News and Features

AT&T PAC Announcing Up a Storm

On Wednesday, the AT&T PAC announced the line-ups for three of its series — the Jazz Roots, the Brinker International Forum and, of course, TITAS.

Now the PAC has added something new: a series of free outdoor concerts — starting next week.

Patio Sessions, as the weekly, Thursday-night series is called, will take place in Sammons Park, across the street from Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet High School. The hope is they will draw a downtown, not-yet-heading-home-after-work crowd (the shows start at 5:30 p.m.).

And hey, with beer and wine sales and free admission, they might.

But perhaps the most interesting factor: The current line-up features nothing but locals, including Salim Nourallah, Seryn and Doug Burr.

The full release is below the fold.

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First the Mavs, Now This

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All three Texan nominees for the Edgar Awards got shut out.

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We Seek the White Whale – Tonight

moby_dickProbably a safe bet: We’re not going to see this on the Winspear stage

Tonight, opera lovers and critics from around the globe take their seats in Dallas’ nearly sold-out Winspear Opera House. They’ve scored tickets to the world premiere of the operatic adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic, Moby-Dick. The story of the great white whale is well known. But those involved with this opera aren’t saying much about how it will all come together. KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports.

  • KERA radio report:
  • Online report:

Every world premiere offers surprises. That includes celebrated composer Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. What will it sound like? This tiny piano snippet is all we know. How will the huge character of Captain Ahab be portrayed on stage and through voice? And, some have joked, “Where will you put the ship and all the water? And what about that giant whale?”

Leondard Foglia: “I can tell you, five days before the premiere, I don’t know yet.”

Leonard Foglia is Moby-Dick’s director and frequent collaborator with Heggie, best known for the opera Dead Man Walking.

Foglia:  “It’s less about secrets than it is , you know, on Friday everyone will know and then I’ll probably find out on Friday too what I finally decided on. It’s, it’s um, it’s a little scary. It’s changing every day. I just literally changed an entire set about an hour ago, and today we changed it all and we’ll try a new one tonight.”

That was a few days ago. Foglia says the elements are there. He just keeps re-arranging some of them. From the start, he told Heggie to compose the music he wanted to write, without worry. He’d make it work. So, for example, Foglia has but eight brief bars of music to stage the sinking the whaling ship the Pequod. Heggie welcomed the freedom Foglia offered, as he welcomed this musical challenge. He says Moby-Dick is perfect operatic fare, bursting with big ideas, conflicts and characters in life and death situations.

Jake Heggie: “I don’t want to take on something where I feel totally safe. I want to feel confident, but I don’t necessarily want to feel safe. I want it to push me and I want to grow as an artist and as a person, especially for a project that’s going to take four to five years of my life. This was what I felt passionate about. This is what I wanted to do.”

Heggie, who’s 49, says frequent collaborator and Texas-born friend Terrence McNally first planted the seed for Moby-Dick. So when Dallas requested a new work for the Winspear’s inaugural season, Heggie chose the Melville classic. He thinks it’s a great fit for the Dallas Opera.

Heggie: “They built a brand new American opera house with vision and with guts and with beauty and a sense of adventure. And I felt like that’s the kind of piece that needed to be done in the inaugural season as a world premiere. Something very brave, something bold and adventurous with vision. And Moby-Dick fills that bill.

The company’s artistic director Jonathan Pell is already sold. He calls Heggie the greatest melody writer since Puccini, the Italian master, and believes even for those unfamiliar with opera will love it.

DSO Artistic Director Jonathan Pell: “The best thing I can say – people around the theater are humming the tunes.”

Like almost everyone else, Pell also doesn’t know how this will all come together. He repeats the Moby-Dick mantra – “You’ll have to wait for tonight.” That’s when we may also discover if the most famous three-word opening line in American literature – “Call me Ishmael” – even gets heard.

