December 13, 2023

By Stuart Mitchner

You know the greatest films of all time were never made…

—Taylor Swift, from folklore

Imagine a world without Taylor Swift, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Jarmusch, all born on this date, December 13, the singer songwriter in 1989, the actor in 1957, the director in 1953. Now imagine a world without The Winter’s Tale, a work that, as Harold Bloom says, “surges with Shakespeare’s full power” and might have been lost had it not been preserved 400 years ago in The First Folio seven years after the poet’s death.

In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (Riverhead 1998), Bloom calls The Winter’s Tale “a poem unlimited” because “we cannot come to the end of Shakespeare’s greatest plays”; there are always new perspectives opening on “fresh vistas.” A “vast pastoral epic” that is “also a psychological novel,” the play begins with the “nothing-have-these-nothings-if-this-be nothing” eruption of sexual jealousy from King Leontes of Sicily that leads to the seacoast of Bohemia, the songs of Autolycus, the romance of Perdita and Florizel, and the immortal stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” more

By Anne Levin

Anthony Roth Costanzo
(Photo by Matthew Placek)

In a YouTube video from 2013 titled Opera in the Bronx, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo sings an aria to a roomful of middle school students to demonstrate how music can convey sadness. Some of the kids giggle at the first sound of Costanzo’s voice, which is comparable to a female contralto or mezzo soprano. But within a few minutes, they are rapt. Some tell him, afterward, that they were nearly moved to tears.

“I loved doing that,” said Costanzo, reminded of the video during a telephone interview in advance of his appearances January 13 and 14, at Richardson Auditorium, with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO). “The opportunity to create exciting points of access for audiences is something I’ve really committed to. How do we engage in this form, which can seem foreboding?”

Costanzo, 41, is an internationally acclaimed opera superstar. He is also a producer and curator. A list of his accomplishments, awards, and artistic achievements, both before and after he graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University in 2004, is beyond impressive. Yet he seems as proud of his participation in the recent launch of the new purple M&M character as he is of his performances at the Metropolitan Opera House, Carnegie Hall, Versailles, and the Kennedy Center — to name just a few. more

OLD WORLD CONCERT: “Salute to Vienna” is the annual New Year’s Eve tradition at the State Theatre New Jersey. This year’s program is at 5 p.m.

A New Year’s Eve tradition returns to the State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick at 5 p.m. on Sunday, December 31.

“Salute to Vienna — New Year’s Concert” re-creates the Neujahrskonzert, hosted each year in Vienna’s legendary Musikverein. The music of Johann Strauss and his contemporaries’ includes selections from operettas, dances, overtures, and the Blue Danube Waltz more

A UNIQUE “NUT”: Kurtis Blow, the pioneer of rap, stars in “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” at State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick on December 29. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

State Theatre New Jersey presents The Hip Hop Nutcracker on Friday, December 29 at 8 p.m. Tchaikovsky’s 130-year-old ballet is reimagined as a holiday dance spectacle, and is celebrating its 10th season. Tickets range from $39-$69. 

This touring production features hip hop pioneer Kurtis Blow, the first rapper to be signed by a major label in 1979. Blow is considered one of hip hop’s founding fathers and will perform as the MC of The Hip Hop Nutcracker. The tour includes a cast of 12 dancers, an on-stage DJ and an electric violinist who turns the Nutcracker score on its head.  more

CLOSING SOON: “Local Voices: Memories, Stories, and Portraits,” left, and “Spiral Q: The Parade,” both on view in the Domestic Arts Building at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, will close on January 7.

Two exhibitions in Grounds For Sculpture’s inaugural “Perspectives” series, “Local Voices: Memories, Stories, and Portraits” and “Spiral Q: The Parade,” will close on January 7.

