New ‘West Side Story’ production highlights Lyric Opera’s 2018-19 season

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City embraces American musical theater in its 2018-19 season with a new production of “West Side Story,” Leonard Bernstein’s update of “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s just one of four intriguing works to be offered next season. Puccini’s tragic “Madama Butterfly,” Mozart’s brilliant “Così fan tutte” and Bizet’s exotic “The Pearl Fishers” complete a varied season. More and more opera companies are expanding their notions of what opera is. But presenting musicals is not a new concept for the Lyric, which has been doing so for decades. “In the early days of the company, when Russell Patterson founded the Lyric and then went on to be the general director, he did a lot of musical theater,” says Deborah Sandler, CEO of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. “There’s the famous story about Lyric’s production of the musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ being featured on the cover of Life magazine in 1971. And that wasn’t the first. Russell was a very interesting producer with a range of different things that he did.” Indeed, the Lyric Opera has produced several musicals over the years, including “Sweeney Todd,” “Man of La Mancha,” “The Happy Time” and Bernstein’s “Candide.” The Lyric is once again turning to a musical by Bernstein, and it’s appropriate this year for a variety of reasons. “This year the classical music world is celebrating the centennial of Bernstein, who was born in 1918,” Sandler says. “We’re also in the middle of the 60th anniversary year of ‘West Side Story,’ which had its premiere in 1957. “But it’s also our own 60th anniversary. So we’re saluting the heritage of Russell Patterson, 60 years of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, the Bernstein centennial and the 60th anniversary of Continue Reading

Songs about generators and Spam? New Puerto Rican music reflects the island’s resilience.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- On Christmas Eve, receptionist Kala Ronda planned to cook rice and beans for her husband and three kids. "But when I came home, we didn't have water running," said Ronda, 36, who lives in San Juan's Las Lomas neighborhood. This was after suffering through three months without power before it finally returned in early December. There's a song for that. In "Mi Navidad No Se Apaga," which in English means "My Christmas Won't Go Out," written by Grammy-nominated salsa singer Victor Manuelle, the Spanish lyrics translate to: "This Christmas in my Puerto Rico is going to be great. "And if we don't get electricity, we'll light a candle. "And if there's no 'pasteles' [meat pies] or rice and beans for dinner "We'll eat Spam on Christmas Eve." Ronda said she didn't serve Spam; she bought fried chicken. Hurricane Maria hit in late September, and its devastating effects have permeated the holiday season in Puerto Rico. The storm leveled thousands of homes, felled trees, blocked roads, knocked out communications and wrecked the electrical grid. Now, as recovery plods along, famous and amateur musicians have used the unique circumstances as inspiration, creating songs that resonate with the island's weary citizens. Turn on the radio, and you might hear Joseph Fonseca's rollicking merengue song asking the Three Kings for a new power generator. In Puerto Rico, Jan. 6 was Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, celebrated with parades and presents. "And when I turn it on, it shouldn't sound like this: Trrrrrrrrrr," he sings in "La Planta Nueva," or "The New Generator," which has gotten more than 300,000 views on YouTube. "When I'm deep in sleep to rest for work, I jump, and I get up, and I think I'm dreaming, but nothing has happened," he adds. "It's just that the fuel is finished." Fonseca said he was inspired by the loud throttle of the three generators he used to power through a 45-day blackout at home in Caguas, south of San Juan. He had solar panels, too, but Continue Reading

