The New York Times’ James R. Oestreich continues to be the sole representative of the major U.S. news media in town for the festival. Ironically, the Toronto Globe and Mail seems to be the only other out-of-towner with a reporter, Paula Citron, on the streets of Charleston for some critical reportage – possibly because that city’s inaugural Luminato Arts Festival kicked off yesterday, an ambitious 10-day multidisciplinary shindig that’s supposedly modeled on Spoleto Festival USA. Luminato’s also offering the world premiere of Philip Glass’ Book of Longing this weekend (it opened last night, but this blogger’s been unable to find a review anywhere) before sending him to us later this week. Shen Wei Dance Arts also will travel from here to Toronto for the festival after their final gig this evening.
In addition to blogging the festival for the Times’ new ArtsBeat blog, Oestreich has filed a review of Mahagonny and L’ile de Merlin for today’s paper. He is, apparently, underwhelmed by both, though he does have good things to say about Merlin’s ensemble cast and the musicians of the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, who play for both operas. (He also tweaks the festival for its “cumbersome” corporate branding of the SFO, a favorite pasttime of this blogger.) In an amusing post that went up just a few minutes ago, and writes about having to defend his review to Emmanuel Villaume over breakfast. I can say from personal experience that Villaume has no qualms about taking polite issue with reviews; at Thursday evening's post-Bang party, he buttonholed this arts editor and engaged me in a very entertaining 5-minute refutation of our own review of Faustus from nonplussed CP critic Fernando Rivas.
Writing for the Globe and Mail, Citron is more easily impressed. She slathers Faustus and Mahagonny with love, dropping superlatives like Halloween candy, though she does allow that the two make for an awfully depressive pairing. Citron reserves her choicest words for Villaume and Mahagonny:
“Mahagonny is a triumph for its European creative team and conductor Emmanuel Villaume. Co-directors Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, set designer Christian Fenouillat, costume designer Agostino Cavalca and lighting designer Christophe Forey understand German expressionism and have put it on the stage to perfection. Villaume drives the staccato rhythms of Weill with such force that the music assaults the ear, as should be the case. Led by tenor Richard Brunner as Jimmy, and sopranos Karen Huffstodt and Tammy Hensrud as Widow Begbick and Jenny Hill, respectively, the strong cast that includes Canadian baritone John Fanning as Johnny's treacherous friend Billy is passionate in its delivery. This is one of Spoleto's best opera productions ever.”