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New Kimbell Acquisition – in Memory of Ted Pillsbury

guercino smaller

The Kimbell Art Museum has acquired a rare work by the 17th century painter, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666), who is better known by his nickname, Guercino, which means ‘Squinty’ – a handle Barbieri got because he was cross-eyed.

That didn’t prevent him from becoming a significant bridge between the works of Caravaggio and the Italian Baroque. The painting, Jesus and the Woman of Samaria, dates from 1619-20 — a relatively early work for the self-taught Guercino. Jesus and the Woman of Samaria is not well known because it has never been exhibited — it was owned for decades by a private collector in Europe and believed lost. It was known primarily through copies and an old photograph.

In this early period, Guercino was influenced by a number of older  masters, notably Correggio and Ludovico Carracci (who was from the Bologna area, like Guercino).  He may never have actually seen Caravaggio’s works in person, perhaps he knew them only by reputation and through the works of the Caravaggisti (imitators of the master). But the heavy use of chiaroscuro, the figures pushed forward and intimately close and the flat, dark, relatively undetailed background: All these are characteristic of Caravaggio. What Guercino didn’t adopt from Caravaggio was the grittiness, the depiction of real-life street characters in the persons of Mary or Jesus.

Eric Lee, the Kimbell’s director, said in a press release that he was looking forward to seeing the Guercino hanging alongside related, Baroque works by the likes of Bernini and Caravaggio. The Guercino goes on display at the Kimbell Friday at 10 a.m. (but not alongside the Caravaggio — which was lent to a major Caravaggio exhibition in Rome).

Later works by Guercino are not as valued because his style became more reserved and conventional — partly because he’d become eminently successful and ran a sizable studio. For what it’s worth, there’s an interesting, long-form biography of Guercino at GLBTQ, the gay and lesbian encyclopedia, which makes a detailed case for Guercino as gay — although almost entirely from his handling of male figures.

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria was acquired in memory of Edmund Pillsbury, the former director of the Kimbell, who died last month. The Kimbell had owned a Guercino but it was of poorer quality and was “de-accessioned” (sold off). So Pillsbury (and subsequently Lee) had long sought a high-quality Guercino to replace it for the Kimbell.

The Kimbell did not release any money figures, but according to Gaile Robinson, the sale price could have been as high as $10 million, a record for Guercino.

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Friday Morning Round-Up – At Last!

YES, THE PEQUOD SETS SAIL TONIGHT: Bill Zeeble reports on the Dallas Opera‘s little ol’ premiere over on the feature side, and, of course, there’s going to be a lot of press attention. But there’s actually a second wave of classical music press headed our way. The Music Critics Association of North America comes here next weekend for its annual confab. That way, the two-dozen-or-so critics get a thoroughly hummable visit to Our Fair North Texas: They check out Jaap van Zweden Thursday at the Meyerson as he leads a litttle Tchaikovsky and Ravel, listen to Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony at Bass Hall on Friday and only then see both Moby-Dick and Madame Butterfly at the Winspear Saturday and Sunday. So — in 10 days or so, we can expect another round of reviews and stories around the country about the operas, the new halls and the symphony conductors. And we can thank the NewsScott Cantrell for that.

IT’S THE HAPPY TIME FOR COMIC BOOK NERDS: Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day, and Scott Hinze provides a guide to some of North Texas’ best comic book stores for Besides, there are all those comic-based summer supposed-blockbusters coming up, starting with Iron Man 2 next week.

PICKY-PICKY: The USA Film Festival continues through the weekend at the Angelika at Mockingbird and if you’re thinking you might want to check out a screening or three, be sure take a gander at Stephen’s picks of the litter.

OH NO, IT’S A TREND: I wasn’t wild about [title of show] at Theatre 3 — the coy little musical that’s all about its own coy little creation. The News absolutely loved it, while Front Row loved it but said it does primarily appeal to theater-insiders. Now comes Everyday Rapture on Broadway, the Sherie Rene Scott musical that’s all about being Sherie Rene Scott. And who says theater artists are narcissists?

