April 14, 2021

By Stuart Mitchner

I travel in worlds you can’t even imagine! You can’t conceive what I’m capable of!  I’m so far beyond you, I’m like a god in human clothing! Lightning bolts shoot from my fingertips!

—from Better Call Saul, Season 5

Better Call Zeus is more like it. In fact that passionate utterance comes from the owner of a Suzuki Esteem named Jimmy (“S’all good, man!”) McGill, who is at a transformative breaking point not unlike the Shazam moment where Billy Batson becomes Captain Marvel.

So, you may be thinking Saul Goodman of the lightning bolts is either a Shakespearean actor in rehearsal or a deranged black comedy superhero out of the Marvel comics universe, surely not a shyster lawyer with a University of American Samoa law degree (by mail) driving a vehicular alter ego of a color somewhere between a “yellow matter custard I-am-the-Walrus” shade of yellow and the Crime and Punishment yellow symbolic of corruption, dilapidation, decay, and soulsick decadence. And don’t forget the slightly unhinged strip of chrome on the passenger side, just down from the blood-red rear door that suggests the work of a body shop mechanic with delusions of abstract expressionist grandeur.

Every time Jimmy speeds off on another mission, the camera makes sure you get a clear view of the word ESTEEM to the right of the New Mexico Land of Enchantment license plate. And every time you see that word you’re reminded of how brilliantly far the show’s creators, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, have gone — the proverbial extra mile — to put their hero behind the wheel of the perfect car for a driver on his way to the far side of “esteem” as Saul Goodman, a Friend of the Cartel.

Jimmy’s 1998 Esteem takes a hit almost as soon as he puts it in motion in the series pilot when an insurance-scamming skateboarder tumbles accidentally on purpose over the hood and smashes the window. Amazingly, the Little Yellow Car That Could almost makes it to the end of Season 5 (spoiler alert) as Jimmy/Saul drives it to the Mexican border. You could say that when the Esteem goes literally over the edge — it’s goodbye Jimmy, hello Saul. more

SPRING IN THEIR STEPS: The Pennsylvania Ballet continues its spring season April 29 with Balanchine’s ‘Allegro Brillante,” among other works. A combination of virtual and live events is planned.

Pennsylvania Ballet continues its appearances throughout the spring with a roster of virtual and live events. On April 15 at 7 p.m., “Behind the Seams” takes digital viewers through the journey of making, wearing, preserving, and displaying wearable art and costumes. Designer Julie Watson will share how she has been creating costumes for the company. Kristina Haughland of the Philadelphia Museum of Art will give a sneak peek at how the museum acquires a costume, what they look for in a piece, and what happens when it comes into their care. A Q&A will follow. Participation is free.

From April 29-May 5, a virtual program titled “Resilience,” designed to showcase the dancers’ technical expertise and artistry, includes Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante, Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, a work by Jermel Johnson, and Raymonda Suite. Tickets are $25 per household.  more

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s digital series, “Buskaid — A Musical Miracle,” which showcases South Africa’s Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble, presents guest harpist Jude Harpstar and violinist Mzwandile Twala in “Curious Creatures and a Heavenly Harp,” available Friday-Sunday, April 30-May 1. Works by Carlo Farina, Claude Debussy, Felix Mendelssohn, and Fritz Kreisler are on the program. Access is $5. Visit princetonsymphony.org.

“SIDE ORDER”: This work by Larry Mitnick is featured in “Imagining Space,” his dual exhibition with Heather Barros, on view through May 2 at the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville.

Heather Barros and Larry Mitnick’s joint exhibition, “Imagining Space,” is on view at the Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville through May 2.

According to the artists, Imagining space is different from imagining spaces. Barros and Mitnick understand that “spaces” are constrained by boundaries. A meadow may be circumscribed by a row of trees, and a room by its walls. In imagining “space” these two artists seek to invert the perspective. Both ponder space independent of the space’s periphery. They use forms we understand to prescribe a space we may not. That space can be vast. That space can be twisted; it can be atmospheric. So, for these artists and in very different ways, the path through space leads to abstraction.

