April 25, 2018

By Nancy Plum

One-act operas present unusual challenges to directors in how to combine them into an evening’s entertainment and the possibility of double casting. Two short operas often linked in one production are Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, creating an evening of 19th-century human drama. These two operas represent the school of verismo, in which composers portrayed the ugly realities of life, with ordinary people doing ordinary things — such as stealing each other spouses and killing one another off. Boheme Opera NJ presented Cavalleria and Pagliacci in a double bill this past weekend at The College of New Jersey’s Kendall Main Stage Theater, with a cast of nine principals who demonstrated that this regional opera company wastes no expense in seeking the highest level of talent. With a nod to its home base, Boheme Opera NJ set both of these productions in a late 1940s Italian-American community in northeastern United States, similar to what the Chambersburg section of Trenton might have been like in the years after World War II.  more

April 18, 2018

BAKERSFIELD MIST: Performances are underway for Pegasus Theatre Project’s production of “Bakersfield Mist.” Directed by Peter Bisgaier, the play runs through April 22 at the West Windsor Arts Center. Maude (Donne Petito, left) and Lionel (Rupert Hinton) have a heated discussion about the authenticity of a painting. (Photo by John M. Maurer)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Bakersfield Mist is a tragicomedy in which Maude Gutman, an unemployed bartender, has purchased a painting from a thrift store. She believes that her acquisition is a Jackson Pollack masterpiece worth millions of dollars; the initial conflict arises when Lionel Percy, a haughty art expert, doubts the painting’s authenticity.  more

By Nancy Plum

Richardson Chamber Players journeyed into a new comfort zone this past weekend with a concert celebrating chamber pieces by African-American composers. The 11 members of the Chamber Players performing Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium presented works ranging from the familiar Duke Ellington to a world premiere by one of the University’s own graduate students. A rare collaboration among Princeton University’s jazz and classical faculty, this concert not only showed the versatility of the Chamber Players musicians but also how far outside the box these individuals have traveled in their musical careers. more

March 28, 2018

By Nancy Plum

The island of Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida and just about the size of Pennsylvania, packs a wallop in performing arts and culture. Latin America and the Caribbean are known for indigenous dance forms and music full of percussion and brass, but Cuba also has strong roots in the Western European classical tradition. Cuba’s orchestral ancestry dates back to the 18th century, when the country’s major cathedrals paralleled their counterparts in Europe by establishing instrumental ensembles. Cuba joined the evolution of the symphony orchestra in the 19th century, and by the 1930s, Havana boasted two full symphonic ensembles. In 1959, one National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba emerged, and has been well representing the country worldwide since.  more

March 7, 2018

By Nancy Plum

In its annual tribute to long-time conductor Walter L. Nollner this year, the Princeton University Glee Club showed how much the ensemble has grown under the leadership of current music director Gabriel Crouch, as well as how multi-national choral music has become since Nollner’s time. Not content to merely present a masterpiece of the repertory, the Glee Club stretched its performance wings well into the 21st century with a work by one of its own members. more

January 31, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Sunday afternoon centered on guest pianist Simone Dinnerstein, but another subtler theme also ran through the performance. PSO Music Director Rossen Milanov programmed a concert with a narrative covering three hundred years of music history, featuring innovation and new musical ideas within well-known frameworks. The addition of dynamic and technically dazzling American pianist Simone Dinnerstein made the afternoon that much more exciting.  more

January 24, 2018

By Nancy Plum

At first glance, the title of New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s concert this past Friday night would seem to have little connection to the pieces performed. As it turned out, the works by Bohuslav Martinu°, Maurice Ravel, and Sergei Rachmaninoff were all linked to “America, Inspiring,” with each piece rooted in the composer’s association with the United States. Led by guest conductor Andrew Constantine, the orchestra’s performance at Richardson Auditorium showed a little-known side of how America in the first half of the 20th century affected European composers from all regions. more

January 17, 2018

By Nancy Plum

Students at Princeton University have an incredibly diverse range of choices for musical experiences on campus. One of the most challenging this year was the opera class Music 219, in which music majors and non-majors joined together to explore a single theme or production. As described by Humanities Council Visiting Lecture Thomas Guthrie, co-teacher of Music 219, this year’s class was “all about exploring what it’s like to be in an opera.” The 30 students who participated in the class performed the resulting operatic project this past weekend at Richardson Auditorium. Guthrie and University Director of Choral Activities Gabriel Crouch (also co-teacher of Music 219) led the students through a staged production in Italian (with English super-titles) of what is considered the first fully-developed opera — Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 L’Orfeo. Friday night’s performance (the opera was repeated Saturday night) showed both the depth of the class and how even those who are not studying music extensively can rise to a challenge.  more

January 3, 2018

By Nancy Plum

The holiday season means many things in Princeton — a brightly-decorated tree in Palmer Square, busy post office lines, and in musical terms, the annual performance of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Presented by McCarter Theatre, this performance in Richardson Auditorium has always given audiences a respite from breakneck December activities, and this year was no exception. Last Monday night, 21 instrumentalists joined together in a variety of combinations to perform Bach’s six concertos which are considered the epitome of the Baroque form. Each concerto featured a different blend of soloists, and the members of the Chamber Music Society demonstrated both solid ensemble and refined solo playing.  more