Playlist: Five For Fighting and Jim Brickman’s holiday favorites

Grammy-nominated artists John Ondrasik, aka Five For Fighting, and Jim Brickman have collaborated to send a message of love and support to the troops this holiday season with a new song, Christmas Where You Are.To celebrate the song's release, as well as Brickman's new collection of holiday songs, A Joyful Christmas (out now), the two singers teamed up for a playlist of Christmas classics for USA TODAY. John Ondrasik: Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Burl IvesI have a video of my four-year-old daughter and I singing this classic...and boy does she steal the show! In the Bleak Midwinter, Susan BoyleIf only Jeff Buckley covered this poetic masterpiece. Christmas Time is Here, Vince Guaraldi TrioAny song from Vince Guaraldi's iconic Peanuts Christmas album can be found on my playlist 365 days a year. Rudolph the Red Nosed Raindeer, Burl IvesNothing better for medley long car rides to grandma's house. White Christmas, Bing CrosbyBingo! Jim Brickman: The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole Simply nostalgia at its finest. To me, the best Christmas songs are ones that are classics, and there's no song out there more classic or honeyed in nostalgia than this one.  Blue Christmas, Elvis PresleyThe all-time shining example of how to perform and conceive a rock & roll Christmas song. Combined with its vintage sound and Elvis' vocals, this song is an essential on my Christmastime playlists.  Ave Maria, The CarpentersIt's Karen Carpenter...what more could you ask for? I love the entire Carpenters Christmas Collection. I think it's amazing, and this song in particular is a great Americana-flavored version of an international classic.  Sleigh Ride, Leroy AndersonSleigh Ride wasn't originally written with lyrics, and as an often instrumental-only songwriter, I feel the need to defend Leroy Anderson's work! This song is a musical sleigh ride all on its own.  The Most Wonderful Time of the Continue Reading

Holiday gift guide: Albums

This weekend kicks off the familiar tunes that signal the season: Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Elvis’s “Blue Christmas,” and The Temptations’ rendition of “Silent Night.” Every year a new crop of singers release their takes on holiday classics. Here are a new Christmas albums reviewed by the Associated Press:With the barely-there red dress she’s wearing on the cover, the come-hither pose on the back and the suggestive title, one might think Fantasia’s first Christmas album is something to be played after the kids and grandparents have gone to bed.But “Christmas After Midnight” is your typical, family friendly holiday fare, filled with the traditional songs about the time of year that we’ve come to expect, along with Fantasia’s signature soulful, gritty bent.She gets particularly and appropriately funky on James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto; she soars like a gospel star on “Give Love on Christmas Day”; and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” is given tender, reserved treatment by Fantasia here.The album ends with an untraditional song, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – it certainly wasn’t written for the holidays — but it still works here, thanks to Fantasia’s powerful voice.What doesn’t work as well is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The duet is already a bit politically incorrect given its leering tone, but getting CeeLo Green – who pleaded no contest to giving a woman ecstasy — to sing on a song that includes the line “what’s in this drink” certainly makes you feel less than warm this holiday season. Nekesa Mumbi Moody Sia has proven she’s a powerhouse in pop music, so it’s no surprise that her holiday album of original songs sounds as good Continue Reading

Celestial sounds II: There’s Ellington, country, concertos in church

If you think music is only for concert halls, you haven't been to church in Naples.Everything from opera to all-star jazz and country bands come to local sanctuaries. There's so much music, in fact, this is the second of two schedules for concerts and music shows set for this season: The first, which appeared Nov. 5,  is available online at; search for celestial sounds. Part one:  Celestial sounds: Churches offer some of SWFL's best and newest music North Naples Church6000 Goodlette Road, North Naples, FL 34109 Information: or 239-593-7600Nov. 30 — Naples Brass Christmas Celebration: 7 p.m. Featuring Members of the Naples Philharmonic in the best in Christmas brass music ranging from “Christmas Classical” to “Christmas Fun." Free.Dec. 4 — A Big-Band Holiday Spectacular: 7 p.m. Trumpeter Dan Miller and saxophonist  Lew Del Gatto, stars in their own rights, bring together an all-star big band for a special evening of swinging music, featuring Duke Ellington & Count Basie orchestra arrangements. The second half of the concert will be a "Jazz at the Philharmonic"-style jam session. $15, VIP $30Jan. 28 — Dan Miller-Lew Del Gatto All-Stars: 4 p.m. Trumpeter Dan Miller and saxophonist Lew Del Gatto are joined by an all-star group of friends for an afternoon of swinging jazz. Guests include musicians from the Naples Philharmonic and more. $15Feb. 8-11 — North Naples Music Festival: Concerts over four day featuring a variety of stages/venues on the church and school campus. Details TBAFeb. 11 — The Martins Trio: 7 p.m. Multi-Dove winning artists Judy, Jonathan and Joyce Martin have performed on stages from The Grand Ole Opry to the White House, as well as concert halls, auditoriums and churches nationwide. FreeFeb. 25 — North Naples Church Pops Concert:  4 and 7 p.m. Hear the Continue Reading

With Adele rumored to be performing at Super Bowl 51, here are other musicians the NFL can choose to make the halftime show even more depressing