Barros imagines space in paintings of interiors and landscapes. She understands that spatial orientation requires an anchor point. She seemingly provides these for viewers, but upon close inspection her anchors are often unmoored. She may offer a window through which one can see, but the view is empty. If not bare canvas, the paint has been wiped to near-translucency. Detail is sacrificed, information is lost, but volume survives. Other times it is unclear if one is looking at or through water, through fog, or at sheer emptiness.  more

“THREE BOYS. THREE STORIES”: Artist Mary Ann McKay will discuss her work in “Silent Voices: Art of the Children of the Mines” on Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m. online via Zoom. The presentation is part of Artsbridge’s Distinguished Artists’ Series.

Artsbridge’s Distinguished Artists’ Series will feature Mary Ann McKay in “Silent Voices: Art of the Children of the Mines” on Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m. online via Zoom.

McKay’s mixed media art feels like it comes through her DNA, as she bears witness to the plight of child laborers her coal miner grandfather saw and worked with in Pennsylvania. Using images taken around 1911 by Lewis Wickes Hine, photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, she combines her painting and digital skills with glass, metal, cold wax, oil and film to create extraordinary works that bring color and life back to children’s lives lost to child labor during the industrial age.  more

April 7, 2021

By Stuart Mitchner

The greatest art never loses its mystery. The better we know hers, the more dreamlike and sensational it seems.

—Gary Giddins on Billie Holiday (1915-1959)

It’s Opening Day at the Great American Ballpark. So begins a fresh, new, hopefully complete season after the travesty of 2020. At first glance there was a touch of poetry in that combination, the idea of a sports venue that hadn’t been branded by a corporation; alas, the home field of the Cincinnati Reds bears the name of The Great American Insurance Company.

But then the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, the team I’ve followed almost all my life, play their home games on the site of a slave market in a stadium built and named for a beer baron.    

I’m not complaining, not after watching Major League baseball played with real people in the stands. Never mind that the crowd amounts to only 20 percent of capacity, these living breathing yelling drinking eating fans are a joy to behold after last year’s cardboard facsimiles, with crowd noise Muzak piped in at peak moments in the action.

I’d like to think the upside of that surreal season was that it refreshed our appreciation of the game, the moral being “You don’t know what you’ve got until you almost lose it.”   

The same story was played out at the same time when America almost lost itself; now democracy is starting a new season, with the MLB commissioner pulling this year’s All Star Game out of Atlanta as a rebuke to Georgia’s recently passed voter suppression bill. Remember the way the Republican secretary of state stood fast against the gangster tactics of an unhinged president? Remember the 1919 Black Sox scandal?  It’s as if a right-handed reliever named Raffensperger refused to throw the game, striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth, thus validating the playing-by-the-rules ideal shared by baseball fans bound by a love of the game, whatever their team or party. Except that fans of the Great Lie booed, threw things, and stormed the field of broken dreams screaming “Kill the umpire!”  more

“SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY”: Passage Theatre has presented an online production of “Surely Goodness and Mercy.” Written by Chisa Hutchinson and directed by marcus d. harvey, the play depicts Tino (above, left) and a classmate, who try to help an irascible but caring school cafeteria worker. (Painting by Leon Rainbow, courtesy of Passage Theatre)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Passage Theatre has presented Surely Goodness and Mercy. Playwright Chisa Hutchinson’s inspirational coming-of-age drama follows Tino, an intelligent and caring 12-year-old boy. Tino and a classmate form an unlikely friendship with a school cafeteria worker, and seek a way to help her out of a crisis.

This online production was presented March 25-28; the run was extended for a second week (April 1-4). Surely Goodness and Mercy has been part of Passage’s Theatre for Families and Young Audiences series — which, according to the company’s website, is “geared towards students in elementary or middle school and focus on themes that affect the youth in our area.”

Hutchinson’s play is uplifting, but it also is grittily realistic. Set in Newark, Surely Goodness and Mercy attacks poverty (specifically the inability to afford health care), racism, and child abuse. Hutchinson also explores faith and its ability to empower people to change situations.

Tino (serenely portrayed by Layton E. Dickson) lives with his embittered aunt, Alneesa (played by Tamara Anderson, whose performance is characterized by bored, haughty glares and barbed line readings). When Tino tries to engage Alneesa in conversation, she pointedly fast-forwards through a commercial to avoid him.

Alneesa approves of Tino’s classmates teasing him for reading the Bible at school. She also rants about his generation when she learns that he discovered his church via Yelp. She tasks him with dusting, before abruptly reassigning him to scrubbing the bathtub. Later we learn that Tino’s mother died to save him from a gunshot. Alneesa’s resentment stems from the fact that she did not want children, but has been tasked with raising her late sister’s child. more

MEETING MUSICIANS ONLINE: Basia Danilow, concertmaster of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, gives students in the PSO BRAVO! program a close-up look at her violin.

