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The Cincinnati Enquirer from Cincinnati, Ohio • Page 107

Cincinnati, Ohio
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section Bill Hardy's arms may be too short to box with God, but there's nothing short about his voice. In tact, it rattles the rafters almost everywhere he goes. Page F-3. Sunday, May 13, 1979 THE GNCINNATI ENQUIRER 1 May Songs In The Key Of Hope And tea- is. I Jig BY NANCY MALITZ Enquirer Music Critic It hardly matters what you are talking to conductor James Conlon about.

If the subject is Italian music, you'll soon learn that he's an Italo-phile. If it is French orchestras, he'll confide that he's a Francophile. If it's Verdi, he's a Verdiano. If it's Mahler, he's crazy about the guy. If it's Requiems, he's been fascinated by them all his life.

And from the intensity of Con-Ion's enthusiasm for the topic of his choice, you can't help but believe him. Conlon Is young, American, and astonishingly experienced for a maestro of 29. HE CONDUCTED "La Traviata" and "Tosca" at the Metropolitan Opera this season. He just came back from a month In London, where he conducted an all-Dvorak concert with the Philharmonic, an all-Brahms program with pianist Rudolf Serkin, and the highly acclaimed Visconti production of Verdi's "Don Carlo" at Cov-ent Garden, with Boris Christoff in the title role. But the biggest news of Conlon 's current season is the Cincinnati May Festival, which, as Conlon 's first music directorship, is a significant stepping stone in his career.

He arrived Saturday to assume his duties as 12th music director of the 106-year-old choral festival, the oldest continuing festival of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Conlon succeeds James Levine, the Cincinnati native who resigned to devote more time to his music directorship of the Metropolitan Opera. The season opens Friday in Music Hall with Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem" and continues Saturday with Johannes Brahms' "A German Requiem." "YOU'LL BE hearing a lot of Requiems while I'm with the May Festival," admitted Conlon. Not because Conlon has morbid taste. But because there is something about the contemplation of death in general, and the ancient Latin Requiem text in particular, which inspires monumental compositions from great composers, and great compositions from good composers.

If your concept of a Requiem is something like a choral version of "Night on Bald Mountain," your concept is wrong. There are strong descript ive elements in some Requiems, but the real thrust of these works is spiritual. There is an attempt by every composer of the Requiem to come to grips with the concepts of life and death. Depending upon the viewpoint of the composer, the music can be resigned, it can uplift, it can heal, or comfort, or warn or it can continue to question. -'K iA, iir "A1 'Parsifal' and Beethoven's 'Missa You won't see me uomg those in the next lew yenrs, either." That is not to say Conlon's plans for the next few years are less than impressive.

His repertory is expanding rapidly. Almost every work he conducts at the May Festival will mark a first pert inuanre for him. And iie does have a plan to work himself through the major orchestral literature, now he is concentrating on mid 'Up Mahler; he has several performances of the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies lined up for himself in the next few months, including guest spots with major orchestras such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Berlin. "As for the next few years," said Conlon, "what I actually do conduct going to be the end result of a lot of dreams and hopes tempered by opportunity and practicality. There are works that I'm boiling to conduct, including some that we'll do at the May estival.

Others are not practical to think about. Wagner's Ring, for example. I'd love to conduct The Ring Cycle. But do you know of a company that would ask someone my ae to conduct The Ring? It's just not possible. It will have to wait." If Yon Can't 5ay Something Nice.

Great, leaping cataclysms, Crisis is upon us. The theater's very future is in jeopardy. Aid is solicited from all. Never mind spiraling ticket prices, soaring costs, shattering risks, dwindling production schedules, runaway inflation, the clamor for theatrical funding and all that. This problem is reaVyserious.

Suddenly, there's no special, "Inside" way to ish a performer a "good show." Playwright Ira Levin did more than just bomb out on Broadway with his new play which closed two Sundays ago after a single performance. He seriously depleted our backstage vocabulary. THE PLAY'S damp, depressing failure so tarnished a fine old theatrical tradition that no superstitious actor and they all are will ever again want to be wished "Break a leg." Holy horrors, Sandy! That's the new kiss of death! "Break A Leg" is what Levin called his silly exercise. All it broke was a record for tedium. Somewhere in time's shadowed hallway it was decreed that the worst kind of theatrical bad luck was to be wished "Good Luck" in so many words.

