May 31, 2023

“CABARET”: Theatre Intime, CJL Play, and Princeton University Players have staged “Cabaret.” Directed by Andrew Duke ’25, the musical was presented May 25-28 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above: performers at the Kit Kat Klub, headlined by Sally Bowles (Juliette Carbonnier, third from left in the front row) exemplify the hedonistic decadence of pre-Nazi Berlin. (Photo by Jazmin Morales)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Set in Berlin at the time of the Nazis’ rise to power, Cabaret largely takes place at the decadent Kit Kat Klub. The musical follows an American author’s odyssey in Berlin as he watches political events unfold, as well as his complicated relationship with the British headlining performer of the nightclub.

Cabaret (1966) has a book by Joe Masteroff. It is adapted from John Van Druten’s play I Am a Camera (1951), which in turn is based on Goodbye to Berlin (1939), a semi-autobiographical novel for which author Christopher Isherwood drew on his experiences in the Weimar Republic, as well as his relationship with cabaret singer Jean Ross.  more

May 17, 2023

By Nancy Plum

One does not often hear concertos for viola — an instrument often hidden within the orchestra. However, Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy is much more than a concerto; its form is that of a programmatic symphony, with each of the four movements describing scenes of the southern region of Italy. Princeton Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Rossen Milanov, brought Berlioz’s symphonic work to Richardson Auditorium this past weekend to close the 2022-23 orchestral season. Joining the Orchestra for this season finale was guest violist Roberto Díaz, a veteran performer and noted educator.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra preceded the Berlioz work with two pieces just as descriptive. Julia Perry was one of a cadre of internationally-known 20th-century American composers whose works have been underperformed but are now receiving new attention. Perry’s Study for Orchestra was premiered in 1952 under the name Short Piece for Orchestra and has become popular for its appeal and innovative approach to orchestration. In Sunday afternoon’s performance, Princeton Symphony Orchestra presented this short and concise work emphasizing its jazz style, which was consistent with American music of the time. A number of instrumental soloists were showcased, including flutist Anthony Trionfo and concertmaster Claire Bourg. Milanov kept the orchestral sound lean, aided by very clean trumpets.


“BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY”: Performances are underway for “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” Written by Pearl Cleage, and directed by Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson, the play runs through May 28 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Above, from left, close friends Sam (Stephen Conrad Moore), Guy (Kevin R. Free), Delia (Maya Jackson), and Angel (Crystal A. Dickinson) face a major disruption when a conservative Southerner falls for Angel. (Photo by Matt Pilsner)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter is presenting Blues for an Alabama Sky. Deftly written by Pearl Cleage, the 1995 drama depicts a tight-knit circle of friends living in a Harlem apartment building in 1930.

The title reflects an unlikely relationship between two of the protagonists. The bohemian neighbors’ lives are upended when a free-spirited blues singer and nightclub performer, Angel (portrayed by Crystal A. Dickinson) is pursued by Leland (Brandon St. Clair), a conservative, religious widower from Tuskegee — who only has been in Harlem for a few weeks.

In a program note, Dramaturg Faye M. Price notes that the time setting captures a period of “great transition for African Americans, from the creative exhilaration of the Harlem Renaissance to the despair of the Great Depression to the migration from the Jim Crow South to cities in the North.”

Cleage probes a confluence of social issues: homophobia, racism, sexism, and reproductive rights. The compelling script — by turns funny and poignant — accomplishes this by letting events unfold as the characters, with vastly divergent worldviews and priorities, interact and collide.


May 10, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The most recognized orchestral ensemble on Princeton University’s campus might be the University Orchestra, but Princeton University Sinfonia has had just as much impact providing students and audiences with opportunities to hear both symphonic masterpieces and lesser-known works. Conducted by Ruth Ochs, Princeton Sinfonia performed its final concert of the season last Friday night at Richardson Auditorium, presenting a world premiere amid musical reflections of Irish culture and a nod to the Cinco de Mayo holiday.

