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The Year in Music

Arts

The Year in Music

Looking back over 2018, here are my top 10 favorites among all albums released. Comment
Pete Shelley wasn’t the only LGBTQ musician involved in the 1970s punk scene, but he was the most talented and the one whose legacy has proved to be the most influential. Comment
Arts

Ghost Story at the Opera

Arts

Ghost Story at the Opera

Juilliard Opera Theater, on November 16, mounted Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw.” Any musically strong performance of this masterful score compels awe — and gratitude. Steven Osgood really had the measure of his excellent band and paced and blended them accordingly. With a dynamically versatile chamber piece like this, the intimate but not cramped auditorium reaffirms its status as one of the city’s very best places to hear operas. When he took his bow, Osgood generously and justly invited his players up onstage with him and the singers. Comment
For the latest in its annual series of Ópera en Español presentations, the New York City Opera staged Ástor Piazzolla’s tango operita “María de Buenos Aires” for three performances at (le) poisson rouge. The production concept by director Tomer Zvulun originated with the Atlanta Opera but was restaged in the past month for the (le) poisson rouge cabaret space by revival director Stephanie Havey. Comment
Arts

You, “Me,” and Isaac Mizrahi

Arts

You, “Me,” and Isaac Mizrahi

There’s no “I” in “Cabaret” — but there are three of them in Isaac Mizrahi’s name, and one in the title of his new show. Comment
The Hungarian State Opera and National Ballet appeared in New York for two weeks in late October and early November, performing at the Koch Theater. The repertory was mouthwatering for the opera aficionado: Ferenc Erkel’s “Bánk bán,” Karl Goldmark’s “Die Königin von Saba,” and a double bill of the one-acts “Mario and the Magician” by János Vajda and “Bluebeard’s Castle” by Béla Bartók. The company, however, proved to be a bewildering mix of musical excellence, amateurish provincial productions, and uneven singing. When it was good, it was very, very good, but when it was bad… Comment
Arts

A Newfound Buoyancy

Arts

A Newfound Buoyancy

Against Me!’s singer/ guitarist Laura Jane Grace made headlines when she announced she publicly identifies as a woman in 2012. The band’s album “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is an extended reflection on her identity, even if the lyrics aren’t all directly autobiographical. Before coming out as trans, she dropped hints in several songs and devoted an entire verse of “The Ocean” to making it an open secret, singing, “And if I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman/ My mother once told me she would have named me Laura.” The life “The Ocean” imagines is one Grace would largely go on to live out, but at the time it was either ignored or taken as a cisgender man’s musings. Comment
The Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer Nico Muhly for an operatic adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1961 psychological thriller “Marnie,” which was the basis for the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock film starring Tippi Hedren and a virile Sean Connery. Though it has critical defenders, the film is considered one of the master’s late career misfires. The opera with a libretto by Nicholas Wright had its world premiere last year at the English National Opera and arrived for its US premiere at the Met on October 19. (Hedren made a special appearance at the final curtain call opening night.) Comment
Arts

When Disco Entered Politics

Arts

When Disco Entered Politics

Bronski Beat’s 1984 “The Age of Consent,” now being reissued with more than an hour’s worth of radio sessions, remixes, and unreleased demos, invented its own sub-genre: protest disco. Singer Jimmy Somerville’s falsetto evoked female vocalists like Donna Summer (whose “I Feel Love” they covered) and Gloria Gaynor, as well as Sylvester, but the album’s very title was meant as a political statement. At the time, heterosexuals could legally have sex in the UK at 16, but gay men could not do so until 21. Thus, we were legally considered pedophiles and could be prosecuted for consensual sexual behavior that was perfectly acceptable for straight teenagers and young men. Comment
Arts