(Don't laugh: That makes no less sense than never putting a hat on a bed or never whistling In a dressing room or a paralyzing dread of wearing yellow on an opening night.) With the actor's typical gallows humor, "Break a leg" came to stand for "Good Luck." Wishing someone the worst came to mean the best without actually saying it. Well, no more. So. quick, kids let's appoint a committee, make a study, take suggestions and get up a new theatrical euphemism for "Good Luck." MY ACTRESS friend Diane Danzi says she usually wishes people, "Have a good show." That's like her. Direct and meaningful.

But, it's unlike her in that, to me, it's a little short on poetic irony. "nave a nerniar isow, mai has a certain ring to it. But Statistics suggest in the real world more men have hernias than women and we certainly don't want to be sexist about all this. Another nutsy friend, a New York publicist type, Charlotte Maynard, had an instant suggestion: "Sprain an eyelash," she intoned. Nice.

Two layers of Irony there. But, too often onstage eyelashes are as real as onstage murders. And, there shouldn't, I think, be a false note about this new greeting. "Fracture a femur" Is certainly poetic enough all that alliteration and all, but it tempts fate. Whoever keeps kismet in these matters just might notice that it means the same thing as the now cursed old phrase.

And that would be bad luck. There's always the late Alex King's delightful phrase, "May Your House Be Safe From Tigers." Wonder why I feel that has more meaning on an opening night than later in the run? Perhaps it's the particular line of work I'm in. JACK GOING, who's staging "Wan of La Mane ha" at the Cincinnati Playhouse, is as practical an intellect as he is poetic a director. He had the very idea. "Why not," he said, "just say 'Good Why not? The defiance of ill fortune was the point of saying "Break a leg" in the first place; the worst luck stood in for the best luck in the greeting.

If it's bad luck to say "Good luck," then how much better luck it must be to tempt ever further? How practical. How simple it is when you apply to an expert for an opinion. So Thank you, Jack, and "Good tiRtMK -It Ring, but definitely ready for the May human expression of this was in the Dies Irae of Verdi's Requiem. But there are also subtle hints of those feelings in the Te Deum and the Stabat Mater that you will hear us perform. "The Stabat Mater is a poem obout suffering, the suffering of Christ's mother at the cross, so you might expect some of those emotions there.

"It is in the Te Deum that Verdi Ktves himself away. The Te Deum is supposed to be a hymn of praise. But in that hymn, at the end, when the text is saying 'In you (God) I have hoped' there is a strange omi-nousness in the music. "The music comes growling out of the depths, and the final chords are very unsettling. "It leaves you with questions, not answers.

"I think that Verdi was basically an agnostic. And he was relating to very human emotions when he set these prayers. Because the viewpoint is so human, this music has the same drama his opera does." Conlon Iuls studied many Verdi operas, including some of the eurlier works, and he is fascinated by the way Verdi matured throughout the 50 years of his creative life. WE WERE doing a cutting from "The Deputy," that grim recounting of the Holocaust. I'd practically forced a young man into the pivotal and ghastly role of the SS doctor.

He'd never done anything on stage; almost nothing, indeed, of a legitimate and acceptable nature in school at all. In the middle of one cf the most horrendous of the De-ktor's psychot 1-, it i' J. A x. 1 CONLON AT work: Too young for the BRITTEN WARNS. Brahms comforts.

Giuseppi Verdi continued to question, according to Conlon. Verdi's own Requiem is a masterpiece of its kind, but Conlon is not conducting it this year. Instead, he is closing the season with Verdi's Four bacred Pieces, Saturday, May 2o. The choral works are settings of four Latin sacrnd poems, the Stabat Mater, the Te Deum, the Ave Maria and the alia Virgine Maria from Dante's "There are relationships between these Pieces and the Requiem," insisted Conlon. 'The religious viewpoint is very similar.

"When I say 'religious viewpoint' I mean that in the broadest sense. The remarkable thing about Verdi's music is its ability to express doubt. Verdi isn't like Mozart or Bach, who txpress confidence in the afterlife. "Verdi is not that confident. "On the contrary, he seems to express the most primitive human emotions of fear, bewilderment, doubt, anxiety.

"THE MOST dramatic and to professional success; more who, no matter their vocation, will always want to keep the theater an integral part of their lives. SADLY, WE don't get to see much of each other's work. Why? The fall play, in normal situations, must sandwich neatly between football and basketball seasons, and other scheduling, including the mammoth and almost de ngueur spring musicals, seem to juxtapose neatly into the same weekends. The days of the hermaphroditic gym-auditorium combos are behind us, thank God, but in their place comes the proliferation of spring and women's sports. Scheduling isn't easy since most active kids in theater are active in everything else.

