Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Orleans arts scene thrives

The last week has been a hurly-burly rush of all things cultural in New Orleans. In many cases I barely had enough time to catch my breath running about my regular business and then dashing to a nightime event. On reflection much of what I saw and heard left me breathless. First of all there was Beethoven and Brahms. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the nation's only self-run and self-sustaining symphony orchestra (still not back in its home facilities since Hurricane Katrina), opened its 18th season with the first of the nine Beethoven symphonies (to be presented in order throughout the year) along with a spectacular Brahms Piano Concert 2 played with renowned pianist Jorge Federico Osorio. I knew it was going to be a special night when a closed curtain greeted the crowd at Loyola University's Roussel Hall. At performance time the curtain parted and members of the percussion section began drumming the opening section of John Corigliano's "Promenade Overture." The short piece introduces the various instruments and sections of the orchestra one at a time. As each player is introduced, they take their place on stage and continuing playing. It was inspired by Haydn's "Farewell Symphony" in which performers leave the stage one by one or in sections until no one is left. What a delightful way to open a season. It was refreshing and somewhat hip for a classical music event and, no doubt, the choice of energetic music director and principal conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto. The next night across town the Jefferson Performing Arts Society, a small but dedicated arts organization now in its 31st year of continuous operation, presented the first of two performances of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." It was a spectacular production starring Hiroko Morita as Cio-Cio San in the title role. Not only was Morita incredibly beautiful, but being a native born Nipponese who was classically trained in both her native country and Puccini's native country of Italy, prepared her for a magnificently turned-in role. Artistic director and maestro Dennis Assaf lorded over the music and it filled the small auditorium with the sweet sounds of tragedy. I was astonished at how good the production values were. Sunday night it was time for the special last show of a Hurricane Gustav shortened run for cabaret singer Amy Alavarez and pianist Jefferson Turner in "He Loves and She Loves: The Gershwin Music We Love" at Cabaret Le Chat Noir. All of the Gershwin favorites and a few that are not as well-known, but nonetheless, beautiful were presented. From "Fascinating Rhythm" to "I Got Rhythm" to "The Man I love" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay," Alvarez and Turner's program had it all. The show ran a little over an hour, but during that time I was magically transported back to an era that oozed sophistication and charm. Alvarez's sweet register and Turner's masterful playing made it one of the best cabaret shows I've seen this year and a contender for the new Best Cabaret Performance category at the Big Easy Theatre Awards for 2008.

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