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Two DSO Guests Create a Seasonal High Point

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Conductor Claus Peter Flor is back with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra this weekend, and a Flor appearance almost invariably means that something special is in store for the DSO’s audience. His concert on Thursday night did not disappoint. With the superb violinist James Ehnes added to the mix, this was one of the season’s high points.

Flor opened the evening with Dvorak’s rarely heard The Wood Dove (in fact, this was its Dallas premiere — 112 years late!). This gloomy tone poem is first-rate Dvorak, though not really in the same league as the composer’s very greatest (and most popular) works. In Flor’s hands it became a vivid three-dimensional piece, full of telling variety in tempo and dynamics. Some excellent solo playing and sectional work within the DSO was also a factor.

Ehnes, who made a brilliant impression in Fort Worth recently, was the soloist in Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy. This work hardly qualifies as a masterpiece, but in the sure hands of Flor and Ehnes, whose gorgeous tone combines lyrical beauty with technical mastery, who could complain?

Franck’s Symphony in D minor was given an exceptionally dramatic performance by Flor and the orchestra, which again was in top form. This refreshing look at a familiar old work is the sort of thing you hope for at every concert.

The program will be repeated Friday through Sunday, with the Dvorak omitted from the “Casual Friday” program this evening.

DSO music director Jaap van Zweden will be back next week for the final three weekends of the regular season. Incidentally, Van Zweden, who has made quite a splash in guest-conducting engagements around the country, will step in next summer to fill a vacancy at the Aspen Music Festival. For details, click here.

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Update: Laura Bush and Her Memoir at Arts&Letters

In this morning’s round-up, I mentioned the NYT review of Laura Bush’s new memoir, Spoken From the Heart. Well, who needs Michiko Kakutani when you can hear straight from the source?  Jill Bernstein over at the the Dallas Museum of Art kindly reminded me that Mrs. Bush will speak at Arts&Letters Live May 7.  More details here.

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Guest Blog: "The Blue Mug" Play Brings Bollywood Actors to TBAAL This Weekend

Guest blogger Nicole LeBlanc is a community volunteer, owner of Mon Voyage Travel and self-described Texas Bollywood Evangelist.

For Art & Seek theater geeks, or those familiar with or just curious about Indian cinema, there’s a play on the boards this weekend featuring some of the most respected actors in the Indian film industry. Its international tour stops in Dallas Saturday night for one performance only at the Naomi Bruton Mainstage Theater of the Black Academy of Arts & Letters, at the Dallas Convention Center Complex.

The Blue Mug is an experimental, semi-improvised theater piece inspired partly by neurologist Oliver Sacks’ book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (great book, if you’ve never read it) and it stars some of the most accomplished, awarded and respected (as opposed to the hammiest or handsomest) actors in Indian cinema, including Konkona Sen Sharma, Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Rajat Kapoor,  Munish Bhardwaj and Sheeba Chadha.

Sacks’ book narrates his experiences with patients who have lost their memories. In a press teleconference on Wednesday, Blue Mug director Atul Kumar explained that he wanted to explore the concept of memory and how people cope with such a devastating loss, because “memory is a tool for survival”.

At the play’s core is the relationship between a memory loss patient (Ranvir Shorey) and the doctor treating him (Konkona Sen Sharma). These are the only two “characters” in the piece, and their roles did involve a basic script. However, some of the memories depicted in their dialogue were workshopped using Shorey’s own experiences. Woven into this “devised” piece of theater are the other actors, who essentially play themselves and the memories they share with the audience also stem from their own lives. Director Atul Kumar says that with every performance, he can see the audience connect with those same memories through the actors. Ranvir Shorey notes an “unspoken exchange of energy between the audience and the actors”.

