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Opera Sacra's sister act

Puccini_2 The Buffalo music scene is extremely rich -- it's hard to keep up with everything going on -- but one of the few things we lack is a regular opportunity to hear opera right here in town.

That's why it might be worth checking out the performance of Puccini's "Suor Angelica" being staged at St. Joseph University Church by Opera Sacra. (That is Puccini, on the left in the picture, with the conductor Arturo Toscanini. Don't they both look dapper? The picture appeared in Life magazine.)

Over several decades. Opera Sacra has staged an impressive variety of religion-themed operas. That doesn't narrow the field as much as you would think. Countless operas have religious themes, and Opera Sacra has tackled a lot of them, mostly smaller-scale works. (Although I do remember a wild production of Saint-Saens' "Samson and Delilah." St. Joseph's Church has never been the same.)

Friday and Saturday, Opera Sacra is presenting Puccini's "Suor Angelica." This is one third of "Il Trittico," the set of three one-act operas intended to be performed together as a group. The other two operas of "Il Trittico" are "Il Tabarro" ("The Cloak") and the well-known "Gianni Schicchi," from which comes the famous aria "O Mio Babbino Caro." Dramatic, melodic and emotionally intense, "Suor Angelica" lasts an hour. It tells the story of a noblewoman who has an illegitimate child and is punished by her family by being sent to a convent. It ends with the apparition of the Virgin Mary. (How the opera's director, Brother Augustine Towey, will carry this out remains to be seen.)

The high point of the opera is generally considered to be the concluding aria, "Senza mamma," in which Suor Angelica pours out her anguish. I found this clip of Renata Scotto singing it, complete with subtitles.

Isn't You Tube wonderful? You can hear Callas singing the same aria here.

This weekend, Suor Angelica will be portrayed by Colleen Marcello. During the evening's second half, Opera Sacra will present a host of excerpts from Puccini operas that inspired modern musicals. In some cases, they inspired lawsuits, too. Did everyone know that the Puccini estate sued Andrew Lloyd Webber, arguing that "The Music of the Night" from "The Phantom of the Opera" was cribbed from Puccini's opera "The Girl of the Golden West"? The lawsuit was settled out of court.

Puccini's estate also sued songwriter Vincent Rose, saying that he lifted the popular song "Avalon" from "E lucevan le stella" in "Tosca." It seems like a stretch to me, but the court found Rose guilty as charged and awarded Puccini's heirs $25,000, in addition to all future royalties from the song.

Enjoy "Suor Angelica," as well as this trip through Broadway history, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at St. Joseph University Church, 3269 Main St., Buffalo. Admission is $10. For info, call 833-0298.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Theater and dance critic Clive Barnes dead at 81

From his obituary in the New York Post, where he had been an arts critic since 1977:

As powerful as his words were for making or breaking a Broadway show, Barnes had other goals: "My ideal criticism is to write a notice about a play I didn't like," he told Time, "and yet send people to the theater to see it."

And from the New York Times, where he wrote theater and dance reviews for many years before that:

Prolific and influential, he nonetheless maintained a consistently skeptical attitude toward criticism in general and his own in particular. “The job’s impossible,” he once said, “and one must pray that one will be only moderately incompetent.”

Words to live by. Rest in peace Mr. Barnes.

--Colin Dabkowski

(Photo from

Elaine Equi and Jerome Sala at Rust Belt Books

You could make the case for Elaine Equi and Jerome Sala as the Nichols and May of contemporary poetry.  Both are clever, sharp-witted writers with a background in performance, each of whom has achieved considerable success in their work as individuals, but (unlike Mike Nichols and Elaine May) continue to appear together as a couple, if not as a comedy act.

Equi and Sala, who are married, will read from their respective work Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at Rust Belt Books, 202 Allen Street in Buffalo as sponsored by Just Buffalo Literary Center.

Equi, a Chicago area native, is the author of eleven collections of poems, including Federal Woman (
1978), Surface Tension (1989), The Cloud of Knowable Things (2003), and, most recently, Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2007), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and short listed for the 2008 International Griffin Poetry Prize.

"The story of my skin/ is long and involved./ But the story of my hair/ is quite short." begins her "Autobiographical Poem" from The Cloud of Knowable Things.  But what begins with the head in her work inevitably veers toward the heart: "But it is the heart's story/ I want most to share/ with you who also know this pleasure/ of being shut inside/ a vast dark place, alone--/ as if at a small table/ scribbling lies."