Met Takeover Tenors

Arts

Met Takeover Tenors

Real expectation filled the Met auditorium October 17 as we awaited the return of matinee idol tenor Jonas Kaufmann to the company after four cancelation-filled years. Munich’s star tenor joined the run of “La Fanciulla del West” midway in the role created by Enrico Caruso at Puccini’s Gold Rush-set opera’s world premiere in 1910. It was salutary to have him back, charisma and artistry much in evidence. But Dick Johnson is not “his” part vocally, certainly not in a theater the Met’s size. He’s excelled in “Tosca” here and “Don Carlo” elsewhere, but in this role he sounded rather too baritonal and, except at a few moments, slightly small-scale. Comment
Over the course of four solo albums — following a long run with the Denver band the Czars and a break from music — gay singer/ songwriter John Grant has gone from folk/ rock to synth-pop. This evolution says something about the fashions of our times: look at Mitski and St. Vincent embracing electronics and largely dropping electric guitar on their latest albums. Comment
Arts

Not Quite Ready for Their Close Up

The Metropolitan Opera opened the 2018-2019 season on September 24 with a high-powered new production of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Samson et Dalila.” The promise of the Met debut of Tony award-winning Broadway director Darko Tresnjak (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Murder”) and the reteaming of Roberto Alagna and Elina Garanca (who sizzled in the 2009 premiere of “Carmen”) failed to deliver on opening night. Garanca’s Dalila struck critical observers as chilly and small of voice. Alagna, suffering from a cold, lost his voice completely in Act III. Sir Mark Elder’s lead-footed conducting threw a wet blanket over the proceedings. Tresnjak’s production was denounced as vulgar and trivial. Comment
The theme of the inaugural season of Will Crutchfield’s Teatro Nuovo Summer Festival at Purchase College was “The Dawn of Romantic Opera,” which according to Crutchfield happened in Italy in 1813. In February of that year in Venice, 21-year old Gioachino Rossini scored his first breakthrough triumph with the opera seria “Tancredi. In November 1813 in Naples, 50-year-old Bavarian-born Giovanni Simone Mayr scored his greatest theatrical success with “Medea in Corinto.” Teatro Nuovo presented both operas in three (barely) semi-staged concerts. Comment
Arts

A Pop Attack on Gender Conformity

Arts

A Pop Attack on Gender Conformity

In a musical landscape where the distorting effects of Autotune on vocals are the clearest hallmark and glitchy production effects are increasingly common (the aesthetics behind trans producer Sophie’s “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” and rapper Travis Scott’s “Astroworld” aren’t so far apart despite vast differences in recording budgets and sales figures), the idea that music is most truthful when it consists of a singer/ songwriter standing with a guitar and performing confessional songs about their life is dying out. Comment
Arts

Stadium Play for Gay Pop

At age 23, Troye Sivan’s second album “Bloom” positions the South African-born, Australian-raised, LA-based singer for world stardom. (He’s also an actor, who will be seen in the […] Comments (1)
Nightlife

Coach Sylvester Does the Great American Songbook

As Sue Sylvester on “Glee,” she was everybody’s favorite mean high school coach. Jane Lynch has ditched that track suit for more sophisticated apparel and appears in cabaret at the Café Carlyle through September 22. A veteran of Broadway’s “Annie” in the role of the mendacious Mrs. Hannigan, she spoke to me about this important club debut via phone from Los Angeles and made a particular point of emphasizing that she is not doing it alone. Comment
Arts

Bavarian Holiday

Munich seems an essential operatic tourist destination. The Bavarian State Opera, historically strong, is rocking out under Nikolaus Bachler. As manifest in two astonishing March Carnegie concerts, principal conductor Kirill Petrenko is — welcomely without much hype or projected ego — among today’s most accomplished maestri. Beyond this, Munich offers unbelievably rich and varied museums and architecture, fantastic parks, easy transport (including bicycles), and distinctly LGBTQ neighborhoods and festivals. Comments (1)
Arts

Danger and Pleasure

The first indication that out queer British singer Anna Calvi’s “Hunter” was going to be something special came with the June release of the music video for its first single, “Don’t […] Comment
Arts

Stadium Play for Gay Pop

At age 23, Troye Sivan’s second album “Bloom” positions the South African-born, Australian-raised, LA-based singer for world stardom. (He’s also an actor, who will be seen in the […] Comment
Glimmerglass’s 2018 season continued with an inspiriting production of Leos Janacek’s 1924 “The Cunning Little Vixen,” surely the first opera based on a comic strip. Aged 69 at […] Comment
Arts

