Lowe Down

Northern Stage is currently leading the pack in Vermont when it comes to streaming the performing arts. Pictured is Gordon Capp in Anton Chekhov’s “On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco,” being presented with Marisa Smith’s “The Naked Librarian” online through Nov. 29.

Despite half a dozen indoor summer concerts and one professional theater production this fall, Vermont’s performing arts seem likely to remain virtual for the foreseeable future. Still, if last weekend is indicative, that means plenty of excellent performances, both live and recorded.

That Thursday, Nov. 12, Northern Stage, the Upper Valley professional theater, presented its third full online production, a double bill of Marisa Smith’s “The Naked Librarian” (world premiere) and Anton Chekhov’s “On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco.” (I reviewed the performance in the Nov. 14 Times Argus/Rutland Herald Weekender.) Like the previous two, it was creatively recorded — not the usual Zoom — and most entertaining.

Northern Stage also was responsible for one of the first in-person professional theater productions in the country since the beginning of the COVID-19. Stephanie Everett performed her one-woman show “It’s Fine, I’m Fine” on the stage of the Barrette Center for the Arts Oct. 7-25, but audiences were small owing to fear of the pandemic. (The show also was recorded and is offered online through Nov. 29.) The company hasn’t announced any future in-person productions but it is presenting a radio version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the holidays (details to be announced).

On Friday, Scrag Mountain Music live-streamed a particularly fine vocal recital by soprano Mary Bonhag and pianist Hiromi Fukuda from the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro. (My review appeared in Tuesday’s paper and is on the website.) Marshfield-based Scrag’s co-artistic directors Bonhag and husband Evan Premo invite professional colleagues from around the country to perform for their community on the “pay what you can” plan. Premo will offer a weekly “Deep Listening” workshop online Dec. 1 to Jan. 19.

Community theater was part of the weekend too, as Vermont Actors’ Repertory Company (ART) presented five 15-minute plays in its November Zoom Festival Saturday, Nov. 14. Performances varied and technology was zip, but there was a lot of fun to be had. Among them, Jeanne Beckwith’s “A Lion in the Streets” was a delightfully peculiar romantic comedy; Marisa Valent’s “Boys I’ve Loved as Types of Weather” took romance a little deeper; and Lesley Becker’s “Trenton Point” was a potent drama, and could become more so with a little work.

Sunday was busy, with two excellent programs. In the afternoon, Lost Nation Theater, Montpelier’s professional company, presented the first-ever reading of “Going Up the Country,” a play with music based on Yvonne Daley’s book reliving Vermont’s “hippie” invasion. At this point, the play by Eric Peterson with music by John Foley was something of a documentary illustrated with dramatic vignettes.

Directed by Kim Bent, four excellent professional actors played all the roles, while Foley performed a few of the traditional folk songs. This romp down memory lane for some of us shows real promise with some work. (A gratuitous postlude that could begin “Now, students, what have we learned today?” would make an excellent cut.) How can it lose when it begins and ends at the Rutland Herald?

After postponing Tchaikovsky’s opera “The Maid of Orleans” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” both scheduled for 2020, Opera Company of Middlebury reduced its aspirations. A lot. To 10 minutes, in fact.

On Sunday, OCM presented “Completing the Picture,” by Michael Ching and Victoria Panella Bourns, in a new 10-minute video adaptation by Artistic Director Douglas Anderson. Performing were OCM regulars: baritone Leroy Davis, tenor James Flora, mezzo Olga Perez Flora, and soprano Emily Michiko Jensen, with conductor Michael Sakir and Montpelier pianist Mary Jane Austin.

“Completing the Picture” remembers the 20,000 Chinese laborers who built the First Transcontinental Railroad (1863-69) and instead of being credited were shunned. And many died. Their story is told in four-part songs with narration by the singers.

Sunday’s performance by the young singers was excellent and Anderson’s multimedia recording of the singers interspersed with slides was imaginative and powerful. It’s now available free on OCM’s YouTube channel. “Completing the Picture” was complemented with a filmed discussion between Anderson and the singers about the difficulties of minorities in opera.

Deserving credit as Vermont’s brave pioneers during this pandemic is Manchester’s Taconic Music, a community music center created by violinist Joana Genova and violist Ariel Rudiakov. In lieu of its annual summer festival, four top-end chamber music concerts (masked and distanced) were performed at Burr and Burton Academy’s Riley Center for the Arts, despite a COVID scare (a false alarm) after the first. (The concerts were streamed simultaneously.)

After Taconic, Randolph’s otherwise-canceled Central Vermont Chamber Music Festival presented the local Cossotto Duo — pianist Annemieke Spoelstra and accordionist Jeremiah McLane — performed a very successful indoor concert at the Chandler Music Hall Aug. 21, which was simultaneously screened. Chandler followed up with several in-person concerts of traditional music, including parts of its annual New World Festival. And Just the Players presented a community theater production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” Oct. 30.

For now it seems the performing arts performances will remain online. Other organizations in Vermont currently presenting virtual performances include: Brattleboro Music Center, St. Johnsbury’s Catamount Center for the Arts, The Flynn in Burlington, Greensboro’s Highland Center for the Arts, the UVM Lane Series in Burlington and Waitsfield’s Valley Players. And there are certainly more.

Tonight at 7:30 p.m., the Vermont Symphony Orchestra will continue its virtual season with “Music for Days Like This.” Prerecorded at the Elly-Long Music Center, music of Brahms, Elgar, African-American composer William Grant Still, Jennifer Higdon , Schubert, and student composers Arianelle Arroyo and Alex Wick will be performed by Brooke Quiggins and Jane Kittredge, violins; Stefanie Taylor, viola; John Dunlop, cello; Luke Baker, bass; and Mary Jane Austin, piano. Composer David Ludwig hosts. If it’s as good as the Oct. 17 Jukebox concert (live), it should prove an exhilarating experience.

Jim Lowe is arts editor of The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and Rutland Herald, and can be reached at jim.lowe@rutlandherald.com and jim.lowe@timesargus.com.

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