The Theory of Relativity

5abb0113c8ed3.imageKimberly and I saw The Theory of Relativity at CCM on Wednesday night. It was the dress rehearsal and, in fairness and in principle I will not ever review a dress rehearsal of anything, even if I absolutely love what I see. And that precisely was the case with this brilliant production of a show I had never heard of.

Seeing today’s post by our colleague Kirk Sheppard (“The Sappy Critic”) I was moved to post this “non-review” with kudos for, first and foremost, director-choreographer, Katie Johannigman, who is making a splash on her first year in the CCM Musical Theatre faculty. Johannigman delivered a first-class show on a bare stage save for a blackboard, some chairs, and a stairs leading to the upper level of the Cohen Studio space, which she used to 100% advantage.

Just the music, creatively helmed by Steve Goers and its urbanely witty lyrics about the whole gamut of human relationships: straight, gay, just friends, something more than friends, sufficed, neatly served up by an amazingly professional cast, all still students, with no costumes, no trappings, simple lighting.

The show sold out its entire run, but, word to the wise, you’d be crazy to miss anything CCM announces for next year, not only the main stage shows listed in its brochure, but the Cohen Studio musical theatre productions that often go by under the radar even for culture vultures looking for something interesting and free, which The Theory of Relativity was.

Just saying…

Music for All Seasons presents its FINAL CONCERT of 2017-2018

Music for All Seasons presents its FINAL CONCERT of 2017-2018 at Peterloon on April 29 at 2 pm (please note new date!)

Music for the Home and Stage, Music for All Seasons’ final concert of the Season 2017-2018 is fast approaching, and you won’t want to miss the music being sung and played by a superb group of artists in the intimate environment of Cincinnati’s historic Peterloon Estate.


 Allan Palacios’ sterling tenor voice and artistry will perfectly suit the Italian songs of Alessandro Scarlatti that he will sing in our April 29th program. Christopher Wilke will accompany Allan on the theorbo, and will also play a set of Renaissance dance tunes on the lute. Melisa Bonetti, a fast rising mezzo-soprano, will sing selections from Spanish zarzuelas, and arias from Bizet’s Carmen and Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila.

Melisa and Allan will then join their voices in selections from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.

EBEN 3South African pianist Eben Wagenstroom returns to Peterloon to collaborate with the other artists in the program and to play a group of 19th century contradanzas by Cuban composer Manuel Saumell.

Visual artist James Slouffman will exhibit a group of his works in the lobby of the Peterloon mansion.

An informal get-together with the artists, over tea, coffee and pastries will follow the concert.


WHAT and WHERE: Music for All Seasons at Peterloon on Sunday April 29th at 2 pm at Peterloon Estate at 8605 Hopewell Road, in the Village of Indian Hill.
INFORMATION: Visit us on Facebook.


The Visit of the Old Lady


Gotfried von Einem’s Der Besuchen der Alten Dame (The Visit of the Old Lady) has been recently reissued by Orfeo Records as part of the Vienna State Opera Live series. It is indeed a live recording of a stage premiere that dates back to May 23 of 1971. The two CD box (C 930 182) comes with a booklet containing an assortment of production photographs, a synopsis and commentary in several languages but, alas, no libretto.

After its 1955 reopening the Vienna State Opera recorded several live performances with its then legendary roster of singers that features in this recording Christa Ludwig in the central roles of Claire Zachanassian, “the richest woman in the world”, and baritone Eberhard Waechter as the oddly-named III.

Others in the cast include Hans Hotter in what amounts to a comprimario role, and some of the finest character singers of the era, including Manfred Juengwirth, Alois Pernerstorfer, Kurt Equiluz, and Heinz Zednik. House maestro Horst Stein conducts.

Gotfried von Einem liked the sources for his operas dark and brooding, giving us prior to this work an operatic version of Georg Buechner’s The Death of Danton and Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Here, in Friedrich Duerrenmatt’s The Visit he delivers a two-fisted dramatic punch with his musical treatment of the sinister story about a wealthy old hag who comes to a down and out backwater somewhere in post WWII Europe to collect on an old debt from the now old man who once seduced and then abandoned her. She makes a hard to refuse offer to the townspeople: a fortune that will save the town from total ruin in exchange for the life of her former lover.

The music is through-composed – a mix of parlando passages and crisscrossing ensembles interspersed with occasional arioso moments. It takes a Christa Ludwig to deliver the kind of fierce performance she gives in this recording. One can only imagine what she must have been like on the stage of the old opera house. The writing for the part of Claire is fiendishly high at times and then pitched at the bottom of the singer’s range at others. Ludwig sails through it all with flying colors.