Black Voices Coming Together

Arts

Black Voices Coming Together

Dev Hynes wears many hats. He’s worked as a musician, producer, and/ or songwriter for artists like A$AP Rocky, Carly Rae Jepsen, Solange, Florence and the Machine, FKA twigs, Kylie Minogue, and Blondie. As a solo artist, he’s used two different “band” names: Lightspeed Champion and Blood Orange. He’s a black gay Brit who has lived in New York since 2007. But his industry connections ensure that Blood Orange’s new album, “Negro Swan,” is probably one of the few indie releases to include a feature by Puff Daddy. Comment
Arts

They’re Not Asking

Arts

They’re Not Asking

iTunes genre tags are rarely very creative. I can’t count the number of rock albums I’ve downloaded that are described as “Alternative,” a term no one has seriously used since about 1992. In protest of the way African-American singers automatically get classified as R&B, Frank Ocean labeled his mixtape “Nostalgia/ Ultra” as “bluegrass.” Comment
Arts

Bernstein’s Ambitions at Critical “Mass”

In his lifetime (which began exactly 100 years ago this August 25), Leonard Bernstein was a polarizing figure. To some he was an angel of musical talent: a virtuoso pianist, an expert proselytizer for all forms of music in the mass media, and a genius composer and conductor of classical music, jazz,and Broadway. Comment

Several Solid Innings in Cooperstown

Glimmerglass presents two American works this summer: the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Silent Night” by Kevin Puts (libretto by the justly busy Mark Campbell) and centenarian Leonard Bernstein’s […] Comment

Midsummer Madness

When Will Crutchfield moved his “Bel Canto at Caramoor” program to SUNY Purchase as the “Teatro Nuovo” festival, Caramoor Festival artistic vice president Kathy Schuman turned to On Site Opera for a replacement operatic presentation. Comment

Triumphant Tetralogy

This year for its annual June Festival — which makes a great add-on to Frameline’s LGBTQ film festival and the Bay Area’s other Pride events — San Francisco Opera really delivered “festival goods.” The company revived Francesca Zambello’s “Ring” cycle for three traversals, developed and honed over the years locally and at Washington National Comment

Uneasy Listening

“Love and Light,” the opening track on transfemme singer/ producer Lotic’s debut album “Power,” takes a blissful music box-style melody played on bright, trebly synthesizers that could’ve come off a New Age record and develops it by layering much noisier sounds on top of it. The title track returns to a similar motif, but two minutes in moves on to synthes Comment

The Sanctity of Gay Sex

Years & Years are huge stars in the UK, with their 2015 album “Communion” and single “King” hitting #1 there, but so far their success in the US has been far more limited, with “Communion” peaking at #47 here. Comment

Musical Mash-Ups and Magic

In May, MasterVoices presented two performances of “Orphic Moments,” a musical conflation of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” with Matthew Aucoin’s cantata “Orphic Moments” at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. “Orphic Moments” is a 16-minute internal monologue for Orpheus spotlighting th Comment

Remember These Three Barihunks

“Remember,” a CD project of Roven Records, had a fun launch party at Carnegie/ Weill Hall on May 22. The stars of the fine CD and the concert are three veritable barihunks launched on fine careers — Tobias Greenhalgh, Steven LaBrie, and Jarrett Ott. LaBrie and Ott are that rare thing: out classical singers who are not count Comment
Nightlife

This Lady Sings No Blues

Beginning her Café Carlyle residency this weekend is a favorite among most everybody — whether you’re a dyke and loved her in “Bound,” or gay and dug her jiggy, toxic Margo Channing turn in the immortal “Showgirls.” Comments (1)

Totally New

BY STEVE ERICKSON| When the singer who calls himself serpentwithfeet (his real name is Josiah White) released his 2016 debut EP “Blisters,” it was a genuine UFO. If you need a genre tag, one could call him an R&B singer, although he describes his music as “pagan gospel.” In any case, his vocals push a melodramatic impulse toward near-operatic tendencies, and he frequently sang ove Comment

Snail Mail’s Growth into a Trio

Snail Mail singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Lindsey Jordan has made a large splash while still a teenager, but she began playing classical guitar at age five while growing up in Baltimore. Essentially working as a one-woman band, she released an EP when she was 16 two years ago. It drew a great deal of attention, and last year she signed with Matador Records, deciding to pursue a career in music rat Comments (1)

