Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades at AVA

Queen of Spades (Pique Dame) Opera by  Peter I. Tchaikovsky) Russian Opera Workshop,  Ghenady Meirson, Music Director & Pianist, Academy of Vocal Arts,  Helen Corning Warden Theater, 1925 Spruce St., Philadelphia, Performed July 24, 25, 26, 2012. Review of 7/25 for WRTI, 90.1 fm

The Russian Workshop that summers at Academy of Vocal Arts took on a big challenge this month with Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades. Adding to the challenges of the dificult opera, the heat was stifling in AVA’s shoebox theater. Just as well that the 13 emerging artists from all over the map weren’t in costume. So tight were they stuffed on stage for the  concert performance – with music director Ghenady Meirson  at the keyboard.  Meirson needed a better piano for the ravages of this tale. Queen of Spades, based on Pushkin,  is another love story that doesn’t end well.  Herman, who gambles, also not well, has his heart set on Liza, who’s engaged to someone else. If he can win the secrets of the cards from Lisa’s grandmother, the countess, he thinks he’ll win the girl.  Fate of course throws its hand. But not before lots of girl and guy friends put in their money’s worth. The cast of young singers in the Russian Workshop production at AVA   were nicely matched.  At the performance I heard (July 25). Herman was sung by tenor Steven Williamson of Westminster Choir College, who gave the role an increasingly obsessive ardor. Liza was Nathalie Avila, from Miami, whose power and range is immense. Michael J. Davis was an excellent Tomsky. Maude Paradis took the Countess or the Queen of Spades at this one but all the women’s roles were notable especially the governess of mezzo Raehann Bryce Davis of Manhattan, who sang the title other nights. Look for these young artists everywhere.

Cloudburst at Qfest, Philadelphia

Cloudburst, A film by Thom Fitzgerald, with Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Friker, Ryan Doucette…Philadelphia Qfest (7/13 & 7/15) Ritz East.

It’s a good look, Olympia Dukakis and that beat up hat. She’s  steadfast Stella, bad- mouth bull to Brenda Fricker as Dot, her plump, blind dove in Cloudburst, seen at the Philadelphia Qfest, whose features, shorts and documentaries  are worth looking into whether you’re GBLT or straight. Cloudburst won awards in mainstream festivals here and in Canada, where writer and director Thom  Fitzgerald shot it.  If you want to know what love looks like you can do worse than check out Stella and Dot, so perfect in their squabbling imperfections of three decades. Escaping Maine and a conniving granddaughter to make their union legal, the couple pick up young stud Prentiss (Ryan Doucette),  on this maverick  road movie. Fitzgerald’s film  began as a play.  Cloudburst  packed the Ritz East where the  Qfest features are shown.  Shouldn’t be missed when this hilarious and poignant feature returns. You’ll savor the ironies and the well-lit  scenes of Bangor, and Nova Scotia’s Economies, Upper & Lower. This is the hardscrabble Good Life at its end. This is  Fitzgerald on  the benes of being legally attached, Dukakis, at 80,  has whatever it takes. Did I mention the soundtrack’s K.D. Lang: Sweet.

Also check out:    Vito, the HBO documentary of activist Vito Russo (July 17) , Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years (July 18).  Sassy Pants, with Joel Haley Osment.  (July 20 & 22). Black Blues & Other Hues about blues sisters from the 1920s… (July 20) Qfest runs through July 23: Ritz at the East and Ritz at the Bourse.