Saturday, April 30, 2011

OperaDelaware’s Widow will make YOU merry

Maestro Steven Mosteller has the ability to conduct with authority yet still allow his soloists to milk the lovely Franz Lehar melodies for all they are worth. Eliezer Gutman’s fluid and gypsy-like lilting phrases were perfect for the schmaltzy songs of Lehar’s Merry Widow.

Laura Pedersen (as the Merry Widow) is svelte and lithe and wore delicious dresses designed by Lorraine Anderson, each one with a short train, which Pedersen gracefully lifted to the crook of her elbow to be whirled around the floor by Daniel Neer (Count Danilo). Their flawless dancing and strong singing give them that electricity that makes the audience believe in their love “spark”.

The operetta which premiered in Vienna in 1905 is a fluffy and hilarious story based on a comedy by Henri Meilhac. The story pits the Paris embassy staff of an impoverished country against French roués who would love to marry the country’s most wealthy widow. Paris and France are outrageously mocked to great comic effect -- it seemed Maurice Chevalier would come on stage any moment to defend his honor or at least to greet Dodo, Clo-Clo, Lolo, Frou Frou, Margot or Jou Jou.

The set, designed by Cynthia Du Pont Tobias, is a fantasy of Viennese Secession but drawn in more of an Art Nouveau style – with a brick-walled garden turned miraculously into a Parisian café and stage for the can-can girls by Robert Parker and his stagewrights.

The opera has creative choreography by Barbara Winchester who mixes the artists of the First State Ballet Theatre into the ballroom dancing of the rest of the cast with great success.

You can’t help but be uplifted by this production, beautifully coordinated by OperaDelaware Executive Director Leland Kimball! Performances May 1, 6 and 7, 2011.


Monday, April 25, 2011

State Poet Laureate at Newark Free Library

She breezes in, greets everyone by a nod, apologizes for being late and engages us right away by explaining that she has just been working on a new poem and would like to read it to us.

JoAnn Balingit exudes warmth as she reads her latest poem about Herring Point –one of many poems inspired by her walks around Delaware. ‘I rename it for my life because we all fall down’ is a line that keeps ringing through my head.

She reads eleven of her poems and she notices her works are lighting sparks in her listeners. She calmly lets them interrupt with questions. She is focused on her listeners.

One of her poems was written for Delaware’s 50th Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in April 2010. The Gulf oil spill had just occurred and Ms. Balingit scrapped her other drafts to write Prayer for the Gulf, a very moving verse tribute.

Her poem Circus, which recounts a dream about her late mother, reassures anyone who has to admit that the late loved one is no longer present.

After her reading, she invites people to read their own poems. Many have fairly polished works and afterwards we all chat like old friends.

When she was first appointed as Delaware’s 16th poet laureate in May 2008 she said, “I want to convince as many people as possible to give poetry a chance – to see if they’re willing to be wooed or not.” Many are willing.

Keep checking your library schedule as Ms. Balingit will start regular poetry readings in the New Castle County Public Libraries.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof heats up Chapel Street

Pulling off a Tennessee Williams play about southern social mores in the 1950s wasn’t easy in the 1950s, but doing it in 2011, on the 56th anniversary of the play’s first production, is quite a feat.

Jamie Cunningham is most ambitious in trying to portray a culture not his own with its intricate balance of family power, sexuality and avarice in the mid-twentieth century South. His directing skills are evident in his advice to Francesca Vavala who played the toughest role of Margaret. She keeps up her southern accent and quiet tones in character – through the lion’s share of the first act while her husband, Brick – played with practiced aloofness by Jim Burns - sips his liquor and tried to numb himself to her banter and pleas.

Big Daddy (Raymond Harrington) and Big Mamma (Judith A. David – whom you would recognize in her street clothes as the perennial Chapel Street volunteer) are brash and bigger than life as patriarch and matriarch ruling over the huge plantation and their children.

And a delightful discovery for me was the perfect southern gentleman that Andrew Mitchell conjured up as Gooper, the older son of the family. He was cool, calm and conniving -- quietly leading his wife and brood of no-neck monsters --ably played by five children -- of whom Steve Ashby (Buster) did a great job with what Tennessee Williams had written as Dixie’s lines in the play.

By the way, Mitchell’s direction of Zoo Story is the winner of the ESTA competition and will be going to national competition.

Shows April 22 – May 7, 2011.