This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001


City Lyric Opera reinvents Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera for online viewing and participation

Who: Sara LaFlamme, Sara LeMesh, Michael Parham, Rachelle Pike, Gretchen Pille, Mary Rice, Thomas Walters, Shane Brown, Geddy Warner, Shanelle Valerie Woods, the Curiosity Cabinet
What: Live virtual two-part performances
Where: City Lyric Opera Zoom
When: Thursday - Sunday, October 29 - November 15, viewing $12, live audience with toolkit $24, 8:00
Why: In Die Dreigroschenoper, or The Threepenny Opera, one of composer Kurt Weill’s goals in his collaboration with Bertolt Brecht was to bring opera, primarily an art form enjoyed through the centuries by the wealthy, snobbish elite and royalty, to the common people, making the story and music accessible and the production affordable. During the pandemic, technological online innovation has accomplished just that organically, with such shows as White Snake Projects’ excellent Alice in the Pandemic, which sent the protagonist, an ER nurse, down the rabbit hole in search of her coronavirus-infected mother, journeying through an animated video-game-like dark and empty wonderland, with the singers performing live (October 23-27, free); Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s version of Beethoven’s Egmont, with the masked, socially distanced musicians playing in a New Jersey bandshell, accompanied by narrator Liev Schreiber and soprano Karen Slack (October 17-22, $15); Here Arts Center’s Zoom opera for all decisions will be made by consensus, a short work broadcast live on Facebook and Zoom about a Zoom meeting (April 24-26, free); and On Site Opera’s To My Distant Love, an adaptation of Beethoven’s six-song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte, delivered via email and cell phone (June - August, $40). Meanwhile, the Met, which will be closed through at least next summer, has been streaming more than 150 video and audio recordings of performances dating back to the 1950s (initially free, now $4.99 each or $14.99 monthly).

So it makes sense that City Lyric Opera (CLO), founded in 2016 by Megan Gillis and Kathleen Spencer to “provide a one-of-a-kind experience for audience members by welcoming them to the operatic art form without judgment, expectation, or financial burden,” is taking on The Threepenny Opera itself. “With the Dreigroschenoper we reach a public which either did not know us at all or thought us incapable of captivating listeners,” Weill explained way back when. “Opera was founded as an aristocratic form of art. If the framework of opera is unable to withstand the impact of the age, then this framework must be destroyed.” Weill and German playwright and librettist Brecht adapted John Gay’s 1728 The Beggar’s Opera, translated by Elisabeth Hauptmann, Brecht’s lover at the time, adding several songs based on works by fifteenth-century French poet and thief François Villon. The work, set during the Victorian era, premiered in Berlin in 1928; it was a Broadway failure in 1933, in a translation by Jerrold Krimsky and Gifford Cochran. However, Marc Blitzstein’s 1952-54 English translation became a hit and is the version we know today, and the one that will be used by CLO, which was scheduled to stage a full, in-person production this season. It has now been reimagined for the internet, being livestreamed in two back-to-back parts, Thursday to Sunday from October 29 to November 15. Tickets are $12 to watch and $24 with a live, interactive toolkit that incorporates the audience into the narrative. (Glow sticks, anyone?) The piece was developed at Here Arts Center, where director Attilio Rigotti and scenographer Anna Driftmier worked with the cast socially distanced in separate Covid performance boxes, each with its own design and lighting.

