Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wrap-Up: 30 Years of Musical Magic from DCMF

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music. An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer.

Where has the time gone? The Delaware Chamber Music Festival (DCMF) has just wrapped up its 30th anniversary season.  The DCMF has been called one of the state’s
“best kept secrets.” Personally, I think there are far too many “best kept secrets” on the local arts scene.

DCMF Music Director and Violinist Barbara Govatos promised a program worthy of the milestone, and she did not disappoint with set lists that blended the traditional and the contemporary, old favorites and some genuine surprises. Where else would one see two double bassists over two weekends?

The first concert (Friday, June 12) opened with Rossini’s String Sonata No. 2 in A Major. Bright, breezy and charming — he wrote it when he was 12 
— it nevertheless requires precision, subtly graded dynamics and purity of tone — all qualities brought by the festival quartet with deft support from debuting guest double bassist Xavier Foley.

A nice contrast was achieved with a Piano Trio by cellist-composer Gaspar Cassado. It is explicitly and ethnically Spanish from its very first chords. Pianist Marcantonio Barone, cellist Clancy Newman and Govatos are persuasive advocates of this piece that Govatos “discovered” on YouTube, and their playing is first class. The evening ended with a performance of Schubert’s much loved “Trout” Quintet. The ensemble built through the introduction to the opening Allegro with a strong sense of where the music should go, continuing with lively rhythms and balance: Again, Foley is present but never weights the players down.

The second concert (Sunday, June 14) opened on a pensive note with a performance of Heidi Jacob’s Winter Light. Inspired by the Bergman film, “In Winter Light,” this serial work has a mournful somberness about it and a highly expressive — not to mention challenging — string part brilliantly executed by Govatos. Collaborating on piano with Govatos was the composer’s husband, Charles Abramovic.

The mood considerably lightened when Abramovic and Russian pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine sat down at the concert grands to perform Brahms’ joyful “St. Anthony Variations.” Abramovic reminded the audience that the work was originally scored for two pianos and played for the first time by the composer and his close friend Clara Schumann. This was a truly superb performance, capturing all the color one would hear in the orchestrated version. I don’t think Brahms and Schumann could have performed it any better.

They then switched pianos for a performance of Brubeck’s jazz ballet Points on Jazz, a work that had personal significance for both performance. Moutouzkine recalls playing it with his mother, while Abramovic remembers Brubeck from an LP his parents owned. Like fusion cuisine, fusion music isn’t for everyone, but to quote Duke Ellington, "...there are only two kinds of music: good and bad." And this was definitely good and well-played.

The third concert (Friday, June 19) carried the theme “A Little Night Music” and featured the festival debut of double bassist Brent Edmondson, a Newark, Del. native.

One would expect to hear Mozart’s iconic Serenade in G Major, Eine Kleine Nachtmusic —always a pleasure 
 but not before something a bit more contemporary in the form of George Crumb’s Four Nocturnes (Night Music II) for Violin and Piano. This is truly night music: delicate and serene. The violin is heard in the highest register with wide-ranging intervals from time to time. There are long silences and occasional hints of birdsong. Only in the second Notturno does the music become a bit edgy. Govatos and Barone do the honors of exploiting the various timbres of their respective instruments: plucking, rapping on crossbeams, touching the strings on nodal points or simply depressing the keys.

Schubert explores the music of the night in his mystical Notturno, a single movement for piano trio in which the strings — Govatos and Newman — matched the gentility of Barone’s piano work. Their pizzicato was delicate throughout — not the standard pluck-away — as the musicians found their way through the muscularity of the dotted rhythms and the sonorous and lyrical slow bits.

Many have been fascinated with Boccherini’s La musica notturna delle strade di Madrid with its vivid evocation of bells, beggars, drums and the rosary. Here the quartet with the participation of Edmondson dispatched it with an elegant precision.  Barone provided an interlude of pure piano simplicity with his masterful performances of Faure and Chopin nocturnes.