Some Mountains Too High to Climb

Charles Wuorinen’s operatic “Brokeback Mountain,” with a libretto by Annie Proulx herself, originally presented in Madrid in 2014, finally made it to New York City Opera — and North America — as part of the company’s welcome June slot dedicated to operas with LBGTQ content. (NYCO also marches in the Pride Parade.) The spiky, 12- Comments (1)

Thalia Zedek’s E Releases Second Album

The Boston trio E are a relatively new group. Its members came together in 2013 and released a self-titled 2016 debut. Their latest album, “Negative Work,” is their sophomore effort. Comment

Singing Cowboys in Love

Back in 2008, the late impresario Gerard Mortier, then general director designate of the New York City Opera, commissioned from composer Charles Wuorinen an operatic adaptation of Annie Proulx’s 1997 short story “Brokeback Mountain” to be the centerpi Comments (1)

Courtney Barnett Doesn’t Hold Back

If one has paid attention to the past year’s worth of rock music, the resurgence of overtly feminist sounds, usually drawing on ‘90s female artists, has been unmistakable. Artists like U.S. Girls, Soccer Mommy, and Camp Cope have picked up where the riot grrrl movement left off, although they’ve used less aggre Comment

Gounod, Rameau, and Strauss

Bartlett Sher’s supernumerary-loaded, sleepy staging of “Roméo et Juliette” sank fairly perilously April 23 under the indiscriminate, pace-deadening conducting of Plácido Domingo. There are reasons audiences want to hear Domingo’s compromised but still firm, energetic singing, but his conducting has always Comment
Nightlife

The Illustrious Blacks Return to Joe’s Pub

The performance duo The Illustrious Blacks is poppin’! Although the married gay couple, who individually go by their stage names Manchildblack and Monstah Black, have each been in the downtown nightlife and Brooklyn performance scenes for a while, suddenly they are everywhere doing everything. Comments (1)

Janelle Monáe Fleshes Herself Out

Janelle Monáe’s first two major-label albums, 2010’s “The ArchAndroid” and 2013’s “The Electric Lady,” were part of a larger Afro-futurist conceptual project, along with their associated videos, in which she played an android named Cindi Mayweather. Without becoming a huge star, she has attracted an audience of outcasts much like David Bowie and Prince did in their day. L Comments (1)

Star-Crossed Lovers in Ancient Castles

On April 12, anyone close to Manhattan who considers themself a hard-core opera fan was in one place: Carnegie Hall. We were all convened in that hallowed hall to hear Jonas Kaufmann attempt his first partial climb up the Mount Everest that is Wagner’s Tristan in a concert performance of Act II of “Tristan und Isolde” with the Boston Symphony Orchestra led Comments (1)

Bicoastal Voices

The Little Opera Theatre of NY offered a very pleasant surprise at Baruch’s impressive Performing Arts Center March 24 with “Piramo e Tisbe” by Hamburg-born Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783), a local premiere. One thinks of Hasse as Handel without the psychology; but the music (under harpsich Comment

A Noise Rap Scream of Alienation

“Vanowen,” the opening track on noise rap duo Moodie Black’s latest album, “Lucas Acid,” features feedback, blasts of electronic shrieks, and live bass guitar. It does not include anything resembling mainstream hip-hop production. The group, consisting of trans female vocalist/ producer Kdeath and guitarist Sean Lindahl, embrac Comments (1)

Sideshow Distractions

This month, the Metropolitan Opera unveiled a new production by Phelim McDermott of Mozart’s unsettling sex comedy “Così fan tutte,” a co-production with the English National Opera. McDermott resets this intimate chamber piece from a Neapolitan villa to the Coney Island of the 1950s, fe Comment

Bel Canto Babylon at the Met

“Semiramide” was Gioachino Rossini’s final opera for Italy, the last soprano role he composed for his wife Isabella Colbran, and the ultimate Italian opera seria in the classical tradition. It premiered in Venice in February 1823 and immediately afterwards Ro Comment
Nightlife

Into the Light

With a combination of New Age ideas, Southern Gothic storytelling, and supernova star power, Jomama Jones is blazing through Joe’s Pub with a new show, “Black Light.” Comments (2)

