Rob Levy's Posts
|I've hosted Juxtaposition on KDHX since 1995. Each Wednesday night at 8:00 pm (CST) I feature new music, forgotten favorites and sound collages of great music past and present. I focus on both new and old independent releases while presenting emerging artists before they get heard elsewhere. I am a freelance film reviewer and writer and also host several DJ residencies throughout the city.|
Opera Theatre Saint Louis‘ production of “The Pirates of Penzance” is a spectacle in every sense of the word.
This bawdy production tells the story of Frederic, a pirate who would have been a pilot if it weren’t for a mix up by his nursemaid Ruth. The screw up has left him as an indentured servant for 20 years with a rowdy group of not so spectacular pirates. Although he has enjoyed being a part of their gang, Frederic knows he is made of better stuff. This leads to his yearning to set out on his own.
As the opera begins Frederic, an affable lad in miserable servitude to a band of misfit pirates, is reveling in his forthcoming freedom. His timing is not the best since the unsuspecting rogues he sails with are in the midst of throwing a wild party to celebrate his twenty-first birthday.
According to the terms of his contract Frederic is no longer indebted to the pirates upon his twenty-first birthday. When he breaks this news to his cohorts they are shocked to hear that he is leaving them. He would love to have left sooner, but sadly when it comes down to duty and honor Frederic goes a little overboard. His sense of pride and duty has kept him around even though he never was into pilfering and stealing as much as his comrades.
Things get even more complicated when Frederic, who is a bit behind in dealing with the opposite sex, lays his eyes on Mabel, the daughter of the influential Major-General Stanley. Upon meeting her he is instantly smitten and vows to stop at nothing to be with her. However to win her heart he also must win the approval of her father, a man with the deepest of military bearing.
When the Pirate King and his men learn that Mabel has equally stunning sisters they set a plan in motion to abduct and marry them. Things fall apart, however, when Major-General Stanley, a pompous oaf with a flair for presentation, learns that the pirates are sympathetic to orphans. Discovering that the pirates will not harm orphans he cleverly thwarts their advances by claiming that he too is an orphan.
Act Two opens with a distraught Major General doing his best to forgive himself for his lie. Frederic, now freed from his debt of service, again relying on his sense of duty, sets out to bring his former friends to justice. He plots with the Sergeant of Police to capture his former shipmates. The Pirate King and his men, learning they have been tricked plan their next attack.
Things don’t get much better for Frederic when Ruth and the Pirate King startle him with some unexpected news: his contract with the pirates does not end when he turns twenty one but only after his twenty first birthday. Since Frederic was born on February 29th this technicality means he is doomed to be a pirate until 1940.
This stunning news tests Frederic and he is torn between his passion for Mabel and his sense of duty. After some grueling soul searching he gives in to the dark side and again falls on the sword of duty. Despite Mabel’s pleading Frederic returns to the pirates who he so recently worked against.
From the here the plot spirals towards an inevitable confrontation. Mabel is determined to keep Frederic from the high seas, the Pirate King and his buccaneers are ready to plunder the estate and take home some meaningful spoils, the Keystone Kops are ready to nab the bad guys and Frederic’s loyalties remain greatly divided. As with other Gilbert and Sullivan productions everything comes together in a climactic crescendo at the end as good fortune leads Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, to intervene and ensure that everything turns out for the best.
“The Pirates of Penzance” was due for a dusting off. Opera Theatre St. Louis last performed it way back in 1983. This performance could not be any more different then that one. Director Sean Curran has put his own stamp on the production with the use of bold colors and bright sets to accentuate the terrific young talent onstage. In his hands “The Pirates of Penzance” is an exuberant production that is not afraid to swash and buckle as it sails the high seas with panache, flair and style.
The Opera Theatre production is also a homecoming for Ryan McAdams, a St. Louis native debuting with the company for this production. As the conductor McAdams’ masterful manipulation of the score keeps the action tight and crisp. McAdams’ scoring brings an added spice of vitality to the production. Glancing into the orchestra pit one can clearly see the maestro having the time of his life.
“The Pirates of Penzance” is such a fun romp because it boasts one the best ensemble casts of recent memory. It’s a young cast of hungry, gifted and talented performers who each leave their mark on the audience with a stunning performance. Setting aside the fact that they all possess immensely powerful voices, this is a unit that pulls out all of the stops with perfect comedic timing, high drama and raw intensity to deliver a captivating production.