“Local Voices: Memories, Stories, and Portraits” provides a multi-faceted look at the Indian community in New Jersey through first-person narratives, portraits, and objects and was created in partnership with artist, teacher, and journalist Madhusmita Bora. The second exhibition, “Spiral Q: The Parade,” focuses on the locally and nationally recognized puppet-making organization, Spiral Q, with its rich history of take it to the street advocacy processions for social and political change. more

AMERICAN MODERNIST: Artist Peter Miller is shown in her studio circa 1945. “The Peter Miller Story: A Forgotten Woman of American Modernism” is on view at Morton Contemporary Gallery in Philadelphia through January 20. (Julien Levy Gallery Records, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives)

Morton Contemporary Gallery, located in the heart of Center City Philadelphia, in partnership with Gratz Gallery & Conservation Studio of Doylestown, Pa., presents “The Peter Miller Story: A Forgotten Woman of American Modernism” through January 20.

The exhibition features 250 Miller paintings that were discovered in a barn in the Catskills in 2020 and restored by longtime Princeton University conservator and gallerist, Paul Gratz. more

“LEMON TREE”: Works by artist Tatiana Oles can be found at Princeton Makes, which will host its annual Winter Art Party on Saturday, December 16 from 12 to 4 p.m. at its studios and market in the Princeton Shopping Center.

Princeton Makes, the Princeton-based artist cooperative, will host its annual Winter Art Party on Saturday, December 16 from 12 to 4 p.m. at its artist studios and art market in the Princeton Shopping Center. 

Activities at the Winter Art Party include ornament making, greeting card making for kids (and adults), art projects, open studios so visitors can talk with the artists, music, and a chance to shop in the art market. The event is free, open to the public, and fun for all ages. Refreshments will be served. more

December 6, 2023

By Stuart Mitchner

I love this time of day, 1:30 to 3 a.m., kitchen to myself, cleaning up to music from the Bose Wave. I turn on WWFM in time to hear the first two movements of Haydn’s string quartet No. 23 in F minor, which creates a nice slow weaving motion that goes surprisingly well with sweeping the floor.

According to his biographer Albert Christoph Dies, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) once claimed that musical ideas were pursuing him: “If it’s an allegro that pursues me, my pulse keeps beating faster, I can get no sleep. If it’s an adagio, then I notice my pulse beating slowly. My imagination plays on me as if I were a clavier…. I am really just a living clavier.”

Basie the Piano

Pondering the idea of a composer or a player becoming the embodiment of their instrument, my thoughts turn first to Red Bank’s favorite son Count Basie. If anyone this side of Glenn Gould or Duke Ellington qualified as “a living piano” it was Basie playing one or two incandescent notes between the heaves of big band storm. Listening to the 1975 RCA session with Basie and tenor man Zoot Sims while sweeping the tile dance floor in my night club kitchen at 3 a.m., the number I keep coming back to is a medium slow blues Basie calls “Captain Bligh.” After much looking online I’ve given up trying to find out why he named a blues after the deposed commander of HMS Bounty. In my search of the Net, however, what I found was a smile: of course, Basie’s big band recorded two albums of Beatles songs in the 1960s, one of them with liner notes by Ringo Starr. more

By Nancy Plum

The Princeton University Orchestra and Glee Club joined forces this past weekend at Richardson Auditorium to present an unusual gem of a concerto from one of the most creative periods of French musical history. Orchestra conductor Michael Pratt and Glee Club director Gabriel Crouch brought together the two ensembles to perform a concerto for two pianos, multiple saxophones, orchestra and chorus by 20th-century composer Germaine Tailleferre, whose compositional output has remained largely unexplored until recent decades. Combined with the music of Brahms and Mozart, the Tailleferre work created a solid anchor for the Orchestra’s annual tribute to former University faculty member and composer Peter Westergaard.

The University Orchestra opened Friday night’s concert (the performance was repeated Saturday evening) with one of the University music department’s talented students leading the ensemble. Senior Aster Zhang has performed extensively as a cellist both nationally and worldwide and is also trained as a conductor. For her portion of the program, Zhang led the Orchestra in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Overture” to The Magic Flute. Conducting without a baton, Zhang was poised and professional from the outset, leading a stately opening and smooth transition to the quick-moving passages. The string sound was consistently light, and musical punctuation clear. Taking her time in slower sections, Zhang showed Mozart’s drama well, aided by elegant wind solos. more

SANTA EXPLAINS: The classic poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” comes to life on the stage of Mercer County Community College’s Kelsey Theatre in West Windsor for five shows December 8-10.