The company features baritone Justin Austin as Macheath, tenor Kameron Ghanavati as Filch/Smith/Ensemble, baritone Philip Kalmanovitch as Mr. Peachum, soprano Sara LaFlamme as Polly Peachum, soprano Sara LeMesh as Lucy Brown, baritone Michael Parham as Jackie “Tiger” Brown, mezzo-soprano Rachelle Pike as Mrs. Peachum, soprano Gretchen Pille as Dolly, mezzo-soprano Mary Rice as Bob/Berry, tenor Thomas Walters as Jake, baritone Shane Brown as Walt, tenor Geddy Warner as Matt, and mezzo-soprano Shanelle Valerie Woods as Jenny. The conductor and music director is Whitney George, leading the Curiosity Cabinet: Jared Newlen (reed I: clarinet, alto sax), Ben Solis (reed II: clarinet, alto sax), Hugh Ash (trumpet I), Clyde Dale (trumpet II), David Whitwell (trombone), Markus Kaitila (piano/celeste/harmonium), Joe Tucker (timpani, percussion), and Justin Rothberg (banjo, guitar). With its bitingly satirical view of capitalism and societal norms, The Threepenny Opera should feel right at home online in 2020, as we are all sheltering in place, in the midst of health and economic crises and a contentious presidential election where decency, humanity, wealth inequality, health care, and the social contract are on the ballot.

dwb (driving while black)

Baruch Performing Arts Center and Opera Omaha will present virtual chamber opera dwb (driving while black) beginning October 23

Who: Roberta Gumbel, Susan Kander, Chip Miller, New Morse Code (Hannah Collins, Michael Compitello), J. T Roane, Erica Richardson, Teona Pagan, Yael Meegan
What: Virtual opera
Where: Baruch College online
When: October 23, 9:00 am - October 29, 10:00 pm, free with RSVP (donations accepted); live discussion Thursday, October 29, free with RSVP, 6:00

“Mobility is essential to freedom,” historian Gretchen Sorin says in Ric Burns’s new PBS documentary, Driving While Black, based on her book Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights. “It allows us to understand the way that African Americans have moved forward in this country and the way that African Americans have been pushed back.” The phrase “driving while black” is a loaded one that white Americans will never fully understand; they don’t have to have “the talk” with their children about what to do when stopped by a police officer. Baruch Performing Arts Center and Opera Omaha have teamed up to explore the issue in the virtual chamber opera dwb (driving while black), streaming for free October 23-29. Previously presented in a 2019 concert version, dwb has been reimagined for the internet, featuring a libretto by soprano Roberta Gumbel and music by Susan Kander; the fifty-minute piece is directed by Chip Miller and is performed by Gumbel and New Morse Code, the duo of cellist Hannah Collins and percussionist Michael Compitello, with videography by Four/Ten Media and audio by Ryan Streber and Oktaven Studios.

“This March was to have been the New York premiere of dwb (driving while black) at Baruch Performing Arts Center,” BPAC director Ted Altschuler said in a statement. “It is a musical provocation to engage with the essential conversation of our day: racial justice. Live performances are paused for the moment, but the need for learning and dialogue is not. Given the brevity of the piece and the uncertainty of live performances, our organizations are collaborating to help create a high-quality version of dwb directed explicitly for streaming presentation. Not everyone has the capacity to create content in this moment, but the conversation this piece provokes is urgent. As an arts center located on one of the most diverse public university campuses in the U.S., we exist to promote inquiry and discourse, something we will encourage via post-performance events.” On closing night, October 29, at 6:00, there will be a live discussion with Gumbel, Arizona State University assistant professor of African and African American Studies J. T Roane, Baruch College assistant professor of English Erica Richardson, and students Teona Pagan, the president of the Black Student Union, and journalism major Yael Meegan.


White Snake Projects
October 23, 25, 27, free with RSVP, 7:30

Alice goes down a very different kind of rabbit hole in Alice in the Pandemic, a virtual opera from Boston-based White Snake Projects. The production seeks to push the envelope of technological innovation during the Covid-19 lockdown as performers — and their 3D avatars — sing from wherever they are sheltering in place. The show features a libretto by creator Cerise Lim Jacobs, with music by Jorge Sosa, direction by Elena Araoz, and art by Anna Campbell; the cast includes Carami Hilaire as Alice, an ER nurse at Fair Hospital; Eve Gigliotti as Mrs. Lee (Alice’s mother, who falls ill) and other characters; and Daniel Moody as the White Rabbit, who Alice meets in the subway. Tickets are free with advance RSVP; there will be live shows October 23, 25, and 27 at 7:30. The sixty-minute digital opera will be told in ten scenes in one act, leading the audience on a wild ride through an alternative wonderland and a health crisis that is all too real.