Say “Hello” to a Super Bowl halftime show that will make you cry harder than Patriots fans still whining about Deflategate. Rumor has it Adele will perform at Super Bowl 51 in Houston. The NFL might as well just hire Dementors to roam the stadium. “There is nobody bigger in the world than Adele right now and organizers are doing absolutely everything they can to try to persuade her to sign up,” an NFL source told The Sun. “She’s sold out every date on her tour, everyone wants a piece of her and they know they can bank on her bringing in the viewers.” Although she has undoubtedly one of the best singing voices on the planet, Adele’s songs would be a stark contrast from the usual upbeat ones artists perform at theSuper Bowl. But let’s not just stop at her. If the NFL is going sad... They. Should. Go. All. The. Way. The halftime show is usually full of “surprise” performances by fellow stars, so here’s other glum options the league should tap to share the stage with Adele to make the waterworks flow. Sarah McLachlan Everybody loves animals. So after Adele and Sarah McLachlan take turns covering one another’s heart-wrenching hits, they can duet on “Angel” as the finale. On the jumbotron at NRG Stadium, the famous ASPCA commercial featuring the song would be played, leaving not a dry eye in the stadium. But it might make the TV ratings of the second half of the Super Bowl plummet, as most people with hearts would change the channel immediately. The Cure It’s Super Bowl Sunday, I’m in tears. Logistically, this one would work perfectly. On Adele’s “21,” she covers The Cure’s (gasp) depressing hit “Lovesong.” She and fellow UK singer Robert Smith would emotionally belt the Continue Reading

‘I’m praying I don’t forget the lyrics!’ – Gloria Estefan, Kelli O’Hara, Norm Lewis confess what it’s like to sing for the Pope

Gloria Estefan has asked the Almighty for total recall on Friday. Performing for the Pope does that to a pop superstar. “I always pray for the things that everyone prays for — good health for my family, that we become a better world. In this instance, I’ve also been praying that I don't forget the lyrics.” Estefan’s confession came a day before a rehearsal and sound check of “A Journey of Faith,” a star-studded show on Friday preceding Pope Francis’ mass at Madison Square Garden. Estefan is singing “Mas Alla (Beyond),” a devotional ballad sung in Spanish from her 1995 album. She’s not the only star hoping to heaven to be word- and note-perfect. “The King and I” Tony winner Kelli O’Hara and “Porgy and Bess” Tony nominee Norm Lewis tell the Daily News they want to be at the top of their game. “I have done a lot of pinching myself,” says O’Hara, adding that it’s because she’s singing for “this particular Pope. I will be nervous, of course. But what I am is honored.” O’Hara’s performing solo for Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer” and with others for “Amazing Grace.” The actress says her “whole Catholic family” will be in the audience. “My parents have flown up from Oklahoma to attend with me,” O’Hara says. Lewis is singing Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” “My only concern is that I do the song justice,” he says. He’s counting on his burnished baritone to express “how much we appreciate who and what [the Pope] is to us.” The show will also feature Jennifer Hudson, Martin Sheen, James (D Train) Williams, the Broadway Inspirational Voices and the St. Charles Borromeo Choir. For Estefan, a Cuban-American whose life story is told in the Continue Reading

Fiddleheads to host an evening of Italian opera

JAMESBURG - The "Evening of Italian Opera" dinner and performance at Fiddleheads Restaurant here is back for an eighth year, with two holiday-themed shows.Lyric soprano Annamaria Stefanelli will again be joined by her husband, tenor Rory Angelicola, to bring this special winter treat to the fans of operatic music and Fiddleheads' fare and atmosphere. An  "Evening of Italian Opera, Holiday Edition" will be presented on Tuesday, Dec. 6 ,and Tuesday Dec. 13, at 6:30 p.m.Stefanelli is a first-generation Italian-American with more than 500 performances and a long list of credits as an opera education expert, as well as two recorded CDs. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, the 92nd Street Y, and the Central Park Concert Series, as well as numerous other venues around the tristate area.The husband-and-wife team will sing a mix of Christmas-themed arias from composers Verdi and Puccini, and operatic versions of holiday favorites such as "Ave Maria," "O Holy Night," and "Do You Hear What I Hear?" with accompanying recorded music and spoken commentary about each piece. READ: Fiddleheads has burgers from across the nation READ: Fiddleheads Restaurant marks 10-year milestone READ: Fiddleheads feted for 10th anniversaryThe evening features a four-course prix fixe dinner, mingled with the performances and commentary by the singing team. Tickets are an all-inclusive $56 and must be purchased in complete tables of two, four or six. Call to reserve a table and either bring in or mail the payment within 48 hours to obtain tickets. Cash and checks are the only accepted form of payment; credit cards and gift certificates are not valid for this event. The ticket price includes the performance, four-course menu, soft drinks and coffee/tea, tax, and gratuity. Attendees may bring their own wine or beer. Doors open at 6:15 p.m., and seating is limited. COMING UP:Sunday, Dec. 18: Artists' Reception for the Winter 2016 show Continue Reading

