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Mini-Critic Goes to Porgy and Bess

Mini-Critic at the OperaThe Washington National Opera sponsored a special event yesterday morning, a "Look-In" program on Gershwin's Porgy and Bess for children. With your ticket, you receive a free commentary CD with excerpts from the opera and a little study guide. When Mini-Critic and I walked into the Kennedy Center Opera House – his first visit ever – it was pleasingly full, if not to capacity, of well-behaved children and their parents. Here in Washington, I am proud to say, we are doing what we can to get young people interested in opera and classical music. We all need to do more.

Mini-Critic's musical obsession is the violin, which he is going to start learning in earnest this coming winter. We have appeased him so far with a very nice toy violin, which he has been good about treating carefully, like a real instrument, but he assures us that he is ready to receive his real violin this winter for Christmas. So, in the few minutes we had before the program started, we had to walk down to the edge of the pit to peer in at the orchestra and count violinists. He was so dazzled by the bright star-like lights on the ceiling that, when they dimmed out for the program to begin, he remarked in the growing silence, "It's getting dark!" This was something he had not experienced before, because in previous children's performances we have attended, the lights have not gone fully dark.

Other Reviews by Mini-Critic:

Summer Opera: Mini-Critic Hears Brundibár (August 14, 2005)

Family Weekend at the National Gallery (May 22, 2005)

Kinderkonzert at the Kennedy Center (May 8, 2005)

Cunning Little Vixen in Berlin: Follow-Up (February 3, 2005)
The program began with Gershwin's brief overture, which thrilled Mini-Critic with the wild sound of the xylophone, and the Jasbo Brown Blues section, played on a honky-tonk upright piano on the stage, just as in the full-length production (see the review by Jens F. Laurson). Channel 7's Maureen Bunyan then appeared as our narrator, reading from a script in a notebook. She introduced Lester Green, Jr., who had played that out of tune piano, who gave us a brief introduction to the sounds of jazz. We finally heard one of the opera's best tunes when Laquita Mitchell sang the lullaby "Summertime," just as beautifully as when I heard it Wednesday night. Mini-Critic always tends to focus best during the music and tends to tune out during the spoken explanations, which in this 50-minute program were just about as short as they need to be for a young audience. Mini-Critic most enjoyed the instrument demonstrations, when conductor Wayne Marshall invited the xylophone and banjo players to sound off, as well as three of the singers. Marietta Simpson's warm-up into the lowest ranges of her contralto voice was a thrill.

Porgy and Bess, with all of the drugs, gambling, sex, and violence, would not be my first choice as an opera that is truly appropriate for children. As expected, most of the opera's rougher episodes were omitted, mentioned only in Ms. Bunyan's narration, if at all. We were treated to part of Porgy's banjo-sporting aria "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin," with star baritone Gordon Hawkins, and part of the exquisite love duet "Bess, You Is My Woman Now," with Indira Mahajan as Bess. For a section of Sportin' Life's "It Ain't Necessarily So," we heard not cast member Jermaine Smith but another talented singer, whose name I missed. Mini-Critic also very much enjoyed seeing Francesca Zambello's beautiful set, with a brief explanation of the scrim and lighting system. Sadly, if understandably, there were no choral numbers, which is too bad because Mini-Critic would have enjoyed seeing the children in the cast perform.

If you want to take your little classical music fan to a concert in Washington this fall, check out our schedule of Classical Music for Children, Fall 2005. The next event for Mini-Critic is the much-anticipated appearance of the Salzburger Marionettentheater on Tuesday in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. That performance is apparently sold out, but there are still tickets available for the marionnette version of Don Giovanni on Wednesday, November 9. Talk about inappropriate for children.


Mark Barry said...

Your a good daddy!

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks, Mark, for that complete exaggeration of the facts!

Princess Alpenrose said...

I went to the "Mall" at 2pm with 13-year old daughter Hannah today and saw that once-in-a-lifetime event, that once-in-a-millenium peformance. (I did a little review on my blog...)

The kids were spectacular in this performance, as well as the grown ups. They did an excellent job, both in the group/chorus numbers and in several very tight close-ups, at one point on either side of one of the sopranos for the duration of her aria!

Wonderful, wonderful afternoon, truly! Thanks to the Washington National Opera Board of Directors and Maestro Placido Domingo. This afternoon of free, first class opera was a truly rare and wonderful gift!