December 20, 2017

“All good things come to those who wait,” so goes the saying. The audience for New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s Friday night concert at Richardson Auditorium had to wait a bit for the orchestra to arrive through the snow, but following the late start, orchestra, chorus, and soloists presented a well-informed performance of George Frideric Handel’s perennial Christmas holiday favorite, Messiah. NJSO Music Director Xian Zhang took a unique and creative journey through a work which is enjoyable in any form, but so much more fun with an imaginative approach to performance practice. more

December 13, 2017

“A CHRISTMAS CAROL”: Performances are underway for “A Christmas Carol.” Directed by Adam Immerwahr, the play runs through December 31 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Scrooge (Greg Wood, center) joins the company in a celebratory dance. The cast combines professional actors with members of a community ensemble and young ensemble. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter’s annual production of A Christmas Carol is playing at the Matthews Theatre. Adapted by David Thompson and directed by Adam Immerwahr, the show is a warm celebration, both of Christmas and theater. The uniformly talented cast combines professional actors, who are members of Actors’ Equity Association, with nonprofessional performers who comprise a community ensemble (for ages 14 and older) and a young ensemble. more

November 29, 2017

COME TO THE CABARET: Soprano Karyn Levitt brings the music of 20th century Austrian composer Hanns Eisler to the forefront in “Will There Still Be Singing? A Hanns Eisler Cabaret,” at Princeton University this Friday.

By Anne Levin

It was her fondness for the music of Kurt Weill that introduced soprano and actress Karyn Levitt to the works of another composer of Weill’s era, Hanns Eisler. It wasn’t love at first hearing. But Levitt, who will perform a program of Eisler’s works at Princeton University on Friday, December 1, soon began to fall under the spell of his 12 tone, modernist style. more

November 22, 2017

By Nancy Plum

The Richardson Chamber Players showcase several aspects of Princeton University’s music department; it is a premiere instrumental ensemble focusing on rarely-performed repertoire, and allows University performance faculty to perform alongside their students. Seven members of the Chamber Players presented a concert Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium, exploring the music of Bohemia. Subtitled “Echoes of Vltava,” the concert of works by Bohemian composers referenced the River Vltava, which originates in the Bohemian Forest and flows through the western Czech Republic. It was a fitting title for a late fall afternoon performance in which six instrumentalists and one singer presented smoothly-flowing music of the highest technical demands. more

SPECTACULAR SOUND: The Lee Music Performance and Rehearsal Room at the new Lewis Center for the Arts is a revelation to Michael Pratt, conductor of the Princeton University Orchestra, and the students who are members.

By Anne Levin

Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall, the historic building on the Princeton University campus, has played host to prestigious orchestras, chamber groups, and numerous other cultural attractions throughout its 131-year history. Chief among them is the Princeton University Orchestra, conducted since 1977 by director Michael Pratt.

Traditionally, the orchestra has held rehearsals on the Richardson stage. But upcoming concerts December 7 and 8 will mark the first time that the 100-plus ensemble has rehearsed in the Lee Music Performance and Rehearsal Room, the acoustically flexible, state-of-the-art space in the University’s recently opened $330 million Lewis Center for the Arts. more

November 15, 2017

By Nancy Plum

Westminster Choir College has experienced its share of uncertainty in the last couple of years, but one constant has been the quality of the choral education and ensembles on campus. The premiere chorus, the Westminster Choir, draws together the most select Choir College students to tackle intricate and complex music for concerts both locally and on tour worldwide. Conducted by Westminster Director of Choral Activities Joe Miller, the Westminster Choir presented a very challenging program of a cappella choral music this past Sunday afternoon in the Choir College’s Bristol Chapel. Entitled “Listen,” Sunday’s performance invited the sold-out audience to “find the voice within us” through some very contemporary music.  more

November 8, 2017

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Pro Musica began its Princeton area concert series on the later side this year, with the first performance of the ensemble’s 39th season on Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium. However, the concert date and piece performed went together perfectly. The 100-voice chorus presented Johannes Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem on All Saints’ Day, combining liturgical remembrance with Brahms’s German texts of comfort and ultimate joy. As further acknowledgment of the day, Pro Musica included an “In Remembrance” page from members of the chorus in the written program to Sunday afternoon’s concert, commemorating friends and family. more

November 1, 2017

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s concert this past Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium was both one of collaboration and also paying tribute to the music of the past. The keynote work on the program was Felix Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony, an appropriate musical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s presentation of his world-shattering 95 Theses, but all three works presented by the orchestra looked back to previous eras.  more