Sala, also a Chicago area native who emerged from the LA punk performance scene before relocating to New York City with Equi, is the author of such cult favorites as I Am Not a Juvenile Delinquent (1985), The Trip (1987), and Raw Deal: New and Selected Poems, 1980-1994.  His most recent collection of pop culture cannibalizing satirical poems is Look Slimmer Instantly (Soft Skull Press, 2005).

Any reading involving Equi and Sala is likely to produce a few surprises.  "Every good poem is a Trojan Horse," Equi has written.  The Just Buffalo press release for this event describes her reading Thursday as "a multimedia presentation using movie stills from the 1950's and 60's in the form of a tarot deck..."

--R.D. Pohl

Poet Ted Greenwald at Karpeles Manuscript Library

Ted Greenwald, a New York City based poet long associated with "language-centered" writing, will read from his work tonight (Tuesday) at 8 p.m. at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum, 453 Porter Ave. in Buffalo as sponsored by the UB Poetics Program.

Greenwald cofounded the now famous reading series at The Ear Inn on Spring St. near Tribeca in 1978 and his work appeared in Ron Silliman's seminal 1986 anthology In the American Tree.   He is the author of thirty books of poetry and prose, including Lapstrake (1965), Licorice Chronicles (1979), Word of Mouth (1986), and The Up and Up (2004).

His new collection In Your Dreams, consists of 79 poems, each of which is 72 lines long and employs a recombinatory drop-stitch weave in its formal structure.  According to poet-critic Charles Bernstein, the book follows the linguistic model of autopoiesis--a self-generating process and structure the primary naturally-occurring example of which is the organic cell.

In Your Dreams
is published by Buffalo-based poet Geoffrey Gatza's BlazeVox Books.

--R.D. Pohl

Literary Salon debuts with Alice Munro stories

"Passion" and "Wenlock Edge," two stories by Alice Munro--the Canadian writer many consider the one of the finest short story writers now working in the English language--will be the focus of the first installment of "Short Story Masters--A Literary Salon," a new monthly series co-sponsored by Just Buffalo Literary Center and Talking Leaves Books from  6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. tonight at Talking Leaves Books, 3158 Main St. in Buffalo.  The event is free and open to the public.

The host of the new monthly salon is Greg Gerke, a Wisconsin native and University of Oregon graduate whose fiction has appeared in many publications and is currently co-curator of the Exhibit X Fiction & Prose Series.  His first collection of stories is forthcoming from BlazeVox Books.  About "Short Story Masters" Gerke says he envisions "a story group beginning with discussing the work and then branching out to sharing our lives and experiences, because that is what readers bring to the text whenever we encounter fiction.  We will discuss narrative, characters, attitudes, tone, style, and many other aspects of the short story."

On December 16th, the salon will continue with discussion of Munro's "The Albanian Virgin" and "Dimension."  In subsequent months, Gerke and the salon will take up the work of such short story masters as Anton Chekhov, Isaac Babel, Paula Fox, Denis Johnson, William Trevor, Raymond Carver and Edward P. Jones.

--R.D. Pohl

Ouroussoff on Buffalo's architectural jewels


It's great to see Buffalo getting the sort of play it did in Sunday's New York Times. The paper hasn't sent an art or architecture critic here for such an extensive story -- or even to chronicle major and deserving Albright-Knox shows -- in at least the last decade. That's owing as much to the city's long fall from fashion as to the more recent and precipitous decline of the nation's print media outlets. So this story, coming as it does in times of economic duress, is a testament to the work of Buffalo's various preservation groups and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which helped to draw Nicolai Ouroussoff here to reconsider the worthiness of the city's historical architecture and --  most importantly -- the very real hope it holds for the city's resurgence as a bona fide cultural destination.

Take a closer look at some of what Ouroussoff writes after the jump.

--Colin Dabkowski

(Photo by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times)

Continue reading "Ouroussoff on Buffalo's architectural jewels" »

Poet/translator Alastair Reid at Baird Hall tonight

On the eve of last month's announcement of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy that awards the prize made front page news in most American media outlets by discounting the possibility that any American writer would receive the honor in the near term.  American writers are “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture,” he averred.  “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.”

