Thursday, July 26, 2012

OperaNJ at the Paramount This Weekend

Looking forward to seeing two OperaNJ productions at the Paramount Theatre this weekend. I’ll be reviewing them for the Asbury Park Press to run sometime during the week.

I’m really hoping at least one of the shows is a sellout crowd. Metro Lyric Opera used to be able to draw well but as I recall they rarely sold out completely.

But OperaNJ is not Metro Lyric. For all the joy that it brought us here at the Shore -- 50 years of it, in steady summer performances -- Metro Lyric was most remarkable because it was a homemade outfit. Shabby sets and costumes, local music lovers in the chorus, uneven stage direction and musical rehearsals -- all charming as heck, but not the most professional of presentations.

But even in the most awkward of circumstances, the young professionals in the lead roles could occasionally catch fire. And the community dearly loved “Madame,” the late Era Tognoli, who ran the entire shebang.

OperaNJ on the other hand is a thoroughly professional company. You’ll find its young singers on major stages all over the world, and the conductors, the set designs, the stage direction, the costumes are all absolutely first rate.

The New Jersey Symphony Chamber Orchestra plays for all Opera New Jersey performances, a genuinely world-class band.

Reviews are pouring in regarding these two productions, Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” and Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” and they are nearly all positive.

OperaNJ’s home is the rather fabulous McCarter Theatre in Princeton. Squeezing the productions into the Paramount with its limited backstage area will take some doing, including a few trailers for the singers.

But the Paramount is in many respects a suitable house, even with the adjustments. A historic theater right on the boardwalk, it has its own tradition at the center of the Shore's rich artistic history.

Former Princeton Symphony Orchestra conductor Mark Laycock leads the performance of “H.M.S. Pinafore” 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 27. Stage direction is by Michael Unger and the production includes Michael Gets as the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter and Sean Anderson as Captain Corcoran, with Mathew Edwardsen, Sarah Beckham and Jennifer Feinstein.

Victor DeRenzi conducts “Il Trovatore” 3 p.m. Sunday, July 29. Stephanie Sundine is the director and leads include tenor Rafael Dávila as Manrico, with Erica Strauss as his love interest Leonora. In addition, recent Metropolitan Opera auditions winner Margaret Mezzacappa will sing Azucena. Also featured are baritone Marco Nisticò as Count de Luna and bass Young Bok Kim as Ferrando.

Tickets and more information can be found at OperaNJ’s website, or by calling 609-799-7700.
See you there!

On Facebook

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Asbury Park's Fourth of July Fireworks

Great fireworks display at Asbury Park Beach. The fireworks themselves were really good, very exciting, wild colors and no gaping holes in the action. Very professional.

No music! I'm not a fan of music accompaniment for fireworks in general and loud amplified music in particular. Asbury tried the amplified music one year. No good. This year, no music and a much more satisfying experience.

My family and I walked the boardwalk, stopped and shopped at a funky T-shirt and jewelry place and bought some ice cream.

There was a fairly heavy police presence, probably a good idea with the crowd gathered on the boardwalk. The officers were polite and actually shooing skateboarders and dog-walkers off the boards.

Most of the beach was off-limits except for Fifth Avenue beach, which is traditionally roped off for the blanket-and-chair crowd. My daughter and I sat there, close to the water. With most of the crowd content to watch from the boardwalk, the beach had a healthy crowd but never became mobbed or uncomfortable.

A blood-red near-full moon rose over the waves just before the fireworks. A stunning view. And then a great fireworks display and comfortable, orderly exit.

Nicely done, Asbury Park! Makes me proud to live here. A great evening.

On Facebook
Follow me on Twitter: @CarltonOne


This Fourth, I'm thinking a lot about the farewell of Bruce Springsteen's song "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" from The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle.

Funny, the line "the aurora is rising behind us" -- I had always figured "Aurora" was the name of a ferris wheel or roller coaster or something. It just fit. I'm guessing now that he was using it in the generic sense, synonymous with "aura" but implying a solar source -- a bright, bright star radiating light. The star, of course, is the boardwalk itself and the fireworks of the Fourth of July.

Bruce is leaving in this song, and the boardwalk itself is leaving. This is the early 1970s. Asbury was already headed down the steep incline from its peak in the 1950s and '60s, to bottom out in the late 1990s with the boardwalk especially looking like a shuttered ghost town. Disillusioned and lamenting "our carnival life on the boardwalk," bored with "hanging in the dusty arcades, slamming those pleasure machines," he pleads with "Sandy" to love him tonight "for I may neee-ver see you again."

"Sandy" is the perfect name for his beloved: the beach, the resort, the magical unreality of the boardwalk's "Palace Amusements" and Madame Marie's mysticism.

Photo by Russ Meseroll

His next stop would be the grittier reality of Born to Run's "Meeting Across the River," themes of harsh, wounded souls, flayed, struggling and doomed, that he would develop more fully in "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and his later poetic masterpiece, "Nebraska."

The line of themes of childhood loss of innocence, desperate struggle, a growing maturity and sense of community that pace Springsteen's long discography are naturally reflected in the man himself. In his philanthropic gifts to Asbury Park, the emphasis has never been heavy on rebuilding the amusements, the carnival life. Instead, his focus was, and is, on schools, community projects, helping the underserved who struggled during the long years of the city's economic stagnation.

Along those lines it interesting to me that, here in Asbury Park -- and in New Jersey -- we take such pride in "Sandy" and "Born to Run". All those who know these (and that may be just about everybody in the world by now) recognize the sadness, the critical love, even condemnation, and longing after escape in both songs.

Judging by Springsteen's evolution as an artist and as a human being, it is easy to believe that nostalgia for Asbury Park's amusements is misplaced. It is easy for me to see a resonance with my belief that the town's emphasis on money over community has always been one of its greatest flaws.

But maybe we're not so wrong to be proud. We represent the community and the culture that produced him, after all and we can take some small credit for having nurtured him toward his great achievements, his massive success.

If in the final estimate, we as New Jerseyans are just "a town full of losers," then at least one of us got free and we can cheer him on his heroic journey. If he is the best we can do, that's ain't half bad.

On Facebook
Follow me on Twitter: @CarltonOne

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fourth of July Orchestra and Summer Concerts

The Garden State Philharmonic performs a free outdoor Fourth of July concert at Ocean County Library, Toms River at 7:30 p.m. Anthony LaGruth conducts a program of classical, pops and patriotic favorites. Bring your own chairs and blankets.

The event is part of the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation's "Carousel of Music Series". The series features rock tribute bands, brass and wind ensembles, jazz groups and classical orchestras performing each week, Wednesday through Saturday, at a handful of locations: Veterans Park, Berkeley; Ocean County Library; 10th Street Waterfront Park, Ship Bottom; River Front Park, Point Pleasant; Beachwood Beach; and Heritage Gazebo, Bay Blvd., Lavallette. Most of the scheduled events are at the library.

For a downloadable listing, see the The Parks and Recreation website.

On Facebook
Follow me on Twitter: @CarltonOne