Liev Schreiber narrates new English translation of Egmont with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (photo by Chris Lee)

Who: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra with Liev Schreiber and Karen Slack
What: Livestreamed world premiere
Where: IDAGIO Global Concert Hall
When: Saturday, October 17, $15, 8:00
Why: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra goes virtual and global with “Speaking Truth to Power,” an online performance of Beethoven’s Egmont, Op. 84, with a new English translation by Philip Boehm commissioned for the New York City ensemble, narrated by actor Liev Schreiber. A series of incidental music pieces written by Beethoven for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1787 play, Egmont, the work has reunited the full orchestra, which has not been together since the pandemic began; they performed it recently as a socially distanced unit at the Beechwood Park bandshell in Hillsdale, New Jersey. “One of Beethoven’s masterworks, this work has yet to find its way into the major concert halls in the US and I believe that this new version will be worthy to celebrate Beethoven’s 250th birthday this year,” Orpheus executive director Alexander Scheirle said in a statement. “Especially in a time where concert halls are closed, it will be a magical moment for our musicians and all the other family members of Orpheus. A spectacle not to be missed.”

Soprano Karen Slack performs with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New Jersey (photo by Chris Lee)

The hourlong piece, which also features soprano and activist Karen Slack, will be available from the online hub IDAGIO Global Concert Hall beginning October 17 at 8:00 and continue through October 22 at midnight. In preparation for the concert, you can watch a “Thursdays with Thomas” chat between Slack and baritone Thomas Hampson here, and on October 15 at 7:00 a Zoom Concert Preview will take place with Orpheus artistic directors Christof Huebner, Dana Kelley, and Miho Saegusa along with Scheirle and Boehm at 6:00 and an opening night gala at 7:00 honoring Consul General of Germany David Gill. The new translation is rather timely, as evidenced by this quatrain: “Many wish their rulers nothing but good will / While others hope the current state won’t last, / Many just abide the present, keeping still, / While in their hearts they’re yearning for the past.”


Marina Abramović in 7 Deaths of Maria Callas in 2019 (photo by Marco Anelli, courtesy of the Marina Abramović Archives)

Who: Marina Abramović, Willem Dafoe, Hera Hyesang Park, Selene Zanetti, Leah Hawkins, Gabriella Reyes, Nadezhda Karyazina, Adela Zaharia, Lauren Fagan
What: Livestreamed opera/performance hybrid
Where: STAATSOPER.TV, BR-Klassik Concert, and ARTE concert
When: Saturday, September 5, free, 12:30 (available through October 7)
Why: In December 2013, Serbian-born, New York-based multidisciplinary performance artist Marina Abramović presented The Life and Death of Marina Abramović at Park Ave. Armory, an audiovisual spectacle directed by Robert Wilson, with Abramović playing herself and her mother and Willem Dafoe as the Narrator. Abramović is now looking at a different kind of fictional finality with 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, an operatic work currently being staged in person to a limited, socially distanced audience at Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. The multimedia piece explores seven doomed characters portrayed by American-born Greek opera legend Maria Callas in La Traviata, Tosca, Otello, Madame Butterfly, Carmen, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Norma, embodied here by Hera Hyesang Park, Selene Zanetti, Leah Hawkins, Gabriella Reyes, Nadezhda Karyazina, Adela Zaharia, and Lauren Fagan, who face consumption, jumping, strangulation, hara-kiri, knifing, madness, and burning; Abramović herself brings to life the demise of Callas. In addition, Dafoe appears in seven films with Abramović.

