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5.29.11
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5.12.11
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5.15.11
Famed Spiritual Teacher to Speak on Nonviolence
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5.12.11
Special Effects Wizard to Be Honored by Film Festival
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5.11.11
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6.4.09
Talk about a small world
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5.8.11
Berkshire Living to Cease Publication
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5.8.11
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5.8.11
[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
Review by Seth Rogovoy



5.8.11
[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
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5.7.11
[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
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5.7.11
[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
Review by Seth Rogovoy





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[FILM-MUSIC REVIEW] The Audition passes the test

4.19.09

By Clarence Fanto

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., April 19, 2009) Everyone loves a winner, whether in sports, music or any other competitive field. Thus, the Metropolitan Opera's telecast of Emmy-award filmmaker Susan Froemke's new documentary, The Audition, holds audiences enthralled and plays like a suspense thriller. The film had its debut Sunday afternoon in a high-definition telecast at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center; the film also was beamed to some 400 other theaters worldwide.

The audition process in the performing arts has been treated in the fictional big-screen films The Company and Center Stage, both exploring the brutally punishing training and auditioning of professional ballet dancers; in 1980, Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving co-starred in The Competition, a sudsy, romanticized tale of love amid a high-stakes run-off among prospective classical pianists.

At the Met, executive director Peter Gelb, co-executive producer of The Audition, recalls that when he took the high-profile position at the world's leading opera house five years ago, the average age of the audience was sixty. Now, he says on-camera, it's sixty-five. Gelb declares that dramatic and visual appeal is now crucial to a prospective opera star's success in order to attract and hold the attention of new audiences in a multimedia world.

More power to him. This film, which will be televised by PBS this fall and will be released as a DVD, illustrates how young singers must not only master vocally punishing operatic technique but also portray convincingly the characters on stage. In the twenty-first century, a major-league singer can no longer face the audience arms outstretched, displaying vocal pyrotechnics.

The 110-minute film, actually shot in high-definition digital video, tracks the eleven finalists competing for six $15,000 winning prizes at the Metropolitan Opera's National Council auditions in 2007. The cash awards are modest by contemporary competition standards, but the annual event is closely watched by agents, managers, coaches and opera-house impresarios and the winners usually find doors opening to an international career.

The Audition captures the high-intensity, nerve-wracking week leading up to the council concert, staged with the Met Orchestra in the pit before a full house of nearly 4,000 at Lincoln Center. All the competitors are blessed with great talent, but it turns out that the winners inhabit their characters, grab the audience, and hold the stage like seasoned pros.

At the Mahaiwe, audience members were cheering their favorites, who turned out to be the judges' picks as well after they huddle and exchange often pointed observations after the performances. Conductor Marco Armiliato presides with boyish enthusiasm and obvious affection for all the young singers, some of whom get much more screen time than others. Sure enough, they turn out to be the anointed six.

Two tenors, Alek Shrader (whose high-Cs stun the judges and the audience) and Michael Fabiano (nicknamed "Badass" by the other singers, engage in a spirited sideshow of their own both are strong personalities and light up the stage. Winning sopranos Angela Meade, Amber Wagner, Kiera Duffy and mezzo Jamie Barton also get the biggest ovations, both in the opera house and among the Mahaiwe viewers.

Tenor Ryan Smith, who faces an uphill battle after having abandoned singing for three years, is the oldest winner, at thirty, and the most endearing. The audience gasps in horror upon learning in an on-screen postscript that he died of cancer only a year after standing in the winners' circle.

The other five winners have launched megawatt careers, or are on the verge of doing so, we're informed as the credits roll. A post-film discussion by opera stars Renee Fleming, Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson all winners twenty to thirty years ago, is enlightening and laced with humorous asides.

The Audition is a poignant tribute to the art of opera singing and the grueling climb up the ladder facing even the most promising young performers. On the Mahaiwe's big screen and superb sound system, the well-attended Sunday afternoon screening made us eager to see and hear more of these winners, as well as eagerly anticipating upcoming HD telecasts of National Theatre performances (first with Helen Mirren starring in Phedre) as well as next season's slate of ten live Met telecasts.


Clarence Fanto is Berkshire Living's classical music critic.





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