The festival concluded on Sunday, June 21, with the core quartet taking on a musically and emotionally challenging set. Czech folk rhythms, national fervor, memories of youth and private anguish — the composer is coming to terms with his deafness 
 unite in the intimacy of Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1, From My Life. From the opening impassioned viola solo executed here by Burchard Tang to the closing pages of the finale which reduxes the dramatic falling fifth of the opening and introduces a whistling high E which signals the tinnitus that plagued the composer later in life, the quartet drills into Smetana’s anguish, creating the shivers it should.

Janacek’s First Quarter (Kreutzer Sonata) draws loosely on themes from Tolstoy’s novella: suspected betrayal, regret and disillusionment. This is music that can turn on a dime from introspection to unbridled exhibition, using small but potent motifs, a dazzling array of rhythms and an equally broad range of coloristic techniques and a chromaticism firmly rooted in the early 20th Century. The playing is positively explosive, concluding a strong season on an equally strong note.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Enjoy a Raucous Romp with Killer Rabbits, Knights Who Say "Ni" and Coconuts...It's SPAMALOT!

By Guest Blogger Carol Van Zoeren
Carol is a 40+ veteran of community theater and a retired chemist and retired from being a middle manager at DuPont.

Delaware All-State Theater (DAST) has done it again, with a raucous and hysterical romp through Monty Python with Spamalot, now playing at Tatnall’s gorgeous Laird Theater. Like All-State Choir, All-State Band, etc, DAST draws on the best talent from any and all area high schools. And boy, does it show! 

Every young person on stage – whether lead, featured role or ensemble – is more than up to the task of this challenging show. This is most notable with King Arthur (Jameson May), his squire Patsy (Will Rotsch) and his merry band of knights (Keelin Reilly, Duncan Smith, Julian Manjerico and Benjamin von Duyke). It would be difficult for any single high school or community theater to pull together such a group of guys like these six. Each is a “triple threat.” 

I expected good singing and acting. Their dancing was a delightful revelation. When I noticed they were wearing tap shoes my heart fluttered, and when they broke out in a time step, I nearly embarrassed myself. The show has only one female lead, the Lady of the Lake. Seeing Lyndie Moe’s performance, I’m not surprised she won the role. Vocal chops, check. The trick is to diva it up without becoming annoying. Well done, m’lady!

Spamalot also has some terrific featured roles, including Fred (Christopher Cooke), Minstrel (Jacob Tracey), Herbert (James Christopher). Every featured performer shone in his (yes, they’re all male roles) moment in the spotlight. And contributed to the fabulous ensemble.

Choreography by Shauna Goodman was exciting and well executed. Costumes by Tim Cannon were perfect – OMG “Come out, French People!” was hysterical. The live orchestra under Clint Williams’ direction and with many student players was spot, spot on. Cute cell phone bit, too.

But overall, I have to commend Jeff Santoro for guiding his young actors well. Spamalot demands that the actors go to the edge, but not past it. It’s a knife edge. At one extreme, young performers often shy away from the comedy and pull their punches. I didn’t expect that to be an issue with these seasoned actors, and it wasn’t. On the other hand, there’s a risk of taking the comedy past the point where it serves the story and tries to serve actor instead (for example, by punching a joke too hard) which breaks the connection with the audience.

I half expected that – but for the most part every character served the story and not themselves. If it were a drama, I would call this nuanced performance. But, with Spamalot, uh, “nuance” is not a word that springs to mind. Rather, I would say…craft. Well done!


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lear Fills Arden's Village Green with Tragedy (and Comedy)

By Guest Blogger Carol Van Zoeren
Carol is a 40+ veteran of community theater and a retired chemist and retired from being a middle manager at DuPont.

 James Kassees (Kent), Kerry Kristine McElrone (Goneril) &
Greg Tigani (Lear). Photos: Pete Lounsbury Photography.
It’s not summer unless I see some Shakespeare outdoors. Thankfully, our area offers two great opportunities every summer: Delaware Shakespeare Festival at Rockwood in July and the Arden Shakespeare Guild, now performing King Lear in North Wilmington. 