America's ignorance of other cultures and languages--which some would suggest a corollary of the doctrine of "American exceptionalism"-- has emerged as major theme in international relations over the past decade, but in the literary world its most immediate manifestation is the systematic undervaluation of literature in translation by mainstream publishers, in academia, and by the reading public.

That's all the more reason to welcome Alastair Reid back to Buffalo.  The Scottish-born poet, essayist, literary scholar and translator who will deliver this year's Silverman Memorial Poetry Reading tonight (Friday) at 8 p.m. in 250 Baird Hall on the University of Buffalo's North Campus is one of principal English language translators of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Argentinean fiction writer Jorge Luis Borges--the two South American writers whose acceptance in to the canon of world literature in the 1960's and early 70's paved the way for the subsequent "Latin American Boom" literature of Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  He is also an important translator of the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla, the Venezuelan Eugenio Montejo, and the Mexican poet José Emilio Pachedo.

A longtime correspondent to and contributing South American editor of The New Yorker magazine during the William Shawn era, Reid's six decade long career as what Neruda called a "Patapelá" ("barefoot") or itinerant scholar took him from Spain to Switzerland, from Greece to Morocco, throughout Latin America, the United States and the U.K., always in pursuit of the company of poets and of the life of letters.  He enjoyed a brief flirtation with American popular culture as director of the controversial adaptation of Armistead Maupin's first Tales of the City for PBS (and Channel Four in the UK) in 1993, one of his many credits as a film director.

Although not nearly as well known for his own poetry as for his translations and his prose, Reid has lived long enough to witness a revival of interest in his work. 
Selections from his poetry collections Whereabouts (1987), Weathering (1978), and To Lighten My House (1953), were anthologized in The Alastair Reid Reader (University Press of New England,1994).   A collection of prose and poetry, Oases (Canongate, 1997), includes an extended essay on Neruda and Borges, including Neruda's famous advice to him upon learning of a grammatical liberty he had taken in translation of the Chilean poet's lyrics.

“Alastair, don’t just translate my poems. I want you to improve them,” Neruda told him.  In 2004, Reid took his best shot at that tall order with his On the Blue Shore of Silence (HarperCollins), a new selection of his translations of Neruda’s poems of the sea.

--R.D. Pohl

'August' heading to Hollywood


With a highly anticipated feature film adaptation of the John Patrick Shanley play "Doubt: A Parable" set to open in December (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep, no less), it's hardly a surprise that the film rights for the smash hit of the last year on Broadway, Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County," have been snapped up by the Weinstein Company. Still, it's exciting to think of the prospect. Link here.

--Colin Dabkowski

(Photo from

Plugged in

Lights_2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. And guess what: It could be your house! The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the over-the-top metal/classical band that crisscrosses the country every Christmas season dishing out holiday favorites, is sponsoring a house-decorating contest. The idea is to synchronize your lights to one of three specified Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs.

Get details here.

And for inspiration, check out videos here of other people's creations.

The grand prize is a free trip to Chicago to see the TSO. There are also a number of $300 gift certificates that can be used at Forest City malls, including Buffalo's historic Boulevard Mall.

The deadline is Dec. 12 and I wanted to get the word out there so people can get busy. Robert Kinkel, the keyboardist for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, grew up in Williamsville. Surely this type of thing is in our blood. Surely someone from Buffalo could be a contender.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

'Corsetless' in Ireland


Catherine Eaton stars in her own one-woman show "Corsetless" in December 2007 at the Irish Classical Theatre Company's Andrews Theatre.

In case any of you legions of ArtsBeat readers happens to be cruising around the Emerald Isle in the next few months, be aware that you can catch Catherine Eaton's one-woman Shakespearean tour de force "Corsetless" in a number of spots.

The play, which came to the Irish Classical Theatre Company's home at the Andrews Theatre last December, was a moving exploration of mental illness and anguish set in a mental institution. After bringing the work to Buffalo, Eaton had hoped for an Off-Broadway run, which has not so far materialized. Here's hoping the Irish tour will yield further success for this very worthy play.

Click here for Irish tour dates, and read my original review of the ICTC "Corsetless" production after the jump.

--Colin Dabkowski

Continue reading "'Corsetless' in Ireland" »

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