Santa will be arriving a little early this year when the holiday classic ’Twas the Night Before Christmas comes to life on the stage of Mercer County Community College’s (MCCC) Kelsey Theatre on December 8-10.

Show times are Friday, December 8 at 7 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, December 9 and 10, at 1 and 4 p.m. Children are invited to have their picture taken with Santa after the show. Kelsey Theatre is located on MCCC’s West Windsor Campus, 1200 Old Trenton Road. more

FOLK TRADITIONS: The Princeton Folk Music Society will bring folksinger Jeff Warner to Christ Congregational Church for a concert on December 15. (Photo by Ralph Morang)

On Friday, December 15 at 8 p.m., The Princeton Folk Music Society presents Jeff Warner in an evening of traditional American folksong at Christ Congregational Church, 50 Walnut Lane.

Warner is considered to be among the nation’s foremost performer/interpreters of traditional music. His songs connect 21st century audiences with the everyday lives and artistry of 19th century Americans, bringing us “the latest news from the distant past.”  more

BREAKING FREE: Sydney Mullin ’24 as Sofia and Aaron Ventresca ’24 as Mateo in rehearsal for “Gaucho: A New Musical.” (Photo by Dylan Tran)

Gaucho: A New Musical is presented December 8-10 at Princeton University’s Wallace Theater in the Lewis Arts complex. Admission is free.

The show, by seniors Aaron and Emma Ventresca, is set in 19th-century Argentina as the gaucho community of San Antonio de Areco faces growing threats to its traditional way of life from large landowners’ newest technology — barbed wire fencing. With horseback riding and storytelling buffeting under the pressure of progress, a young gaucho named Mateo struggles to break free from his family’s dying cowboy way of life to become a writer. But with some unexpected help, Mateo escapes to the alluring promises of Buenos Aires.

The show’s book, music, and lyrics are by Aaron and Emma Ventresca. It is directed by alumnus and Lecturer in Theater Nico Krell, with music direction by guest artist Gia Gan. Admission is free. Shows are at 8 p.m. on December 8 and 9, and 2 p.m. on December 10. Visit for more information.

“THE TRUCE OF THE MAMMALS”: This work by Lourdes Bernard is featured in “The Women of April and Selected Works,” on view at the Erdman Art Gallery at Princeton Theological Seminary through December 15.

“The Women of April and Selected Works,” a research-based exhibition by Brooklyn artist Lourdes Bernard, is on view at the Erdman Art Gallery at Princeton Theological Seminary through December 15.  Bernard is a visiting scholar and the current artist in residence at the Overseas Ministries Study Center at the Seminary.

According to the artist, the narrative images celebrate and highlight the role of “The Women of April,” untrained civilian resistance fighters who fought against the 42,000 U.S. Marines ordered by President Lyndon B. Johnson to invade the Dominican Republic in April 1965. In 2017, shortly after attending the D.C. Women’s March and as the previous administration rolled out controversial immigration policies, she began to research her family’s migration journey from the Dominican Republic in 1965.  more

HOLIDAYS AT FONTHILL CASTLE: Historic Fonthill Castle in Doylestown, Pa., is transformed into a winter wonderland for tours during the holiday season.

The Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle are presenting programs for the holiday season at Fonthill Castle, located at 525 East Court Street in Doylestown, Pa.

Fonthill Castle, the home of Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930), is a National Historic Landmark operated by the Bucks County Historical Society. Every year, the inside of the castle is transformed into a winter wonderland with all new themes for its 15 festive holiday trees.