During this pandemic year, Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) has pivoted its PSO BRAVO! education programs to offer a range of virtual opportunities to area teachers, students, young musicians, and the online community. Virtual school musician visits and online instrument demonstrations are geared to engage the younger set, while discussions of Bach and Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey (YOCJ) master classes are of value to older student musicians.

The orchestra is planning on up to 50 “Meet a Musician” visits. Students have the opportunity to talk with an orchestra musician face-to-face online, gain a close-up look at the instrument(s), and listen to live music demonstrations. Over 20 schools are participating, including elementary schools in the Princeton, Hopewell, and South Brunswick school districts.

Johnson Park Elementary vocal arts teacher Erin Ketterer said of the program, “The Zoom BRAVO! visits have been absolutely amazing. Our students have been just as captivated as they were during our past live assemblies. These virtual visits have meant so much to me as a music educator, because I think it shows the resiliency and power of music and musicians.”  more

Newark Symphony Hall (NSH), New Jersey’s largest Black-led arts and entertainment venue, recently announced Yendor Theatre Company (YTC) as its first company-in-residence. YTC’s first production with the venue will be Richard Wesley’s Black Terror, co-produced by WACO Theater Center, which is based out of Los Angeles’ North Hollywood neighborhood. The production will be directed by WACO’s co-artistic director, Richard Lawson, and will live-stream online this summer.

YTC will also be the first resident of The Lab at Newark Symphony Hall, a career accelerator and business incubator focused on the performing arts. The program is being launched with financial support from Newark Arts. YTC is a 2021 Black Seed grant winner — the first national initiative providing financial support for Black theatre companies across the country.

“We’re tremendously excited about the virtual staging of Black Terror and know audiences will appreciate its timeless themes,” said Taneshia Nash Laird, president and CEO of NSH and show producer. She is also the sole Black female leader of a performing arts center in New Jersey. “We’re confident that while housed within our incubator, Yendor will see swift growth, utilizing various creative and professional resources we’ve made available.”

Wesley, the award-winning playwright, screenwriter and New York University professor, wrote Black Terror when he was 26 years old. “The depiction of Black revolution was originally staged as part of the Shakespeare Festival in New York City in 1971. Black Terror was one of my first plays but continues to resonate both culturally and historically. I very much look forward to seeing it staged for an entirely new generation,” said Wesley, who also serves on the NSH board. “I’m grateful to the teams at Yendor, Newark Symphony Hall and WACO Theater Center for making this happen. I believe this is an important work, thematically, for audiences in Newark, L.A., and across the country.”  more

“IN CONVERSTION”: Artist Maria de Los Angeles will join Timothy M. Andrews for a free virtual conversation on Tuesday, April 13 from 7 to 8: 30 p.m. Her work is featured in “A Voice to be Head, on view in the Arts Council of Princeton’s Taplin Gallery April 10 through May 8.

The Arts Council of Princeton’s “In Conversation” is a curated series of discussions designed to celebrate and connect those who make art and those who love art. Breaking down the barriers between artist and art-appreciator, “In Conversation” delves into inspiration, studio practice, and artistic aspirations.

Maria de Los Angeles, curator and artist featured in the Arts Council’s exhibition “A Voice to Be Heard,” on view April 10 through May 8, will join Timothy M. Andrews, art collector and supporter of the Arts Council’s Artist-in-Residence program, for free virtual conversation on Tuesday, April 13 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Register at artscouncilofprinceton.org. more

The organizers of the 2021 “Ellarslie Open” juried art show invite artists to submit artwork through April 30 via an online entry system.

Dr. William R. Valerio

Sidelined in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic, the Trenton City Museum’s annual juried show will return for 2021 as “Ellarslie Open 37/38” in acknowledgment of its canceled year and its return. Dr. William R. Valerio, director of Philadelphia’s Woodmere Art Museum, will jury the 2021 show. There will be awards and prizes in 10 categories, include a $1,000 prize for Best In Show.

The “Ellarslie Open” showcases work by established and emerging artists from across the region and beyond, and has grown into the Delaware Valley’s premier annual juried exhibition since its inception in 1983. This year’s show will open June 26 and remain on view in person and online through October 3.

