Sunday, April 10, 2016

Cleveland Orchestra and Joffrey Ballet combine for a thrilling evening

Roy Berko

What happens when you bring together the music of composer Béla Bartók, noted for developing new sounds for a new century, The Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Franz Welser-Möst, and The Joffrey Ballet, under the creative vision of Ashley Wheater, and the sounds of two well-trained opera singers?   The result is a creative, spell-binding visual and musical concert of high audience pleasing quality.

Bartók was a “derivative” composer, part of a group of noted artists, whose voices derived from everything around them.  They refashioned the sounds of everyday life into artistic visions.  Included in this group were Debussy, Shakespeare and Eugene O’Neill. 

“Throughout his life, Bartók composed amid a cloud of influences.  He was a sponge for musical idioms, eagerly soaking up the new and the old, the local and the exotic, the simple and the arcane, integrating them with his musical personality and following them to the limits of his imagination.” Bartók always looked for new ways to create.  He painted music in strong and unexpected shading of colors.

The Hungarian would have been pleased to know that his “Miraculous Mandarin,” a pantomime-ballet, and “Bluebeard’s Castle,” a short story opera, had been effectively incorporated into a stimulating evening of ballet and opera. 

The Cleveland Orchestra, is, of course, recognized as being among the world’s handful of “best” orchestras.  This program advances the organization’s “ongoing commitment to offering dramatic stage works not just as great musical experiences, but also as opportunities for dynamic creativity,” and “unshakeable commitment to innovation and a fearless pursuit of success,” a vision which has highlighted the ensemble since its 1918 founding, and stressed in the present tenure of Welser-Möst.

The Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet is a dance company that is noted for its performances of classical ballets and modern dance pieces.  It was founded in 1956 by Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey as a touring company.  It moved into its permanent home, the Joffrey Tower, in 1995.  It has a history of performance with the Cleveland Orchestra, mainly joining together at the Blossom Center.

THE MIRACULOUS MANDARIN, tells the tale of a Young Woman (Victoria Jaiani), who plays the decoy game.  She stands by a window and entices men to come to her so that they can be robbed by three thugs (Raúl Casasola, Paulo Rodrigues, and Joan Sebastián Zamora).  The dance showcases three robbery attempts. 

In the first attempt, an old man (Miguel Angel Blanco) approaches.  The exercise is a failure since he has desire, but no money.  The second attempt also ends in frustration as the shy man (Temur Suluashvili) who is interested, also has no money.  The third attempt finds The Mandarin (Yoshihisa Arai), a man of intense power and sexual appeal, walking away with aloof interest.  He returns and their bodies engage with intensity.  The Thugs steal his money and decide to kill him.  They hang his body up, he is suspended by a rope but does not die, is released by The Young Woman, who embraces him as he expires.

The ballet was performed on the apron of Severance Hall.  Using the 12 feet of space in creative ways, the dance works well.  Yuri Possokhov’s choreography was creative, well performed and told the story well, though the handsome, athletic young Thugs visually were not as menacing looking and as intense as they could be.  Jaiani and Arai make an attractive and sensual team as the Young Lady and the Mandarin.

BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE, with both words and music by Bartók, was the composer’s only opera.   The story concerns a young woman (Katarina Dalayman) who “enters the world of a mysterious older man and gradually learns of his history of imprisoning and/or murdering women.”   His castle is filled with doors, seven of which are locked.  As she demands, and he agrees to open the portals, she finds wealth, jewelry, armaments, a garden, a lake, and finally, his biggest secret, the room of women.  As the psychological archetype is acted and sung out, three of the survivors (Amanda Assucena, April Daly, and Victoria Jaiani) emerge and dance with his newest conquered damsel. 

Staged with a series of sheer drapes representing the doors, which obscured the orchestra during most of the piece, the effects of electronic projections cast upon the drapery were compelling, as was the visual effect of each panel floating down from the very high proscenium arch.

Mikhail Petrenko (Duke Bluebeard) is a Russian bass who, while making his Cleveland Orchestra debut, has sung at many of Europe’s most prestigious opera houses.  Katarina Dalayman (Judith, the young woman), is a Swedish soprano  renowned for her dramatically intense stage performances.   Their soaring voices filled the performance hall with powerful musical sounds.

Capsule judgment: BARTÓK ON STAGE was a special evening of music and dance at Severance Hall.  Combining the eminent Cleveland Orchestra and the well-respected Joffrey Ballet, with a duo of world renowned singers led to a stirring aesthetic experience.  Bravo!
BARTÓK ON STAGE was presented on April 7, 8, 9 and 10, 2016 at Severance Hall s part of the 2015-16 Cleveland Orchestra season.

Upcoming concerts at Severance Hall include:  AT THE MOVIES:  BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (April 26 @ 7:30 p.m.) and STRAVINKSY’S THE FIREBIRD (May 5 @  7:30 p.m., May 6 @ 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., and May 7 @ 8 p.m.)

For tickets and information to future Cleveland Orchestra performances go to or call 26-231-1111.