Sunday, February 16, 2003

Weill's 'Seven Deadly Sins' tempt Muni

Opera will premiere extension using composer's songs

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati Opera artistic director Nicholas Muni is expanding his horizons to include "creator." Muni is developing a 40-minute extension to Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins, to be premiered in the opera's summer festival on June 26 and 28.

Its working title is A Virtual Paradise.

What to pair with Weill's 35-minute work, designated a "sung-ballet," has been a longstanding problem, Muni says. (The double bill will include Francis Poulenc's one-act La Voix Humaine.)

"As I studied it, I felt there was a good opportunity to tell a story beyond what happens to Anna and her family after they have accumulated all this wealth. We decided we could create a companion piece that could tell that story."

Muni will combine other Weill songs and musical numbers into the extension, linked together with his own, original dialogue.

In the plotline, two sisters, both named Anna, leave their home in Louisiana to find the American dream. As they take a seven-year journey through American cities, they confront seven deadly sins: sloth, pride, anger, gluttony, lust, avarice and envy. Muni's addition will not add an "eighth sin," he says, but will be a "sequel."

Muni, who is just back from Toronto after directing a revival of his production of Jenufa for the Canadian Opera Company, has the blessing of Kim Kawalke, president of the Kurt Weill Foundation in New York.

"There have been lots of previous attempts to do all-Weill evenings that include Sins," Kawalke says. "Others have used a collection of songs in the second half. What Nic wants to do is not have a revue-like extension, but something that might continue the story of the sins in some way."

He said that Muni may use material from Weill's Der Silbersee (The Silver Sea, 1932), written just before The Seven Deadly Sins, which has a similar musical style. Sins actually contains a quotation from Silbersee, Kawalke says.

Weill's works, including songs from Broadway musicals like Lost in the Stars, "lend themselves to being extracted and used different ways," Muni says.

There is precedent. Jonathan Eaton, formerly of Cincinnati, created a scenario for Songplay, mounted at Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park in 1996.

Another unique aspect will be the main character of Anna, traditionally performed by two soloists, a singer and a dancer. Soprano Catherine Malfitano, who also has a background as a dancer, will perform both roles.

The creative team includes designer Dany Lyne, lighting designer Thomas C. Hase and choreographer Lucinda Childs. Childs is known for her work with composer Philip Glass and designer Robert Wilson.

New beginning: In honor of its 70th anniversary this season, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Neal Gittleman, is releasing A New Beginning by Carole Judge, the first book to chronicle the DPO's history. The DPO will move to its new home in the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center next month. The book ($20) will be available beginning in March and throughout the 2003-04 season. (937) 224-3521, Ext. 113.

Starlings in Russia: The youngest is 8 years old, but they are seasoned performers who have toured Europe, Korea and China. On Wednesday, the 26-member Starling Chamber Orchestra leaves for its first tour to Russia. The five-city, eight-concert tour (Feb. 19-March 6) will include concerts in Munich, Kitzbuhel and Augsburg, Germany; Vienna, Austria; and St. Petersburg, Russia. The group will also perform for schools near Munich.

"Having an exchange with schoolchildren of the same age of other countries just opens your eyes," says director Kurt Sassmannshaus, who directs the Starling Preparatory String Project at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

The venues include Munich's Gasteig concert hall, Vienna's golden Schonbrunn palace, and the Glinka Hall in St. Petersburg, where the group was invited to perform for the city's 300th anniversary.

The Starling is the youngest chamber orchestra in the world, Sassmannshaus believes. Tour soloists are Stephanie Zyzak, 8; Christoph Cameron, 13; Gayeon Lee, 10; Jonathan Miron, 10; Tessa Lark, 13; Charles Yang, 14; and Su Yeon Lee, 13.

The tour, which will cost an estimated $100,000, is funded by the Starling Project Foundation, as well as by fund raising by the orchestra.

Grammy fever: Don't forget to watch the 45th annual Grammy Awards next Sunday (8-11 p.m., Channels 12, 7) to see whether the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and former music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos win their first Grammy for Music of Turina and Debussy, in the "Best Orchestral Performance" category. Three CSO and Cincinnati Pops albums (including Paavo Jarvi's Sibelius/Tubin disc) are also cited in the nomination of Telarc executive Robert Woods for Producer of the Year - Classical.

Only Woods will be present at the award ceremony, says CSO management. This is the second nomination for the CSO.

In a Grammy Awards first, a major orchestra will perform on the show this year, when the New York Philharmonic performs "Mambo" from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. That orchestra has made 2,000 albums since 1917 and won nine Grammy Awards.

Dismissal causes stir: Two months after conductor Leslie B. Dunner's contract was not renewed by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, repercussions are being felt all the way to the Annapolis City Council, reports the Baltimore Sun. In a resolution on Monday, three African-American council members reprimanded the symphony for its dismissal of Dunner, a CCM graduate and an African-American.

According to the American Symphony Orchestra League, 3 percent of the nation's 1,800 symphonies - including colleges and youth groups - have African-American conductors.

Unhappy in Houston: The weakened economy has resulted in financial crises at several major American orchestras, reflected in programming cuts, sluggish ticket sales, declines in subscriptions, and fewer donors and sponsors.

Last month, the 97 members of Houston Symphony Orchestra staged a one-day walkout to protest the orchestra society's failure to agree on a contract. The musicians, who have played without a contract since Oct. 5, also filed unfair labor charges against the orchestra.

By striking for a day, the musicians hoped to "publicize our belief that Houston deserves, and can afford, a world-class symphony," says David Kirk, musician spokesman.

The Houston Symphony Society has proposed salary cuts of more than $10,000 per musician, reducing the orchestra by five players and increasing the players' health care costs.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the orchestra is projecting a $2.3 million deficit on a $23 million operating budget. (To compare, the CSO's budget is close to $30 million.)

"We want to continue performing concerts at the high level we're associated with," Kirk says. "Our future level of performance is at risk."

On Feb. 5, the Houston Symphony proved that, in times of crisis, the nation turns to music. The musicians donated their services in a memorial concert to honor the crew of the space shuttle Columbia broadcast live nationwide by National Public Radio.

Memorial recital: CCM faculty member Eugene Pridonoff is dedicating his recital 8 p.m. Wednesday in Werner Hall to the memory of Richard Fields. Fields, a CCM faculty member and one of the leading African-American pianists in the United States, died Christmas Eve. On Jan. 19, a tribute was held at CCM; subsequently, more than 40 relatives who had not known of his passing contacted the school.

"It is for this reason that I wish to dedicate this recital to them as a tribute to his memory," says Pridonoff. He will perform works by Mozart, Debussy, Brahms and Dutilleux and Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata. Information: 556-4183.


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