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…



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


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.