The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra has just hired a Music Director.

His name is Eckart Preu (pronounce that Proy and you’ll be pretty close to the right German pronunciation). He is a youthful 47, very personable, tall and ruggedly handsome, German born and trained.

But, what is more important than age and looks and personality and birthplace and training is that Maestro Preu is a very fine conductor. Check him out on his website:

The rank and file of the orchestra loved him when he was here last summer to conduct the final concert of the CCO’s 2016 season. The audience loved him too. Musically speaking he scored with everyone, including me. Here’s what I wrote in this blog after his concert last September:

Eckart Preu is an immensely talented conductor, one capable of moving with ease from the cutting edge sounds of del Águila and Bjarnason to the Americana of Aaron Copland and then on to the Gallic Romanticism of Saint-Saëns and, finally, impress with an exquisite Mozart performance. This concert concludes the 2016 season by reminding us of how fortunate it is for us to have not one but two great orchestras in our town. But, beyond that, of the two, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra has been reborn into a very fine ensemble, and that is more than cause for celebration. What lies ahead now is the choice of Music Director for this worthy member organization of the music scene in Cincinnati, one who will lead it into the next chapter of its musical life. After hearing tonight’s performance I know who my choice would be.

Preu will be leading the CCO into the next phase of its relatively short forty-three year old life, one that has been artistically and financially a musical roller coaster. Some of the previous  conductors came and went a little too quickly to really leave an imprint. Others slugged their way through years of financial instability. None of that bode well for a musical organization that deserves to be a jewel in the Cincinnati musical crown.

But with a now larger and stronger board of directors, a dedicated administrative staff, a terrific group of musicians,  generous support from Arts Wave Community Campaign, the Ohio Arts Council and season sponsors Robert and Debra Chavez the CCO has a winning formula. Add to that mix a very fine conductor with musical fire in his belly, inspired musicality and people skills and you got a winner.

Eckart Preu will be keeping the airlines in business. With this, now his third major steady gig (Spokane and Stamford are the other two) plus guest conducting stints all over the map, he will be all over the place geographically but very much musically here heart and soul when he returns next summer to helm the orchestra’s 2017 season. More about that soon.

In the meantime here’s wishing the CCO and Maestro Eckart Preu all our best wishes.


Of Massenet’s three-dozen operas Cendrillon does no deserve to be the neglected stepsister of Manon and Werther. Its composer had been in the operatic trenches of French opera and its intrigues for thirty-four grueling years when he  composed and premiered this version of Perrault’s Cinderella in 1899. Jules Massenet knew how to write an opera.
The newly refurbished Salle Favart of the Opéra-Comique hosted the premiere production, a high tech affair for its time that included all kinds of special effects and electric lighting. The works had been perfected after a rehearsal period that went on for three months.
Massenet outdid himself creating lovely music for a sizeable cast of eleven principals and a singing and dancing ensemble of courtiers, lords and ladies, princesses, dewdrops and disembodied spirits.
The story is the familiar one: there’s two ugly stepsisters, a horrendous stepmother, the lovely Cinderella, a Prince in search of his Princess. There’s a Fairy Godmother and a happy ending. There’s a lost high-heel shoe and a nifty scooter, rather than a slipper and a horse-drawn coach in CCM’s modern-dress production.
On stage at CCM, you can be sure, there will be plenty of good-looking young singers who can both look and sing the parts.You can also expect great things from the CCM production team.
Save the dates: November 17 and 19 at 8 pm and November 20 at 2 pm. Tickets: 513-556-4183.



I recently purchased Peter Moruzzi’s book, Havana Before Castro.

After sitting for well over two hours, reading the well-written text and looking at the many wonderful photographs from the author’s collection, I still came away disappointed.

I grew up and came of age in Havana during the Batista regime and actually lived there for two more years after the arrival of Castro in 1959. I was the only child from a middle-class family – both my parents held jobs – and I was given a good education in a private Catholic school.

