The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
His name is Brad Paisley, and he will be your cowboy-hatted global tour guide.
This is a role the guitar slinger has played before, like on his 2009 song Welcome to the Future, in which he sang about video chatting with companies in Tokyo. Paisley may play music most deeply appreciated in the rural and Southern United States, but he has seen the world and wants to let his fans know there is more to it than mom, baseball and apple pie.
That’s sort of the unifying message of Wheelhouse, Paisley’s 10th studio album, which leads off with Southern Comfort Zone, a song advising listeners, “Not everybody drives a truck … drinks sweet tea … owns a gun, wears a ball cap, boots and jeans … goes to church or watches every NASCAR race.” Globalism is just one of several serious themes Paisley touches on with this new album, which also includes domestic abuse, religion and the Internet sensation du jour, racism and reconciliation.
Almost as quickly as it was released, Accidental Racist, an earnest duet with LL Cool J, was buried under criticism from all sides of the political and cultural spectrum. Paisley brings it in with an intriguing scenario: a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan puts on one of the band’s T-shirts, which includes the Confederate Battle Flag, goes to Starbucks and inadvertently offends his black server with the garment. He laments he was, “lookin’ like I got a lot to learn.”
If Paisley had cut the song off at the customary three-and-a-half minute mark, it would have been a nice, bluesy offering from a guy whose history says he is honestly trying to bridge some divides. It’s when LL comes in that the song becomes overwrought six-minute slog and makes missteps like trying to equate Confederate flags and do-rags. Surely Paisley could have found a better and more current collaborator than the NCIS: Los Angeles star. It’s unfortunate that walking into controversy, Paisley doesn’t have a better song to stand behind.
And for the most part, Wheelhouse is full of good songs, like the domestic abuse revenge anthem, Karate, the divorce ballad Tin Can on a String and Those Crazy Christians, which deftly defends and tweaks both the faithful and their detractors. The latter shows Paisley as a well-rounded ambassador, not only trying to open his core audience to a bigger world but trying to cultivate greater appreciation of his roots.
With such serious topics, there are a few goofy tunes that feel out of place here, such as Death of a Single Man, a fun song that may have worked better on a party-hearty album like American Saturday Night (2009). The album could also benefit from more guitar indulgences, one of the primary reasons to listen to a Paisley album, like the end of Beat This Summer and the instrumental Onryo.
Wheelhouse may not be Paisley’s masterpiece, but it may be the clearest articulation of his voice.
After two swings through Rupp Arena as a supporting act, The Band Perry seems destined to take over headlining duties. The group’s second album, Pioneer, is a prime vehicle to take it there with a dozen numbers that will play to big rooms just fine without betraying the trio’s string-band roots.
Folks who tuned into the Academy of Country Music Awards Sunday night saw that with the band’s performance of DONE, one of two fierce numbers that lead off the follow-up to the group’s self-titled debut.
The first thing most people heard of The Band Perry was the wistful 2010 crossover hit If I Die Young, and we certainly get that sweet feeling on several new tracks, particularly Mother Like Mine, a lovely tribute from a sibling group. But The Band Perry has always wanted to rock and frontwoman Kimberly Perry has always had edge, which is what is really exploited on Pioneer.
Better Dig Two, the opening track and lead-off single, is a fierce declaration of possibly ill-advised loyalty ’til death — “If divorce or death ever do us part, the coroner will call it a broken heart.” Other barn-burners include Chainsaw and Night Gone Wasted, and while the wah-wah guitar opening of I’m a Keeper might seem to indicate brothers Reid and Neil want to indulge the rock-star fantasies their haircuts betray, there are anchors like the steady plucking below the surface of DONE that anchor the band. There’s also Kimberly’s exasperated grunt at the end of the song that indicate this is not as tidy as the country pop we are used to.
Indeed, it did seem that The Band Perry may use a second album to veer off into a rootsier pose, at one point courting one-time Johnny Cash producer Rick Rubin. But they ended up engaging Dann Huff, architect of several of Rascal Flatts’ successes, as well as arena stars Reba McEntire, Celine Dion, and Michael Jackson.