“For twenty-five years I have wanted to create a work dedicated to the life and art of Maria Callas. I had read all the biographies about her, listened to her extraordinary voice, and watched film recordings of her performances. Like me she was a Sagittarius,” Abramović writes in her autobiography, Durch Mauern gehen. “I was always fascinated by her personality, her life — and her death. Like so many of the characters she portrayed on stage, she died for love. She died of a broken heart.” Abramović designed the sets with Anna Schöttl, wrote the libretto with Petter Skavlan, and directs with Lynsey Peisinger; the music is by Marko Nikodijević and conducted by Yoel Gamzou and features Bayerisches Staatsorchester and Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper. The September 5 show will be streamed live at 12:30 EDT and will be available for free viewing through October 7.


Robert Wilson’s adaptation of John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing will stream August 12 as part of National Sawdust’s Digital Discovery Festival (photo © Lucie Jansch)

Who: Robert Wilson
What: “Innovation”: Volume 14 of National Sawdust's Digital Discovery Festival
Where: Live@NationalSawdust, Facebook Live
When: Wednesday, August 12, free, 6:00
Why: Bold and daring theater and opera impresario Robert Wilson has been creating cutting-edge works since the late 1960s, from The Black Rider, Faust, Woyceck, and The Life and Death of Marina Abramović to Alice, Einstein on the Beach, Hamletmachine, and Letter to a Man. He’s a master of combining stunning visuals with ingenious audio in mind-blowing productions that push the boundaries of what theater can be. So he’s a natural choice to take part in National Sawdust’s fourteenth volume of its Digital Discovery Festival, the theme of which is “Innovation.”

On August 12 at 6:00, the Williamsburg-based club will present Texas native Wilson’s Lecture on Nothing, his adaptation of John Cage’s 1950 text, in honor of the twenty-eighth anniversary of Cage’s passing on August 12, 1992, at the age of seventy-nine. The hourlong piece debuted in August 2012 at the Ruhrtriennale Festival in Germany, with Wilson dressed in all-white clothing and makeup, surrounded by textual excerpts from the work and a cluttered floor. “I am here and there is nothing to say,” Cage’s speech begins. “If among you are those who wish to get somewhere, let them leave at any moment. What we re-quire is silence; but what silence requires is that I go on talking.”

The Digital Discovery Festival has previously featured such themes as “Spirituality,” “Social Change,” “Rebellion,” “Activism,” and “Virtuosity,” with new and archival concerts and master classes with Vijay Gupta, Vijay Iyer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sxip Shirey, Tania León, and others. “Innovation” runs August 10-14 and also includes concerts and/or conversations with Jenny Hval, Trimpin, and Matthew Whitaker. All shows are free and are archived if you miss the livestream.


Who: Rufus Wainwright, Stephen Salters, Krishna Das, Amy Burton, John Musto, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Sharon Salzberg, Dan Harris, Shirley Hunt, Krysty Swann, Joseph Goldstein, R. Carlos Nakai
What: Live virtual benefit concert
Where: Community Meditation Center online
When: Sunday, August 9, $25 - $1,000, 7:00
Why: Since 2007, the Community Meditation Center has been “supporting each individual’s efforts to alleviate suffering, stress, and discord in themselves and in the world. CMC objectives oppose the destructive forces of greed, hatred, and delusion by cultivating generosity, compassion, and wisdom.” On August 9 at 7:00, the Upper West Side institution will be holding its annual gala online, benefiting CMC in addition to the Black Lives Matter Global Network and First Nations Development Institute. The all-star lineup features singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, kirtan chanter Krishna Das, Met Opera stars Anthony Roth Costanzo and Krysty Swann, soprano Amy Burton and pianist John Musto, cellist Shirley Hunt, baritone Stephen Salters, and Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai, with Insight Meditation Society cofounders Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, hosted by Dan Harris. Donations begin at $25 to attend the benefit and go up to $1,000 with copies of several of the participants ’ books and CDs.