On weekdays through December 31, daily one-hour guided tours of  Fonthill Castle showcase Henry Mercer’s home decked for the holidays while sharing the history of Mercer and the construction of this unique property. Fonthill Castle’s interior features Mercer’s renowned, handcrafted ceramic tiles designed at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement, and the castle serves as an early example of reinforced concrete architecture with 44 rooms, 200 windows, and 18 fireplaces.  more

“ON THE EDGE – POLAR BEAR”: This work by James Fiorentino is featured in a display of his wildlife art in the Marie L. Matthews Gallery at D&R Greenway Land Trust.

The public is invited to a Holiday Open House and Art Sale on Saturday, December 9 from 1 to 4 p.m. at D&R Greenway Land Trust’s Johnson Education Center at One Preservation Place. MUTTS cartoons by Patrick McDonnell, watercolors by James Fiorentino, botanical florals by artist Liz Cutler, and landscape quilts by Deb Brockway will be on display in a new exhibit. Sales benefit the land trust’s work to preserve and care for land, maintain public trails, grow food for the hungry, and inspire a conservation ethic.

Attendees can enjoy cider, hot chocolate, and cookies at the free event.  more

“WOW”: This work by Beverly Keese-Kelley is featured in “NEXT: Reimagining the Future Through Art,” on view in the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie and online December 8 through February 11. An opening reception is on December 10 from 4 to 6 p.m.

To close out its year of 50th anniversary programming and celebrations, the Trenton Museum Society looks forward with the juried exhibition “NEXT: Reimagining the Future Through Art.” Featuring 40 pieces by 30 artists, the show will be on view in the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie and online December 8 through February 11.

An opening reception is on Sunday, December 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. more

November 29, 2023

By Stuart Mitchner

It was while exploring “In the Company of Good Books: From Shakespeare to Morrison” at Princeton University Library’s Milberg Gallery that I found myself face to face with George Eliot. An hour later when I walked back into the light of day from this 400th anniversary celebration of the “First Folio of 1623” and other Firestone Library rarities, an unmissable show that I very nearly missed (it closes December 10), all I could think about was the woman gazing out at me from Frederick William Burton’s charcoal drawing, a preparatory study for his fuller, more detailed, but less intriguing colored chalk portrait in London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Eliot would have been 44 on February 14, 1864, when, in the words of her journal, “Mr. Burton dined with us and asked me to let him take my portrait.” According to the curator’s note, the fact that Burton was a friend “may account for the closely-cropped, full-frontal and altogether more intimate portrayal of her face.”

Maybe it was the aura of intimacy that drew me in and held me, so serenely sympathetic were her pale blue eyes, the only color in the drawing; at the same time, I knew I was in the presence of the author of this remarkable sentence, from her masterpiece Middlemarch: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.” more

WORLD FAMOUS CHOIR: The Vienna Boys Choir comes to State Theatre New Jersey on December 8 at 8 p.m. (Photo by Lukas Beck)

State Theatre New Jersey presents “Vienna Boys Choir — Christmas in Vienna” on Friday, December 8 at 8 p.m. The production showcases these young musicians in a program featuring Austrian folk songs, classical masterpieces, popular songs, and holiday favorites.

The Vienna Boys Choir is one of the most famous choirs in the world, and one of the oldest. In 1498, Emperor Maximilian I moved his court to Vienna to establish the Chapel Imperial there, along with the Vienna Boys Choir. Over the centuries, the court attracted musicians like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Anton Bruckner. Composers Joseph Haydn, Michael Haydn, and Franz Schubert were themselves choirboys.  more

Voices Chorale NJ presents the rarely performed “Christmas Oratorio” by Saint-Saens, along with arrangements of holiday favorites, on Saturday, December 9 at 4 p.m. at Trinity Church, 33 Mercer Street. Artistic Director David A. McConnell and Assistant Conductor Emily DeMerchant will lead. Visit for details.

The Mercer County Community College Jazz Band performs at Princeton MarketFair on Wednesday, November 29 at 6 p.m. Following that date, concerts are scheduled at Quaker Bridge Mall on December 6, and at Kelsey Theatre on the college’s West Windsor campus December 11-13. Visit for more information.