The Band Perry may be a trio of kids, but they know exactly where they want to go, and that’s playing second fiddle to no one in arenas.
Last Fall’s record-breaking, eye-popping production of The Phantom of the Opera put the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre in the spotlight as an organization capable of putting on a really big show.
This semester’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro puts the focus on the University of Kentucky’s singers, and it proves to be as satisfying a night, even without the chandelier and the boat.
To be sure, Richard Kagey’s production is a much simpler affair than his Phantom. But it is also what Marriage or many other Mozart operas need to be: charming.
For all its vaunted status as one of the most performed operas in the world – some surveys put it at No. 1 – and a musical masterpiece, Figaro is at its core a silly little love story led by opera’s merry prankster, Figaro.
In the opening night performance of the opera, which is double cast, Daniel Koehn made the role look as easy as it needs to be with his smooth baritone buoyantly romping through some palace intrigue.
As the title suggests, it is Figaro’s wedding day, but before he marries to his beloved Susanna, plays will be made for both of their affections, and there will be other mixing and matching of couples.
Mozart’s music is considered great for young singers as it develops key parts of the voice without stretching it to places it is not ready to go. UK has presented Mozart’s work in its undergraduate studio shows to great success, but here it seems to have opened up the main stage to more undergrads than usual.
Between this and Phantom, 2012-13 seems to be the year of the undergrad at UK Opera, no one benefiting more than Elizabeth Maurey as Susanna, fresh off a turn as one of the three Christines in Phantom. Here, the threats are far less ominous and the music is more sprite, giving Maurey a chance to play and show a very natural comic style. Through three hours and 15 minutes, we get to really enjoy her and Figaro (who in the other cast is played by undergrad Phillip Bullock) as a happy couple we know will come out on top.
Their main challenge is the Count, who we were actually ro0ting for in Giacomo Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, to which Figaro is a sequel (though it was actually written 30 years earlier). Then, Figaro was helping the Count was pursue the lovely Rosina. Now, he has grown tired of Rosina and has set his sights on Susanna, and apparently any other female in his home.
This is not necessarily a show-stealing role, but Thomas Gunther comes close as he is constantly schemes and gets thwarted like Wile E. Coyote. Though he’s creepy, it’s hard to hate him as he brilliantly sings his Act II-opening aria, Hai già vinta la causa … Vedrò mentr’io sospiro.
This production also confirms that mezzo-soprano Ellen Graham can sing pants roles brilliantly, as she also did as Prince Orlofsky in the 2010 production of Die Fledermaus. Here, she is every bit the lovestruck teenage boy Cherubino, and with her gorgeous Act II rendition of Voi che sapete che cosa è amor to the countess, it’s a wonder this does not become a bit of an 18th century Cougar Town.
Kagey’s production makes this opera seem that contemporary, despite its 227 years, as there seems to have been a broad mandate to have fun with it. He aids his own cause with a stage design that is in stark contrast to the complexity of his Phantom set. But it works brilliantly as a variety of locales on a pink and blue checkerboard raked platform and two doors, with several quick changes of backdrop and furniture.
And under John Nardolillo’s baton, the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, fresh off playing Wagner with Christine Brewer, is as crisp as ever, giving this show another dash of exactly what it needs.
The evening was buoyed with the pre-show announcement that UK Opera director Everett McCorvey has withdrawn his name from consideration for dean of the College of Music Theatre, and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and will stay at UK.
UK’s Marriage is not the behemoth of last fall’s blockbuster. But it shows how the program got to the point it could produce shows like Phantom, by consistently staging solid productions like this.
This production continues at 2 and 7 p.m. March 2 and 7 p.m. March 3. Several stars of this production are winners of the Alltech Vocal Scholarship Auditions. This year’s auditions are at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
The administrators of the rights to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera have gone to great lengths to make sure the student productions they authorize are student productions.