Although Alice In Wonderland is not as old as more traditional operas (it premiered in 2007), staging it is nonetheless a challenging endeavor. For starters it is never easy to tinker with a classic, in this case the novels of Lewis Carroll which have entetainened children and adults for generations. Creating the imaginary worlds created by Carroll into a visual staged medium is simply daunting.
Opera Theatre of St. Louis took all of this into consideration when they decided to stage Alice In Wonderland as the finale for their current season, Luckily Stage Director James Robinson has left no stone unturned in making a libretto by David Henry Hwang and Unsik Chin sizzle and pop.
To make this happen a few key ingredients were added for seasoning. First, the company commissioned a new orchestration for the opera. Second they held nothing back in designing cosutmes for the production, allowing James Schuette to cloak the characters in bold styles. Finally Robinson assembled an amazing cast led by Ashley Emerson (who was dazzling in last season’s Daughter of The Regiment) as Alice.
Despite her demure stature Emerson is a powerhouse. Simply put, the production is built around her. Her Aice is inquisitive, rational and not afraid to speak up. By giving Alice some gumption Emerson has made this familiar character fresh. Her solos are amongst this opera season’s best moments.
Interestingly, despite Emerson’s epic presence, the success of Alice In Wondeland is its ensemble. There definitely is safety in numbers as the troop pulls all of the stops for a magical production. Joining Emerson is Aubrey Allicock who shines as the Mad Hatter. Soprano Julie Makerov, making her OTSL debut, is a delightfully ruthless Queen of Hearts. Tracy Dahl’s performance as The Cheshire Cat is also first rate. David Trudgen successfully pulls double duty as the White Rabbit and the March Hare with great panache.
Nothing is left to chance as the lines between set piece and stage presentation are blurred thanks to some imaginative stage design work from Allen Moyer. Almost everything featured on stage has multiple uses, further adding to the suspension of reality prevelent in the opera.
Underscoring the great sets and lavish costumes is the use of film as a medium for passing time, depicting motion emphasizing the utter strangeness of Wonderland. Film is projected as a backdrop throughout most of the performance, lending both a luminosity and density to the visual presentation.
In fact the imaginative nature of Alice In Wonderland itself allows the production team and ensemble to get carried away and take things to a bolder and brighter place not offored in more traditional operas. They are obviously relishing the opportunity.
There is no mistake about it, this is an opera of experimentation served up with lots of surreal frosting. Mounting a contemporary opera of this nature was a bit of a gamble for OTSL. Despite the stunning visuals, gorgeous songs and innovative staging it is obvious that the company did not have much wiggle room for error. The fact that everything goes in perfect syncopation without a hitch is really something special. Everything in this very technical show is perfectly timed and executed.
There couldn’t be a better closing opera for Opera Theatre of St. Louis to showcase its wares, Alice is Wonderland is a fun romp from some fine young talent while taking the craft of set design to a whole new level. The opera is fueled by a rising starlet surround by a cast of virtuosos that push the envelope every night in an effort to maintain OTSL’s reputation for innovation.
Everyone likes to feel like a kid again and explore the unlimited realms of the imagination. Alice In Wonderland affords audiences that treat while maintaining the childlike inquisitiveness of Carroll’s original work. Thanks to Opera Theatre Of St. Louis, the onstage world of Alice In Wonderland is a showstopper in every sense of the word, It never relents in delivering two hours of nonstop frolic, fear and fun for the child in all of us.
Here are the performance dates and times for Alice In Wonderland.
Wednesday, June 13 , 8:00 pm
Friday, June 15, 8:00 pm
Sunday, June 17, 7:00 pm
Tuesday, June 19, 1:00 pm
Thursday, June 21 , 8:00 pm
All performance s are held at the Browning Mainstage at the Loretto-Hilton Center.
For more information visit http://www.opera-stl.org
Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd has been on a roll in the last decade. It’s been revitalized as a musical, film and now as an opera. A new production of this tale of lost love, regret, murder and atonement is one of the many highlights of this season for Opera Theatre St. Louis.
Ironically this opera about madness and meatpies has given Opera Theatre an opportunity to use some fresh meat and introduce some amazing new talent to their audiences.
The company has taken Christopher Bond’s adaptation of Harold Prince’s musical and made it completely new. Debuting director Ron Daniels, OTSL newbie set designer Riccardo Hernandez have teamed up for created an amazing production. Daniels has assembled a terrific cast (many of them also debuting with OTSL) while Hernandez has utilized a sparse, dimly lit set with gothic trimmings as the backdrop for the production. He uses a lot of dark colors in Act One to emphasis the darkness inside the characters and lots of whites in Act Two to accentuate the blood which flows like water as bodies pile up. As a tandem Daniels and Hernandez have seamlessly blended their styles to craft a tight production filled with emotional resonance.
Sweeney Todd is a very warped revenge tale. Benjamin Barker was once the finest barber in all of London. He was happily married and had a lovely daughter named Johanna. His luck all changed though when the unscrupulous Judge Turpin became infatuated with Barker’s wife, Lucy. When his advances are rebuffed Turpin invents trumped up charges and sents Barker off to Australia. With Barker out of the picture Turpin takes Johanna as a ward and keeps her caged up from the world.
The opera opens with an escaped Barker back in London looking to rebuild his life while satiating his lust for revenge. Now called Sweeney Todd. Barker’s only friend, a sailor named Anthony Hope promises to stay by his side through thick and thin.
When Todd returns to the site of his former shop things begin to get interesting. There he meets Mrs. Lovett, who owns a pie shop that makes the worst pies in all of London. Business is not good and she is down on her luck. When Sweeney inquires about the shop upstairs Lovett brings him up to date on where matters lie with Turpin and his daughter. She helps Todd get back on his feet by suggesting he reopen his shop. She even has his old razors and clippers to help him get back on his feet.
With his shop restored Todd begins to scheme about taking revenge on Judge Turpin. He devises a means to draw the fly into his web and kill while he sits in the barber chair. But before any of this can happen todd is sidetracked by an annoying thug named Signor Pirelli. A barber’s duel ensues which affords Sweeney Tood an opportunity to get noticed by Turpin and his number one, Beadle Bamford.
Matters become more urgent for Sweeney Todd after the uber creepy Turpin decides to to marry Johanna. Through Bradford’s prodding Turpin decides to visit Sweeney’s shop to get freshened up before the big wedding. An eager Todd sees this as a chance to take his revenge but is thwarted by the arrival of Pirelli, who has surmised Todd’s true identity and demands half his earnings to keep his mouth shut. Enraged, Todd goes for the jugular and slits Pirelli’s throat, hiding his corpse in a trunk.
Meanwhile, Todd’s friend Anthony has become enraptured by Johanna after hearing her sing. His attempted to woo her are thwarted at every turn. After a local beggar tells Anthony that his love is a prisoner he begins to plan an escape. Excitedly he turns to Sweeney for help and interrupts him moments before he can kill Turpin.
His intrusion ruins everything and Turpin storms off, vowing Johanna and Anthony will never marry. Overcome by madness Todd decides to become a serial spiller, cutting the throats of as many patrons as he can until Turpin returns to his shop. An opportunistic Mrs. Lovett suggests a diabolical solution to both of their troubles and a bargain is struck.
The blood and death come in spurts in Act Two as Sweeney goes all out to appease his bloodlust. Todd give the bodies of his victims to Lovett who htem turns them into meat pies for an unsuspecting clientele. Her pies are the talk of London and the money is coming in.
The success of Sweeney Todd’s barber business allows him an opportunity to get closer to Turpin once more. In the meantime, Anthony is still looking to find a way to free his beloved who has now been sent to a lunatic asylum where she can be stowed away until the wedding. Anthony returns to visit Todd and together they hatch a plan to free Johanna.
As their plot unfolds things begin to unravel at an alarming rate. Subsequently Act Two builds with intensity as the carnage and death toll rises with the body count, eventually spiraling giddily towards a tragic and cataclysmic conclusion filled with revelations, betrayal and death.
While not labeled as a proper ‘tragedy,’ Sweeney Todd nonetheless relies heavily on the trademarks of tragic theatre to accelerate the drama, passion and vengeance. It’s an opera that is propelled by black humor, a macabre libretto and incredible performances.
As a result Opera Theatre St. Louis’ production of Sweeney Todd is a romping fun excercise in black comedy, tragedy and madness. It’s both delightfully bloody and musically catchy, treating audiences to a feast of visual sight and sound that is sure to please.
The cast never skips a beat. Rod Gilfry is exuberantly powerful as Sweeney Todd. He is partnered perfectly with fellow newcomers Karen Ziemba as Mrs. Lovett and Nathaniel Hackmann and Anthony. Ziemba is clearly enjoying her role as the foil of the Opera. Her vocals with Gilfry and her solos are wonderfully catchy and highlight the production. The baritone Hackmann is a star on the rise who is sure to be back on the OTSL stage soon. His voice is simply incredible. Despite limited stage time, newcomer Deanna Breiwick leaves her mark with her poise and talent. Timothy Nolen relishes his role as the evil Judge Turpin.
OTSL veteran composer Stephen Lord provides the production with a score that is both nuansced and pronounced as dictated by the events onstage. His arrangement serves as the perfect frame this entertaining production.
If you only attend one opera this season, or if you want to see an opera that is more akin to traditional theatre then do yourself a favor and attend the Tale of Sweeney Todd.
Here are the performance dates and times for Sweeney Todd
Tuesday, June 12, 1:00 pm
Saturday, June 16 ,1:00 pm
Wednesday, June 20, 8:00 pm
Sunday, June 24 , 7:00 pm
All performance s are held at the Browning Mainstage at the Loretto-Hilton Center.
For more information visit http://www.opera-stl.org
One of the easiest ways to counteract the notion that opera is ‘stuffy’ or ‘unaccessible’ is to see Opera Theatre St. Louis’ production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. From curtain to curtain OTSL delivers an unabashingly funny interpretation filled with crazy scheming, raw passion and lots of over the top zaniness from a cast that is clearly having a great time.
The story centers around best buds Ferrando and Guglielmo, two soldiers who are deeply in love with their sweethearts, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, who are on vacationing with their chambermaid, Despina. Both men see their relationships as honest and true until their good friend Don Alfonso, jaded and bitter on affairs of the heart, questions the ladies fidelity and integrity. Don Alfonso believes that the women would be unfaithful if the right situation arose. Ferrando and Guglielmo believe he is full or malarcky.
To settle the issue once and for all the three men make a wager and agree to Don Alfonso’s suggestion that they pretend to be on leave only to return in disguise as suave and passionate Albanians looking for love. When the fickle Don Alfonso introduces them to Dorabella and Fiordiligi things get interesting.
After they are passionately wooed the women initially protest and put up a fuss about their advances. However with time, and some clever scheming from Don Alfonso and Despina, they cave in. Ferrando and Guglielmo are crushed by their disloyalty but continue with the charade in hopes of salvaging the love they may have lost. As the passion burns and the intensity builds the soldiers find a way out of their predicament, a double wedding.
As an opera Cosi Fan Tutte is appealing not just for its comedy but for the way it blurs the lines between right and wrong. For this production these morally vague lines are magnified by great performances from a cast that proves that big things do come in small packages. Cosi Fan Tutte is a bold reinterpretation of an opera classic staged and performed by a small cast that packs quite a wallop.
James Maddalena is delightfully snide as Don Alfonso. He clearly is enjoying himself onstage as the villain. He manages the difficult task of making Don Alfonso, an unscrupulous meddler, appealing to audiences. Soprano Jennifer Aylmer nearly steals the production with her off kilter screwball antics as Desapina. She also has one of the best solos in the opera. Everytime things get awkward in the story she pops onstage and thunderously transforms a moment of tense drama into a round of slapstick laughter.
Rachel Willis-Sorensen debuts as Fiordiligi. She has an amazing voice and is captivating onstage. Mezzo-soprano Kathryn Leemhuis (who debuted with the company in 2007′s La Traviata) as Dorabella is every bit her equal in pose, presence and talent. This dynamic duo helps propel the opera with there fantastic performances as these pivotal characters.
The production is anchored by two leads familiar to Opera Theatre St. Louis. David Portillo, seen last year in Don Giovanni, is ideally suited for the charismatic Ferrando. Liam Bonner (who was mezmeriizng in last season’s Pellias And Mellisande) has one of the season’s best solo moment Act Two. The pair delivers just the right blend of sophistication and humor to energize the opera.
Widely regarded as the most popular opera of all time, Georges Bizet’s Carmen is not easy to perform or produce. The opera is a tour de force of emotions that requires a solid ensemble and a larger then life leading lady to make it connect with an audience.
Carmen is all about durability. Bizet’s 18th century masterpiece remains a potent, passionate and intense opus filled with heavy doses of hopelessness, despair, oppression, desire and vengeance. Carmen is a comic opera in four acts which features dialogue breaks interspersed in the production to move the story along.
Set in Seville, Carmen tells of the tragic downfall of Don Jose, a local soldier who abandons his childhood love after falling prey to the wiles of Carmen, a blisteringly seductive gypsy. To make things worse he abandons his post and goes to prison in order to protect Carmen. When he is freed he returns to Carmen only to find his passion spurned. Bewitched, batterred and bewildered Don Jose becomes enraged after learning that Carmen’s heart yearns for Escamillo, the most famous bullfighter in Spain. After some nasty turn of events he once again finds himself in big trouble.
Don Jose’s downfall is accelerated when he confronts Carmen in Pastia’s Bar late one evening. Their lover’s quarrel has dire consequences which become clearer as events transpire. Tragically, Carmen receives a prophecy in Act Three which foretells that things are going to end very badly. Nonetheless she does her best to stay out of trouble. Despite her charms, intelligence and raw toughness, Carmen cannot stop the passion, rage, jealousy and love swirling inside Don Jose. During Acts Three and Four the tension between them escalates, leading to a heartbreaking tragedy.
In addition to having the most familiar score in opera, Carmen remains popular opera because its themes of immortality, lawlessness and the plight of the working class resonates with audiences. This personal connection is just one of the reasons why Opera Theatre St. Louis’ production of Carmen is so thrilling.
Carmen opens OTSL’s 37th season while also serving as a homecoming for St. Louis native Kendall Gladen. Gladen, a stunning mezzo-soprano, has been a star on the rise for the last decade. Her return to St. Louis in the title role is nothing short of amazing. This production completely revolves around Gladen’s incredible voice and commanding presence. Her smoldering portrayal breathes new life into the opera, transforming it into the penultimate celebration of the femme fatale.
Adam Diegel is terrific (in his OTSL debut) as the doomed Don Jose. As a performer he is able to go toe to toe with Gladen. He gives Don Jose two distinct personalities and then plays off of them in an inner struggle filled with turmoil, pain and lust. His Don Jose is vulnerable yet filled with an inner rage that eventually becomes all consuming. In making Don Jose so jilted, jostled and jaundiced Diegel adeptly balances several layered aspects of the character with precision, allowing him to give Don Jose a fresh depth and range.
Making his first appearance with Opera Theatre St. Louis since 2008 is Aleksey Bogdanov as Escamillo. Onstage he owns the first half of Act Two. His solos are simply incredible. He vibrantly drenches Escamillo in extreme bravado and joyful boastfulness that provides enough rich detail to round out the character. Bogdanov’s onstage interaction with Gladen is dynamic. Corinne Winters is also terrific as Micaela, Don Jose’s forgotten love.
(photo courtesy of Ken Howard and OTSL)
Director Stephen Barlow has molded Carmen into a highly charged pulp noir extravaganza. This production, based on a revised translation, wows and awes before a single actor takes the stage. It opens with noir style film credits set against a black background on stage. The credits frame this adaptation perfectly. Every director wants to leave their stamp on Carmen and Barlow’s production is no different. The opera has been lifted from the nineteenth century and transposed to Seville during Francoist Spain. Making the correlation between Bizet’s original work and film noir accentuates Barlow’s boldness and daring in staging this production.
Guided by Barlow’s steady hand, each Act in Carmen has it’s own distinct texture. Act One sets up the drama by focusing in on the tough life in Seville where vagrants, criminals and factory workers all scramble to make ends meet. Out of this daily grind comes Carmen, a fiery siren who turns heads and manipulates hearts to get what she wants. She is a woman that every man has eyes for but none can seem to possess. Acts Two and Three propel Don Jose’s fall from grace, culminating in an all out showdown in Act Four. As each act unfolds it becomes more apparent that Barlow is building something dense and compelling.
Set and Costume Designer Paul Edwards augments this setting by adding 1940s era billboards and a fantastic nightclub set that perfectly sets the tone for the piece. His costumes seamlessly blend gangster chic with fascist military uniforms and traditional gypsy garb. These costumes provide the perfect mix of color for emphasizing the characters and drama onstage.
Stage lighting from Christopher Akerlind bolsters the atmosphere by adding fresh dimensions to each set piece. He carefully mimics the noir lighting from films of that era for the stage, giving Carmen some additional seasoning.
Bizet’s music has always been Carmen’s calling card. Debuting conductor Carlos Itzcaray whips the St. Louis Symphony into a frenzy transforming one of operas more recognizable scores into a powerfully emotional experience as passionate as any of the action playing out on the stage above. His hands create orchestrations that convey equal amounts of exuberance and despair, leaving the audience utterly overwhelmed by the end of the evening.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ production of Carmen is the perfect showstopper for opening their new season. This provocative new interpretation never relents in dazzling the audience visually or emotionally. Carmen fires on all cylinders because the charismatic and talented cast (led by hometown hero Kendall Gladen) deflects the sensations of desire, revenge and betrayal onto the audience, creating an utterly mesmerizing (and emotionally draining) opera that must be experienced to be understood.
Here are the performance dates and times for Carmen.
Friday, May 25 8:00 pm, Thursday, May 31 8:00 pm, Friday, June 8 8:00 pm, Sunday, June 10 7:00pm,Wednesday, June 13 1:00 pm, Saturday, June 16 8:00 pm, Tuesday, June 19 8:00 pm, Saturday, June 23 1:00 pm.
All performance s are held at the Browning Mainstage at the Loretto-Hilton Center.
For more information visit http://www.opera-stl.org
There is nothing conventional about the Polyphonic Spree. Sonically they throw down with as many as 22 members simultaneously jamming, dancing and prancing about while creating layered grooves that are part gospel choir, part indie rock show and part cultish love-fest.
What appears initially to be completely chaotic is actually a well-organized machine that brings together a diverse blend of musical elements, including a choir and dense instrumentation. Since their inception, the Spree has carved a niche for themselves by bringing their musical carousel of mayhem and insanity to smaller and intimate venues.
Tim DeLaughter, who formed the band in 2000 from the ashes of his previous band Tripping Daisy embraces the chaos. Besides being a working and touring musician, DeLaughter runs his own and record store, Good Records, in Dallas.
Although they are in the midst of a spring tour, the Polyphonic Spree is not promoting a new album in the traditional sense. Instead they are again eschewing convention by releasing new songs as a series of singles first before going the traditional route of releasing a proper full album. This current tour, their first in four years, incorporates this new material into their set list.
In addition to making three albums they also have judicially placed their songs in various televisions shows and movies to maximize exposure. They have just released a new single called “What Would You Do?” and a new album is promised down the road.
I caught up with DeLaughter by email, and he shared his thoughts on the band, its live shows, a possible new record and creative process.
Rob Levy: How did the band come about?
Tim DeLaughter: I called some friends and family over. I had been writing on the piano because I was bored with guitar. We were storing the piano for a friend. I wanted a symphonic approach, and after a few improv sessions in my living room we played a 30 minute set.
How has this tour been going?
Really great. This is phase three. Tours have progressed naturally, getting better and better each show.
How do the songs on your records transfer over to a live show?
There is definitely a certain excitement and tone when playing live that can be difficult to capture in the studio. We build in many segues and space within our live set when possible. [They are] two different animals.
You are doing a Halloween show in the UK with all the songs from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” How did that come about?
We have been wanting to change it up a bit and do different things. Our agent in the UK came up with the idea. So we said yes.
What is the music scene like in Dallas right now?
There is always plenty going on. Something new, something different, eclectic.
It has been four years since the last tour. How has the band changed in that time?
We actually toured Australia a couple of years ago and have played several one off shows so it’s been a gradual evolution which is different than just being off for four years. If anything I believe we are more precise and have reached a place of full satisfaction delivery with our music live and with more purpose. Recording wise we are really exploring.
When you dig beneath the shimmering textures and ethereal vocals of Sweden’s I Break Horses you will discover that the duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck make soundscapes of depth and substance.
Listening to their 2011 debut “Hearts,” you can hear the influence of the Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Sigur Rós percolating underneath a blizzard of swirling melodies and opulent vocals.
This Stockholm duo is often mislabeled as a shoegazer band, and although the influences are omnipresent in their music (to a certain extent) they are so much more. I Break Horses literally transform the cold chill of Scandinavia into bursts of sugary, luminous sounds.
“Hearts” (out now on Bella Union Records) is an album filled with both broken and beating hearts that are as fragile and delicate as a single snowflake. Each track features layers of tumbling textured sounds encased within a shell of velvety softness from Maria Lindén’s immaculate voice.
She sings as if it is no real bother and has a feel for what literally and figuratively makes the human heart beat. Balck then takes over mixing in harmonies and deposits of perfectly-timed waves of tremolo treats and pulsating palpitations. There are guitars and synthesizers present but they never intrude or overstep their bounds. Instead they serve as the bulwark for skimming the clouds and making the listener feel as if they have taken flight.
It’s not hard to imagine these guys trudging through an expansive open wilderness to get to their recording studio as witnessed by the album’s crestfallen opener “Winter Beats.” It is pretty obvious that isolation, loss and solitude are pervasive elements of their sound.
In fact the closest they get to rocking out is the uptempo and dreamy “Wired.” “I Kill You Baby” begins with a Poe-like pitter-pat of a human heart before free-falling into an elegiac opus reminiscent of the early days of the Cocteau Twins (ironically, their label is run by Simon Raymonde of that very band). The grimy hands of trip hop have their fingers all over “Load Your Eyes,” a blissed-out track with drum machine plodding along behind it that are reminiscent of Portishead, Chapterhouse or the Cranes.
I Break Horses are currently on the road, serving as the opener for M83 on their current tour. Live, the union of Lindén and Balck creates indescribable layers arctic headiness that has made American audiences take notice — no mean feat for a band in the opening slot on their first major tour.
Vocalist Maria Lindén took some time out from the tour for an interview with me via email.
Rob Levy: How is the tour with M83 going?
Maria Lindén: It’s going great. M83 are amazing and lovely people. The venues and crowds have been overwhelmingly beautiful.
How did the tour come about?
Simon Raymonde from our label Bella Union did some magic and made it happen!
There’s a lot of great music coming out of Scandinavia right now. Why do you think bands from that area are getting so much attention now?
I haven´t really thought about it that much. But I guess/hope it has to do with that Scandinavians know how to make great music!
Why did it take so long to make “Hearts”?
It was a combination of things. Most of the album was recorded in my bedroom, I tried to re-create my bedroom recordings in a proper studio during the recording process but I felt like these recordings lacked the energy and the vibrancy that was there initially so I ended up scrapping what was recorded there and started all over again at home where I felt more comfortable basically. Also, working full time at my day job during that time also made the whole process longer.
Don Giovanni, one of the most performed operas in the world, is a two-act opera by Mozart that skillfully blends comedy, melodrama and the supernatural. Despite being widely performed, Opera Theatre St. Louis has nonetheless boldly added it to its repertoire for the current season.
Widely considered a masterpiece the opera Mozart’s tale revolves around a charismatic nobleman named Don Giovanni who spends most of his time satisfying his rapacious appetite for women. Conquest follows conquest, until finally he becomes devoid of moral character, becoming a vain and vacuous husk.
The plot revolves around Don Giovanni’s tragic decline and fall. His insatiable appetite for deviance has broken hearts and made enemies determined to have their revenge. As the opera progresses he moves closer and closer to a horrific end.
He finally gets his comeuppance after three attempted liaisons go terribly wrong. First there is Elvira, a scorned woman who despite everything that he has done to her still believes in him. Second is Anna, the daughter of the Commendatore, whom Don Giovanni murders while attempting her seduction. A distraught Donna Anna must delay her marriage to her intended, Don Ottavio, who as a result is displeased with the scoundrel. Finally there is Zerlina, whom Don Giovanni unsuccessfully tries to steal from her fiancé, Masetto.
His actions are not without consequence as an alliance between Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, and Zerlina is forged. Stuck in the middle of all of this is Don Giovanni’s faithful servant, Leporello who puts up with way too much from his master.
The alliance runs into a rough patch because some girls just like bad men. This is the case for Elvira whose lust for revenge wanes when she gives pause to believe that reconciliation with Don Giovanni is possible. Her attempt meets with catastrophic results.
The tension builds throughout the second act as the lothario is hunted down and sought out by his enemies. Eventually Don Giovanni’s actions result in his supernatural destruction which forever changes the lives of those who have been avenged.