The other singers are immensely accomplished, but this is clearly Ludwig’s show.

Rafael de Acha

2 composers, 2 orchestras, new music


nan schwartzbrenton broadstocksynchronbratislava

Until Divine Art Recording Group sent a copy of a CD of Nan Schwartz’ music and that of Australian composer Brenton Broadstock, I had never heard of either composer, both of which are featured in a handsomely designed and annotated CD of original works for symphony orchestra.


Nan Schwartz has worked for years as a much in demand arranger of music for film and TV, and her compositions evidence her prowess as an orchestrator. In her own notes on the recording she acknowledges William Walton, Maurice Ravel, and Dmitri Shostakovich – all three composers who, like Ms. Schwartz wrote for film, as favorite influences. Indeed, in the opening bars of Aspirations there are hints of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, and at the turn of the corner there is a tenor sax given a soulful reading by Harry Allen that is unpredictably and simply pure jazz.


In Perspectives, Nan Schwartz briefly flirts with polytonality, creating initially a conversation for Jon Delaney’s guitar and Lee Musiker’s keyboard which then breaks out into an up tempo. In Romanza, the elegant Dimitrie Leivice is featured in a sweeping violin solo. In Angels Among Us, the lengthiest of the four tracks, the composer gives the terrific trumpet player Mat Jodrell a soliloquy against a backdrop of obstinato figures from strings and woodwinds. A juxtaposing of tempi, dynamics, tonality, and the alternating of soloist and ensemble give much of Nan Schwartz’s appealing music a uniquely sui generis sound.




Neither ‘classical’ nor jazz the music of Brenton Broadstock is most intriguing and in no way derivative, even though on first and then a second hearing I kept hearing riffs that reminded me of some of Duke Ellington’s larger works and passages with echoes of some of Max Steiner’s film music. But let me be clear, as evidenced by this album, this composer is a true original who succeeds in this for him rare foray outside the world of the concert hall.


Commissioned by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2009, Made in Heaven – Concerto for Orchestra shuns the traditional concerto structure opting instead for a tone poem structure that divides the work into four separately-titled movements: So What, Flamenco Sketches, Blue in Green, and All Blues.


The superb Bratislava Studio Symphony Orchestra, magisterially conducted by Kevin Purcell, who also helms the Synchron Stage Orchestra of Vienna in the first four tracks of the CD, plays Broadstock’s and Schwartz’s eminently tonal, richly melodic music with the same care it would give a Beethoven symphony.


Hats off to the composers, the conductor, and the musicians of both orchestras!

Rafael de Acha



sjss_origSeven Words from the Cross, the most recent issue of the ever-surprising Sono Luminus label, traverses several countries, spanning music from 18th century Americana to a recent composition by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, an extraordinarily gifted Icelandic composer previously unknown by this writer. Matthew Guard is the enterprising artistic director, program notes writer, programmer, conductor and general factotum at the helm of the Boston-based Skylark, a world-class chamber choir made up of eighteen voices and one musical soul, back this time with a CD of sacred choral music.

Throughout sixteen tracks, Guard and the impeccable Skylark singers take us on a musically inspired and spiritually inspiring journey that mixes unforeseen discoveries with fortuitous reencounters with the familiar. Skylark delivers neither a ho-hum Were you there? nor a shallow Deep River. Instead conductor Matthew Guard mines for the unpredictable while ever idiomatically serving the music, be they hymns by 18th century American composer William Billings, tried and true spirituals and traditional tunes, a 12th century work by Hildegarde von Bingen, or a portion of a Poulenc motet.

A shout out to finest among the finest, soloists Carrie Cheron, in Were you there? and baritone Dana Whiteside, in Just as I am, who book-end the CD, she with a silvery-voiced soprano and he with a soulful sound, both but two of the eighteen solo-caliber singers who make up this fast rising choral ensemble.

Sono Luminus has released Seven Words from the Cross as a CD/Blue Ray combo. As with all products of this company, the packaging is elegant, the program notes and translations flawless and the engineering first class.

Welcome back, Skylark!



An article by Chris Ladd titled “The Last Jim Crow Generation”  set me thinking about my own journey as a Hispanic in this country. It reminded me that when I came out of Cuba in 1960 and spent a few weeks in Miami before relocating to Minneapolis  and starting college things were tough. In Miami there were signs on houses that had rooms for rent that read: “No colored, no Cubans, no dogs.” Minneapolis was more welcoming.