No faculty appearances, recent grad cameos or guest artist ringers in the top spots. The performers in these shows have to be enrolled students.
And the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s production of Phantom, which opened Friday night at the Lexington Opera House and runs for 10 more performances through Oct. 14, succeeds because of the students. The chandelier could defy gravity, the boat could not float and there could be nary a spark on the stage, and this still would be a great production because of the student singers and actors that grace the stage.
Lexington has been waiting nearly 25 years for this show, and it got a good one.
A student production was pretty much the only way the Bluegrass was going to see Phantom any time soon. It is still running on Broadway, so producers aren’t granting rights to independent theaters to produce it, pro or otherwise. And none of the national tours of the show have been physically or economically feasible to present at the Lexington Opera House. But a couple years ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s group decided to authorize the show for high school and college student performances, in large part as a gesture of support for arts education.
Fortunately for Lexington-area theater fans, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre got the show, and as is the troupe’s habit, they have done it up right with a $300,000 production that comes with all the frills Phantom fans have come to expect including ginormous set pieces, cool features and pyrotechnics.
But we need look no further than Michael Bay movies to know productions can be big and flashy but have no soul. That’s where Phantom director Richard Kagey and the triple-cast performers come in.
Friday’s opening night cast, scheduled to perform again Saturday night, Thursday night and the Oct. 14 matinee, featured Jacob Waid plumbing the depths of the Phantom’s story for a heartbreaking performance and Rebecca Farley in a stunning turn as Christine. When she sings, “And through his music my soul began to soar,” her voice takes flight. Both nail all of their signature tunes, Think of Me for Christine and Music of the Night for Phantom, along with Elliot Lane who sings a gorgeous All I Ask of You as Raoul, Christine’s true love.
They are supported by a sometimes brilliant ensemble including Arianna Afshari and Evan LeRoy Johnson as the Paris Opera’s buffoonish leading soprano and tenor and Daniel Koehn and Jermaine Brown Jr. as the exhausted company directors, all of who skillfully make the show funnier than we remember it or thought it would be.
Here’s the real striking thing: A lot of the principal cast, including all three Christines (rounded out by Elizabeth Maurey and Monica Dewey) are undergraduates. Waid is a junior. This is in a company that leans so heavily on graduate students it had to establish an annual show specifically designed to give undergraduates a chance to perform. Here, they are shining in UK Opera’s biggest production ever. Some may tut, “Well this is a musical, not a real opera,” but it is a musical with extremely serious singing from the solos to intricate ensembles such as Prima Donna.
Phantom is a big show with lots of moving parts and in this production, they don’t always move great together. Quite a bit of dialogue was lost to blasts of orchestra — which overall sounded splendid under John Nardolillo’s baton — and the microphone system let singers down numerous times, particularly Lane, who frequently sounded like he was singing over a cell phone connection. There were also a number of times performers looked lost, like the doubles for Phantom and Christine crossing the bridge for the first time.
One big thing that worked very well is the dance ensemble with impressive synchronicity under second-year dance instructor Susie Thiel.
If ever there was a critic-proof production in Lexington, this is it. Before opening, this Phantom sold most of the tickets for its 11 show run (a performance at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 was added Friday) at the 866-seat Opera House. Those fans can turn out assured they will get their money’s worth.
Lightning has struck twice for the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra.
A couple years ago, when university representatives contacted violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman’s management to see about getting him to come play with the student orchestra, they were told it would never happen. On Sunday night, has happened for the second time in as many years.
After bringing a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto to the Singletary Center and the UK Symphony in March 2011, Perlman returned Sunday night with a stunning performance of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, rivaling even his recordings of the work, which generally are the first to appear when you search the Internet for the concerto.
The man is an icon of his instrument, and that was lost on no one in Sunday night in the Singletary Center for the Arts. Graduate student concertmaster Jessica Miskelly and her stand partner, William Ronning, had smiles during Perlman’s solo passages that were visible all the way back to row W, and giddy student fans snapped curtain-call photos on their cellphones and iPads. The really impressive thing was how Perlman, 67, handled the adulation.