My Colonel Hugh Pickering in the Anderson-Turpin production of "My Fair Lady" had to keep a nervous eye on the clock to balance his track star and stage responsibilites. We all have horror stories to tell. The years mellow some of them, but who amongst our embattled fraternity has not watched with agonized resignation as the circuit breaker goes or the traveler runs off the track or the ncse putty turns to jelly under the lights or the door just won't open or (egad, I can't continue; my hypertension is reactivating just reminiscing.) But for every gruesome memory there are a dozen ever-green. I can truthfully conjure dozens: a hair-raising knife duel in "West Side Story;" a stage crew that gave us the Broadway set of "Oliver," revolve and all, on a scale of 9 to 10; a recognition scene from "Anastasia" that had dozens in tears; a young actor playing O. Gant in "Look Homeward, Angel" who stared down and cowed an unruly audience and put them into his hip-pocket; a raffish company of "Stalag 17" that included journalists Jerry Stein (yes, that Jerry Stein) and Keith Pape; but maybe summing up all the "why bothers" and "nobody cares, anyways" is a memory I'll always I 4 4 No Business Like (High School) Show Business Festival.

"IT'S ONE, consistent line," said Conlon. "It's like looking at the photo of the same man when he is young and when he is old. There are some changes, but it is the same face in those early operas as it is in the Four Sacred Pieces." Verdi's Pieces, his last works, will be paired with Gustav Mahler's first major work, "Das Klagende Lied'1 Song of Lamentation "These are two great geniuses," said Conlon. "One at the end and one at the beginning of his career. The compositions themselves are separated by only 10 years and a few hundred miles.

But the composers were writing in two completely different worlds." The final work on the series is the Bach Minor Mass. Conlon won't conduct that one. John Nelson, music director of the Indianapolis Symphony, will do it as a guest spot. "1 don't think I should be doing that piece at this time in my life," said Conlon. "I love Bach; I have enormous respect and awe for him.

But I don't feel ready to conduct this particular piece; I want to wait until I have something to contribute in public. I feel the same way about a few other works, such as Wagner's ic monologues, the young man threw down his script and looked at me with tears in his eyes. "Mr. Grooms, I'm sorry. I just can't say these terrible things." Eventually, he did say them; well enough to be named best actor in the state competition.

So perhaps that's why we persevere. Maybe that kind of breakthrough makes all the TV BY ROGER GROOMS Enquirer Contributor I'm not sure why, but We keep on doing it. The hours and the pay somehow don't quite jibe; sometimes the performers just don't quite make it; frequently you must be your own tech director-publicity chairman-set designer-usher-policeman. But somehow the benighted and bewildered directors of high school drama slog on ahead, attacking the muse with one hand and feverishly trying to balance the budget with the other. I've served 22 years in the trenches now all at Anderson High School directed more than shows and still I'm not sure why I keep at it.

Directing community theater brings you into contact with some splendid talents both backstage and onstage yet there's something about a group of adolescents doing Miller or Inge or Lerner and Loewe that compels your grudging admiration. Yes, I said Miller and Inge. And occasionally Shaw and Shakespeare, too. IF YOU think today's youngsters are enthralled with doing "Mr. Beane From Lima" or "Granny Goes to Punkin Crick," you'd best disabuse yourself of the notion.

No, it's a rare high school these days that even follows the old class pi approach. There's plenty of vintage Kaufman and Hart (and I've directed as many "Arsenic and Old Laces" as the next fool), but the 40 or so high schools in the Greater Cincinnati area are at considerable pains to expose their students and audiences to some fairly high-voltage material. Nor, need they be ashamed of the result. While I did a "Harvey" some years ago that must have been the nadir of the lovable rabbit's existence, I also remember a "Crucible" I'd have been delighted for Miller to see and a "Scapino" that still amazes me. We all have our fond memories: students who've gone on Enquirer art bv staff artist LASLO VESPREMI index Entertainment Editor JIM KMPPEN6ERG 721-2700 ext.

2lb ART F-8 bUUKS F-9 CALENDAR F-10 FILMS F-7 MUSIC F-2, 4 THEATER F-3 TV-RAUiO F-6 generation mum biers in audiences, the back-breaking rehearsals and the sometimes meager crowds all worth the hassle. So. David McChmg and Denny Thomas and Bert MrCcllum and John Marshall and Dick Sininger and Fran Haas and all my other friends in this exasperating businesslet's keep at it. We apparently can't avoid our fate. Kismet, you know..

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