By Rodger Skidmore
You say tomato, I say potato
Emilio Pucci was “the” Italian designer of the sixties in New York, Paris, London, and Rome. If a vibrant woman wished to appear vibrant in one of those cities, she covered herself in the psychedelic sweeping colors of Pucci in the evenings and slept under Pucci’s pastel sheets at night.
The opposite of Pucci’s psychedelic vibrancy might be the natural realism, or verismo, of an earlier Italian, Giacomo Puccini. Both were tops in their field – one in fashion and the other in fashionable music. In opposition to the way that colors flowed on the silks of Pucci’s dresses, Puccini’s music soaked the pages of his 12 operas with overwhelming passion and emotion.
The 10th and 12th of the month are the days that tunes from 10 or 12 of Puccini’s operas will be wafting through the halls of the Sarasota Opera House.
What are the odds that “O Mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi, “Sè, mi chiamano Mimì” from La Bohème, and “Manon Lescaut’s Donna non vidi mai” will be sung during those performances? Highly likely. Will “Nel Villaggio d’Edgar” from the opera with the same name (Edgar) make the cut? Hard to tell with this lush music from a not often performed lesser work.
Soloists from the Sarasota Opera will weave their notes around those produced by the members of the Sarasota Orchestra (conducted by Victor DeRenzi) in this coupling of musical talents. Info at Sarasotaopera.org.
Art is in the eye of the beholder?
Maybe so, but truisms aren’t always true. That is to say, sometimes there are things a bit beyond, that need to be considered. Yes, the eye can see, but you can also feel things in your bones. There can be bewilderment and there can be acceptance, and sometimes of the same thing at the same time.
Weaving Wind and Water is an acrylic on canvas, a painting done by Syd Solomon in 1987. Solomon owned beachfront property just north of Midnight Pass, down on Siesta Key, and watched as the shoreline in front of his house slowly approached the outer limits of his home. He and a neighbor attempted remedial action but the re-action of the wind and water was extremely negative, with Midnight Pass finally closing in 1984.
Does one’s eye, without pre-knowledge of the subject matter, know that these are painting of water, sand, and wind? Does the un-tuned eye know that these elements were not just seen by the artist, but felt by him? Over time? Most probably not. But can one, without such knowledge, still feel the motion and movement that the artist did – down to the very being of one’s self? The artist hoped so because that is exactly what he, as an artist, was all about. The masked expression of unmasked emotion.
This painting along with Island Memory and many others, are in a show, Fluid Impressions: The Paintings of Syd Solomon, on display at Ringling College’s Stulberg Gallery from Nov. 6 through March 25.
During World War II Solomon’s job was to design camouflage for US military equipment. Basically, taking something real and, with the blending of diverse elements, make it meaningfully invisible. In his painting he did the reverse. He took diverse elements and, while they appeared random, made them be visibly real – at least deep within one’s being.
Settling with his wife Annie, in Sarasota, he created the Institute of Fine Art at New College. This, along with other artistic endeavors, generated the influx of art and culture which drew so many of Sarasota’s current residents to this area and made Sarasota what it is today. More info at Ringlingcollege.gallery.
Art is often two-faced
Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions in Roman mythology and, for the month of January, the transition from one year to the next. The three performances on Nov. 17 and 18 by the Sarasota Ballet are showing that many things can be two-faced, or maybe even more, including the interplay between art and war.
If one is putting the calamities of the world in chronological order, the beginnings of World War II are at the earliest edge of our living memory. That war, for many in England, started in late 1939, and in 1940 the darkening cloud on the horizon had quickly become a raging storm. While the Sadler Welles Dance company was trying to, with stiff upper lip, continue business as usual, their choreographer, Frederick Ashton, would have none of that. He produced a work titled Dante Sonata, named after Dante’s Inferno, written hundreds of years and many wars earlier. It was a violent ballet, both dark and relentless, with the melancholia that was pervading his country.
The ballet, linked by Ashton to Dante’s ever deepening circles of hell, is danced to the music of Franz Liszt, who himself was, to some, manic on the keyboard. In fact, the artistic link goes further, as the Liszt piece chosen for the dance – Après une lecture du Dante – was based on a poem of the same name by Victor Hugo. In other words, to quote General William Tecumseh Sherman, “War is hell.”
On the same program, at the Sarasota Opera House, is Paul Taylor’s ballet Company B showing the lighter(?) side of war. Perhaps this is in keeping with the logo of Janus Films, which shows this god with its two-faced image depicting both tragedy and comedy. While Taylor choreographed his piece in 1991, the music to which it is danced was written for, and sung by, the Andrews Sisters in 1941, just one year after Ashton described war’s tragic face. The comic face, evidenced by these songs which appeared in Abbot and Costello’s film Buck Privates, was beamed across America in an attempt to keep spirits up. Sort of a laugh to keep from crying effect.