The world premiere was of a piece by University sophomore Toussaint Santicola Jones. Inspired by the Leonora Carrington painting Red Horses of the Sidhe in the Princeton University Art Museum, Jones created a two-movement work musically depicting Carrington’s landscape and incorporating ancient Irish mythology. The resulting Naked, Upon the Road to Tara was an appealing orchestral work making full use of the large Sinfonia ensemble. more

May 3, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The Emerson String Quartet has been a frequent performer on the Princeton University Concerts series over the past decades. In this final season in the Emerson’s storied history, the Quartet returned to Richardson Auditorium last week for a program of Shostakovich and Mendelssohn, as well as a world premiere. However, the Emerson did not return alone; joining them in the second half of the program was the young and vibrant Calidore String Quartet, whose 10 years of performing has propelled the ensemble to the forefront of the performance arena. Although Thursday night’s concert belonged mostly to the Emerson Quartet, the addition of the Calidore players enabled a performance of a hidden gem of Mendelssohn chamber music.

For her 2002 string quartet, composer and Princeton native Sarah Kirkland Snider drew inspiration from the recordings of the Emerson String Quartet, and she has been well acquainted with their sound for quite some time. Drink the Wild Ayre, which received its world premiere by the Emerson Quartet in Thursday night’s concert, was also inspired by the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s descriptions of natural beauty, and one line of poetry in particular. From its opening measures played by Emerson first violinist Eugene Drucker, Snider’s work was an appealing piece with driving rhythms propelling thematic material forward. Violinists Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist Paul Watkins were often playing in similar registers, creating an unusually well-blended instrumental palette. Drucker and Setzer frequently paralleled each other in melodic material, while Watkins provided a rich cello line, especially in the upper register of the instrument. more

“BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY”: McCarter Theatre Center will present “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” Written by Pearl Cleage, and directed by Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson (above), the play will run May 6-28 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. (Photo courtesy of McCarter Theatre)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter will present Blues for an Alabama Sky. Written by Pearl Cleage, the 1995 drama depicts a circle of friends living in a Depression-era apartment building amid the Harlem Renaissance. Performances start May 6.

New roommates — Angel, a recently fired blues singer; and Guy, a promising costume designer with Paris in his sights — live across the hall from Delia, a social worker “who sparks a relationship with the hardworking doctor Sam,” states McCarter’s website, summarizing the plot. “Their lives are upturned when Southern newcomer Leland arrives and falls hard for Angel, who is torn between a stable life in New York City and an exhilarating overseas adventure with Guy. Angel chooses her path, but the decision leads to devastating consequences that shift the trajectory of everyone’s futures and long-held dreams.” more

April 26, 2023

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra fused Mozart, Bruckner and the 21st century in a series of concerts this past weekend, including the premiere of a new work by Princeton University composer Steven Mackey. Led by Music Director Xian Zhang, the Orchestra combined Mackey’s large-scale symphonic work with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s spirited Symphony No. 25 and Anton Bruckner’s devout Te Deum. Joining the Orchestra in Friday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium were a number of exceptional vocal soloists and the Princeton University Glee Club. more

April 5, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The music of 18th-century Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi is frequently heard on recordings, radio, and in films, but less often performed live, and Vivaldi’s more than 50 operas in particular are virtually unknown. Overshadowed in modern Baroque opera performance by works of George Frideric Handel and others, Vivaldi’s operas contain the same audience appeal and technical demands of other popular Baroque composers but have been neglected in the repertory. The early-music Jupiter Ensemble, a collective of exceptional musicians whose concerts highlight virtuoso performance, brought Vivaldi’s lively and animated music to Richardson Auditorium last Thursday night, presented by Princeton University Concerts. The seven-member ensemble performed an all-Vivaldi program, with multi-movement instrumental concerti interspersed with operatic arias. With four concerti and six operas represented, the musicians of Jupiter Ensemble showed the nearly full house at Richardson just how exciting and entertaining the early 1700s could be.

Jupiter Ensemble Artistic Director Thomas Dunford has an international reputation as a virtuoso lute player, and this instrument figured significantly in Thursday night’s program. The Ensemble presented two lute concerti, and Dunford played continuously throughout the concert as part of a continuo accompaniment, joined by cellist Bruno Philippe, double bassist Douglas Balliett, and Elliot Figg playing both organ and harpsichord. Elegant string playing was provided by violinists Louise Ayrton and Augusta McKay Lodge, as well as violist Manami Mizumoto. Vivaldi’s opera arias were sensitively and expressively sung by French-Italian mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre, who has also performed some of the most demanding coloratura opera roles in the repertoire worldwide. more

March 29, 2023

By Nancy Plum

It is difficult not to bask in the music of late 19th-century Italian opera master Giacomo Puccini. The soaring melodic lines and lush orchestrations of Puccini’s operas captivate listeners, even if they are not opera fans. Boheme Opera NJ brought operatic simplicity and Puccini’s opulent music to the stage of The College of New Jersey’s Kendall Hall Theater this past weekend with a new production of the timeless Madama Butterfly. Conceived and directed by Stefanos Koroneos and sung in Italian with English supertitles, this performance was highly entertaining and gave the audience more than a few thrilling moments of singing.

