a slender, mellow-toned baroque flute, along with George Shangrow on a two-manual (double-keyboard) harpsichord built by David Rubio in 1972.
You might wonder how a concert made up of Handel sonatas written nearly three centuries ago -- and designed for two apparently mild-mannered instruments -- might rivet an audience's attention for an entire evening. But Saturday it worked gloriously. Superb playing outlined Handel's bizarre melodic turns and jarring harmonies, reproducing the dramatic impact of opera arias by a composer who, above all, wrote for the theater and whose characters erupted onstage with steely, single-minded emotional force.
Cohan transformed Handel's often bare, skeletal melodies, with improvisations unwinding in fancifully embellished peregrinations -- all mellow-toned, yet exhorting a "message" in character portrayals with the dogged exuberance of a political candidate. Shangrow's harpsichord echoed the flute's ornaments with gusto. Ideally balanced, the performers fueled the music's gripping metrical drive, escaping into rhythmic elasticity for momentary expressive asides.
-- Cecelia Porter
It's tough being the opening act. Just ask the globe's finest hip-hop band. Although the Roots' latest disc nabbed a top-five Billboard debut, they still hit the Nissan Pavilion stage during daylight hours Friday, opening for rap/rock/reggae outfit 311 and before an overwhelming majority of folks even began to take their seats.
Tossing their tunes into a cavernous theater where sparse attendance means mediocre acoustics, the Roots tried their darndest to capture the crowd through an hour of mostly new jams and elongated instrumental solos.
The group arrived in Hawaiian shirts and rhymer Black Thought introduced himself to the crowd with an "Aloha." He followed by tearing into their current record's most ferocious cut, "Boom!" "Seem like none of y'all chumps is learning / You're hopeless," he rapped. Those rhymes were probably penned as braggadocio aimed at anemic MCs, but they could easily have been aimed at the lethargic folks who yearned for 311's time on stage. The crew also caught steam with the highly satisfying "Don't Say Nuthin'," currently playing on MTV and purposely armed with one of hip-hop's most unintelligible, mush-mouthed choruses.
The underwhelming set's tail end swerved into a loose medley of unlikely selections including Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and Bill Haley's raucous "Shake, Rattle and Roll," which was punctuated by keyboardist Kamal Gray's fiery stabs.
-- Craig Smith
From a part of the world associated with conflict, it's a refreshing contrast that all of the songs performed by the Arab-Israeli Orchestra of Nazareth are about love. The orchestra hails from the largest Arab city in Israel and the ensemble's mission, particularly in its first U.S. tour, is about more than music -- it's about building cultural bridges.
The singer and seven instrumentalists were led by violinist Nizar Radwan. The instruments include those familiar to Western audiences: two violins, cello and a tambourine. But there's also an oud, a lutelike instrument plucked with a pick, a lap-held dulcimer called a kanun, and a darbuka, a drum whose body is made of pottery.
The music is characterized by the use of the melodic minor scale, the scale that gives Middle Eastern music its distinct flavor. The darbuka and tambourine rhythmically anchor the ensemble, with oud and kanun plucking harmonies against the melodies bowed by violins and cello.
Singer Lubna Salameh's vocal lines were full of slides and tremolos, echoed by the tremolos played on the strings. Salameh, singing primarily in Arabic, snapped her fingers and encouraged the audience to clap along. As the tempos wended from slow and sultry to lively and danceable, it was nearly impossible not to get one's body caught up in the infectious rhythms.
-- Gail Wein
Blackie Lawless didn't bring his codpiece to Jaxx on Friday. The guy who helped make Tipper Gore famous didn't drink any blood from skulls, either. There weren't any flamethrowers onstage this time around. Instead of the leather and chains attire, the W.A.S.P. frontman and master of macabre metal wore a licensed Oakland Raiders jersey. For the first time in his career, Lawless let music be the centerpiece of his live show.
The songs remain profane.
The absence of theatrics reduced the length of his set to just about an hour. But W.A.S.P. followers, who over the years have witnessed such routines as the chain-sawing of a pig and the defiling of a mannequin in a nun's habit, embraced the more-rock, less-nonsense approach. From the opening bars of "On Your Knees," they headbanged along with the quartet.
Of course it wasn't the ghastly performance gags that brought W.A.S.P. to the attention of Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center -- Lawless is as responsible as any rocker for the evolution of parental advisory stickers on CDs. No, it was Lawless's song "Animal," a piece of mid-'80s filth that still packs a wallop. Other vintage shock rock in the set included "Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue)," "Wild Child," "L.O.V.E. Machine" and "Blind in Texas."
Lawless, 47, is now touring in support of his new CD, "Neon God, Pt. 1." It's a concept album about an abused boy who becomes a messiah -- sort of a W.A.S.P.-y "Tommy." On "Sister Sadie (and the Black Habits)," a track from the new record, Lawless sang of the abused boy's encounter with an evil member of the clergy. The tune presented Lawless with a fine opportunity to reprise the filthy bit with the mannequin. But on this night there would be only shrieking. At song's end, Lawless didn't respond to the fans' roar with the devil's horns salute they've grown to expect. No, he gave them a thumbs-up.
-- Dave McKenna