Top 5 Performing Arts Stories of 2018
5. It’s probably sad that one of the year’s top stories is about auditions, but people like a good dog story and Festival Ballet seemed to have a ball casting the lone canine role in their annual production of The Nutcracker. They held an open call, and recently announced that three different dogs would replace retiring 19-year old Yorkshire Terrier Archie.
4. Does Opera Providence still exist? I actually don’t know. They haven’t updated their online calendar since July 2017, and haven’t mounted a full production in four years, when they mounted a controversial (and completely tone-deaf) production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Nevertheless, Opera Providence president Robert DeRobbio – a retired school administrator – decided to run for mayor of Providence. He placed third, receiving about 19% of the vote.
3. New York architecture firm REX was hired to create a new performing arts center on the Brown campus. Located between Angell and Olive Streets, next to the Granoff Center, the 81,000 square-foot site is intended for regular everyday use in addition to scheduled events. The firm notably designed The Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center in New York.
2. Renowned black soprano Sissieretta Jones was bornin 1868, and the 150th anniversary of her birth signaled a revival of interest in her story. (She was the first African-American woman to perform at Carnegie Hall, and she sang for four presidents. She was also the highest-paid black performer of her day.) In June there was a three-day symposium in Providence, and in August the New York Times ran an obituary as part of its Overlooked No More series. Additionally, funds were raised to acquire a grave marker for Jones’s burial site, which has never been marked.
1. The extensive restoration of Newport’s Opera House hit some snags this year and didn’t open as initially scheduled. In October, Phase II of the 150-year old building’s restoration began, although the opening is still “no sooner than late 2019”.
A Year In Performance
Because of the Law and Order Party format, I mostly spend my evenings attending events that I can review the following week, which means that I mostly have to skip performances that happen one time only. That includes most choral and classical events. A handful of things I did like, though: Providence native Nico Muhly’s opera Marnie debuted at the Metropolitan Opera this year. I saw the simulcast at the Providence Place Mall, where there was clearly a fan club of locals who knew the composer. (Teachers? Relatives? I couldn’t tell.) Festival Ballet’s Up Close On Hope this spring included Gianni Dimarco’s lively Lady of the Camellias, a rousing excerpt from yon Tande’s Rite of Spring, and exciting work from Kurt Douglas. One real surprise was Manual Cinema’s Lula Del Ray, presented by FirstWorks at Moses Brown. It’s a hard to describe show, a mix of live music, shadow puppets, and people working frantically on overhear projectors to tell a story about the American west.
Providence Performing Arts Center turned 90. The Newport Music Festival turned 50.
Gripe of the Year
Providence Journal critic Channing Gray writes about theater, classical music, ballet, art, and will soon probably moonlight at the sports desk, too, based on how many people that newspaper currently employs. He really produced some doozies this year. A review of actor Jude Sandy in Trinity Rep’s Othello mentioned that he “hails from the Caribbean, and comes with an accent.” Last winter, Gray took offense with Lissa Rivera’s photographs at Newport Art Museum, which he called tawdry. He also declared it was “one of those shows where an artist latches onto a theme and runs it into the ground,” which seemed like an odd complaint for a solo photography exhibit since that’s kind of how they work. (In a different review from June, though, he admitted that he doesn’t actually like photography.) I always gave him the benefit of the doubt on Philharmonic shows, since I’m not classically trained and can’t afford tickets anyway, but local blogger John Marks recently made an offer: “I am willing to start a GoFundMe to pay Mr. Gray for staying away from Philharmonic concerts—especially when the soloist is someone who actually makes a living by playing the piano.”
After receiving who knows how many complaints, ProJo Executive Editor Alan Rosenberg commended Gray’s “generous, warm, muscular prose.” (Is the prose muscular enough to benchpress 250 pounds, as Gray suggested randomly of one actor in his review of Pride and Prejudice?) It looks like we’re stuck with him for a while.