As with all their productions, Boheme Opera NJ compiled a cast of experienced performers, including both singers returning to the company’s stage and those making a debut. In Friday night’s performance (the opera was repeated Sunday afternoon), conductor Joseph Pucciatti began the opera overture quickly and with breathless musical energy, as the curtain opened on a modest set of Butterfly’s house bathed in black and shadows.

As lead character Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly), soprano Ashley Galvani Bell brought operatic experience going back to her childhood as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus. Bell showed a ringing upper register, especially in Butterfly’s signature aria “Un bel dì,” as she maintained eternal hope that her beloved Pinkerton would return. Clearly a woman who knew what she wanted, Bell’s Butterfly demonstrated a wide range of emotions through the music — teasing with Pinkerton, calming with her son and demure at the right times. more

March 22, 2023

By Nancy Plum

After three years of stop-and-start choral performance, Princeton Pro Musica has returned to what the ensemble does best — presenting choral/orchestral masterworks. This past Sunday, just in time for the composer’s 338th birthday, the 80-voice chorus performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion. Led by Pro Musica Artistic Director Ryan James Brandau and accompanied by the early music period orchestra La Fiocco and six vocal soloists, the singers of Pro Musica well demonstrated why pieces such as this have been their mainstay for the past 40 years.

Bach’s Johannes-Passion musically set the “passion narrative” of the suffering and death of Jesus as recorded in the canonical gospel of the apostle John. Bach illuminated John’s texts with arias, recitatives, and choruses, dramatically led by an Evangelist representing John, as well as the characters of Jesus and Pontius Pilate. In Sunday afternoon’s performance, Princeton Pro Musica and La Fiocco were joined by soloists Steven Caldicott Wilson singing the role of the Evangelist, Will Doreza as Jesus, and Jesse Blumberg singing the role of Pilate. Soprano Madeline Apple Healy, alto Robin Bier, and tenor Eric Finbarr Carey rounded out a vocal quartet with Doreza to provide additional musical commentary on the text.  more

March 15, 2023

By Nancy Plum

This past weekend, Princeton Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere of a piece featuring instruments rarely heard in orchestral works. Led by guest conductor Sameer Patel, the Orchestra performed American composer and violinist William Harvey’s Seven Decisions of Gandhi with the composer as violin soloist, musical artist Dibyarka Chatterjee playing the Hindustani tabla, with the added orchestral color of the sitar, played by Snehesh Nag. Saturday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) teamed Harvey’s work with late 19th-century Russian music of Alexander Borodin and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, taking the audience at Richardson Auditorium on a musical ride of dynamic contrasts and rich orchestral writing.  more

“CLEAN SLATE”: Rider University and Passage Theatre presented “Clean Slate” March 10-12. Written by Kate Brennan and David Lee White, and directed by Artistic Director C. Ryanne Domingues, the musical will be available to stream March 21-26. Above, rehabilitation camp participant Andi (Ellie Pearlman, left) meets Cassie (Rylee Carpenter) from another time — and the two discover that they share a crucial bond. (Photo by Pete Borg. Courtesy of Rider University)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Passage Theatre has partnered with Rider University to present a world premiere musical, Clean Slate. The book is by David Lee White; the music and lyrics are by Kate Brennan. Artistic Director C. Ryanne Domingues directs the production, which was staged at Rider University two weeks before its presentation at Passage.

A feisty, embittered thief, 17-year-old Andi (portrayed by Ellie Pearlman) is sent to a rehabilitation camp, Clean Slate, when her overwhelmed foster mothers Sarah (Miriam White) and Gina (Jessy Gruver) no longer know how to discipline her.