“Ellarslie Open 37/38” Curator Joyce Inderbitzin said artists may submit up to six entries across a variety of categories through April 30. Through the online entry system artists can submit digital images of artwork in most media (not film or video). Submissions are limited to six works, with a maximum of two from any of the 10 primary judging categories, as outlined at ellarslie.org/ellarslie-open-2021-call-for-art.  more

When West Windsor Arts’ staff reviewed the list of volunteers for the past year of shutdowns and pivots, they didn’t expect to come up with 127 names. This number represents individuals willing to give their time and energy by stepping up to meet the challenges of our times through the arts. It took some innovative ideas to keep volunteers engaged through projects like the Art Against Racism community art installation, sewing face masks to donate to frontline workers, creating online galleries and receptions, and sending joy and encouragement by decorating Art Kit bags for classes and camps. In addition, the board of trustees and other committee members including the External Affairs Committee, Internal Affairs Committee, Governance, and the Exhibition Committee contributed time and expertise on such projects as virtual gala planning, grant and loan applications, and other fundraising drives. All of this enabled West Windsor Arts to do a quick pivot from in-person to online everything, keeping programming relevant during an uncertain time.

As part of National Volunteer Week, West Windsor Arts is honoring three dedicated individuals whose service this past year was extraordinary, awarding them the Volunteers of the Year award. Barbara Weinfield of West Windsor and Doreen Garelick of Princeton Junction are recognized for their steadfastness in a difficult time, and their keen perception of the needs of the community. High school student Samhita Ghosh is recognized for the range of services she provided, taking on any and all special projects West Windsor Arts had to offer.  more

March 31, 2021

By Stuart Mitchner

Marvell is the most enigmatic, unclassifiable, and unaffiliated major poet in the language.

—Harold Bloom

Now let us sport us while we may…

—Andrew Marvell (1621-1679)

   No man is an island entire of itself …

—John Donne (1572-1631) 

In October 1966, Ray Davies and the Kinks recorded my theme song for the day, “Too Much On My Mind,” which makes a surprising but perfectly natural appearance a decade later in The American Friend (1977) by the German director Wim Wenders. At the time of the filming, Wenders told an interviewer that rock and roll had “saved” him: “It gave me the idea of finding out about life. It led me to everything; it led me to film-making.” Because of rock Wenders started to think of creativity “as having something to do with joy: the idea of having a right to enjoy something.” That’s a striking admission from someone who grew up in postwar Germany; instead of the burden of guilt, angst, and negativity: enjoying the right to find joy in creation.

It’s not that I mind having too much on my mind every week. Far from it. Witness the crowd of epigraphs at the top. I could have added a dozen more, including all of Andrew Marvell’s irresistible seize-the-day and see-the- world-and-die seduction song “To His Coy Mistress,” one of those poems it’s hard to stop reading. One sip of this salty Margarita and you’re off to the races with the world and time like the wind at your back, the notion of maidenly coyness the salt on the rim of the glass. Try not feeling happily drunk reading a line like “our long love’s day.” Then to go from that to the sweeping geographical audacity of the coy mistress finding rubies by the Ganges while the love-crazed poet from Hull sings a lusty far-reaching complaint beside his own hometown Humber (was Humbert Humbert here?). Then a take-no-prisoners love song pitch for all time, “I would love you ten years before the Flood.” Who cares what happens after the Flood? And the casual beauty of “And you should if you please refuse” with the not so casual “until the Conversion of the Jews.” Another one-two punch follows, the time-wise, “My vegetable Love should grow / Vaster than Empires, and more slow.” How slow? At this point a poet writing in the 1660s, his poetry unpublished in his time, casts his line and lands the last, July 29, 1997 entry, in the journal of William S. Burroughs two days before his death in Lawrence, Kansas, where a low-rent midnight movie called Carnival of Souls had been filmed in the early 1960s around the time Burroughs’s Naked Lunch was being served up to the world.