October 25, 2017

“THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME”: Performances are underway for the Pennington Players’ production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Directed by Frank Ferrara, the musical runs through October 29 at the Kelsey Theatre. Quasimodo (C.J. Carter) sings “Out There,” in which he dreams of venturing into the streets of Paris. (Photo by Kyrus Keenan Photography)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The Pennington Players are presenting The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Kelsey Theatre. Because the musical contains adult themes and violence, the theater’s website emphasizes that it is “not recommended for children.” For audiences 13 and older, however, this writer enthusiastically recommends the show. more

By Nancy Plum

With the opening of Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, there has been a new buzz of musical excitement in the community. One of the core University ensembles settling into the new state-of-the-art facility is the Princeton University Orchestra, which opened its 2017-18 season this past Friday and Saturday nights at Richardson Auditorium. Also celebrating conductor Michael Pratt’s 40th year leading the ensemble, the University Orchestra presented music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Mahler — works Pratt called “three sonic columns of sound” to usher in a “new era of music” at the University. more

October 4, 2017

By Nancy Plum 

Princeton University Concerts has innovatively combined different forms of media in the past, most notably a concert a few years ago featuring actress Meryl Streep and the Takács String Quartet fusing literature and music in one performance. To open the 124th season of Princeton University Concerts, The Emerson String Quartet joined forces with seven well-established actors for a “multimedia theatrical realization” of Anton Chekhov’s story The Black Monk in a fantasy also exploring the lives of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and Russian leader Josef Stalin.  more

September 27, 2017

By Anne Levin

After a decade of planning and four years of construction, the studios, rehearsal rooms, and theaters at Princeton University’s ambitious Lewis Center for the Arts have opened on schedule. Music, dance, and drama classes are underway in the three buildings along Alexander Street and University Place, part of the University’s $330 million Arts and Transit development.

“It’s rare to have a project to work on that is transformative on a performance level and on the programs housed within,” said Noah Yaffe of Steven Holl Architects, during a press tour of the complex on Monday. “What is so fascinating is that we’re maximizing the visibility of the arts while maximizing the porosity of the place.” more

NEW MUSIC: Sandbox Percussion (pictured) will be among the twelve acts performing at this Sunday’s Unruly Sounds festival. Now in its third year, the event features composers and performances by local artists and Princeton University affiliates.

By Doug Wallack

On Sunday, October 1, Hinds Plaza, adjacent to the Princeton Public Library, will play host to the third annual Unruly Sounds festival — a showcase of composers and new music from local artists and from the Princeton University Department of Music.

Mika Godbole, the festival’s organizer, says that this year’s lineup has more of a singer-songwriter focus than in past years — more of an emphasis on groove-based music than on the highly experimental music that has been Unruly Sound’s signature in past years. But it will hardly be a pop lineup. Acts will include smpl (an electronics and percussion duo, joined by dancer Ursula Eagly), the electro-country group Owen Lake and the Tragic Loves (equal parts synthesizer and slide guitar), and compositions by PU Professor Dan Trueman for prepared digital piano — full of otherworldly pitch-bending, delay, and waveforms played backward.  more

“SIMPATICO”: Performances are underway for A Red Orchid Theatre’s production of “Simpatico.” Directed by ensemble member Dado, the play runs through October 15 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Vinnie (Guy Van Swearingen, left) threatens to sabotage the veneer of respectability that is carefully maintained by his ex-partner Carter (Michael Shannon. (Photo by Richard Termine)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter Theatre has opened its season with Sam Shepard’s Simpatico. Asked by The New York Times what makes actors good in their work, the playwright — who died July 27 —responded, “Adventure. An actor who’s willing to jump off the cliff, he’s going to go anywhere.” This production proves Shepard’s point.  more

September 20, 2017

“CHAPTER TWO”: Performances are underway for Pegasus Theatre Project’s production of “Chapter Two.” Directed by Jennifer Nasta Zefutie, the play runs through September 24 at the West Windsor Arts Center. Left to right: Leo Schneider (Frank Falisi, standing) and Faye Medwick (Sarah Stryker, standing) attempt to make — then stall — a match between George Schneider (Peter Bisgaier) and Jennie Malone (Heather Plank). (Photo by John M. Maurer)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Pegasus Theatre Project is presenting Chapter Two at the West Windsor Arts Center. In Neil Simon’s bittersweet romantic comedy, a widowed novelist begins a relationship with a divorced actress. The match is facilitated and encouraged by the novelist’s brother and the actress’s friend.  more

NEW ERA AT PASSAGE: C. Ryanne Domingues has taken over as artistic director at Trenton’s Passage Theatre, replacing June Ballinger, who guided the company for more than two decades in creating and producing socially-relevant new plays and community-devised arts programming.

By Donald Gilpin

Trenton’s Passage Theatre Company has a new artistic director as it prepares for the opening of its fall season.

C. Ryanne Domingues, co-founder and former producing artistic director of Simpatico Theatre in Philadelphia, has taken over the leading role from June Ballinger, who announced last month that she would be stepping down after 22 years at the helm. Ballinger will return to her career as a writer, actor, and teacher, continuing her association with Passage as an artistic advisor for this season and teacher of adult acting classes. more