Andi is not the character’s real name. Like all participants at Clean Slate, she is assigned a nickname on arrival, to protect her privacy. Per camp tradition, the nicknames are based on Greek mythology.  more

March 1, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton University Glee Club paid tribute to former longtime Glee Club conductor Walter L. Nollner this past weekend with a concert linking the high Baroque to the 21st century. Saturday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium featured a piece by composer and former Princeton student Caroline Shaw as well as three choral/orchestral works by Johann Sebastian Bach. Led by Glee Club conductor Gabriel Crouch, the concert was in partnership with “02.24.2022,” the Princeton student organization supporting victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  more

February 8, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Tis the season to hear amazing pianists and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major of Johannes Brahms. In January, New Jersey Symphony presented Daniil Trifonov playing this work and next week, Philadelphia Orchestra brings the same concerto to the Kimmel Center stage. Princeton Symphony Orchestra brought its interpretation of Brahms’ majestic concerto to Richardson Auditorium this past weekend, featuring pianist Inon Barnatan, a longtime friend of the PSO. Led by Music Director Rossen Milanov, Saturday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) brought the Princeton Symphony Orchestra instrumentalists and Barnatan to the Richardson stage for an evening of 19th-century Viennese elegance and drama.

To warm up the audience for the Brahms concerto, the Orchestra presented a work composed in 2020 but influenced by a predecessor to Brahms. Fate runs through some of Ludwig van Beethoven’s most significant works, and American composer Carlos Simon drew from an 1815 journal entry of Beethoven for his one-movement Fate Now Conquers. Simon also derived musical structure for this piece from the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, creating musical gestures capturing the “unpredictable ways of fate.”

Beginning with fierce playing from the flutes, Fate Now Conquers was Beethoven-esque in its drama, rhythmically led by consistently strong playing by timpanist Jeremy Levine. Carlos Simon packed a great deal of musical action into the five-minute work, and conductor Milanov kept the Orchestra players moving the music forward, complemented by an elegant cello solo from Alistair MacRae.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra returned to Simon’s source material with their gracefully dramatic performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major. Conducting from memory, Milanov built the drama well throughout the four-movement work while maintaining a Viennese lilt. Accents and sforzandi in the strings were always exact, and the overall instrumental palette was consistently light, even when at full strength. The overriding theme of this performance was joy as Milanov used dynamic contrasts, gradual crescendos and Beethoven’s abrupt silences to augment the lean and crisp orchestral playing. Pastoral wind solos were heard through all four movements, including from oboist Lillian Copeland, clarinetist Pascal Archer, flutist Catherine Gregory, and bassoonist Brad Balliett.  more

“BETWEEN TWO KNEES”: Performances are underway for “Between Two Knees.” Written by The 1491s, and directed by Eric Ting, the play runs through February 12 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Above: Cast members Shyla Lefner, left, and Shaun Taylor-Corbett, behind Justin Gauthier, in a scene that takes the sketch comedy-based play from history to science fantasy. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Between Two Knees depicts the brutal history of centuries-long oppression that Native Americans have received at the hands of the U.S. The painful subject matter ostensibly is presented as a story about a single family and its descendants — but it is projected through an idiosyncratic prism that blends sketch comedy, historical drama, and even science fantasy.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival (which commissioned the work through its American Revolutions initiative) premiered the play in 2019. A 2022 production at Yale Repertory Theatre followed. The play currently is being presented at McCarter.

Between Two Knees is written by The 1491s, an Intertribal sketch comedy troupe whose YouTube videos showcase work that their website describes as “satirical and absurd comedy.” The 1491s are Dallas Goldtooth, Sterlin Harjo, Migizi Pensoneau, Ryan RedCorn, and Bobby Wilson. All five members are involved in Hulu’s award-winning series Reservation Dogs.

Eric Ting directs the colorful and energetic — at times frenetic — production. The framework of a revue is filled with a Cirque du Soleil aesthetic, blended with non-literal storytelling and fidgety pacing that echoes the style of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann (particularly in Moulin Rouge!).

Racist stereotypes that are perpetuated via popular media — including theater — are a key target of satire. Scenic Designer Regina Garcia surrounds the stage with images such as the mascot of the Chicago Blackhawks; and the Land O’Lakes “butter maiden,” whose chest is covered by a dartboard. more

February 1, 2023

“BETWEEN TWO KNEES”: McCarter Theatre Center presents “Between Two Knees.” Written by The 1491s, and directed by Eric Ting, the play runs through February 12 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Above, back row (from left): Justin Gauthier, James Ryen (behind the parasol), Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Rachel Crowl, Wotko Long, and Jennifer Bobiwash. Front row: Derek Garza and Shyla Lefner. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

“That was like three plays in one act,” Larry, portrayed by Justin “Jud” Gauthier, quips at the end of the first act of Between Two Knees. The play started performances January 31 at McCarter.