Chris Cornell playlist: Revisit his work with Soundgarden, Audioslave

Music bid farewell to one of its most distinctive voices this week with the tragic news of the passing of Chris Cornell.Cornell had been on tour when he died Wednesday night at 52, emblematic  of his prolific career with Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and on his solo work. For the many people who came of age, and first fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll, during the era of grunge that Cornell and Soundgarden helped define, his death is a painful loss.Remember Cornell’s legacy by revisiting the songs that defined his career, ranging from his work with Soundgarden and Audioslave to his later solo work, including some unlikely covers:Hunger Strike (1991): The sole album release from Cornell's first supergroup, Temple of the Dog, featured a duet with a fellow grunge icon, Pearl Jam's Vedder.Outshined (1991): In just four words — "looking California, feeling Minnesota" — Cornell offered a succinct comment on the difference between the mood we project and the one we actually feel.Seasons (1992): Not only did Cornell contribute a track to the Singles soundtrack, the now-iconic collection of songs that accompanied the 1992 movie, but he also made a cameo in the film.Fell on Black Days (1994): Cornell mined his past battles with depression on this track from Soundgarden's best-selling album, Superunknown. The album's biggest hit, the dreamy Black Hole Sun, also explored sadness, though he noted that went over many listeners' heads at the time.Spoonman (1994): Cornell dashed off this track while writing songs for Singles after Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament suggested it as a band name for the group Matt Dillon fronts in the movie. Later, Seattle artist Artis the Spoonman was recruited to play on the track and its video.Burden in My Hand (1996): Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil described this track, in which the narrator abandons his lover in the desert, as a "contemporary Hey Joe," comparing it to Jimi Continue Reading

Beyonce Knowles moves up a notch by lowering her guard with ‘I Am … Sasha Fierce’

Pay no attention to the drag queen-ready title of ­Beyoncé's new album. She may have titled her third solo CD "I Am ... Sasha Fierce," but the music seems hellbent on proving just the opposite. It finds this battering ram of a star not just lowering her guard, but practically opening up a vein. That's partially by design. Beyonce divided the 16-song double set in two, devoting the first half (dubbed "I Am ...") to aching ballads, the second ("Sasha Fierce") to her usual "I am woman, hear me roar" anthems. At least that's what Beyoncé stated. In truth, the "upbeat" section includes its share of ballads, too. And even the harder, faster section's songs express more yearning than defiance. RELATED STORY: ROBO-BEYONCE?All this comes as more than a revelation. It's a relief — especially following Beyoncé's last album, 2006's hastily recorded "B'Day." That disk seemed primed to compete with the music of then boyfriend Jay-Z for hardness, anger and distance. How ironic that only now that Beyoncé has married Jay has she released an album rippling with need and hurt. RELATED STORY: BEYONCE FINALLY OPENS UP ABOUT MARRIAGEThe result has done wonders for both her character, and the breadth of the music. Avoiding the usual R&B clichés, Beyoncé's new songs draw on the wider palette of pop. The song "Disappear" has some of the intimate chord structures of a John Lennon ballad, while "Smash Into You" shows influence from the musicals ­Beyoncé branched into with "Dreamgirls." "That's Why You're Beautiful" even swipes some chords from grunge. The loosening of Beyoncé's melodic structures allows her to circumvent the constricted, and rhythm-driven, shouts of her ­earlier work to access new parts of her range. She snakes up the crescendo of "Satellites" with fresh grace, and embraces ­operatic flourishes in "Ave Maria" with heavenly élan. The album's first single, "If I Were a Boy," presents an Continue Reading