The choreographer Edwaard Liang wrote his piece, The Art of War, after reading Sun Tzu’s fifth century B.C. book of the same name, on the tactics and strategy of warfare. BUT, while its title mentions war, this ballet is not referring to our usual combatants, those who are followers of a particular political persuasion, religion, or ethnic group. Rather, Liang is referring to the fight between the elements of calligraphy: the ink spread upright, curved, upstroked and downstroked; the traditional black or red ink and the white palate. All of these elements are at war with each other as the Sarasota corps de ballet, in their red, black, and white clothes, mimic the words of some magic spell, under which you may be under. Info at Sarasotaballet.org.
What musical was the top pick in New York in 1992, London in 1993, and Toronto in 1994? George and Ira Gershwin’s Crazy for You. Why would this be? A simple answer would be that this award-winning musical is a revival of their 1930 musical Girl Crazy. And, as the original show was a hit back then, the current producers just did a repeat and are raking in the dough.
But that’s not the case. Yes, the original was a hit, but why try for a double when, with a little extra effort, you can try for a home run. And the “extra effort”? Well, that is a bunch of loose tunes by the Gershwin Bros that are relatively unknown and were just lying around waiting to be written into this new show. While six tunes are from the original Girl Crazy (standards like “Embraceable You”and “I Got Rhythm”) the song “Tonight’s The Night” was previously unpublished. Yes, a “new” never before heard Gershwin song. Another song entitled “What Causes That?” was considered lost until it was found in, where else, a warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Since 1992 there have been a number of productions of this show in the UK, Australia, and around the English-speaking world. However, this is a brand-new Sarasota production choreographed and directed by the Asolo Rep’s Denis Jones. Previews start on the 15th with opening night on Nov. 18. There are 13 musical numbers in each of the two acts.
Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were not available to play the leads in this musical but the characters they usually play are here in full force. This is a 1930s romp, so there is a theatre that must be saved. And it will be, if only they can put on a show to pay off the mortgage. Will they, or won’t they? Will she, or won’t she? Do they, or don’t they? All done to the music of George Gershwin with lyrics by brother Ira (plus one song by the great Gus Kahn). Info at Asolorep.org.
This time not winning cities, but winning performers. On the 18th, Church of the Palms will be the venue for a fantastic collaborative event put on by the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota. The Key Chorale Chamber Singers and the Booker High VPA Choir are united with the violin phenom extraordinaire Alexander Markov and his golden electric violin. They have joined together to perform Markov’s original composition Caesar: Power. Fate. Conquest, written for electric violin, organ, choir, percussion, rhythm section and orchestral musicians.
Markov studied with his father, Albert Markov, who was a famous concert violinist in his own right, went on to win the Paganini Violin Competition and was praised by Yehudi Menuhin as “one of the most brilliant and musical of violinists.” His mother, Marina, was violinist with the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow. The three of them will be performing together.
On the same program will be Untraveled Worlds by Paul Halley. The words sung by these combined choirs are from the poem Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, poet laureate of Great Britain. A summary indicates that the words are not those of a cranky old man wishing to live a bit longer but are those of a free man yearning to continue a life well lived. “The honorable response to time and mortality is not to calmly accept old age and death, but rather to resist them–to wring every last drop of knowledge and adventure out of life, even if doing so may result in dying sooner.”
The final work, Lux Beata Trinitas by Ola Gjeilo is in Latin, was commissioned by a choir in Singapore, and is sublimely peaceful. More info at Artistseriesconcerts.org.
Yesterday is so … yesterday
Trends come, and trends go. What’s news today is tomorrow’s birdcage liner. This year’s Halloween horror was over by Nov. 1 so, a horror-based play is not only a slow-go for the theatre world, but a no-go.
Unless, of course, it is a comedy horror show. Or, better still, a horror comedy musical. And that is just what Florida Studio Theatre is opening at the Gompertz starting on Nov. 15 and running through the 7th of January.
And “opening” is the operative word, as the sickly little plant that is the feature attraction in The Little Shop of Horrors opens its maw and slyly croons its pitiful songs, asking for just a little more blood. And why would anyone feed such a plant human blood? They wouldn’t – unless it was an accident, or maybe they were tricked, or, perhaps because things just happened.
While this musical was born 40 years ago in an off-off Broadway production (which did make its way to the Great White Way), its original origins date back more than 60 years to one of Harvey Corman’s low-budget horror comic film gems. Given the different productions (and re-writes) over the years, many people have been devoured by this plant. A select crop of them will be featured in the days ahead.
The Brill Building in New York housed a multitude of song writers over the years, and, in many minds, was mostly associated with songs from just before and after World War II. The period of Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, etc. But its music history did not end there. The songwriters just kept on writing songs into the ’50s and ’60s and beyond. Those that wrote and/or sang the songs of those years included Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Connie Francis, The Shirelles, Frankie Valli, and Dionne Warwick – just to name a few. What do these singers have in common? Their songs or other Brill generated songs, will be bouncing off the rafters and Up on the Roof at Florida Studio Theatre’s Cabaret showcase through Feb. 4. Info for all at Floridastudiotheatre.org.
The Devil Went Down to Georgia
A big hit for the Charlie Daniels Band was “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” released on their 1979 album Million Mile Reflections. However, the tune was actually “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” by Vassar Clements, written and released on Clement’s album four years earlier on which Daniels played guitar, just with new words which were kind of spoken rather than sung.