Although my family was by no means privileged, I was fortunate to be afforded many opportunities that enriched my growing up with cultural experiences. My parents took me to the theatre, to concerts, to museums in Havana, and later in my teens and on my own, I continued to enjoy what would eventually become my lifelong career in the arts.

And therein lies my disappointment with the book.

By not mentioning one single fact about my birth-city’s many artistic and cultural assets and limiting the book’s narrative to the description and, at times, the celebration of Havana’s underbelly: its casinos, whorehouses, porn cinemas, gangsters, political corruption and, on the plus side, its ostentatious night clubs and restaurants and its frequently horrendous mid-century architecture, the author fails to give an even-handed and thorough description of the city in which I grew up.

Nowhere in the book is there a mention of the many (over a dozen as I recall) theatres where month after month one could see the best of American and European plays. If there is a mention of the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra, which gave regular concerts in the architecturally significant Auditorium Theatre, led by world-class conductors such as Erich Kleiber and Igor Markevitch, and which presented international soloists in its annual season, I cannot find it.

Is there anywhere in the book a passing mention of Havana’s many art galleries or the National Museum of Fine Arts? I cannot find one. Did the author ever hear of the Cuban National Ballet? Did he know that Havana had an international opera season? Did he ever research one single fact about the University of Havana and its many illustrious graduates?

These days I hear again and again from friends and acquaintances wanting to go visit Cuba “before it changes”. I try to gently give those who ask for my opinion a reality check. I tell them to go see Havana, the already changed capital of my birth country. My wife and I did last December (2015) not expecting to encounter the Havana where I grew up half-a-century ago.

That Havana is gone.

What remains and what I encourage my friends  to see is the old city that dates back to the early 1500’s, which the Cuban government, with the help of Unesco, has been renovating. Meet the people. Breathe the salty ocean air. Listen to the music which is everywhere. Look at the art. Eat some black beans and rice with minced meat and plantains. Drink a mojito.

None of that has changed. Politics will change and that still gives us all hope. But Havana already changed.



A Chorus Line at CCM – Oct. 20-30 at Patricia Corbett Theater


On the Line

When A Chorus Line opened on Broadway in 1975 nobody had any inkling that this show with no stars, born as a workshop with no set and no real plot to speak of, would go on to receive twelve Tony nominations, winning eight Tony Awards, a host of Obies, Drama Desk Awards, the Olivier Award, and a Pulitzer for Best American Play, and run for six thousand one hundred and thirty-seven performances.


Now at CCM, A Chorus Line has opened with a formidable cast of Broadway-bound young hopefuls who will sometime soon be stepping up to the line. At that point they will hopefully be cast in their first professional gig after school. And like that line there will be many other lines during their careers where they will stand hoping to be cast.


The twenty-some young men and women on the line on the stage of the Patricia Corbett Theatre at CCM are dancing, singing and acting for all it’s worth. Under the firm guidance of choreographer-director Diane Lala and conductor Roger Grodsky they defy you not to be moved and charmed by the stories of the characters they play.


The stunning visual aspects of the production again remind us that CCM is unarguably one of the top theatre arts training centers in the country. From Matthew D. Hamel‘s clean-lined and symbolic set to Lindi-Joy Wilmot‘s period-perfect costumes to Jeremy Dominik‘s gorgeous lighting the show’s design by students is as good as you will get outside of the school by seasoned pros.


Leading the lineup of excellence, the very fine Hamilton Moore, plays Zach the director-choreographer who conducts the audition, as implacable and chilling as winter in Wisconsin. Alec Cohen as Mike, singing I Can Do That is a splendid loose-jointed comic dancer. Phillip Johnson-Richardson is a bundle of pent up singing-dancing energy as Richie. Christopher Kelley delivers an extraordinary acting turn as the conflicted Paul. Kimberly Pine, a stunning singing/ dancing Cassie nearly highjacks the show with her The Music and the Mirror.


After all the laughter and tears, what remains and resonates and lingers in the mind about this gem of a show is One Singular Sensation, the final number in which all the dancers – both those who made the cut and those who didn’t put on their glittery top hats and costumes, dancing and singing for their supper and for their souls.