Though there’s no script to speak of, there is a fixed structure undergirding the piece. The conversations between doctor Konkona Sen Sharma and patient Ranvir Shorey were nailed down in the early stages of the play’s development. The other actors’ telling and retelling of particular memories night after night is kept fresh by the fact that the telling itself may vary from performance to performance. That sharing of personal experience and memory has led to a unique bond among the cast, who were friends before doing The Blue Mug together, having mostly worked together on various film projects. They all took advantage of a unique creative opportunity when Director Kumar invited them to do the piece at his Company Theater in Mumbai.

Every member of the cast has worked in both film and theater, but Sheeba Chadha cites her extensive theater credits as the most important and meaningful part of her career. Younger actors Shorey and Sen Sharma have done only a few plays each and derive their livelihoods on celluloid. Though cinema remains his first love, Shorey enjoys the experience of acting on stage. Observes Shorey, “Theater allows the actor to spend more time developing and refining a part, and one can grow with the character” in a way that is impossible under the tight time constraints of Indian film shooting schedules. (India makes several times as many movies as Hollywood, and the production timetables can be gruelingly condensed.)

Being able to see those screen stars perform live on stage is bound to be a rare opportunity for anyone interested in Indian film or just in adventurous theater. The piece will be performed in a 50/50 combination of Hindi and English (aka Hinglish) but should be understandable to both Hindi and English speakers. The production has toured across India, and based on critical and audience reaction to those performances, Kumar was approached about taking the play to other cities around the world, particularly in the UK and North America, although they are even bound for Brazil.

They’ll stop for one night only in Dallas and tickets for this adventure start at $10. More details here.

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Art&Seek Q&A: Roger Boykin and Liquid Funk, Booker T. Washington School

Roger Boykin's Class 013

Roger Boykin's Class 017


Guest blogger Tina Aguilar teaches humanities and cultural studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.

This week I had the opportunity to visit with Dallas funk and jazz icon Roger Boykin and his R&B Ensemble students at the Booker T. Washington School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Some music history: Boykin, along with fellow funk musician Wendell Sneed, organized the South Dallas Pop Festival in the early 1970s. Both are good souls who have mentored many young musicians over the years. Electricity abounds in this creative oasis of the Dallas Arts District with the aura of students, staff, and the streaming echoes of a xylophone and dialogue of theater students in the hallway where I wait. I am greeted by Dena Townsend, Associate Principal, who smiles and reflects how Boykin is “so supportive of our students.” She continues, “I’ll often come in and see what they’re doing. Music has the ability to alter any mood you might be in and they are always doing something different in his class.”

Roger took the time to answer some of my questions about his students and his work.

Tina Aguilar: Can you tell me about your R&B students?

Roger Boykin: The R&B students are primarily music majors, although a couple of them come from the theater cluster. We have 7 vocalists, 1 drummer who also sings, 3 other drummers, one of whom plays vibes also, and one of whom plays bass and guitar also. We have 2 trumpet players (one female), 2 saxophone players, one of whom also plays drums. We have 2 guitar players (one of whom plays drums and piano). There are 2 full-time bass players and a keyboardist. That’s a total of 20 musicians and singers. The class is listed officially as Vocal Ensemble III, but it has always been understood to be the R&B Ensemble. This school year we gave the performing group the name “Liquid Funk.” There was an R&B group by that name in Dallas in the 1970s. We stole their name since they no longer exist. We play mostly music from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. I wanted the group to play “real” R&B from the Golden Age of R&B. I write 95% of the arrangements and they include music by such artists as Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, James Brown, The Ohio Players, The Temptations, Michael Jackson, and other such artists. There are a few of my originals in the book as well.

T. A.: I did see the R&B Ensemble audition results posted on the door. What does that mean for students?

R. B.: We have 12 seniors in the group. After auditions took place we identified band members for next year. Some of the present members will be returning next year. New members have to be broken in. This process usually takes about 6 weeks.

