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Arts & Entertainment Preview - April 2000

Classical Music
B Y   A U S T I N   B A E R   &   J O H N   I S T E L

Flight of Fancy

   The Green Bird flies again

Carlo Gozzi begins the preface to his eighteenth-century "philosophical tale" by writing "The Green Bird is the most daring play that ever issued from my inkwell." One need only read the Italian semi-aristocrat's character list to know that his boast isn't just braggadocio. In addition to the king and queen common to any fairy tale (Gozzi called his plays fables), the characters include the titular Green Bird (also a king); Golden Waters, "which play music and can dance"; and Apples, "which sing." The play lives up to Gozzi's promise: a pair of twins come of age while battling their propensity for lust and greed in a fantastical landscape. Statues come alive; the queen is turned into a turtle. Producing such a play -- on Broadway, no less -- would seem a whimsical and ultimately suicidal escapade. Fortunately, the show, which opens in New York this month, is directed and designed by one of the few stage artists whose theatrical imagination rivals that of the playwright: Julie Taymor. Before she enlivened the musical The Lion King, or transformed Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus for film, she conjured a couple of magical hours by imbuing Gozzi's tale with all the puppet pageantry, masked commedia dell'arte effects, and visionary stage imagery that we now expect from her. When first mounted, in 1996, by the enterprising Theatre for a New Audience, Taymor's production was a big hit off-Broadway. Now that The Green Bird is back, don't walk -- fly to the Cort Theatre. --J.I.

Immorality Plays

The playwright Donald Margulies   

The New York Police Department had better things to do in the 1920s than brutalize suspects: it had to shut down "immoral" plays -- if not Eugene O'Neill's All God's Chillun Got Wings or Desire Under the Elms (both in 1924), then Mae West's Sex (1926). This month audiences at A Contemporary Theatre, in Seattle, get to see another fine example of a play censored in that decade: Sholem Asch's God of Vengeance. The popular Yiddish novelist and playwright's original work, produced in Berlin in 1910 by Max Reinhardt, was a naturalistic slice of life, similar to Gorky's The Lower Depths. Written as a family drama, God of Vengeance focuses on Yankel Tshaptshovitsh, a brothel owner who tries to shield Rivkele, his seventeen-year-old daughter, from the true source of his income. He has devoted his life to protecting her purity, so that she can marry a promising rabbinical scholar and attain the respectability that he never could command. Yankel even buys a Torah for her room, as if the sacred writings guarantee God's presence. Unbeknownst to her father, Rivkele has fallen in love with one of the prostitutes. The vibrant new adaptation is by Donald Margulies. One of America's most accomplished playwrights, he sets the play on New York's Lower East Side in the 1920s. It would seem that twenty-first-century standards have so loosened that Margulies's version should only provoke the Seattle police force to turn out for tickets. --J.I.

Three Dawn Nights

A pre-Cleopatra Genaux
  The soprano Dawn Upshaw

Great Performers at Lincoln Center is not billing the recital series Images of Dawn as a festival, but why not? Three completely different events centered on the interests and the artistry of Dawn Upshaw, all in the space of just three weeks ... Is the soprano terrified? "Well, hopefully I won't be feeling that way by the time we get there," she says, laughing. "Hommage `a Jane Bathori" (Alice Tully Hall, April 30), Upshaw's tribute to the French mezzo-soprano, muse to Debussy and Ravel, will have been pretested several times on the road. The same is true for "Tonight Is the Night," a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, based on popular music from as far afield as India, Egypt, and Hungary (Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola, May 13). The finale, titled "Round About," is a theatrical evening of the show tunes and pop standards that have become an Upshaw specialty on best-selling Nonesuch recordings (John Jay College Auditorium, May 17, 19, 20). One wonders, Is there any music the singer wishes she could sing but can't? "I suppose sometimes I wish I had a bigger, darker sound that I could play with a little more," she says. "There are times I hear someone singing Wagner and think, That must be such a rush. But I don't sit around wishing I had things I don't have. Most of the time I feel really lucky. I can't imagine getting to the point where I would be at a loss for something interesting to do." (For tickets to all Great Performers events call 212-721-6500.) --A.B.

Austin Baer is a writer based in New York.
John Istel is the editor-in-chief of

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Photo Credits -- The Green Bird: Gerry Goodstein. God of Vengeance: Harold Shapiro. Dawn Upshaw: Hollister Dru Breslin.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.

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