Too much on my mind, for sure. Like Ray’s song says, “It seems there’s more to life than just to live it.”  more

“SOMETHING WONDERFUL:” The Princeton Festival presented “Something Wonderful: An Evening of Musical Favorites.” The online concert featured soprano Amy Weintraub (right), accompanied by tenor and guitarist Shane Lonergan. (Photo courtesy of The Princeton Festival)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The Princeton Festival presented Something Wonderful: An Evening of Musical Favorites on March 26. Actress, singer, and dancer Amy Weintraub performed an online recital of songs from classic and contemporary musicals. Actor, director, and musician Shane Lonergan accompanied Weintraub on guitar, and also sang with her on some of the selections. A press release emphasizes that the concert was a benefit whose ticket sales “help fund the Festival’s 2021 season.”

Weintraub and Lonergan previously performed together in The Princeton Festival’s 2020 Live Musical Theater Revue. Weintraub also starred in the Festival’s 2019 production of She Loves Me.

According to Weintraub, Something Wonderful was livestreamed from the living room of her parents’ house (which hosted a small “fully vaccinated” audience) in Fort Collins, Colorado. Acting Artistic Director Gregory Geehern said that he had asked the performers for an “NPR ‘Tiny Desk’ vibe.” It was an astute bit of direction; the intimate, relaxed mood echoed that of a concert in a coffee shop.

The concert was in two segments. The first largely favored selections from musicals that premiered during Broadway’s mid-20th century “Golden Age.” After an intermission, greater emphasis was placed on more recent shows and songs. Unifying themes were the emergence of love, the uncertainty that can accompany it, and the extent to which prior experience can leave one unprepared to process current feelings.  more

By Nancy Plum

Operas have been presented in unusual formats over the past year as companies think far outside the opera house, ranging from Zoomed recitals to a presentation of Wagner in a parking garage. Princeton University’s Department of Music joined the inventive performance arena this past month, with a virtual opera performance of 17th-century Italian composer Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto. Most academic years in January, students in the Department of Music fall course on opera performance have presented the fruits of their labor in a public performance at Richardson Auditorium. Princeton University operated remotely the first half of this academic year, but the students enrolled in the fall 2020 virtual class refused to be cheated out of their public performance. With the combination of a conductor, director, videographer, dramaturg, and its own collective imagination, the class created a virtual three-act opera production presented by the Department of Music over three Saturdays this past month.  

The University production of La Calisto began its technological path as University Orchestra conductor Michael Pratt and voice faculty member Martha Elliott recorded the opera’s harpsichord accompaniment on piano. The videotape was then sent to harpsichordist Joyce Chen, who rerecorded the music on harpsichord to Pratt’s conducting. With the cast isolated all over the country, the University sent each singer state-of-the-art recording equipment and software to record their solo parts to Chen’s accompaniment. Students were allowed to submit as many “takes” as they wanted. The opera’s extensive recitatives were replaced with narration written by dramaturg (and Music Department chair) Wendy Heller and opera director Christopher Mattaliano and delivered throughout the opera by the cast members themselves.  

The University Department of Music presented the three-act production act by act beginning in early March, with Act I launched March 6, Act II March 13, and Act III on March 20.  The final broadcast reflected 17 singers and instrumentalists from the University student body using the spaces of their own homes, combined with the best technology the 21st century has to offer, to recreate a story from mythology set to music of the 17th century.   more

FENDING FOR THEMSELVES: The documentary feature “Stray,” directed by Elizabeth Lo, is part of the 2021 Princeton Environmental Film Festival.

The Princeton Environmental Film Festival, a signature Princeton Public Library event, is being presented virtually this year. Opening Tuesday, April 13, and running through Sunday, April 18, the 15th annual festival features a combination of nine short and nine feature-length documentary films with discussion sessions that include some of the filmmakers and other speakers.

The festival is under the direction of Susan Conlon and Kim Dorman, whose focus is to present films with local, regional, and international relevance.  more

MAKING MUSIC: A week of musical instruction for fourth-ninth graders is being planned for August by Westrick Music Academy.

Westrick Music Academy will launch its third year of Camp Westrick, which features voice training and performance with leading children’s choir directors, musical theater class, daily choir rehearsals, development of musicianship, games, and more.

Instructors and counselors create a fun, safe environment offering opportunities for students to develop musical and vocal technique while creating friendships and learning to work together. The week-long camp culminates in a celebratory performance of music and skills learned during the week for family and friends.  more

“STACKING ‘EM UP!”: This photo by Dafydd Jones is featured in this year’s Phillips Mill Photo Exhibition. The juried member show can be viewed online beginning April 3.

