Sharing the Spotlight

Dayton’s Performing organizations’ “American Mosaic” weekend

By Pat Suarez

Photo: The Dayton Ballet will perform dances set to Aaron Copland’s “The Red Pony” and The Tender Land; photo: Scott J. Kimmins

A century ago, corporations made donations to the performing arts automatically. Companies and the people who ran them understood and acknowledged the importance of the arts to a city. Corporate leaders attended orchestral, operatic and ballet performances religiously. Many of them played piano or violin. They held impromptu concerts in rooms designed for such occasions. They made sure their children learned musical instruments, and they instilled the love and importance of the arts in them. Most of that is gone now, and the arts in nearly every city of the most prosperous country on the planet are barely hanging on.

Arts organizations need angels, people with an intrinsic passion for music and a drive to make music successful in the cities they call home. Dayton is fortunate to have its angels, and the touchstone was Miriam Rosenthal, newspaper columnist on a broad range of topics, public relations consultant, publicity director and fundraiser.

During the first half of the last century, Rosenthal made it her business to ensure that a variety of organizations, especially Dayton’s cultural organizations, thrived. For more than three decades, she had a significant role in the public relations and business affairs of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. She also brought world-class guest soloists to Memorial Hall, the DPO’s former home, and even staged opera performances during World War II. When Rosenthal died in 1965, the Dayton community established the Miriam Rosenthal Memorial Trust Fund, now called the Miriam Rosenthal Foundation for the Arts, in her honor.

The opening concert series of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s 82nd season is a celebration of Miriam Rosenthal and the 50th anniversary of the foundation that bears her name. The event, American Mosaic, is slated for Sept. 19 and 20 at the Schuster Center and will feature no fewer than seven local performing organizations (how many cities the size of Dayton have that many performing arts companies?). These include the Dayton Philharmonic, Dayton Opera, Dayton Ballet, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC), The Bach Society of Dayton, The Human Race Theatre Company and the Muse Machine.

Tom Bankston, artistic director of the Dayton Opera, echoes the feelings of everyone involved when he says, “Being the producing director of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance’s Season Opening Spectacular for the past two seasons has really been a privilege for me. It has also been a terrific way to open our season and to collaborate with my artistic colleagues Neal Gittleman and Karen Russo Burke. This year’s season opener, though, takes on an expanded level of excitement and collaboration across our whole arts community. It is a grand celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Miriam Rosenthal Foundation for the Arts. This foundation has had a profound effect on arts and culture in Dayton for its 50-year history. Because of the generosity and abundance of its support for these seven performing arts organizations, we will come together in this unique and diverse salute and mosaic of all-American music, theatre and dance.”

Kevin Moore, president and artistic director of the Human Race Theatre Company, adds, “The Miriam Rosenthal Foundation for the Arts has been the catalyst for creativity in the arts community for many years. Through their support, many have been able to take large artistic leaps knowing that the Rosenthal Foundation was providing the net. Their support has challenged us to think outside the box. In 2008, they supported our development of new musicals with a two-year grant that allowed us to expand our capabilities to work with writers. Since that grant, we have developed 15 new musicals, including the Off-Broadway musicals Play It Cool and A Christmas Memory and our own premiere productions of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, right next to me, and Play It By Heart. It also was the launching pad for our $1.5 million dollar Fund for the Development of New Works, which now includes plays as well as musicals.”

“When the artistic leaders of the seven organizations were invited to be part of this 50th anniversary, one theme seemed to rise to the top—American. American music, American dance, American theatre,” Moore continues. “Thus, the title, American Mosaic. The Human Race is thrilled to present the American theatre portion of the event. I have concentrated on what I term ‘American classics’ theatre that has stood the test of time. Two of those happen to be part of our season—the comedy ‘Steel Magnolias’ and the drama ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ We will present moments—or mosaic pieces—from both of these plays. We will showcase two local actors in ‘Steel’—Annie Kalahurka and Caitlin Larsen, and for ‘Glass’ we have brought back Micah Stock, a native Daytonian and Human Race alum who was recently nominated for a Tony Award. Our final moment will be musical—“The Impossible Dream” from the musical Man of La Mancha—performed by Human Race Artistic Director Kevin Moore (who performed the role at The Loft Theatre in 2009). Human Race resident artist Alan Bomar Jones will lead the concert finale as the narrator of ‘The Story of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ It promises to be a very special concert.”

This concert pair is a gala in every sense of the word, a performance set usually reserved for New Year’s Eve. It features works from nearly a dozen and a half composers and authors, performed by one of the largest collection of artists since the DPO’s Bernstein Mass. There will be singing, dancing and recitation. The mood will range from wistful to celebratory.

The first half will open with the DPO in a work titled “Celebration” by local musician Steve Winteregg. First performed by the DPO in 2012, Winteregg penned “Celebration” to mark the five-year anniversary of his wife being free of cancer.