He took the stage on crutches, which he has had to use since contracting polio at age four, and received a whooping, hollering ovation. He turned first to the student musicians and then acknowledged the applause from the audience with a small nod and wave. He took his seat on a podium, laying a crutch on either side of him, accepted his violin and bow from conductor John Nardolillo, threw a cloth on his shoulder, tucked the instrument under his chin and went to work.
If you were going to hear Perlman play only one piece live, the Tchaikovsky concerto would be an excellent choice. Written in 1878 from both a state of depression over a failed marriage and zeal for the instrument, it offers the musician a chance to show a wide range of emotion, and it carries the legend of being declared unplayable by some of the finest violinists of Tchaikovsky’s day.
Perlman certainly had no problem offering the interpretation of an artist who mastered hitting the notes decades ago but approaches the piece as fresh each time he plays it. The solo passages at the end of the first movement were flurries of inspiration and technique that drew the first standing ovation between movements that I have ever seen. Despite what some traditionalists say, applause between movements is fine when it is earned, although generally it is best to keep your seat until the end. In this case, the impulse was hard to argue with. Perlman’s work was that stunning.
He then turned to the second movement, Canzonetta: Andante, offering a performance reminiscent of his aching work on the Schindler’s List score. This was the point where we could see that if the concerto is Tchaikovsky’s story, Perlman was telling it to us through his instrument.
Throughout the performance, he was supported by an enthusiastic, well-prepared orchestra.
And since Perlman was the soloist in an orchestra concert, the UK players did have other pieces to offer. The concert opened with Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, which seemed to be driven by enthusiasm for the man waiting in the wings.
A pleasant surprise was that even though Perlman’s evening was done by intermission, most of the audience hung in for the second-half performance of Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World.” It seemed that a lot of the preparation for the evening went into the Tchaikovsky concerto, because the New World Symphony needed work. The performance stumbled hardest in the second movement, Largo, which demands nuance and succeeded in the most bombastic passages, including the cinematic final movement.
Ultimately, it was the unlikely story of a student orchestra in flyover country making beautiful music with a violin legend who carried the night, and it’s a story that the student musicians will tell their children and grandchildren for decades to come.
Anthony Clark Evans’ story of going from car salesman to opera sensation in less than a year has been one of the funnest arts stories of the year.
Fun: It ‘s not a word you often hear associated with opera, even in its best of times. Yes, the artists and participants may have a lot of fun at their craft, but the public demeanor of the discipline is often dramatic, tragic, academic and steeped in deep, deep tradition.
Evans took another step into this world on Saturday night with his premiere professional recital at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
The message seemed to be, I’m going to dazzle you and have a good time doing it as he launched the performance with the count’s mischievous aria from Le nozze di Figaro and concluding with Billy’s Soliloquy from Carousel – plus a two song encore, including a duet of Some Enchanted Evening with soprano Julie LaDouceur, who shared a couple duets with Evans and sang two arias of her own in the recital, all accompanied by Cliff Jackson.
For those who have not kept up with the fun stories of opera this year, it was less than a year ago that Evans was a car salesman at Swope Toyota in Elizabethtown. A few years earlier, the baritone had been studying voice at Murray State with revered professor Randall Black. But he got married and needed to support his household. So in 2008, he left school, moved to E-town and started selling Toyotas.
But he didn’t forget opera. He decided to take a swing at the district round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in Memphis, and he won.
And he won …
And won …
And won at the national finals of the competition, on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
It’s a Cinderella story that restarted Evans’ dreams of a singing career, which he has been pursuing singing in other competitions around the country and with Saturday’s recital. It took place in the Singletary Center’s recital hall in front of a who’s who of music professionals, academics and students.
If the bachelor degree-less star of the evening was at all intimidated by performing in front of the expert crowd, he didn’t portray it, save maybe for a relieved smile after the opener, Hai già vinta la causa! from Figaro. Donizetti’s Bella siccome un angelo from L’ elisir d’ amore was his first big shot at vocal theatrics, which continued through his first duet with LaDouceur, Malatesta and Norina’s plotting number from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, which turned into a comic showcase for Evans and LaDouceur, who shares the baritone’s theatrical flare.