The Phillips Mill Photo Committee has announced that its first-ever member show will go live on April 3. “The talented photographic artists who volunteer their time every year to produce the prestigious annual Phillips Mill Photo Exhibition, our juried photo show, are excited to have this chance to share their personal imagery,” says Spencer Saunders, who chairs the Phillips Mill Photo Committee. 

For this year’s show, each of three dozen Phillips Mill Photo Committee members will submit up to eight fine art photographs to display in the show. It is a special opportunity for all to see the body of work these talented photographers create.  more

NEW ONLINE EXHIBIT:  “A Symbol of New Jersey to the World: The Old Barracks at the World’s Fair,” on view beginning Thursday, April 1 at barracks.org/exhibits, details the importance of World’s Fairs to the global community and the role of the Old Barracks as a symbol of New Jersey at three fairs.

The Old Barracks Museum in Trenton has announced the opening of a new online exhibit, “A Symbol of New Jersey to the World: The Old Barracks at the World’s Fair,” on view starting Thursday, April 1 at barracks.org/exhibits more

March 24, 2021

By Stuart Mitchner

Earth, you darling, I will! Oh, believe me, you need
your Springs no longer to win me: a single one,
just one, is already more than my blood can endure!

—from Duino Elegies

I walked into Labyrinth Books last week looking for nothing in particular and walked out with Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies (Norton Library 1963). Later the same day I read the first four of the 10 elegies aloud to myself, softly, just above a whisper, with the rain gently falling in the background.

In an essay from his 2012 collection In Time, C.K. Williams agrees with “the many readers” who consider Duino Elegies “the greatest single poem of the twentieth century.” Rilke named the work for Duino Castle, near Trieste, where he began the first elegy in 1912 after a stormy walk along the bastions with the Adriatic Sea “raging two hundred feet below.” According to J.B. Leishman’s introduction, Rilke heard the first line in the wind: “Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?” In the translation by Leishman and Stephen Spender: “Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic orders?”

Something like the unsettling pleasure of reading Rilke soft and low in rainy day serenity is in the music of the first stanza: “For Beauty’s nothing / but beginning of Terror we’re still just able to bear, / and why we adore it so is because it serenely / disdains to destroy us.”

In his essay, Williams finds Duino Elegies “simply gigantic: inexhaustible.” If he were alive again and sitting across from me at this moment celebrating the poem’s “superabundant being,” he’d be smiling, leaning forward, delighting in a poet who could write “Earth, you darling, I will,” as if the Earth had just proposed marriage. The pleasure of this imagined moment is the feeling that two poets are face to face with you saying, “Look, I am living.” And so they are. more

By Nancy Plum

One of the last musical events to take place in Princeton last March before the coronavirus shutdown was a performance by the Dryden Ensemble of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion. The Baroque specialty orchestra had planned to present Bach’s monumental choral/orchestral work at Princeton’s All Saints’ Church on Saturday, March 14, 2020 to celebrate the organization’s 25thanniversary. With a state shutdown called for that day, the organization hurriedly turned its dress rehearsal the night before into an open performance to a limited audience. For those who missed the concert, the Dryden honored what would have been Bach’s 336th birthday this past Sunday with an online broadcast of the performance from last March. Conducted by Scott Metcalfe, musical and artistic director of the Boston-based vocal ensemble Blue Heron, this performance featured eight vocal soloists and an orchestra of 20 period instrumentalists to present a concert just as relevant and worthwhile now as it was a year ago.

Presenting the Passion narrative from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John during Holy Week had been a liturgical tradition for centuries by the Baroque era. Initially read in church, the Biblical narrative was subsequently chanted and eventually set polyphonically as choral music evolved. By the 18thcentury, Passion settings were elaborate works with instruments and choruses, with vocal soloists taking on character parts. Bach may have composed as many as five Passion settings, with only two surviving in performable form. At the time Bach composed this work, he was in the early years of his position as cantor to four major Lutheran churches in Leipzig. It is hard to believe in these days of Bach reverence that he was somewhat down the list of choices for this position — following his hiring, one of the local council members complained that they would now have to “make do with mediocrity.”  Bach composed the multi-movement piece to be performed in two parts, separated by the Good Friday sermon.

