Arts District

Monday, September 25, 2017

Cleveland Orchestra's 'Vixen' Revival is a Second Chance to See a Remarkable Production

Posted By on Mon, Sep 25, 2017 at 10:45 AM

  • Roger Mastroianni

One distinguishing trait of great art is its sense of inevitability. After seeing the Cleveland Orchestra’s encore production of Leos Janáček’s “The Cunning Little Vixen,” it’s hard to imagine the opera being staged any other way.

Janáček’s folksy, modal score uses extensive orchestral interludes between scenes. For opera, a medium as theatrical as it is musical, these can be problematic. How does one fill several minutes of an opera without singing or acting? Enter the stunning animations created by Bill Barminski and Christopher Louie of Walter Robot Studios. From the very first notes of the opera, the animations, projected onto three giant panels to create a continuous image across the width of the Severance stage, provide a level of continuity and immersion that would arguably be diminished with only Janáček’s score to thread the scenes together.

The economy and simplicity of Janáček’s story gives the opera a tautness that can withstand a variety of interpretations. It also gives the director a great deal of control over the deeper message audiences will take home. Director Yuval Sharon elevated Vixen “Sharp-Ears” and her animal cohort by portraying them in vivid animations. The forlorn Forester, portrayed by baritone Alan Held, remained tethered to the harrowing flatness of corporeal reality, ironically two-dimensional compared to the vibrant, animated world around him.

As in the original 2014 production, the voices behind the animals poked their heads through round cutouts in the screen. The effect was surprisingly seamless. The human characters were also integrated with the projections. As the Schoolmaster left the pub at the end of a night spent playing cards and drinking, an actual panel in the screen slid open and he stepped into the pencil-drawn scenery. The entire forest spun and swirled as the Schoolmaster drunkenly stumbled home.

The fast-paced romance between soprano Martina Janková’s Vixen and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano’s Fox got hearty laughs from the audience, as did the sharp exchanges between Vixen and the Forester. There were also some knowing chuckles as the Vixen’s plot to devour the hens—in the guise of a populist rhetoric-laden speech—struck a timely chord.

“Who does the labor? Who gets the profit?” Vixen cries. “Too long you’ve suffered oppression. Demand freedom now!”

The Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Chorus and Children’s Chorus added further depth to the production as they reacted to the onstage action from different parts of the hall, seemingly speaking for the audience or the forest itself.

Overall, the strength of the story, the simple beauty of Janáček’s score and the seamless production transcended any individual performance. The opera’s poignant symmetry is itself a statement about the ephemerality of everything; it all ends back where it began. For those of us who missed it the first time around, the gratitude for another chance to experience this production made the evening even more special.

The final performance of “Cunning Little Vixen” is Tuesday, September 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Severance Hall.
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

'Simply Simone' at Karamu Misses the Magic and Essence of Nina Simone

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 3:26 PM

  • Courtesy Karamu

Nina Simone was an awesome talent and an even more compelling personality. She became “The High Priestess of Soul” almost against her will, since she grew up as a piano prodigy and really only wanted to become the world’s first black classical concert pianist. And along the way, back in the 1960s, she became a fierce voice for the radical black militant movement in America.

In short, there’s a big story to tell about Nina Simone. Unfortunately, this slap-dash play created by David Grapes and Robert Neblett captures almost none of the Simone magic. Due to a series of wrong-headed decisions, the play covers 2 and a half hours and more than 30 songs while managing to miss the compelling essence at the core of Nina Simone’s art.

Before the dissection continues, we must pause and give a pass to the four hard-working performers who try to lift this lumbering show into the air. Sheffia Randall Dooley, Corlesia Smith and Mariama Whyte are all gifted, professional singers and actors, and they generate fleeting moments of bliss. And Afia Mensa does her best while battling some pitch problems in several of her songs. In addition, music director Ed Ridley, Jr. and his four-piece band provide solid support.

The first questionable decision is to have those four women play aspects of Ms. Simone, along with assorted other characters during the narrated sections of the play. These arid readings of Simone’s biography turn the show into a Wikipedia musical, with factoids replacing actual theatrical scenes between and among characters.

Right from the start, the play skids off center as four songs are presented in standard smiley-face variety show style with not a hint of the deep and fascinating Simone personality. From there on, songs from the Simone songbook are presented with varying degrees of power. On the positive side, Smith handles her songs well, especially a spine-tingling version of “I Put a Spell on You.” And Dooley delivers some tingles herself in the second act with “Trouble in Mind” and “My Father.”

While the script dutifully records Simone’s conflicts with her dad, her husband/manager Andy, her sister and herself, the show never slows down enough to allow these torments to land with any impact.