It wasn’t all comic, including a trio of numbers from Leoncavallo’s sad clown tragedy Pagliacci to start the second half.
In any form, the Singletary Center audience saw, as much as any audience so far, Evans a singer with a personality as big as his voice.
Since the Met wins, Evans has left the Toyota dealership, but when he is on stage, the good times roll.
Read and see more:
- Feature: When Evan met Ellie
- Notebook: Comparing Streetcars
- Gallery: A Streetcar Named Desire
- Video: Scene from Streetcar
Rain and lightning finally cleared away enough Friday night for SummerFest to open its production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Still, steel gray clouds and gusty winds made for an appropriately stormy atmosphere for one of the American stage’s greatest works and one of its greatest drama queens, Blanche DuBois.
The Arboretum stage has not hosted Williams before, though it has presented many great Shakespearean tragedies including King Learand Macbeth. Streetcar certainly deserves to be on the same stage, and all three have been helmed at the Arboretum by Lexington’s master of drama, director Joe Ferrell.
The play is tough stuff, made all the more searing by Williams’ ability to create excruciatingly human characters and put poetic truths in their mouths. See the first scene between Blanche and her little sister Stella. As Blanche tells Stella how she lost their family home, her self-defensiveness is at an aggravating fever pitch, but she describes enduring the deaths in her family with vivid truthfulness.
That is Blanche, a woman who is infuriatingly arrogant but also clearly a victim of the circumstances of her life, raised in the refinement of a Southern plantation but now facing a much less accommodating world. She expresses astonishment that Stella, who is not having similar problems adapting, does not have a maid for the two-room apartment in New Orleans’ French Quarter she shares with her husband, Stanley.
That sets the tone for the world Blanche longs for compared to the one she is in.
Stanley exemplifies that new world as a self-assured, sometimes primal and violent man for whom Blanche is really no match, particularly as her stories begin to unravel.
Stella has the unenviable task of refereeing these two, who are constantly pulling her to their sides. Ellie Clark makes Stella a self-assured woman who still has to bend to the wills of these strong personalities. Bergman plays Stanley as a gregarious fellow who too easily slips into his dark, violent side. But through his charisma, you see why people are attracted to him, from his bowling buddies to his loyal wife.
Bergman and Clark are a real-life couple, and they bring palpable chemistry to their performances. They lead two of this production’s best scenes: when Stanley airs his suspicions about the loss of Blanche and Stella’s family home, and later, when Stanley tells Stella what he has learned about Blanche’s life back home in Laurel, Miss. In both instances, Bergman manages his tone beautifully to highlight key portions of the scenes and come across as reasonable, albeit barely.
We have no doubt he does not like his sister-in-law.
And in Bess Morgan’s performance, Blanche is really hard to like.
Moments after appearing, she is operating at a shrill tenor, and for the most part stays there through Act I. Blanche is histrionic, but this one-note interpretation makes it difficult to muster much sympathy for her, something we really need for the play to have its full impact. Act II brings more nuance from Morgan, and a couple of engaging scenes including the one when she makes advances on a paperboy (Rob Schrader, acting appropriately weirded-out) and her recounting of her husband’s death. But Blanche’s charm never comes through the mumbling drawl Morgan developed for her character.
Tim Hull is perfectly cast as Stanley’s friend and Blanche’s sad sack suitor Mitch, one of numerous victims in this tragic tale.
The design team, including set designer Dathan Powell and costumers Joyce Anderson and Dennis Smail, give the show a solid but unobtrusive look. One great prop is the old-fashioned fan sitting atop the refrigerator, which on Friday frequently turned at full speed powered only by the wind.
In Streetcar, SummerFest has brought a good production of an American classic to the stage, but it would help if it, and particularly its leading lady, operated more like that fan that occasionally slowed down when the winds let up.
