Opera Theatre of St. Louis Triumphs With The Marriage of Figaro

Opening the season with Mozart’s seminal classic The Marriage of Figaro was a bold move by Opera Theatre of St. Louis. The Marriage of Figaro is a stunning achievement of strategy, seduction and vengeance filled with doses of irony and laughter for good measure. Each layer of intrigue is contorted and shifted brilliantly into place creating an exciting dramatic crescendo in the final act.

Based on a play by Beaumarchais, the Mozart version is a sequel of sorts to Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. As the story opens, Figaro is now a servant of Count Almaviva and engaged to Susanna, the maid of the Countess Rosina. Things begin to go downhill for Figaro when The Count, who has his designs on Susana, reinstates and old custom that would allow him to sleep with her. The opera focuses on Almaviva’s manipulations to stall the nuptials. Much to the chagrin of Figaro.  Meanwhile an enraged Countess is determined to teach her husband a lesson and forms an alliance with Figaro and Susanna against the Count.

As the libretto unfolds, Almaviva’s scheming to prevent the marriage backfires, culminating with hilarious misfortune after the identity of Figaro’s parents is revealed. If that were not enough Figaro also must fight off Dr. Bartolo’s devious scheme for revenge after Figaro shattered his chances with the Countess Rosina.

One of the delights of this opera is that everyone at court seems to be gunning for Figaro. Thus Figaro sets the tempo for The Marriage of Figaro. As much as he believes he is in control of things he really is not. In fact during a day filled with madness he is merely a puppet that serves as the epicenter for parallel storylines. Fortunately for Opera Theatre Christopher Feigam’s Figaro provides the foundation for the production. He gives Figaro some depth and rounds him out. He also gives the role a perfect blend of drama and comedy. Beneath the bravado he gives Figaro a sense of vulnerability essential to the role.  Interestingly, Feigam played Figaro in last season’s OTSL production of Ghosts of Versailles.

Soprano Maria Kanyova is perfectly cast alongside Feigam as Susanna. In every one of her scenes she makes this role her own with perfect comedic timing and a great voice. Baritone Edward Parks shines in his OTSL debut as the Count.

One of the great things about Opera Theatre is that they always have amazing sets to work with that wow the audience and make them scratch their head as to how the whole thing gets put together. This rings true with Bruno Schwengl’s set. He helps set the tone of the opera by having the first half of the production feature an open stage with light colors and bright lets. He then balances this in the second half where he clutters the stage a bit and adds black to richer, darker colors and more muted lighting. The result is a stage design that organically works itself into the production.

Mozart’s composition for The Marriage of Figaro has become a classic in its own right. It oftentimes is performed as an orchestral piece separate from the opera. However to achieve the best emotional effect the music and production must be synchronized. Fortunately the Opera Theatre musicians have things well in hand.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ production of The Marriage of Figaro is a well crafted, perfectly executed production with high caliber performances from the company along with a gorgeous score and sumptuous costuming and set design.  Opera Theatre has mounted an incredibly refreshing production of one of the classics of opera that shuld not be missed.

Performances are at the Loretto-Hilton Center (130 Edgar Road)

Performance Schedule: June 3, 12, 23 at 8pm, June 20 at 7pm and June 16, 26 at 1pm.

For more information visit the Opera Theatre Web site.

Justin Hinds special on Positive Vibrations 5/29/10

Photo of Justin Hinds at KDHX in 1999. Courtesy of Paul Stark.

Tune in to Positive Vibrations on 88.1 KDHX and streaming online at KDHX.org Saturday, May 29, 2010, when Michael Kuelker focuses on the music of Jamaica’s late, legendary Justin Hinds.

Kuelker will play previously unaired interview clips with Justin Hinds, and he will be joined in the studio for conversation with Virgil Bland. Bland, a driver for Hinds and the band for several of their U.S. tours, will share personal memories in what will prove to be a singularly special program.

Positive Vibrations airs every Saturday night from 9-11 p.m. Central with co-hosts Michael Kuelker and Professor Skank alternating. KDHX streams live [see kdhx.org] and all shows can be heard two weeks after they have aired.

Justin Hinds is one of the most important artists to come out of Jamaica in the last 50 years. Hinds was born on May 7, 1942, grew up in the north coast Jamaican village of Steertown and was based there all of his life.

Hinds began his career with the ska rave-up “Carry Go Bring Come” in late 1963. The song, which cautioned against rumor-mongering, was a huge and widely anthologized hit. Before long he was on par with some of the best singers of the period, including Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Jackie Opal and Toots Hibbert. With his backing vocalists the Dominoes, named in tribute to Fats Domino, Hinds recorded exclusively for Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label until 1974. These years produced an astonishing amount of good music, and much of it was overtly churchical – songs such as “Cornerstone,” “Holy Dove,” “Jordan River,” “King Samuel,” “Mighty Redeemer (pts 1 & 2),” “Prophecy Must Fulfill,” “Satan,” “Sinners Where You Gonna Hide,” “The Ark,” to name only a few. He consistently drew from the deep well of proverbial wisdom in crafting his lyrics, and his vocals showed the stamp of his gospel and rural roots.

Hinds withdrew from music after Duke Reid’s death, but was coaxed out of retirement by Island Records for two albums, Jezebel (1976) and Justin Time (1978). Disillusionment with the record industry set for Hinds, and it wasn’t until St. Louis-based Nighthawk Records sought him out in the 1980s that Hinds again returned to the studio. The 1984 album Travel with Love put Hinds in front of members of Bob Marley’s Wailers band and was a winning return to form. Although a proposed tour featuring Hinds and the Wailers band never materialized, Nighthawk continued its relationship with the singer, issuing Know Jah Better (1992) a few years later.

Following a well-received set at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival in 1997, Hinds was inspired to tour the USA extensively, and with him were stellar musicians, including a horn section with Vin Gordon and Deadly Headley. Hinds performed three times in St. Louis in this period, shows which spanned his extensive catalog from the sixties to the present. He also contributed to the ethereally beautiful nyahbinghi album Wingless Angels with the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and fellow north coast Jamaican musicians, and he appeared on an album by The Coyabalites around the same time.

Hinds was recording and performing with the Jamaica All Stars in the mid-2000s when he was stricken with cancer. He died on March 17, 2005.

Though the world was robbed of a classic Jamaican artist by his premature death at the age of 62, Justin Hinds’ musical memory has never been far from the playlists of Positive Vibrations.

Harvest Sessions 2010 brings acoustic music to Tower Grove

Photo by Sara Finke

Presented by KDHX and sponsored by the Whitaker Foundation, Harvest Sessions 2010 kicked off May 8 at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market. We’ll be featuring acoustic performances by St. Louis bands and artists every other Saturday throughout the summer. Full lineup coming soon, but don’t miss Caleb Travers this Saturday at the West Pool Pavilion at the market. Music starts at 9:30 a.m. and goes till 11:30 a.m. Should be a beautiful morning to spend in the park with your friends at 88.1 KDHX.

Check out Sara Finke’s photos from opening morning with Tom Hall on May 8, 2010, and see you on Saturday at the market!

Photostream: Midwest Mayhem 2010, Part 2

All photos by KDHX Studio Engineer (and host of Earthsongs on 88.1) Sara Finke. View a slideshow of Sara’s photos here.

More photos after the jump.

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Photostream: Midwest Mayhem 2010, Part 1

All photos by KDHX IT Director Steve Ley. View a slideshow of Steve’s photos here.

Midwest Mayhem 2010: Video, Part 2

DJ Needles, host of Rawthentic on 88.1 KDHX (every Wednesday, 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Central), and his comrade Jingo, hit the beats hard at the City Museum last week.

Interview with Ben Bridwell and Creighton Barrett of Band of Horses

Photo of Band of Horses at SXSW 2010 by Roy Kasten

Photo of Band of Horses at SXSW 2010 by Roy Kasten

With three albums now under their belt (their third, Infinite Arms, is due to be released on May 18), Band of Horses can play yearning and soaring anthems better than just about anyone in today’s music scene. KDHX was fortunate to welcome Band of Horses lead singer and guitarist Ben Bridwell and drummer Creighton Barrett into the studio on May 4 (the afternoon before their opening set for Pearl Jam in St. Louis). Hear them talk about their new album, label change, the tour, and more in this revealing interview with Allen from Bittersweet Melody (which airs every Wednesday, 5-7 a.m. Central on 88.1 KDHX).

Band of Horses Interview on 88.1 KDHX and Bittersweet Melody by stereocourier

Photostream: Midlake at KDHX 5/15/10

It was a great pleasure and honor to host a live session with Midlake this afternoon at the Magnolia Avenue Studios of KDHX. The Denton, Texas band’s album The Courage of Others is, to my ears, one of the most beautiful and mysterious records of the year, and their acoustic session, featuring all 7 members, was at once epic and delicate, lush and earthy.

Tune in to 88.1 KDHX Wednesday morning, May 19, at 9 a.m. Central to hear the three songs they performed and a bit of conversation with songwriter Tim Smith. And don’t miss Midlake’s show tonight at the Old Rock House. The band hasn’t played St. Louis in years, so it should be pretty special.

More photos after the jump.
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