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Arts & Entertainment Preview - November 2000

Classical Music
B Y   A U S T I N   B A E R   &   N A N C Y   D A L V A

Sinful Sopranos

   Audra McDonald

Brecht and Weill wrote bigger and more-popular works for the stage than The Seven Deadly Sins, but artistically this one's the bull's-eye. At the start Anna I/II, from a Louisiana of the poet's fantasies, sallies forth to the nightclub circuit. Some forty minutes later she has lived through seven years in seven cities and scraped together the cost of a new house for her selfish family. At the final curtain she is heading home, spent in body and soul, her own dreams reduced to ashes. Anna's personality was originally split between two performers: the practical, goal-oriented Anna I, who cracks the whip and narrates, and Anna II, the artist, who dances and ineffectually rebels. At the premiere, in Paris, the part of Anna I fell to Lotte Lenya, Weill's wife, who -- both in the tinselly soprano of her youth and the gravel baritone of her later years -- realized Weill's intentions with complete authority, even though she could not, in any conventional sense, actually sing. Although stagings remain infrequent, one generation after another of theatrically minded successors have "rediscovered" the score's pungent, cabaret verve, quite a few even singing in the soprano range that Weill had in mind. This month two reigning divas take their interpretations to the concert hall: Germany's Ute Lemper, icy and acid, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (November 9-14; 312-294-3000); and Broadway's generous, impulsive Audra McDonald, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (November 30-December 3; 323-850-2000). Weill fans, it's time to pack your bags. --A.B.

Dances From Down Under

From Air and other  
invisible forces  

The Sydney Dance Company, the highly acclaimed troupe from Down Under, is celebrating the choreographer Graeme Murphy's twenty-fifth year as its artistic director by barnstorming America with two of his evening-length works. Murphy, who was named a living national treasure in Australia in 1997, has created dances for the repertoires of the Australian Ballet, the Canadian Opera Company, the Netherlands Dance Theater, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and the on-ice duo Torvill and Dean. For his own company he has choreographed more than forty dances. Stopping in New Orleans (November 2, 4); St. Louis (November 10, 11); Amherst, Massachusetts (November 14); and Stonybrook, New York (November 17), on their way to a week-long engagement at The Joyce Theater, in New York City (November 28-December 3), the Aussies are alternating two very different pieces, though each showcases Murphy's longstanding commitment to collaboration with composers, in both of these cases with the Australian percussionist Michael Askill. Two percussionists are on stage for Salome, the more dramatic work, in which Murphy's retelling focuses on all four main characters (Herod, Herodias, John the Baptist, and Salome). The sounds of a Japanese bamboo flute add to the live accompaniment for the more spiritual Air and other invisible forces, a mosaic of solo, small-group, and ensemble dancing. Costumes for both productions are the contribution of Akira Isogawa, Australia's fashion designer of the year in 1999, who gives us a look at what's been hot on the other side of the planet. --N.D.

A Moveable Feast

    This way to Marlboro Country

Summer music retreats are legion, but the Marlboro Music Festival is unique. Yo-Yo Ma was speaking for multitudes when he said, "Marlboro was the place where I decided to become a musician. Living through these summers led me to a commitment to music that I could not have received from one school or one teacher." Every summer for the past half century, exceptional young talents and seasoned masters have been making the pilgrimage to rural Vermont. There, for a blessed spell, they relax their relentless pursuit of individual perfection and devote themselves instead to the rewards of pure musical exploration in the company of like-minded colleagues. Deadlines and hierarchy are unknown, and inspiration flows in every direction. Concert programs at Marlboro, assembled from material that has ripened to readiness in the performers' own good time, are announced only days in advance. During the regular season the "real" world gets to listen in on the results via Marlboro Music concerts on the road, and for these the repertoire is published in customary long-lead fashion. Half a dozen events are scheduled this month for Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. (for details call 212-581-5197). The pianists Mitsuko Uchida and Richard Goode, the artistic directors of the festival and stars in their own right, are scheduled to participate. For home listening Sony Classical has issued a commemorative double CD honoring Marlboro's fiftieth anniversary. The music selections include historic performances that exemplify to a tee the spirit of a miraculous place apart. --A.B.

Austin Baer is a writer based in New York.

Nancy Dalva's essays appear in the magazine 2wice.

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Photo Credits -- Audra McDonald: Barron Claiborne. Air and other invisible forces: Branco Gaica. Marlboro Music Festival: Gayle Stockdale.

Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.

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