Greg Tigani (Lear) &
Lily Ozer (Cordelia).
King Lear has always been one of my favorites. I’m sure it dates back to my college days. I’d read a few plays and, well...meh. But freshman year, my professor showed us a video of the NYC Shakespeare in the Park production. When that sexy bad boy Edmund  the breeze billowing his rakishly long hair  bellowed “Wherefore bastard, why base”…um…I was…ah…let’s just say “undone.” 

Shakespeare on the page ain’t nothin’ compared to Shakespeare on the stage! And Arden’s production certainly delivers! Full disclosure: I’m friends with a lot of the people involved, and I know how talented they are. Director Mary Catherine Kelley has a dream cast, and my expectations were high. 

Robert Tietze (Edgar),
James Kassees (Kent),
Greg Tigani (Lear) &
Tim Donovan (Fool)
I consider Shakespeare productions a success if I learn, if I see, if I feel, something new, different and/or deeper than I had before. This production took me deeper into the heartbreak the characters inflict upon one another. I saw how Goneril’s and Regan’s deceitful natures poisoned everyone they touched and eventually, each other. I saw how crushed Gloucester was to realize he had placed his trust in the wrong son. I saw how Lear crumbled when he realized that words of love mean nothing. And I saw the helpers – Kent, Edgar, Cordelia  all of whom had to remove themselves from this poisonous atmosphere, whether geographically or by disguise, to protect the ones they loved. 
Emma Orr (Regan).

And more down to earth, in my 40+ years of community theater, I’ve always felt that the hallmarks of a really good production are how deep is the bench, how good is the chorus, are the smaller roles just throwaways, or are they fully fleshed out? I’d never thought about Goneril’s and Regan’s husbands, but for the first time I saw them. And I saw the huge difference between them. 

OK, logistics. Arden's Frank Stephens Memorial Theater is directly under the flight path of the Philly airport. In addition, there was a fireworks display going on somewhere nearby. The cast adjusted admirably, increasing the volume when there was aural competition. But how fabulous to have these “natural” sound effects for “Blow winds and crack your cheeks”?

My only serious logistical quibble was a certain shakiness with lines. Not because I know the play inside and out – I don’t. But being an actress myself, I recognize the full cast "deer in the headlights" look when you don’t know when, what, or how your next cue is going to come. Maybe this will get better later in the run.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Grand Announces 2015 Summer Children's Theater Schedule

This information taken from release courtesy of The Grand Opera House...

The Grand Opera House is pleased to announce its 2015 schedule for Summer Children Theater that will celebrate 20 years of free entertainment for the kids! Over the past two decades, The Grand has served more than 200,000 children from across the region and we're still going strong! The Grand’s Summer Children’s Theater presents a variety of fun and engaging performances each season with free admission (a suggested donation of $5 per person is requested for reserved seating).

This year promises more exciting performances for all ages – with comedy and juggling, music and dancing, unique adventures and larger-than-life characters! The shows are designed to introduce children to the excitement of live entertainment. Most shows are appropriate for children from preschool through middle school, and all of them are perfect for schools, summer camps, daycares, and families. The Grand also offers the chance for local students to audition with Missoula Children’s Theatre and perform on The Grand’s stage.  All shows are performed at The Grand, 818 N. Market Street in Wilmington.

2015 Summer Schedule
MARK NIZER 4D  A new dimension in entertainment!
Thursday, July 2, 10:00am & 1:00pm

HOT PEAS ‘N BUTTER  As seen on Nick Jr!Thursday, July 9, 10:00am & 1:00pm

REGGY’S CARIBBEAN ADVENTURE  Reggy the Purple Party DudeThursday, July 16, 10:00am & 1:00pm

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK  Delaware Children’s TheatreThursday, July 23, 10:00am & 1:00pm

BLACKBEARD THE PIRATE  Missoula Children’s TheatreFriday, July 31, 1:00pm & 7:00pm

Running time for all shows is approximately one hour. Tickets are only $5 (suggested donation), and seats may be reserved by making your donation in advance. If you prefer to bring your donation on the day of the show, you will be given the best seats available at the time of your arrival.

To make a reservation with your advance donation, visit The Grand’s website at to download and complete a reservation form, then return with your payment. For other questions, please contact Nora Reilly at (302)658-7897 ext. 3201 or