An alternative version of that same concept was performed a few years earlier (61 years earlier to be exact) when Igor Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat (Tale of the Soldier) was presented in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1918.
The devil comes upon a soldier going home on leave who is sitting by a stream playing his violin (a Charlie Danials style guitar was not Stravinsky’s favorite instrument) and wheels and deals until he gets the violin. The narrator tells this back-and-forth story between the devil and the soldier while seven instrumentalists play their tunes and actors perform their roles as the devil, soldier, and princess. The princess also dances (and why not?).
This chamber ensemble work is performed the afternoon of Nov. 19 at Holley Hall by members of the Sarasota Orchestra. Bharat Chandra will not be playing guitar or violin but, as principal clarinet for the Sarasota Orchestra, he will be doing his own thing.
And speaking of the devil and a violin, a devilishly good violin and orchestra concerto is coming up on Nov. 3-5 at the Van Wezel. Tessa Lark is performing with the Sarasota Orchestra on Michael Torke’s Sky – Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. David Alan Miller of the Albany Symphony will be conducting this updated Copeland-esque concerto.
This being a Masterworks presentation they’ve added Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and the Overture to Die Fledermaus by Strauss. So, two old favorites and one new favorite. They say that Beethoven had originally dedicated his third symphony to Napoleon as a great heroic figure. But once Nappy declared himself emperor Beethoven scratched his name from the manuscript so hard that he tore a hole through to the other side. Thus, the generic hero. Info at Sarasotaorchestra.org
Do nuts grow on Christmas trees?
Just as the dollar stores start selling Halloween candy right after the Fourth of July, so, it seems, that productions of The Nutcracker Suite start to multiply like clothes hangers in a darkened closet, right after all the little Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and Cinderellas have returned to their coffins after an evening of trick or treating.
The first seems to be the Tree Fort production of The Storybook Nutcracker on the 18th at the Crossings at Siesta Key mall. Then things really start hopping in December with the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School’s students performing The Nutcracker at the Sarasota Opera House on Dec. 1. Students of the Diane Partington Studio of Classical Ballet will be there on the 9th and those of the Star Dance Academy on the 10th. Students of the Sarasota Ballet Conservatory will be holding forth at the Opera House on both Dec. 17 and 18 with their version. Finally, the Nutcracker Magical Christmas Ballet tiptoes in a few days after Christmas on December 28 for two performances at the Van Wezel. More info at Treefortproduction.com and Sarasotaopera.org and Vanwezel.org.
From Nov. 18 through Dec. 31, Nick Wallenda and the Circus Arts Conservatory will be presenting Brave New Wonderland, a holiday themed circus extravaganza at Benderson Park. An overlapping circus treat is Candyland running from Dec. 27 through 31. This is not Candyland: The Board Game because you certainly will not be bored by these acclaimed young circus artists performing at the Sailor Circus Arena. Info for both at Circusarts.org.
While the Sarasota Concert Associations music presentations will not start until January, one can get a jump start on the season with two music lectures by past president of the SCA, Joy McIntyre, at Selby Library on the mornings of Nov. 8 and 15, The first, The Lure of Power and Gold, and the second, The Case of Die Walküre – The Price of Love. Secure free reservations at SarasotaMusicArchive.org and you’re good to go.
No plans for the late afternoon of the 15th? How about listening in on a chamber concert at the Sarasota Art Museum when the Tobias Quartet performs Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 2 in G Major and Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. The players are all alumni of the Perlman Music Program, all studied together at Juilliard and then appeared at various music festivals – and now, for you, here in Sarasota. Info at Perlmanmusicprogramsuncoast.org for this concert and for the Perlman Music Festival here in January.
Who’s back? All the people who love to stroll, in the cool of a fall evening, up one side of Palm Avenue and down the other. And why not? Artists did not stop painting, drawing, molding, sketching, or casting during the past two COVID-19-inflicted years, so there should be lots of good work to see.
Sarasota’s First Friday Art Walk has actually been going on all year but this is the first time that the walk will be as cool as the art.
Nov. 3, being the first Friday of this month, continues the year’s favorite fall/winter exercise. Festivities are from 6 to 9 p.m. and include not just the art in the galleries, which are staying open just for you, but the occasional guitar or string quartet that you meet along the way. Some of the galleries entice you with a glass of wine so that you will linger a bit longer. Lingering helps one to focus, which adds to the pleasure, and pleasure is what this evening is all about.
It’s also fun to visit old and new friends. The old friends are those that you’ve not seen in ever so long. And the new friends might be a gallery or two that you’ve not visited. One such gallery is an old friend from the Rosemary District that has moved to Palm Avenue just in time for this month’s walk. The MARA Art Gallery is having its opening with old and new artists. One whose work you might have seen is Javier Suárez who last exhibited at the Art Ovation Hotel last year. A new one, for some, would be Pamela Olin who works with steel, glass, paint and other materials.
And don’t forget your favorites like Jorge Blanco at the Ford Galleries on Pineapple. Also, The State of the Arts on State Street, or others on Main. Stand at the right spot and everywhere you look, it’s art. And why not, it’s Sarasota.