Carrie Underwood‘s new album is called Blown Away and it includes a song named Cupid’s Got a Shotgun.
But it is in the album’s quieter moments that Underwood shows her true gift as an artist: she kills you.
Blown Away includes several selections akin to her instant classic rockers such as Cowboy Casanova and Before He Cheats that Underwood delivers with sass and authority. But the magic on her fourth album since her victorious turn on season four of American Idol is when she lays aside the theatrics and the pretensions of the “is this country?” chatter and just sings some honest, relateable songs from a woman who sounds like she still tools around her native Oklahoma in a Ford Escape.
Chief among these is Forever Changed by Tom Douglas, James T. Slater and Hillary Lindsey, a heartbreaking ballad about a lovely life slipping away to Alzheimer’s. Underwood has been saying she can’t sing the song live because it’s too emotional, and wiping away a few tears listening to it, you can understand. The emotions aren’t quite as intense, but no less real on other tracks such as Thank God for Hometowns, Good in Goodbye and See You Again. The main quality that made Underwood an Idol winner and its most successful graduate was people feel like they know her, like she is a girl next door. That feeling endures.
It has helped that she can have some fun, and that comes here in the leadoff single and track, Good Girl, as well as the standout storytelling song Two Black Cadillacs, the tale of a mistress and a wife and the late scoundrel they unwittingly shared. It paints the revenge fantasy of Before He Cheats a few shades darker.
In title, Blown Away promises a bit more than it delivers. But we already knew she could do those big rockers and ballads. The discovery here is more subtle and intimate.
Tuesday night, the Punch Brothers were live on the stage of the Kentucky Theatre. Starting Friday, the genre-busting, bluegrass-based artists will be on the theater’s big screen in the documentary, How to Grow a Band.
The film by director Mark Meatto chronicles the start of the band, born after mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile’s original act Nickle Creek went on indefinite hiatus, in 2008 and ‘09. It follows the group, formed around a four-movement 45-minute elegy to Thile’s failed marriage, through performances in Scotland, England and New York.
The film opened April 13 in New York, and New York Times critic Nicolas Rapold wrote, “Ego struggles and innovator’s laments (nobody gets us!) are a refrain in many band documentaries. How to Grow a Band adds a modest but effective entry to the genre’s back catalog.”
Tuesday’s concert got high marks from Herald-Leader critic Walter Tunis who called the show, “easily the most exciting and inventive of (Punch Brothers)’ many Lexington area performances,” so How to Grow a Band could be a good opportunity to see how far the group has come.
The past few years, music fans have gotten to know M. Ward for his associations. He’s one half of the duo She and Him with adorkable new girl Zooey Deschanel and a quarter of the Monsters of Folk with Louisville’s Jim James (as Yim Yames) of My Morning Jacket, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and celebrated producer and journeyman Mike Mogis.
A Wasteland Companion reintroduces us to the Portland singer songwriter himself, and it’s something like walking through the home of a person with tremendous taste to match his talent. Ward is an indisputable terrific songwriter and distinctive performer. What sets him apart from most of his contemporaries with similar resumes is the thoughtful presentation of his tunes, whether it’s the spare setting of There’s a Key or the subtly threatening Watch the Show. The later evokes the sensation of waking up on the couch with the TV still on, with an atmospheric introduction that gains clarity as it goes on – and we wake up. Crawl After You, with Amanda Lawrence’s metronomic violin, is a beautiful blend of Ward’s Eastern and Midwestern influences filtered through a Portland sensibility.
Me and My Shadow hurtles through tunnels of compression at a breakneck speed and features one of two cameos by Deschanel. Mogis also sits in and presumably gave Ward some studio time as Mogis’ home base of Omaha is listed as one of eight locations where Ward recorded Wasteland Companion – eight studios in six cities on two continents. On the Merge Records website, Ward says the transient recording experience taught him what to take and what to leave behind.
The result is 12 songs with sharp focus by a musician we should know in his own right.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich