Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Double Feature

This Saturday, we went to a one-man show, Satchmo at the Waldorf, presented by the Mosaic Theatre Company at the Atlas Theater on H St., NE, DC. It's been extended through this coming weekend and Craig Wallace, who plays Satchmo, as well as his manager, Joe Glaser, and the younger musical jazz star, Miles Davis, is absolutely outstanding.

This takes place in Louis Armstrong's dressing room when he was playing the great venue, the Empire Room at the Waldorf, a few months before his death at 71. The conflicts that raged within him, as he had become the most famous trumpeter in the world by pleasing white audiences are all articulated as he recalls his starting out and his coming of age. Davis and the younger jazz musicians see him as an Uncle Tom because he smiles and plays pop hits to please his fans.

His conflict with his late manager, whose financial dealings left Armstrong much less well-off than he should have been, come to the fore as well, although the explanation that emerges is a good dramatic turn in the play. It's 85 good minutes in the theater--very enjoyable.

Then we went to the Nationals Park to attend Opera in the Outfield--all right, we sat in the third-base line stands to have at least the backing of a seat--where they did a live transmission of Washington National Opera's ongoing Marriage of Figaro from Kennedy Center. Traditional but pleasant production, with excellent performance by Alicia Majeska as the Countess. Everyone else makes up a fine ensemble, with the notable presence of Elizabeth Bishop, Fricka in last year's Ring, in the minor role of Marcellina.

Figaro, from the Beaumarchais play and written in the 1790s by Mozart and DaPonte, caries forth the story of the clever servant who first helped Count Almaviva win Rosina in The Barber of Seville, which precedes Marriage in time although the opera was not written until the 1820s by Rossini. But this opera--one of the oldest in the repertoire--is still revolutionary. As with Cosi fan tutte, the women outwit the men and in this one, the servants are always a step ahead of the master. 

The music is glorious and was well conducted by James Gaffigan. In some ways this was one of the most enjoyable presentations of this major opera that I've seen. The four acts were combined into two and the show still ran 3 1/2 hours but who was noticing? Not I. 

Once I went with our work group to see this during my first overseas court project in Vilnius, Lithuania, at a beautiful modern opera house. My hosts wanted to leave at the end of Act III for a special reception but the opera company, as often occurs in these productions, ran Act III and Act IV together so I quietly mentioned to one of the rest of the group (mostly non-opera types) that Act III just ended and saw his face fall, since it was clearly going to be impossible to get a large group out in the middle of the performance.

Never did make it to the reception but the coffee bar at the opera during intermission had the thickest, most wonderful hot chocolate I've ever tasted.

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