Rafael de Acha


tom-jones-_-24They Were You the songs of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt

Today I found the answer to the title of our review, Where do all the good songs go?

Exactly fifty-six years ago Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt wrote their first show, The Fantasticks.

Who would have thought that a little show set on a nearly-empty stage, with a cast of seven, no chorus, no orchestra, just a piano and harp, I think, and a hope and a prayer would turn out to be the longest-running musical play ever. In the world.

And now, all these years later, director Aubrey Berg has assembled a nifty revue with (count’ em) forty gems from the Schmidt and Jones’ trunk of treasures.

Lyricist Tom Jones and songwriter Harvey  Schmidt, ever restless and not at all happy to repose on their laurels and live off their royalties, went on to write Celebration, 110 in the Shade, The Bone Room, Colette, Mirette, Philemon, Roadside, and I do! I Do!

Writing for the musical theatre is a perilous enterprise not fit for the faint of heart, in which each new show is a throw of the dice.

Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Cole Porter, and, from earlier generations, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin wrote during the years in which a song from a musical could top the charts when sung by a Sinatra or a Crosby or an Ella or a Rosemary Clooney.

Schmidt and Jones soldiered on valiantly during a transitional era in New York theatre.

As off-Broadway production costs became increasingly prohibitive, musicals got pushed in the direction of Broadway.  And if you turned on the radio you were more likely to get Elvis or the Beatles than Tony Martin.

Bigger casts, bigger orchestrations, bigger production values. crashing chandeliers, descending helicopters, singing felines began to dominate Broadway stages, and the chamber musical, a direct descendant of the European cabaret, became a theatrical equivalent of the horse and buggy.

Paraphrasing Noel Coward’s prophetic words, “The cafe society was becoming the Nescafe society”.

But, mercifully, not all is lost because Aubrey Berg has lovingly assembled a brace of songs by Schmidt and Jones and grouped them thematically in eight cohesive sections.
Songs of Love is the first grouping. That is easy. Aren’t all songs ultimately about love?

On the contrary, they can be about Battle of the Sexes, Marital Bliss… That is still in the neighborhood of Love.

But what about Songs of Disillusion, Learning Who You Are, The Natural World, Songs of Experience, The Human Spirit?

Those are the eight sections of the show.

Schmidt and Jones songs range from the deeply moving to the hilarious, to the reflective, to the satirical, to the ironic.  In short, songs about the human experience.

The lyrics are urbane, the rhymes unpredictable, the melodies free-flowing…Very good songs, indeed. Don’t they write songs like those any more? Every songwriter finds his own way. I just wish more of today’s songwriters could land such felicitous rhymes and such singer-friendly melodies.

The revue format allows for a song taken out of context, plucked, as it were, from its natural dramatic habitat in whatever show it belongs, to take a life of its own and allow one to isolate everything else, all the paraphernalia, all the trappings, all the baggage…and for a few very special minutes to partake of its existence, just you and the song and the singer as the messenger.

Aubrey Berg facilitated that experience. He gave six fabulously talented messengers a bare stage with a poetic set by Thomas C. Umfrid – a painted canvas with a sky that could be day, night, sunrise, sunset and an orb that could be earth or the moon…just a few hand props…no real costumes, just jeans and sweaters for the guys and pretty dresses for the ladies.

All that, and subtle, lovely lighting by Parker Conzone.

Avoiding the maudlin and the overwrought, Berg made theatrical magic happen, greatly aided by Katie Johannigman‘s endlessly inventive choreography.

Stephen Goers and Luke Flood are two protean pianists who might as well send the next orchestra with which they have a gig on a well-deserved break, as the two of them can make two keyboards sound like a pit full of players.

There’s no need to single out any one of the six outrageously gifted young artists in the cast. Let me merely give you their names and entreat you to make mental note of them, with the assurance that, sooner than you think, you will be hearing these names: Gabe Wrobel, Emily Fink, Stavros Koumbaros, Aria Brasswell, Karl Amundsen and Michelle Coben.