A January 26 “Director’s Cut” offers a glimpse into the rehearsal process (as the production entered tech week). A bright red curtain; Regina Garcia’s scenery; and Elizabeth Harper’s unabashedly, artfully gaudy lighting suggest that theater itself — especially from Vaudeville to the mid-20th century — will be satirized.

As a perk of membership at McCarter, the audience is given an opportunity to watch a brief excerpt until the actors are dismissed for a break. Subsequently, McCarter’s Director of Artistic Initiatives Julie Felise Dubiner co-hosts a discussion and Q&A with Director of Production Dixie Uffelman.

Written by the Intertribal sketch comedy troupe The 1491s, Between Two Knees blends Native American history with humor that multiple cast and production team members liken to that of Mel Brooks. Eric Ting directs the production. more

January 18, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Each year, Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) recognizes musicologist and philanthropist Edward T. Cone with a performance including a bit of star power, honoring the longtime friend of the orchestra and major supporter of cultural life in Princeton. This past weekend’s PSO Edward T. Cone concerts were scheduled to feature South African soprano Pretty Yende, who is well on her way up in the opera world. Unfortunately, Yende was unable to perform because of illness, but Princeton Symphony Orchestra shifted gears well by bringing in another operatic superstar. Fresh off celebrated performances with the Metropolitan Opera and receipt of the 2022 Richard Tucker Foundation award, soprano Angel Blue filled in as soloist in an entertaining evening of opera highlights and American music.

Saturday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) featured a lean and precise Princeton Symphony both on their own and accompanying Blue in arias showing the soprano’s dramatic and technical range. Music Director Rossen Milanov opened the concert with two works depicting the great American landscape. Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber were two of this country’s leading composers in the mid-20th century, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring suite and Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 showed remarkable similarities in their depictions of the United States in a simpler time. more

January 11, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Just barely 30 years old, Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov has been racking up awards, including a Grammy for one of his many innovative recordings. New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) has been lucky to call Trifonov a longtime friend; the acclaimed pianist spent a year-long tenure as NJSO artist-in-residence and has collaborated with NJSO music director Xian Zhang a number of times. Zhang, Trifonov, and NJSO brought their collective magic to Richardson Auditorium last weekend, presenting one of Johannes Brahms’ most towering works. Last Friday night’s performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major demonstrated to a very full house not only Trifonov’s range of musical imagination, but also numerous expressive solos from NJSO players.

The first movement “Allegro” of Brahms’ concerto opened with an unaccompanied solo horn melody, richly played by principal hornist Chris Komer. As piano soloist, Trifonov delicately completed the musical sentence, leading into extended triumphant passages of solo keyboard. Trifonov played the diverse range of emotions and technical aspects of the music with ease, conveying the more majestic passages with reverence, with quick pedaling and a very light and fast right hand. From the podium, Zhang and New Jersey Symphony created a variety of dynamic effects within the graceful interplay between orchestra and solo pianist. Trifonov closed the movement with dreamy piano passages in the upper register of the instrument, leading to an elegant close.

The second movement was marked by a lean string sound and Trifonov’s nimble piano playing, punctuated by a pair of German trumpets. A refined duet between flutist Bart Feller and oboist Robert Ingliss helped sustain the ebb and flow of drama in the music. The third movement “Andante” belonged to Trifonov and principal cellist Jonathan Spitz, who opened the movement with a sweet cello solo accompanied by lower strings. Trifonov’s supple a cappella solo keyboard passages added to the song-like palette as Zhang kept the tempo and shimmering strings steady. The closing movement to this concerto was playful and full of Brahms musical humor, aided by fast piano work from Trifonov, a regal pair of clarinets and an appealing duet between oboist Ingliss and Bart Feller playing piccolo.  more

December 21, 2022

By Nancy Plum

Some orchestral ensembles keep things light musically during the holiday season — performing pops concerts full of spirited carols and celebratory music. New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has traditionally maintained a more classical approach to this time of year with an annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah. Led by Music Director Xian Zhang, New Jersey Symphony brought Messiah to Richardson Auditorium on the campus of Princeton University last Friday night for full-house performance with orchestra, chorus, and four vocal soloists.

