We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, April 18, 2024


 Master of Ceremonies Kim David Smith with cast of Tiergarten
(photo by Kevin Condon)

Death of Classical never ceases to amaze us. It might be the intimate candle-lit concerts at The Crypt or the intimate concerts in a mausoleum at Greenwood Cemetery. Last night's extravaganza was anything but intimate. It seems as if all of New York (or at least all of arts-loving New York) had packed into the grand hall of St. Mary's on the Lower East Side for an extravaganza created, written, and directed by the multipotentialite Andrew Ousley, a virtual fountain of original ideas.

The serious starting point for this evening of fun was Mr. Ousley's fascination with turning points in human history. Thus, we were taken from Weimar Berlin backwards through World War I, the American Revolution, the Salem Witch Trials, the Fall of the Roman Empire, and all the way to Adam and Eve. Each turning point was brought to life by song and/or dance accompanied by The Grand Street Stompers.

Our tour guide through history was Kim David Smith, the Australian cabaret star who has won the hearts of New Yorkers. We have written about his compelling act a number of times and always hope he will sing William Bolcom's "Black Max". Mr. Smith oozes a rare combination of danger, sex appeal, and humor with a sly wink. Although we would not hear "Black Max" last night, we very much enjoyed his performance of "Pirate Jenny" from Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht's Threepenny Opera, illustrated by shadow imagery  (created by Foreshadow Puppetry). Similarly, we enjoyed his performance of "The Alabama Song" from the same team's operetta The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.

Aside from Mr. Smith's prodigious talent, we were quite taken with his costuming (Fay Leshner) and uncredited make-up,  including red sequined lips.

We think of Death of Classical as Rebirth of Classical. Rebirths always assume new forms. Tiergarten contained multitudes. That is, there was entertainment for just about everyone. This particular opera lover delighted in a riveting performance of Azucena's aria from Verdi's Il Trovatore performed by Melina Jaharis. The tender duet from Monteverdi's L’incoronazione di Poppea was given a fine performance by Ariadne Greif as Poppea and Luke Elmer as Nerone, a performance that was romantic and sensual.

Amara Granderson gave a stirring performance of "Strange Fruit"  a song written and composed by Abel Meeropol (under his pseudonym Lewis Allan) and recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939, and subsequently by many other famous artists. If we are not mistaken,  Mr. Smith himself sang it some time ago.   Aaron Reeder put his heart and soul into the oft recorded spiritual "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord".

We were so taken by Mr. Smith's performance of "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" written by Scottish-born Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1971, that we were compelled to read and re-read the lyrics. We defy anyone to read the anti-war lyrics (referencing Gallipoli in World War I) without weeping.

Fortunately the evening came to a close with the somewhat hopeful "Lost in the Stars" which actually comes from a tragic musical with book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson and music by Kurt Weill, based on the very sad novel Cry, the Beloved Country  by Alan Paton. 

If Mr. Ousley intended for us to enjoy the entertainment, and then to go home and think about the message, he certainly succeeded!

© meche kroop

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