Pushing Glam, Bowie, Gaga in a Dystopian Direction

The out gay one-man band Felix and the Future has been recording for seven years now, but “Holy Hands, Vol. Two” is his debut album. It’s a direct follow-up to last year’s “Holy Hands, Vol. 1” EP and includes the previously released single “A Good Son.” Felix and the Future has also, in the past, released the singles “Drive” and “Family Tree.” Image is a huge part of his act, and he considers his videos as i Comment

Crossing Borders: Musical and Geographical

Opera critics have a tendency to be finicky in matters concerning musical genre. Houston Grand Opera commissioned a “mariachi opera” from composer José (Pepe) Martínez set to a bilingual libretto by dir Comment

The Met When It’s Good

It’s a real if rare pleasure to walk out of the Metropolitan Opera thinking, “That was an extraordinary performance, worthy of the company’s highest legacy.” I felt that after — and indeed during — February 20’s “Parsifal.” Wagner’s final opera deals meaningfully in redemptiv Comment
Theater

Ute Lemper’s Tribute to Marlene Dietrich

The minute I heard Ute Lemper’s new show at the Café Carlyle was about Marlene Dietrich, I knew I had to talk to her. For me, that German superstar could very well be the most important woman of the last century. Her life spanned nearly all of it and took her in so many directions, to so many worlds: two World Wars, the latter of which saw her playing an important role, as an entertainer Comment

Always On Their Mind

When the Pet Shop Boys’ first single “West End Girls” became an American hit in 1986 (an earlier version released the previous year had flopped), it was easy to lump them in with groups like Erasure and Bronski Beat. They were a duo consisting of singer and lyricist Neil Tennant and key Comment
Theater

Re-Toolng the Great American Songbook

New York can be such a small town, especially if you’re in the business of show. It had been a hectically busy week and I’d had to reschedule an interview with actress/ singer Lena Hall, who then coincidentally popped up that same day performing with John Cameron Mitchell at the opening night/ birthday party for Trudie Styler and her film “Freak Show” at the Public. With her genius, elec Comment

Lushly Produced to Its Own Detriment

The nebulous sub-genre of Americana often comes across as a version of country music for progressives who don’t want to deal with the celebrations of gun culture and sexist attitudes often found in mainstream country. Perhaps its listeners just don’t want to encounter any Republicans. Comment

Gypsies, Troubadours, and Divas

In Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” everyone is fighting with each other, everyone fights back, and everyone loses. Still, despite the dark, convoluted story, this is an exhilarating opera with one sensational tune after another. Comment
Nightlife

The Music of Mizrahi

Now at the Carlyle for a two-week residency is fashion designer turned cabaret artiste Isaac Mizrahi. Always a fan of his designs — how well I remember his little boutique in Bergdorf’s, the first thing you’d see off the escalator, decorated with his genius stylized sketches, works of art in themselves — I caught one of his earliest cabaret gigs about 15 years ago, and was deeply impressed. Comments (1)

The Politics of Desire

Opera does personal drama and emotional conflict very well but intellectual, social, and political concepts are less suitable for musical adaptation. Two operas about a pair of lovers caught in a web of political power and intrigue opened this month. One was a Comment

Staking Her Claim on Faith

The first song on “Lionheart,” the debut solo album by out lesbian Americana singer H. C. McEntire, gets to the point pretty bluntly. “A Lamb, A Dove” mixes Christian and gay imagery repeatedly. She’s obviously reclaiming the language of the religion, if not its substance, for women who have often been treated cruelly by it. Comment

Mostly Met

Busy with several choral groups, Kent Tritle conducted the Oratorio Society’s invigorating Carnegie “Messiah” on December 18. The orchestra proved adequate if not exceptional, though trumpeter Scott McIntosh scored alongside Dashon Burton’s lively, well-projected bass-baritone in their marvelous joint aria. Comments (2)
Features

Following in Fellow Travelers’ Footsteps

On January 12, the Prototype Festival presents the New York premiere of “Fellow Travelers,” an opera with music by Gregory Spears and a libretto by Greg Pierce that debuted at Cincinnati Opera in June 2016. Prototype is b Comments (2)

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