As for Tom Jones, as gracious a person as he is an enormously gifted lyricist, let us thank him and his writing partner Harvey Schmidt for a great legacy of unforgettable songs.

And thanks again to Aubrey Berg for astounding us yet one more time.

Rafael de Acha

October 10, 2016



In the past week there has been a  flurry of back and forth BLOG POSTINGS AND comments about the issue of racial stereotyping in the Metropolitan Opera’s twenty-five year old production of Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers.

Many of these postings were prompted by a New York Times review of the revival of Jean Pierre Ponelle’s 1973 production written by Corina da Fonseca Wollheim, a well respected music critic, and by recent postings in www. and in Greg Sandow’s blog.

Note the age of the production mentioned in the first paragraph in order to pinpoint the simple fact that here we are discussing an interpretation by a French stage director of an opera that had its 200th birthday three years ago.

But first things first.

Angelo Anelli, the opera’s librettist was a better political activist and Law professor than he was a lyric poet. But at age 21 Rossini could not have his pick of the best, and he had to, like it or not, work with the Anelli for the three weeks it took them to whip up into shape L’Italiana in Algeri .

Note also that this was Rossini’s eleventh opera, a work by a still-immature composer. Just a year later Rossini tackled Il Turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy)  and by then he was working with librettist Felice Romani, a much better librettist than Anelli, someone who was able to deliver a still comical but nicer picture of foreigners from the Muslim world than Anelli was, the year before.

After those two works, Rossini wrote at lightning speed twenty-seven more operas, several of them dealing with stories set in Asian and African countries and all of them seen through the squinting eyes of 19th century Europeans.

In  Armida the title character is both Princess of Damascus and a sorceress bent on turning all visiting Crusaders into sexual trophies. The Crusades is again the background in Rossini’s next opera, Riccardo e Zoraide, one in which citizens of “ancient Nubia” are less than fairly portrayed. In Semiramide and in The Siege of Corinth the exotics fare no better morally and ethically than in all those other operas.

Many of us saw the Jean Pierre Ponelle production of L’italiana in Algeri in the early 1970’s, with Marilyn Horne in the role of Isabella. At the time nobody was too preoccupied, let-alone straight-jacketed by the kind of political correctness that influences much of what we say and do these days.

But, for its time, Ponelle’s ham-fisted approach to Rossini’s comic opera was tolerated by some and ignored by many. Few judged it wrong. Many of us thought it was silly and only intermittently funny.

Last time I checked this is 2016 and more than forty years have passed. We look at stage works these days through a different prism.

If we are going to take on the challenge of staging some of the great operas in the Canon we should be mindful of the implicit intention of the composer and the librettist and strive to set the great operas of  Rossini, Wagner, Verdi and Mozart in the time and place intended by their creators. With that approach, issues of political correctness  would become irrelevant. They would be admitted as imperfect but invaluable stage works of and for their time, still viable and stage-worthy today.

We do not have to approach theatrical works of art with reverence. We should simply take them at their own worth, respecting the intentions of librettist and composer, endeavoring to convey with conviction their meaning to a contemporary audience.

We saw an Aida set in a modern-day Cairo, as it was in a hapless production of Francesca Zambello  at the Glimmerglass Opera a few summers ago. The stage was chock-full of gun-toting thugs bullying the enemy and a finale in which they water-boarded Radames.

Directors like Ms. Zambello often misdirect and render productions  incomprehensible, no matter how many densely written program notes or supertitles they throw at the unsuspecting patrons who have bought high-priced tickets hoping for a nice evening in the opera house.

There are many other similar and worse instances of directorial hubris or just plain stupidity to which I have been subjected in nearly fifty years of going to the theatre.

There was a Santa Fe Opera production of Beethoven’s Fidelio directed by the well-respected Stephen Wadsworth. In the finale of the second act the liberating army hung the Union Jack as part of the final tableau.

And I thought that opera was meant to be set in Spain.

Operatic libretti, from Monteverdi to Verdi contain wrong-headed and at times xenophobic utterances by their characters. And that – characters – is just the point. These are characters speaking or singing. They are not nor should they be the mouthpieces of their authors.

