This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on July 22, 2022. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
OPERATIC COMEBACK AND COME-UPPANCE
Another reassuring sign of the slow, if wobbly, march back to normalcy arrived at The Granada Theatre last weekend, courtesy of Tchaikovsky and the high-bar-standard-tending Music Academy. For the first time in three years, the Academy mounted its coveted midsummer weekend’s opera production, this year focused on an inventive and moving take on Eugene Onegin, based on the Pushkin novel.
Stage director Peter Kazaras’s clever but understated scheme involved gently weaving in fourth-wall elements of a rehearsal setting, with performers moving props, and the 19th-century period aura taking over almost seamlessly, thanks partly to Molly Irelan’s elaborate costume designs and vintage verve from the sometimes dancing ensembles.
In the lead roles, Samuel Kidd’s Onegin — the cad slouching toward comeuppance — Johanna Will’s Tatiana, Luke Norvell’s hapless Lensky, and Joanne Evans’s Olga were stellar. Among the highlights were Tatiana’s “letter” aria, Lensky’s pre-duel “where have you gone, golden days of my youth?”, and two sensory-gorging dance scenes, the frothy surface of which contrasts with brewing storms of “torment” (a recurring word/theme in Onegin’s life).
The opera world celebrity of recent vintage here was conductor Daniela Candillari. Since she was last at the Music Academy, Candillari conducted two high-profile Met productions last season, Fire Shut Up in My Bones and Eurydice. Here, she ushered the ever-ready Academy Orchestra to bold, flexible, and sensitive ends.
In all, MA’s solid production afforded us the chance to sink into the unique escape route and interior world that is grand opera, when done right. This was more than right.
WOODY LORE IN THE KITCHEN
One of my favorite current local radio shows (on my favorite local radio outlet, KCSB) is “Candy Mountain Mixtape,” operated by a charming couple going by the handles “Rambler” and “Hattie Belle.” On late Friday afternoons, the pair navigates through surprising, rustic byways of retro and lo-fi folk, mildly psychedelic side trips, and tasty oddities you’ll hear nowhere else on the radio dial. Between songs, banter can take oblique “rambling” turns and sometimes vaguely romantic overtones, which may or may not be in character. The vibe is infectious and deliciously left-of-center.
For us new fans of their radio personae, a strange delight awaited in seeing the couple — he on guitar and loamy vocal and she on accordion and harmony — live and in musical person, at the Piano Kitchen on Friday. On this special evening dedicated to Woody Guthrie on his 110th birthday, they asked the learned and eloquent UCSB professor emeritus Dick Flacks to speak about Woody, as he often does on his decades-old KCSB show The Culture of Protest.
The entire show proved inspiring on various levels, right through to the climactic song “All You Fascists Bound to Lose,” which Flacks had earlier mentioned as “one slogan Woody gave to us.” One disarming highlight came when acoustic bassists Jim Connolly (founder and keeper of the Kitchen) and noted improv-master Hal Onserud issued free jazz dialogue while Connolly sang “This Land Is Your Land” in a key unrelated to the atonal instrumental zoning. Somehow, the tension in the approach brought out the darker aspects of a song too often considered a cheery anthem. There’s angst in them there verses. As Flack said afterward, “Woody would have appreciated the performance.” As did we.
SOUL-POP STEW MAKER
At the end of her Lobero Theatre concert last week, British pop-soul artist Corrine Bailey Rae went for the delayed gratification plan, wrapping herself around the signature hit “Put Your Records On” in extended form. By then, she had duly won over the crowd with her cooler-shade-of-hot and jazz-colored personal recipe of pop-soul, backed by a drummer, guitarist, and keyboardist (no bass, unfortunately). Rae may not have scored huge “hits” over her 20-ish years in public, but she has amassed a following, songbook, and vibe all her own, delivered with her special sauce of subtle charisma at the Lobero.
At MA: Friday, July 22’s “picnic concert” features composer Nico Muhly; on Monday, July 25, famed soprano (and MA alum) Susanna Phillips, with voice department head John Churchill on piano; at the Lobero, it’s chamber music Tuesday July 26 (not to be confused with Taco Tuesday); on Wednesday, July 27 more chamber doings.
Sunday at the Santa Barbara Bowl, the Black Crowes return, doing up their breakout 1990 album Meet Your Moneymaker. Read my preview here.