Selections by Douglas Moore, Carlisle Floyd and Aaron Copland from the world of opera and film follow.

The Dayton Opera will perform “Revival Scene” from Carlisle Floyd’s 1955 opera Susannah, a thinly veiled statement about the destruction Senator Joseph McCarthy unleashed on the U.S. in the early 1950s. The story concerns an unassuming and beautiful young woman who is the target of jealousy by the women who live in her tiny Tennessee hamlet. In “Revival Scene,” the hypocritical Reverend Blitch (sung in this performance by bass-baritone Nathan Stark) tries to force Susannah (soprano Deborah Selig) to repent for something she did not do. This is an opera decades ahead of its time, addressing rape and unethical preachers.

American legend Aaron Copland follows “Revival Scene” with dances from a motion picture (“The Red Pony”) and an opera (The Tender Land) that Copland scored. Copland’s imprint is everywhere in music that we associate with the West—meaning cowboys and open ranges and big skies. Listen to almost any soundtrack from movies about the West (or even some cigarette commercials from 1950s and ’60s television) from the last century and Aaron Copland is there.

Before the Floyd and Copland performances, American composer Douglas Moore takes center stage with two arias from his 1956 opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe.

The opera tells the true story of Horace Tabor, a 19th-century silver speculator who gained enormous wealth, bet that silver would become the precious metal standard and lost everything when gold became the standard. In a stale marriage to wife Augusta, Tabor sees young, beautiful divorcée Elizabeth Doe at a piano through an open window. Doe is singing the plaintive “Willow Song”—“Willow, where we met together…Willow, when our love was new…Willow, if he once should be returning pray tell him I am weeping too. Gone are the days of pleasure….gone are the friends I had of yore …only the recollection fatal of a word that was spoken: Nevermore…” Tabor is smitten and sings. “Warm as the Autumn Light,” a wistful exploration of memories and loss—“Warm as the autumn light, soft as a pool at night, the sound of your singing, Baby Doe. And while I was list’ning, I was recalling things that once I had wanted so much And forgotten as years slipped away.”

The two connect. Horace divorces Augusta and marries Elizabeth. Deborah Selig and Nathan Stark will sing “Willow” and “Warm as the Autumn Light,” respectively.

Tabor died penniless in 1899 and Baby Doe lived another 36 years, herself poor, in a small house near Tabor’s abandoned silver mine. Elizabeth’s body was found at the entrance to the mine, frozen. The closing scene of “The Ballad of Baby Doe” is Elizabeth, huddled in a tattered blanket, at the silver mine, snow falling around her, singing “Always Through the Changing,” a devastating four minutes and thirty seconds.

(Visit YouTube and listen to Beverly Sills, Douglas Moore’s favorite stage-Baby Doe, sing the ballad “I shall walk beside my love.” In the late 1970’s, Beverly Sills came to perform with the DPO under the baton of the late Charles Wendelken-Wilson. The two had worked with each other at the New York City Opera and were close friends. I asked Charles if Sills would include “Always Through the Changing.” Charles stared at me for a few seconds and replied, “We’d never get through it.”)

Moore’s music in “Baby Doe” is stellar. This concert will give the listener a glimpse into what is perhaps America’s greatest opera.

Post intermission, the concert continues with a cornucopia of artistic styles.

First up are excerpts from the plays “Steel Magnolias” (which inspired a major motion picture, TV series and made-for-TV movie) and “The Glass Menagerie,” followed by “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha, performed by members of the Human Race Theatre company.

The Bach Society of Dayton follows with Randall Thompson‘s “The God Who Gave us Life” and “I Shall Not Die Without Hope” from Testament of Freedom.

The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company then offers Duke Ellington’s “The King of the Magi” and “Martin Luther King” from Three Black Kings.

The Muse Machine then presents the music of Paul Simon, from two late Simon and Garfunkel albums, Bookends and Bridge Over Troubled Waters. At the time of this writing, the Muse Machine is scheduled to perform “America,” an anthem about how bereft of direction and trust America’s youth was during the height of the Vietnam War. The title track from Bridge Over Troubled Waters follows, a song that, with “The Boxer,” was Simon and Garfunkel’s career Ph.D. The duo broke up thereafter; they didn’t have much more to say, musically, and closed an act that had helped usher in The Sixties.

The show closes with Floyd Werle’s “The Story of the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic,’” with Alan Bomar Jones narrating and all forces present.

Somewhere, Miriam Rosenthal will be looking down, smiling and proud.

American Mosaic will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. 2nd St. in Dayton. For tickets and more information, please visit daytonperformingarts.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Pat Suarez at PatSuarez@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Pat Suarez has been involved with a wide variety of music for nearly five decades. He has hosted music programming on FM radio and produced and hosted the radio broadcasts of two symphony orchestras. His articles about music have been published extensively in print and online. Reach him at PatSuarez@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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