It would be foolhardy to claim that Wagner was an Anti-Semite, unless we had evidence to back up the claim. Well, we do, and his tract,  Jewry in Music amply proves it.

So does Hans Sachs address to the townspeople at the end of the third act of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg prove that Hans Sachs, the character, not Richard Wagner, the composer is a take-no-prisoners nationalist.

In Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Monostatos, the Moor  is depicted as a despicable creep whose soul is, in the words of the “noble” Sarastro, “as black as your skin.”

How’s that for political incorrectness?

In  The Abduction from the Seraglio, the Turks are portrayed as sexist, cruel and not-too-bright, notwithstanding Pasha Selim’s letting go of Constanza and his forgiving of Belmonte.

Historical accuracy is not what should measure the worth of works that were written centuries ago.

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, a problematic play more Elizabethan than Italian in its story-telling and in its treatment of “Shylock, the Jew” has long given stage directors a run for their money. But, if you are going to stage the play, for Pete’s sake don’t white-wash it.

The Bard did no better by the title character in Othello, if you think about it, portraying the noble Moorish General at the service of the Republic of Venice as pathological nut-case and wife-killer. Aaron, the Moor (another one) in Titus Andronicus is as nasty a sociopath  as they come. But they are what they are, 17th century portrayals of “savage” foreigners.

No producer in his or her right mind would permit a stage director to stage Oklahoma in Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma City, portraying Judd as a modern-day low-level drug dealer. The Estate of Rodgers and Hammerstein would slap them with a cease-and-desist court order and or take them to court. An infamous production of R & H’s South Pacific, directed by Anne Bogart set on a battleship in WWII is still talked about.

Then you have the countless exercises in Regietheater,  excesses perpetrated by any number of (mostly) European and American (a few) stage directors.

Under Peter Gelb’s management the MET has treated its audience to a Rat Pack Rigoletto, a La Sonnambula set in a rehearsal room, a Jack-in-the-Box Peter Grimes, a doped-up Lucia, a Daliesque La Traviata with no girls in sight among Violetta’s guests, and now a Tristan und Isolde set inside a battle ship (another one).

In trotting out these pretentious exercises in preciousness opera companies are not breaking any theatrical ground but merely imposing directorial idiocy on audiences who should know better but do not.

All of which brings us back to the original point. Political correctness is yet one more layer that should not be imposed on classics.

Otherwise, stick to contemporary operas, with living composers and librettists still around to safeguard their intellectual property. That is something that the long-dead Mozart and Verdi and Wagner cannot do.

Rafael de Acha



If your notion of a dance concert is one of toe shoes and tutus and little girls that aspire to become famous ballerinas showing off for moms and dads with cellphones at the ready to take videos, you will not get any of that when you go to a dance concert by Mam-Luft & Co. Dance. ( mamluft

MLC, for short, is all about Modern Dance. No, actually, make that contemporary dance. Modern Dance has been around for over a century while Mam-Luft & Company and its dancers have been around for just ten seasons, which, as dance troupes goes makes them both youngsters and survivors in the touch-and-go world of dance.

They have a three-concert season that begins this coming November 9th with several performances at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center. In that opening concert, aptly titled 5 of 10, the MLC dancers bring back five dance pieces from their ten-year repertory. Of these, the one voted audience favorite will be repeated in their May 5-6 pair of concerts – Homecoming – at the Aronoff Center’s second space.

Those are their two Cincinnati concerts. On March 31 through April 2 they will be at NKU collaborating with their students on a new work.

MLC is led by Jeanne Mam-Luft, who functions as the company’s leader, artistic director and business manager. She supplements the company’s modest ticket income by teaching dance to kids and adults throughout the year and in various locations around the area within an outreach program partially supported by Artswave, Ohio Arts and the generosity of a handful of donors.

I can personally vouch for the high artistic quality of this indispensable member of the small but growing Cincinnati dance scene, having reviewed and raved about their work for the past three years.

But remember, this is not our grandfather’s dance..

Rafael de Acha