For Your Consideration: Craig Hella Johnson plants a fencepost to welcome Matt Shepard

Several weeks ago, I was getting some work done while on a flight from Orlando back to Chicago. Part of my agenda was to digest the libretto of Craig Hella Johnson’s poignant oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard. I already owned the Grammy-nominated recording on Harmonia Mundi and had been profoundly moved by it, but this was the first time I had actually read the entire text itself. I was, quite frankly, undone. The plane vanished from my cognizance, along with the din from the overwrought Disney vacation families that dotted the cabin. I sat there with tears streaming down my face. I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see a startled flight attendant named Tammy. Her eyes softened as she said, “Here’s your Diet Coke, hon.”

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Harmony in Motion: Peter Sellars and Grant Gershon get closer to Him through The Tears of Saint Peter

Harmony in Motion: Peter Sellars and Grant Gershon get closer to Him through The Tears of Saint Peter

“John was looking for a texture for The Gospel According to the Other Mary,” explains Sellars, “and he was going through medieval music and Renaissance music kind of like Igor Stravinsky, looking for music where there’s a very detailed and elaborate harmonic language. John came across Lasso and became so excited. He told both Grant and me to look at Orlando de Lasso.”

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J’Nai Bridges: A mezzo connecting with the moment

Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, who will be the soloist in Leonard Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” Symphony at Ravinia on Sunday, August 19, “discovered” her exceptional voice when, in her senior year, she auditioned for the high school choir near her home in Lakewood, WA. When the choir director heard her, Bridges was immediately urged to begin studying professionally.

“My family enjoyed music, all kinds,” Bridges explained during a telephone interview with Ravinia Magazine in late June. “My Dad has a beautiful voice, and he sang with the Sons of Thunder choir at the Allen A.M.E. Church in Tacoma. I began taking piano lessons when I was 5, but no one [in the family] was a professional.” The new adventure of voice lessons became a revelation. “I just loved singing so much,” she said. Even though Bridges was captain of her high school basketball team and had college sports scholarships on the horizon, she audaciously auditioned at top American conservatories and music schools.

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Intense, Beautiful, Devoted: Classical music has long felt the Bern(stein) to speak in political tones

There was a stunning moment in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Celebrating 100 Years of Bernstein” gala this season. Kate Baldwin, on a brief hiatus from her Tony Award–nominated run in Broadway’s revival of Hello Dolly!, took the stage and delivered an ineffably moving rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s Vietnam-era protest song “So Pretty.” This affecting piece, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, was first heard in 1968 at the Broadway for Peace fundraiser co-hosted by Bernstein and Paul Newman. It was performed then by Barbra Streisand with the composer himself at the piano. The song tells of a land far away with golden temples and pretty people with shining hair—who we are told “must die for peace.” The text concludes with “But they’re so pretty, so pretty. / I don’t understand.”

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Moving Pictures: Inside Considering Matthew Shepard

In the summer of 2016, I was surprised by a phone call from Rod Caspers, a dear friend from our days together at the University of Texas–Austin Drama Department. He asked if I would be interested in directing a new choral musical work, an oratorio, Considering Matthew Shepard, slated for broadcast on PBS and a subsequent live tour. Rod knew I’d been producing and directing large-scale symphony concerts and other stage works around the country for almost 15 years, and he thought I might be right for this assignment. I accepted on the spot, grateful to be invited to play a role in keeping Matthew’s story alive. His haunting life story had previously been told on stage and screen in The Laramie Project, but as I came to discover, for many, Matthew’s story had started to fade into history.

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Key Change: David Foster Embraces a New Muse in a Relatively Major (Broad)way

What Foster is doing is creating his first Broadway musical, a show based on the 1930s’ wide-eyed, Jazz Age flapper animated cartoon character Betty Boop. A creative team of Broadway A-listers has signed on for the project, including director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose work includes the recently premiered Pretty Woman: The Musical, the Gloria Estefan bio-musical On Your Feet, and Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s critically acclaimed Kinky Boots (all three of which had their pre-Broadway tryouts in Chicago). Veteran television scribe Sally Robinson is writing the book, and Foster’s score will boast lyrics by Tony Award nominee Susan Birkenhead.

“It’s my first try at Broadway,” Foster says of the musical, whose subject matter demanded a very original story. “There never was a story because [Betty Boop] is a two-minute-at-a-time cartoon. I knew I wanted to make a step toward Broadway and musicals, and honestly Betty Boop was the first person to ask me. [Laughs.] So we had to create the story. It’s currently waiting for the script’s final punch-up. And then hopefully we’ll jump into a reading and then a workshop.”

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