Danielle Sinclair

The Westminster Community Orchestra, conducted by Ruth Ochs, will present their 11th annual “Holiday Favorites and Sing-along” on Wednesday, December 13, at 7:30 p.m. in Hillman Hall, in the Cullen Center, on the Westminster campus, Walnut Lane.

While the performance is free, the orchestra will continue its long-standing tradition of accepting free-will cash donations at the door to benefit and be distributed to area food pantries and service organizations. Audience members requiring seating assistance should arrive at 7 p.m.

The performance will feature holiday favorites such as Berlin’s “White Christmas,” Chase’s Around the World at Holiday Time, and “The Holly and the Ivy.” Westminster Conservatory faculty member Danielle Sinclair will join the orchestra for Yon’s Gesù Bambino. The concert will also include Nikolai’s Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor, as well as orchestra member Beth Gaynor LaPat’s Chanukah Songs. The audience is invited to sing along with Anderson’s popular A Christmas Festival. more

“PINK HAT WITH FLORAL FRAME”: This work by Susan Fenton (1949-2018) is part of “Renewal and Change: New Acquisitions,” on view December 2 through April 28 at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa. (Gift of the estate of Susan Fenton)

The Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., presents “Renewal and Change: New Acquisitions,” an exhibition featuring 29 works on paper including photographs, prints, paintings and drawings that were recently gifted to, or purchased for the Michener Art Museum’s permanent collection, on view December 2 through April 28. more

“MIRAGE”: This photograph by Everett Shen won second place photo in Friends of Princeton Open Space’s 2023 photography contest. It is one of more than 20 works featured in the “Perspectives on Preservation” photography exhibition opening on Friday, December 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Mountain Lakes House.

Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS) presents “Perspectives on Preservation,” a group photography exhibition featuring works by local photographers, on view December 1 to 3 at Mountain Lakes House, 57 Mountain Avenue.

An opening reception is on Friday, December 1 from 6 to 8 p.m., with live music from cellist Dan Kassel, refreshments, and light bites. more

“CHRISTMAS FRONT DOOR”: This acrylic painting by Claudia Fouse Fountaine is featured in “Small Works Showcase,” coming to Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville December 7 through December 31.

Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville will host  “Small Works Showcase,” featuring an array of creations in various styles, December 7 through December 31. An opening reception is on Saturday, December 9 from 5 to 7 p.m. more

November 22, 2023

By Stuart Mitchner

Cover art for “Murder Most Foul” by Bob Dylan. (Columbia Records)

Today is the 60th anniversary of November 22, 1963, a date Bob Dylan claimed a share of in late March 2020, bringing Shakespeare along for the ride in “Murder Most Foul,” a 16-minute whirlwind pop-culture tour of the Kennedy assassination. Dylan first heard the news with his then-partner Suze Rotolo and others in her sister Carla’s Greenwich Village apartment. According to his friend Bob Fass, Dylan’s response was “What it means is that they are trying to tell you ‘Don’t even hope to change things’.”

So it was already they for Dylan when most of us who were alive on that day were too stunned to think beyond he, him, it. And in MMF it’s they who “blew off his head while he was still in the car.” And it’s they in “Roll On John,” Dylan’s powerfully sung response to the murder of John Lennon (“They shot him in the back and down he went”) which, like “Murder Most Foul,” uses lyrics to carry the message (in this case, Lennon’s “A Day in the Life,” “Come Together,” “Instant Karma”). At the same time, Dylan’s words seem to transcend a single subject. A line like “they’ll trap you in an ambush” could just as easily refer to the slain president. And if you happen to be thinking about Dylan’s controversial identification with the accused assassin who also died violently that weekend in Dallas, Oswald seems a more likely fit for rhetoric like “They tore the heart right out and cut him to the core” and “rags on your back just like any other slave / They tied your hands and they clamped your mouth / Wasn’t no way out of that deep dark cave.”