T. A.: How do you decide what pieces to teach and develop each term or quarter?

R. B.: I usually decide on about 90% of the repertoire, based on music that I played in my formative years. The band members sometimes suggest material, which we add, if appropriate.

T. A.: “Fire” by The Ohio Players is a favorite of mine. Can you tell me about the range of songs your students performed during my visit?

R. B.: When you heard us, we were playing funk standards with the exception of “Trouble Sleeping,” a song from 2006 British singer, Corinne Bailey Ray. This piece was added to feature vocalist Ashley Montez, at her request.

T. A.: What are the preparations like for the events or performances that your students participate in during the year?

R. B.: The students like to perform off-campus for community organizations. We get these gigs via phone calls from interested non-profit groups, schools, senior centers and such. They also like to perform at school in front of their fellow students. For the past two years we have performed at Neiman Marcus’s downtown store. Those were particularly enjoyable gigs. Other performances include: Paul Quinn College, the Hilton Anatole Hotel, the House of Blues, the Winspear, and a couple of other off-campus sites.

T. A.: Can you tell me about the upcoming “Taste of the Arts” event and history?

R. B.: “Taste of the Arts” started as an on-campus event featuring students from all four clusters: visual arts, dance, theatre, and music. It usually includes a silent auction and food in the hallways. Works of visual art are viewed throughout the building. In recent years the event was moved off-campus, but returns to campus this year. This gives visitors a chance to see what we do here and where it all happens.

T. A.: What inspires you lately and what is your performance schedule like for the next few months?

R. B.: I am inspired by deadlines and commissions as well as by the many exciting young musicians I encounter almost daily. I have been performing lately at the Dallas Museum of Art, about 15 times last year and 5 times this year. I freelance as well, all over the Metroplex.

Liquid Funk will perform at “Taste of the Arts” at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts on May 14 and the festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. Roger Boykin will be featured on Monday night, May 17, at Brooklyn Jazz Café as part of an inaugural Legends on Monday Nights series. There will be more to come about these vibes.

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Tying Down Some Moby-Dick Details

Inevitably, one of the great points of curiosity about the Dallas Opera’s production of Moby-Dick has always been, how are they going to do it? How are they going to convey life aboard a whaling ship? A ship in an electrical storm? How are they going to depict a whale-boat chase? And does Moby Dick himself make a cameo?

Since last year, composer Jake Heggie and lyricist Gene Scheer have been cagey with details, saying, for the most part, their job was just to give their director, Leonard Foglia, their vision of Melville’s novel as an opera, and let him figure out how to make it work. And Foglia has been far too busy trying to figure all this out to go into any of those details. The opera opens Friday — and some things are still being hashed out, it seems.

Well, the Wall Street Journal has some of the details, saying that “the real star—with apologies to the tenor Ben Heppner’s Captain Ahab—may be the production itself, which Mr. Foglia helped conceive, serving as dramaturge prior to directing.”

Mr. Foglia, who became involved in the production two years ago when he and Messrs. Heggie and Scheer were working on a musical play in Houston, has made it a priority to minimize the distance between audience and action, which he is trying to depict from a seaman’s perspective. His “you are there” approach means rendering certain aspects of the voyage in novel ways. “The sails reach into the wings of the stage because if you’re on the ship, the sail would be right here,” he said, placing his hand in my face. “You couldn’t step back. And that’s why I wanted to get into the whale boats rather than sing about whale boats” …

But we could have figured out much of this: Sails and masts and rigging are going to be major factors. And in interviews this week, Foglia is still playing some cards close to his chest — in particular, the Big Reveal:

As for the title character, the great white whale’s presence on stage is not assured. “I haven’t decided whether it’s more interesting to see or not see,” the director said. “It’s the Alfred Hitchcock rule. You know, the way people swore they saw Janet Leigh getting stabbed in ‘Psycho,’ even though they never did. It’s the thought of something happening that makes it really memorable.”

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