This problem is not aided by an overly simplistic scenic design by Inda Blatch-Geib that employs photo collages on three-sided rolling columns, intended to capture the era in which Simone and the people in her life. Instead, newsreel footage and photos of Simone herself—who was a stunning presence at all ages—would help immensely. In a similar way, the lighting design by Prophet Seay is bland and perfunctory, without using lighting contrasts to carve out sections of the stage to increase the emotional force of certain moments.

Director Caroline Jackson Smith is certainly hamstrung by this oddly passionless material. But her staging often feels like a by-the-book 1970s TV show, with the singers tramping up and down a small, four-level platform and lining up across the stage and belting. That wasn’t Nina Simone.

Where is the Nina Simone who could turn a pop tune into an entirely new and different creature due to her bold phrasing and daring silences? Where is the Nina Simone who employed classical music idioms in her music, often going on long riffs that turned blues and jazz into something gloriously new. And where is the Nina Simone who was driven by and eventually punished for her deeply held political beliefs?

Some of it is given cursory lip service, but most of what made Nina Simone so different and wonderful is simply missing from Simply Simone.

Simply Simone
Through October 8 at Karamu House, 2355 East 89 St., 216-795-7070,
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House of Blues Announces Details for Annual Carnival of Horrors

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 11:55 AM

For the third year in a row, House of Blues will present its annual Carnival of Horrors. This year's Halloween-themed event will feature a costume contest with a $1000 cash prize. It takes place at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28.

There will also be a carnival sideshow, and DJ Flaco Flash, DJ SB and Jimmy Beats will provide the tunes. Each guest will receive 3D glasses to enhance the black light décor throughout the venue.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Revival of the Stunning 'The Cunning Little Vixen' From the Cleveland Orchestra and Five More Classical Music Events Not to Miss This Week

Posted By on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 9:41 AM

  • Roger Mastroianni

Cleveland’s French Baroque ensemble Les Délices occasionally ventures into different territory, as Debra Nagy and her colleagues did in their recent “Songs Without Words” program, which combines 17th-century songs for instruments with 20th-century torch songs and jazz standards arranged and improvised by the ensemble. You can watch the group rehearse the program on Thursday, September 21 from 6:30-9:30 pm at Historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ohio City (it’s free), then catch the show itself on Sunday, September 24 at 12:30 pm when they present a Jazz Brunch at Nighttown. Tickets available online.

If you missed Yuval Sharon’s imaginative production of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at Severance Hall two seasons ago, you have three opportunities to make your acquaintance with the piece — or to see it again. The Cleveland Orchestra will open its centennial season under the baton of Franz Welser-Möst on Saturday, September 23 at 8:00 pm with a revival of the opera featuring computer projections inspired by the newspaper cartoons that inspired the composer. Two more performances follow on Sunday, September 24 at 3:00 pm and Tuesday, September 26 at 7:30 pm. Watch a series of production diaries and interviews here, and reserve tickets through the Severance Hall Box Office.

Timothy Beyer’s new music ensemble, No Exit, begins its season with world premieres of Matthew Ivic’s Septet, Nasim Khorassani’s Growth for string trio, and Michael Rene Torres’s …his existence a flux… at Heights Arts on Saturday, September 23 at 8:00 pm. There are two further performances, all free and all at 8:00 pm, on Friday, September 29 at CSU’s Drinko Hall, and Saturday, September 30 at SPACES.

And fans of organ recitals will need to make a tough choice on Sunday, September 25, when three important performances will coincide at exactly 4:00 pm. James Higdon plays works by 20th-century visionary Jehan Alain on the Ars Organi series at St. Paul’s in Cleveland Heights, but that afternoon also features Isabelle Demers at Fairmount Presbyterian in Cleveland Heights in a concert including her own arrangement of a Harry Potter Suite, and William Kuhlman performing at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Akron. They’re all free.

For details of these and other events, visit the Concert Listings page.
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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Monster Jam Returns to the Q in February

Posted By on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 at 8:48 AM

The Monster Jam series, an event that features humungous trucks racing against one another, takes place each year at the Q, and organizers have just announced details for next year's event.

The series returns to the Q on Feb. 17 and 18. The competition takes place at 1 and 7 p.m. on Feb. 17 and at 1 and 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 18.