Handel’s 18th-century Messiah was by definition an oratorio, with close to 50 choruses, recitatives, and solos or duets tracing the life of Christ in three major sections. When performed in full, the concert can be more than three hours long, and conductors have long taken liberties with dropping numbers from the production. What to cut is often decided by the popularity of certain selections, and this was certainly the case with NJSO’s performance. Much of Part I, depicting the birth of Christ, was intact, but of the more than 30 musical selections comprising Parts II and III, NJSO performed only 16 choruses, recitatives, and arias. Truncating the oratorio to this extent can lose much of the work’s drama and theatricality, but NJSO’s presentation clearly retained the most familiar and popular solos, allowing the vocal soloists the chance to shine.

Friday night’s concert featured a very scaled-down instrumental ensemble, with a small group of strings, pairs of oboes and trumpets, a single bassoon and keyboard continuo accompaniment. Keyboard player Robert Wolinsky was kept particularly busy switching between harpsichord and portative organ, and several principal string players provided expert solo accompaniment in imaginative scoring to certain solo sections.

Zhang and the orchestra began the “Overture” to Messiah in a regal tempo, with relaxed double-dotted rhythms and a lean string sound. With Messiah being such a long work, something often needs to set the performance on fire, whether it be solo singing, fast tempi or musical effects. From the outset, it was clear that what was going to set this performance apart would be variety in dynamics. Zhang consistently built dynamics well within the music and enticed a great deal of dynamic variety from the players. In the first solo aria of the evening, this approach was conveyed especially well by tenor Miles Mykkanen, a Finnish-American singer who lived up to his reputation of having an infinite range of dynamics within his singing. Mykkanen communicated animatedly with the audience in his arias and recitatives, maneuvering through the vocal runs with accuracy. more

December 14, 2022

“A CHRISTMAS CAROL”: Performances are underway for “A Christmas Carol.” Adapted and directed by Lauren Keating, the new production runs through December 24 at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. Above, from left, the Cratchits — Tiny Tim (Yoyo Huang), Margaret (Gisela Chípe), Belinda (Zuriaya Holliman-York), Peter (Desmond Elyseev), and Bob (Kenneth DeAbrew) — celebrate, as Scrooge (Dee Pelletier) watches. (Photo by Matt Pilsner)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter has resumed its annual tradition of presenting A Christmas Carol — with a new production adapted and directed by Lauren Keating. This version retains some conceptual and design elements that succeeded in past productions, while bringing a fresh viewpoint.

As Town Topics previously noted, “A woman, actor Dee Pelletier, plays Scrooge (as a male character) for the first time. Keating’s additional casting pays particularly close attention to diversity, based on research she has done on London’s population during Dickens’ time.”

It is worth mentioning that a female actor has played Scrooge in other recent productions. Sally Nystuen Vahle played the role for Dallas Theatre Center, and in 2021 Adrienne Sweeney starred in a production by Minnesota’s Commonweal Theatre. However, Pelletier is the first female actor to fill the role for McCarter.

Although Scrooge is still depicted as male in Keating’s version (the young adult version of the character is portrayed, with suitably intense brusqueness, by male actor Matt Monaco), a few other characters have been “re-gendered.”

The crooked Old Joe, to whom Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilber (Polly Lee) sells his belongings (Keating develops this sequence, establishing a rapport between the characters much earlier in the story than Dickens does) is refashioned as the more kindly, wholesome Old Jo (Vilma Silva). The solicitors for charity, who usually are depicted as male, here are named Cate (Julie Ann Earls) and Mary (Legna Cedillo). more

November 23, 2022

By Nancy Plum

A rare musical gem came to Princeton last week when McCarter Theatre presented an international touring choral/orchestral ensemble. The Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart is a foundation established in 1981 to research and perform the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and connect it to musical composition of today. Despite the focus on Bach, the organization has commissioned numerous works inspired by or rooted in the compositional style of the 18th-century master and has been recognized for its international collaboration. The Bachakademie houses the Gächinger Kantorei chorus and Bach-Collegium Stuttgart orchestra, and both of these ensembles came to McCarter Theatre Center’s Matthews Theater last Wednesday night to perform Bach’s monumental Mass in B minor. Conducted by Bachakademie Artistic Director Hans-Christoph Rademann, the concert presented a work which has challenged choral ensembles for more than 250 years. 