Bach’s setting of the Passion as described in the Gospel of John is interspersed with commentary on the story in the form of arias or Lutheran chorales setting religious poems and other texts written specifically for this piece. Major choruses bookend the series of arias, recitatives, and chorales, with the drama conveyed by an Evangelist, Jesus, and Pilate. Two sopranos, two altos, and one tenor fill out the storyline, which begins at the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and ends at the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea. In this performance, presented in German with English subtitles, the Ensemble recreated the piece with just eight singers handling all of the vocal material, bringing together an octet well-experienced in 18th-century performance practice. Leading the cast as the Evangelist was tenor Jason McStoots, who has a long history of specializing in Baroque opera. William Sharp, singing the role of Jesus, is no stranger to opera and choral works on Princeton stages; and baritone Brian Ming Chu, singing the role of Pilate, has made his professional career in the Philadelphia area. Although these three singers carried much of the dramatic action, the other five vocalists were no less busy.   more

TOASTING SPRING: The Arts Council of Princeton presents the ninth annual Cabernet Cabaret performance featuring Sarah Donner on Friday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m. This virtual cabaret will usher in spring with hope, sequins, and jazz hands.

The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) presents the ninth annual Cabernet Cabaret featuring Sarah Donner & Friends, a virtual cabernet-infused evening on Friday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m. This year’s theme, “Emerge from the Dark: Songs to Spring Forth!” will include showtunes and witty banter. Selections include songs from Frozen, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Into The Woods, and Ragtime.

“We have been hunkered down for what has been the darkest winter for many of us. Cabernet Cabaret 2020 was the last live show that I performed prior to the pandemic lockdown,” said Donner. “Let’s raise a glass to a virtual evening of showtunes celebrating new beginnings and the light at the end of these dark days.”

New for 2021, Cabernet Cabaret ticket buyers are entitled to a 15 percent discount on select bottles of wine at Princeton Corkscrew Wine Shop. Attendees will receive a code to use on the Corkscrew website, active from April 9-16. Tickets are $25 and available at artscouncilofprinceton.org. All proceeds benefit the Arts Council of Princeton, helping to close the gap created by COVID.

“A Past Becomes a Heritage: The Negro Units of the Federal Theatre Project” is a program being presented March 30 at 7:30 p.m., on Zoom, by the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater. It will feature recorded readings by professional actors of excerpts of plays written by Black playwrights in the New Deal-era Federal Theatre Project’s Negro Units, as the units were titled then.

The readings will serve as a springboard for a live panel-led conversation on this particular moment in Black and theatrical history. The event kicks off a new partnership between Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts and New York City-based collective CLASSIX, an organization dedicated to expanding the classical theater canon through an exploration of dramatic works by Black writers. This event is a Princeton Humanities Council Magic Project.

Artists and scholars of CLASSIX including theatrical directors Christina Franklin, Kimille Howard, and Dominique Rider are involved, in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater. Panelists include Princeton professors Autumn Womack and Kinohi Nishikawa, CLASSIX member Arminda Thomas, moderated by NYU professor Michael Dinwiddie. 

The event is free to the public. Visit arts.princeton.edu/classix to register.

“CITIZEN X”: This work by Maria de Los Angeles is part of the Arts Council of Princeton’s “A Voice to be Heard” exhibition, on view April 10 through May 8 in the Taplin Gallery.

The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) will present “A Voice to be Heard” in its Taplin Gallery April 10 through May 8.

The exhibition explores the idea of the inner voice and the ongoing search for meaning, connection, and sense of place. The artists touch on ideas of belonging that seem truly important in contemporary life and in a society that too often feels polarized and isolated, inviting us to reflect on our points of view and shared humanity.

Joyce Kozloff, in her series “girlhood,” visually collaborated with her younger self through using childhood drawings in her current work that reflect on her education and perception of the world. She explains that through the work “a visual dialogue between my childhood and adulthood … my conventional grammar school innocence felt weirdly relevant within our polarized society, where so many people hold onto fantasies about recovering an imaginary past.”

The role of story in shaping knowledge, assumptions, our own origins and political views is similarly explored by Maria de Los Angeles through the voice of the personal. She exposes the internalized dialogue and external  narratives surrounding migration through humor, story, facts, and allegory. A deeply felt voice blends the political, personal, and the mythological together. more

This work by Doris Ettinger is part of the Garden State Watercolor Society’s “2021 Annual Members Exhibition,” now being held virtually through April 15. This year’s exhibition, which features 167 paintings, can be viewed for free via a YouTube link on gswcs.org.