At the University of Minnesota, where I started college as a Drama major in 1961, there were no Blacks in the department, nor were there any in my Romance Language classes at L.A. City College. Later at Juilliard, in the Opera Department there were five Blacks, a couple of Asians, and one Hispanic: me. At the College-Conservatory of Music, where I studied between 1967 and 1970, there very few Black students and not one Black faculty member that I recall until Sylvia Ogden Lee, the wife of conductor Everett Lee came to teach during my last year there.  At CCM, as it had been at Juilliard and at L.A. City College and at the University of Minnesota  I was the only Hispanic within miles.

Once I married Kimberly, my quintessentially Caucasian wife was bluntly asked more than once how her family felt when she married someone from another race. I too became the target of clueless comments and questions about my pigmentation and my accent. When Kimberly and I went for our graduate degrees at the New England Conservatory of Music, there were no Blacks or Hispanics in our class.  And when right out of college I got a teaching position at Centenary College in Shreveport, LA., there were no Blacks or Hispanics in sight in either the faculty or student body. This was in the 1970’s.

When I later went to work at the New York City Opera, there were no Black or Hispanic members of the conducting staff, the staging staff, the administration, and, to the best of my recollection, the orchestra. Among the principal artists there were a couple of Hispanics (Justino Diaz and Pablo Elvira) and equally few Black artists.

When for several years in the late 70’s and 80’s Kimberly and I worked as a show act duo in supper clubs and cruise ships and in concerts, we never ever once appeared on the same bill with any Black artists, nor did we work with any cross-racially integrated band in America.

When in 1986 Kimberly and I co-founded the award-winning New Theatre in Coral Gables, FL., we made a color-blind casting policy intrinsic to our artistic mission. In the twenty years that followed we gave a stage to Black and Hispanic actors, and the South Florida audience saw artists like James Randolph and Robert Strain and Tara Vodihn and Carlos Orizondo and countless others in roles they would have never dreamed of ever playing before in their careers. We also provided an artistic home to playwrights of color, including Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz, whose play, “Ana in the Tropics” premiered at our theatre in 2002 and brought home the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, making Nilo the first Hispanic playwright to win that award. In simple terms we took the reins in our hands.

There have been quite a few changes along the way, since I came to this country as a seventeen-year old refugee in 1960. Artists of color no longer have to kick the door open to get a seat at the table. In our orchestras, dance ensembles, theatres and opera companies we are gradually seeing black and brown faces, more Asians, more women.

Change is not a finite thing, it morphs with the times. As artists of color we must claim what’s ours and forge opportunities for each other. We – all of us Americans of every ethnicity – must remain vigilant during these troubled times so that we do not regress but continue to keep America as a home for all its artistic children.









Cincinnati’s Young Musical Entrepreneurs

Not all is perfect in our chosen professions in our troubled country in our very troubled times.

Young actors, directors, conductors, instrumentalists, arts administrators, designers and singers have tales to tell that are disturbingly real. But the good news is that instead of agonizing about dashed hopes and wondering why in the world they chose the arts as a career, young graduates from top conservatories, CCM among them are taking control of their fates and becoming grassroots entrepreneurs.

Like Candide and Cunegonde at the end of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, these fellow artist-administrators believe in the need for all of us who have chosen the performing arts as our careers to make our gardens grow.

For each behemoth arts organization that goes belly-up during these tough times, a lean and mean smaller artistic enterprise springs to life. Grassroots enterprises are being born in the oddest of places: bars, libraries, cafes, churches…

The function and value of these rising orchestras, chamber music groups, chamber opera companies, independent film makers, small dance companies and experimental theatres are beyond question. They supply opportunities for early career men and women in the arts to make the transition from conservatory graduates to full-fledged professionals.

Far from being a passing trend, these groups are becoming the future of the performing arts in our country, while many large institutions with their traditional structure and top-heavy administrations and recalcitrant boards are fast becoming a thing of the past.

The time is ripe for us all of us to act as entrepreneurs.

Instrumentalists get gigs in duos or trios or quartets, playing everything from weddings to Bar Mitzvahs to chamber concerts. Here in Cincinnati, Isaac Selya and Samuel Martin – both CCM alumni – to name but two success stories, have created both Queen City Opera and Cincinnati Song Initiative providing countless opportunities for young singers to practice their craft.

There are others, like Rachel Walker’s Soundbox…all about new music and local composers. There’s Jill Jantzen’s Salon 21, a series that focuses on pianists…There are opportunities awaiting those who take career matters in their own hands and run with them. Isaac and Sam and Rachel and Jill have done it.

With no invitations forthcoming to sit and dine at the big table, young artists are simply going ahead and cooking their own dinners. Let audiences know when dinner is ready and they’ll come dine with you. I hope to come too.

Rafael de Acha