With names such as Grave Digger, Max D, Zombie, El Toro Loco, Womder Woman and Monster Mutt Rottweiler, the trucks are approximately 12 feet tall and about 12 feet wide. They generate 1,500 to 2,000 horsepower and are capable of speeds of up to 100 miles per hour.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

IngenuityFest Brings Three Days of Art and More to Cleveland This Weekend

Posted By on Mon, Sep 18, 2017 at 1:14 PM

  • Courtesy IngenuityFest

After a successful relaunch last year in its new home at the former Osborn Manufacturing Company, IngenuityFest returns to the Saint Clair-Superior neighborhood this weekend. This year's theme is “Metamorphosis,” which organizers say is emblematic of both the organization’s evolution, as well as the transformation of its new neighborhood. Renamed the Hamilton Collaborative, the complex of buildings is now home to the Rust Belt Riders, Soulcraft Woodshop, Skidmark Garage, Rebuilders Xchange, MorrisonDance, 3 Barn Doors and an architecture office. The goal is to establish a permanent, cooperative maker hub in the Saint Clair-Superior neighborhood.

“Seeing the response to our new location in Saint Clair-Superior and the growing Hamilton Collaborative has been tremendous,” says Emily Appelbaum, Ingenuity Cleveland’s artistic director.

Now in its 13th year, the three-day festival once again promises innovative and engaging performances, art, installations, maker activities, artisan vendors, local food and “random acts of creativity,” as well as a full lineup of live music throughout the weekend. As in previous years, the festival is a collective effort of dozens of artists, performers, exhibitors and musicians, including both newcomers and returning favorites.

This year’s featured programs include Leaping Off the Wall, Mecanique Biotique and Closed Loop, Makers Mecca, Megan Young and Kix Nicole’s Breakwall, ARTchiTECHtonica and IngenuityLabs. Leaping Off the Wall is a collaboration between Ingenuity and MorrisonDance, with help from Saline Bartunek-Andrews (climbing champion, competitive athlete, Broadway dancer, American Gladiator), Lee Zickel (formerly of Cleveland Rock Gym) and a grant from the Ohio Arts Council’s Next program. “Belay-rinas” will dance across a vertical wall behind the main stage, which features projections by Kevin Jackson.

Mecanique Biotique and Closed Loop is another Hamilton Collaborative partnership. In collaboration with the Rust Belt Riders, Ingenuity transforms a former industrial site into a teaching garden and “veritable forest” of sustainable technologies. Guests can learn more about the Rust Belt Rider’s waste management techniques, aquaponics and composting, and work with local sculptors, learning metalworking techniques at the Forest Foundry. Under the direction of Elizabeth Meadows (Full Metal Florist), guests will work with local sculptors to build a metal sculpture garden from scrap.

Meet local makers, see a sustainable fashion show and participate in more activities at the Makers Mecca. As for art installations, Megan Young and Kix Nicole’s Breakwall is a participatory sonic landscape in which the body becomes an instrument and movements are amplified into a “hypnotic wave-like score.” ARTchiTECHtonica features artwork and site-specific installations, including the work of Cleveland Institute of Art graduate and State University of New York professor of fine art Nathan J. Wasserbauer.

Elaborating on some of this year’s offerings, Annie Weiss, Ingenuity Cleveland’s development and marketing associate says, "We have a couple of crowd favorites returning: The Tesla Orchestra is back with an all new show, and you may have seen (or participated) Nelson Morris at previous festivals doing his castings for his project 1000 Faces. Well, he's finally finished and this year we have a whole hallway to showcase all 1000 faces. We've got some pretty special new projects as well - we've collaborated with MorrisonDance to produce Leaping Off-the-Wall where dancers will literally be performing about 20 feet off the ground on the wall behind our Main Stage - and that only begins to graze the surface of what we have in store!"

Established last year, IngenuityLabs is an incubator program that provides tools, workspace and networking opportunities to support and encourage collaboration between artisans, entrepreneurs and technology innovators. The program’s goals include attracting and retaining talent, building spaces for innovation, promoting the arts and a culture of creativity and connecting entrepreneurs with local youth and young adults, fostering entrepreneurship, especially among traditionally excluded populations.

(IngenuityFest) 5401 Hamilton Ave., 216-589-9444,
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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Visible Voice Books to Officially Reopen on September 27

Posted By on Thu, Sep 14, 2017 at 3:18 PM

  • Courtesy of Visible Voice Books
After a three-year hiatus, Visible Voice Books in Tremont will reopen in a new location on Sept. 27.

“It’s the same philosophy, same neighborhood and same proprietor—but we’ve doubled our space and centralized our location,” says owner Dave Ferrante in a press release announcing the store’s reopening in the Komorowski building on Professor Ave. in Tremont. “We’ve added more magazines, literary gifts and genres. We’re enhancing sections like fiction and cooking—something that’s important in a neighborhood known as a dining destination.”

The new location includes a 26-car parking lot, and the additional square footage has allowed for a café. Now, in addition to a rotating array of seasonal wines and craft beer, Visible Voice will offer locally-made pastries from Sweet Tooth Confections, specialty teas and brew-in-house coffee from Gimme! Coffee.

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