Bach’s responsibilities as cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig in the early 1700s required him to churn out service music at a seemingly unfathomable rate. In the last decade of his life, Bach began to expand a previously composed “Kyrie” and “Gloria” work into what became the Mass in B minor by adding a “Credo,” “Sanctus,” and “Agnus Dei” from music composed over a 25-year period. Bach completed the mass in 1749, but this work was not performed as a concert piece until the mid-1800s, more than a century after Bach’s death.

The Gächinger Kantorei and Bach-Collegium performed the Mass in B minor drawing the soloists from the chorus, as would have been done in Bach’s time, and assigning some of the extended coloratura choral passages to solo concertists. Under Rademann’s direction, the performance brought together a clean and precise chorus and orchestra with four historically-informed and technically accurate vocal soloists.  more

November 16, 2022

By Nancy Plum

Anything lasting 100 years deserves recognition. Centenaries are observed by individuals, civic organizations and even buildings, but in these times, a musical organization which has thrived for 100 years merits a particular reason to celebrate. On November 27, 1922, a new-formed orchestral ensemble of 19 string players gave a modest concert of Purcell, Saint-Saëns, and Victor Herbert at New Jersey’s Montclair Art Museum. Almost 100 years later to the day, what is now New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) presented a concert featuring a world-renowned cellist in a state-of-the-art concert hall to an audience of more than 2,500. Over the past century, NJSO has grown in tandem with the state of New Jersey to a full orchestra with five concert homes in the state, as well as a virtual presence. Currently under the musical leadership of conductor Xian Zhang, NJSO kicked off its 100th anniversary festivities this past Saturday night at Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center with a sold-out gala and concert highlighting the orchestra players and guest cellist Yo-Yo Ma. 

Saturday night’s performance at NJPAC included accolades from community and political leaders fitting for the occasion, as well as a contemporary work co-commissioned by NJSO from legendary jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Premiered by the orchestra last January, Marsalis’ Herald, Holler and Hallelujah was scored for 19 brass and percussion players, paying tribute to the original members of the NJSO. Playing from boxes on one side of the hall and led by conductor Xian Zhang from the stage, the brass players were joined by five percussionists who added rhythmic drive and character to the music. Marsalis drew this work’s musical influence from marching band and big band styles, as well as his trademark mastery of jazz. With the brass ensemble on one side facing across the hall, the unorthodox harmonies of the piece were occasionally diffuse in the space, but the passages that captured the New Orleans “second line” funeral tradition worked particularly well. 

While the Marsalis piece was rooted in truly American jazz and blues, the work which featured Ma with New Jersey Symphony was influenced by the composer’s time in New York City. Czech composer Antonín Dvorák spent several years in New York City in the 1890s, and although his Cello Concerto in B minor was completed when he had returned to Europe, the concept for the work was from Dvorák’s time in the United States. Ma’s career has been as much about collaboration as solo concertizing, and his performance of this concerto with NJSO was a true partnership from the opening rolling passages. Conductor Zhang led soloist and orchestra in a dramatic first movement, with Ma’s exquisite solo lines well punctuated by the winds. Fast moving solo passages spoke well in the hall, and Ma effectively handled shifts between lyrical and more frenetic styles. The first movement “Allegro” was also marked by a clean quartet of horns and clear solo wind lines, including from clarinetist Pascal Archer and flutist Bart Feller. Cello and flute were often in duet throughout the concerto, and despite the distance between the two players, Ma and Feller were in solid communication and dialog. more

November 9, 2022

By Nancy Plum

The Brentano String Quartet, longtime friends of Princeton University Concerts, made a return visit to Princeton University last week with a concert paying homage to the American classical music tradition. A former ensemble-in-residence at Princeton, the Brentano Quartet commanded the stage at Richardson Auditorium last Thursday night with “Dvorák and the American Identity,” acknowledging the impact of Czech composer Antonin Dvorák on 20th-century American music and the legacy of this composer to this day. Violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory, and cellist Nina Lee created a program drawn from arrangements of American tunes as well as complex classical works rooted in the gospel and spiritual traditions.