Anonymous said...

"Once-in-a-Millenium" performance?

Pane et Circensis. It is good to know that throwing bones to the masses still works.

Princess Alpenrose said...

Were you there, anonymous? Appparently not.

It was truly a stellar performance, a stellar, seamless, pitch perfect, powerhouse (vocally and emotionally) performance from about six major league voices, all superbly well credentialed opera singers, all of whom have sung major "classical" opera roles. (Did you get a program? Did you read it?).

I have personally heard a great many performances at a great many "fancier" opera houses all around the world, and this one, in this unusual venue, as a celebration of the Washington National Opera's 50th anniversary, was truly first rate. Period.

There were a great many people, probably about 1,000, from all walks of life, with a great variety of musical experiences, from age 2 to 92 there who chose to spend a rare beautiful sunday November afternoon sitting *on the ground* watching opera for *three hours with a single 25 minute intermission*.

Since you obviously weren't there I must note that 99.9987% of them STAYED FOR THE WHOLE THREE HOURS, COMPLETELY RIVETED.

Throwing bones to the masses, you say? Not a chance. The pearls were there, dear anonymous, and the swine who cannot appreciate it, will always snort afterwards.


Charles T. Downey said...

Don't make me pull this car over!

Anonymous said...

[Can I hit her back with my Placido-Domingo action-figure?!]

Apart from poking at the hyperbole, I was not referring to the quality of the performance... more to the marketing and fawning of/over the event and its inherent ironies. That you did not catch [gloves off] the finer points of that hardly surprises. And since you bring it up, this idiot-swine for one, trusts its absence over your presence in critical judgement any day! You gush over every crap like a teenager on dope (including blog-reviews that are 'good' at best) - I would not ask of your opinion on a can of beans.

Princess Alpenrose said...

Yet you continue to read and comment upon my opinons, don't you? So go ahead, hit away with whatever action figure doll you carry around with you; I'm immune to that sort of childishness.

And oooohhhh.... I "gush over every crap like a teenager on dope", do I? What are you, from Sequenza 21, you who are so spineless you can't post your own name?

Too bad that the irony of incessantly whining about the "marketing and fawning of/over the event and its inherent ironies" escapes *you*, dear anonymous commenter. PS methinks there is a poorly veiled racist element here ...

Also too bad you haven't ever bothered read any of my other reviews, which can be more brutal, ruthless and cruelly accurate (especially on singers) than you or anyone on in the blogosphere can tolerate, apparently.

Quality demands acknowledgement and praise, poor performance demands .. acknowledgement and accountability. Period.

Get lost, or grow up, post your own name and 'fess up to your own opinions.

(*I'm* the spineless one??? ha.)

jfl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jfl said...

this is pretty funny. if you guys promise to go at each other like that, i'll open my reviews up to comments again. i like the move of A.B. - in the left corner with the blue helmet - of accusing anonymous of racism. that one always sticks. although i am pretty sure the veiled anti-capitalist critique of "A" (red helmet, right corner) was really anti-semitic! on the other hand, A.B.'s all-out frontal assault leaves her open to the rhetoric dodge and back-handed slap... making anonymous' fightin' style more subtle. i'll be glued to the comment section to see how he recuperates from 'racism' and 'spinelesness' and 'childishness'. that's the trifect of insult, after all. (on second thought: better not comment on my posts, either of you.)

p.s. charles... i think it's time to pull the car over, after all.

Anonymous said...

May I point out that 99.9987% of 1000... ...nevermind.

Charles T. Downey said...

Forget the riots in France: we have our own little urban insurrection right here at Ionarts. Just please, people, no Molotov cocktails...

Princess Alpenrose said...

It really would have been much more interesting had "anonymous" added some interesting information (ie actual facts), insider insight or considered personal opinion about the subject of marketing/pr relating to this performance.

MUCH more interesting!

Princess Alpenrose said...

ps Didn't ionarts send someone to review the Sunday performance? (Honestly, I've been waiting to read that review ...)

Princess Alpenrose said...

Well the Washington Post sent someone!

My opinion? "An historic performance, in more ways than one!" AB

Charles T. Downey said...

Yes, I was going to put a link to the article in the Post in the monthly schedule. Ionarts was not able to attend.