The Brentano musicians began the concert with an arrangement for string quartet dating back almost 100 years. In the early decades of the 20th century, the Manhattan-based Flonzaley Quartet thrived for a mere 27 years, but despite the brevity of their existence, left a repertory of spiritual arrangements for string quartet possessing the same complexity as the rich works of the 19th century Romantic period. Arranged by Flonzaley second violinist Alfred Pochon, these pieces conveyed the same depth of emotion with four string players as the more familiar versions with words.

The Brentano String Quartet presented three Fonzaley arrangements Thursday night, beginning with a lush version of the spiritual “Deep River.” Accompanied by the lower strings, first violinist Steinberg presented the tune quietly, and as the tune was passed among the instruments, the players explored the more soulful characteristics of the music.


“TWELFTH NIGHT”: Performances are underway for “Twelfth Night.” Directed by Solomon Bergquist, the play runs through November 13 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above, from left, are Maria (Alex Gjaja), Feste (Ava Kronman), Olivia (Alexis Maze), and Viola, disguised as “Cesario” (Rilla McKeegan). (Photo by Kate Stewart)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Twelfth Night reflects the “end of the Christmas season and was a time of revelry, in which the norms of society were inverted,” observes the play’s page on the Royal Shakespeare Company website. The work’s first noted performance took place in February 1602, on the feast of Candlemas.

Princeton University’s Theatre Intime is currently presenting Shakespeare’s comedy. The production’s first weekend coincided with another celebration, albeit a secular one. An alumni reunion (belatedly) celebrated the centennial of Theatre Intime (and the 50th anniversary of Princeton Summer Theater).

However, the script itself rarely feels festive; one could say that revelry is inverted. Countess Olivia, who mourns her brother, is determined not to consider suitors until seven years have passed. Meanwhile, her steward Malvolio is the victim of a cruel prank. By way of acknowledging the play’s gloomy undercurrent, Feste the Fool ends it by singing a song that reminds us that “the rain it raineth every day.”


November 2, 2022

A TRIPLE ANNIVERSARY WEEKEND: The 100th anniversary of Theatre Intime, and the 50th anniversary of Princeton Summer Theater (PST), will be honored at a three-day reunion of alumni “Princeton theater-makers.” Both troupes mount their productions at the Hamilton Murray Theater in Murray-Dodge Hall, above, where Theatre Intime has performed since their 1921-1922 season. (Photo by Bill Charrier ‘69. Courtesy of Friends of Intime)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Princeton University’s Theatre Intime was founded by a group of Princeton undergraduates in 1920. The Friends of Theatre Intime had hoped to schedule a centennial celebration for the fall of 2020, but the pandemic halted those plans.

However, after a two-year delay, “A Triple Anniversary Weekend” will be held from November 4-6. This commemorates the centennial of Theatre Intime, the 50th anniversary of Princeton Summer Theater, and the Hamilton Murray Theater’s centennial as a venue. The event’s website describes the celebration as a “reunion of Princeton theater-makers across the years.”

To ensure that the Princeton community can participate, a Community Pass ($50) is available. This pass provides admission to all events except the alumni meals.

A centerpiece of the reunion will be a gala dinner, “Théâtre Intime’s 100th & PST’s 50th Banquet Fete,” at which Winnie Holzman will be the keynote speaker. Among numerous writing credits, Holzman is especially known as the creator of the television series My So-Called Life;  and as the librettist of the musical Wicked. Acting credits include Thirtysomething, Roswell, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

A Hamilton Murray Theater Centennial Film Festival will run throughout the weekend. The anniversary celebration’s website describes the festival as a “mix of full production features and short subjects expressly created for the festival.” The films will “play on big screens on campus throughout the celebration weekend.”

Friday’s events will include a “Welcome & Convocation” at Richardson Hall (this event is free and open to all, though registration is required); an “Intime & PST Archive & Exhibition” at Mudd Library, during which memorabilia such as programs, photos, letters, and newspaper articles will be on display; and an “Alumni Piano Bar,” a cabaret session at which pianists will be available to accompany any participants who would like to sing.

On Saturday there will be “Alumni All-Stars” panel discussions featuring alumni who work in the entertainment industry. The conversations are titled “Storytellers” and “How Theater influenced my (non-theater) career.” The gala dinner, at which Holzman will deliver the keynote address, will take place on Saturday evening. more