They ran out of food early in the pre-concert reception. They ran out of programs in the theater. But once the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Opening Night Gala concert started, there was no shortage of powerful music.
Indianapolis's own Angela Brown headlined the sold-out event Sept. 9. After she played the lead in Verdi's "Aida" at the Metropolitan Opera to rave reviews you wouldn't think she'd have trouble with "Ritorna vincitor," and she didn't. Brown proved herself adept at not only singing the program's arias but acting the music as well. You didn't need to know a word of Italian to understand what was going through her character's head and heart.
In hindsight, though, the content of the libretto-including the slave Aida's cries of "Let me die"-did echo later in the evening. After a standing ovation (justifiably granted her for "lo son l'umile ancella," from the lesser-known "Adriana Lecouvreur"), Brown conferred briefly with maestro Mario Venzago, broke the unwritten "no talking" rule of classical performances, and sincerely thanked her hometown crowd. Then, in the highlight of a highlightfilled evening, she offered an intensely moving a capella performance of the spiritual "Lord How Come Me Here?"
Both raw and pristine, this song of an American slave's pain, confusion and faith (despite her unthinkable hardship, the singer is still talking to her god) connected across language barriers to the "Aida" aria.
And, in another way, it linked to the Symphony's opening and closing pieces-"The Star-Spangled Banner" and Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."
Intentional or not, these two patriotic, full-bodied works (made fuller by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir) contrasted strongly with the beauty of Brown's single, unaccompanied voice. The majesty of those military-inspired pieces was rousing-but Brown reminded us of the pain of the individual when such global forces are in play. The fortitude of individuals, the overall concert seemed to be saying, is as much a part of the survival and strength of a country as military might.
Brown's performance-and those connections-made this not just a concert of great music, but also a statement about why we have music. A stunning performer and a stunning evening.
I'll treat this as a separate item, although it's about the same event. Often, with symphony concerts, there's a question of where an audience member should look. With a stoic conductor and a bland orchestra, I've often thought that bringing a book along wouldn't be out of line.
The ISO, though, now has some interesting visuals going on. Not only does Mario Venzago make for an animated conductor (at times, it feels as if Martin Short is doing an impression of Jerry Lewis. And I mean that in a good way), but now there's also concertmaster Zachary De Pue, who looks so young he might be asking his Auntie Mame when he can wear his first pair of long pants. De Pue plays the violin with passion, clearly enjoying his work. At one point during the concert, he nearly became airborne.
This is in wonderful counterpoint to the mug of Arkady Orlovsky, the stern principal cellist and ISO vet across the aisle. His is a different approach to musical excellence and the contrast between the two would be a treasure trove of material for a sitcom writer.
In other words, there's character on the front line of the ISO. Given a choice, I'll take music quality over character but it looks-and sounds-like that's not a choice we have to make. It's great to have a hometown orchestra with both. Here's to a season of great music, engagingly played.
In case you didn't notice, the NFL plunked a concert event down in the middle of Monument Circle on Sept. 6. The headliner was country superstar Faith Hill-and her naviga- tion of the sloped stage in high heels was a performance worthy of Cirque du Soleil. But the act that seemed to generate the most audience connection was Kelly Clarkson.
There's something fascinating about the "American Idol" winner, a combination of awkwardness and pop vocal power that sends the message that the American public knew what it was doing when it voted her in (can you imagine anyone waiting hours to see runner-up Justin Guarini?).
A few years after being anointed as the first U.S. Idol, Clarkson still comes across as the server from your local Dairy Queen-the one that the guys casually flirt with but nobody asks out-who happens to have a strong, soulful set of pipes. In a concert that was really just an opening act for the big game, there was a charm to her unflattering, heart-decorated blouse, her inability to modulate her calls to the audience to "Sing it!" and her lack of betweensong patter.
Of course, that charm wouldn't justify her presence on stage in front of what seemed to be half of Indianapolis if she didn't effectively deliver her hits. She did, and the fact that the lyrically intense downer anthem "Because of You" didn't match the football video behind her or the overall celebratory nature of the crowd, didn't matter. It was a free concert. Clarkson delivered. So did the Colts. Who could ask for more?
"Altar Boyz," the hit off-Broadway musical having its Midwest premiere here, has more in common with such lovable populist shows as "Smoke on the Mountain," "Nunsense" and "Forever Plaid" than it does with most of the Phoenix Theatre's edgy, cynical fare.
While the audience I saw it with seemed prepped for sacrilege, nothing in this story of the last night of a Jesus-loving boy band's tour is likely to offend even your parish priest. And, surprise, even jaded theatergoers are likely to leave feeling kindly toward the five faithful (okay, so one's Jewish and one's closeted) members of a Christian pop boy band.
As to boy-band fans, well, they might be a little offended since the quintet compiled here (Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham) doesn't quite rise to the harmonic levels of even O-Town or 98 Degrees.
At the Wednesday preview, sound challenges didn't help (you should be able to hear more of the sly lyrics once some miking glitches get worked out) and the choreography was often a step too busy, but the five spiritual brothers emerged as characters to care about-particularly Luke, the surfcoiffed guy with a history of "exhaustion."
It helps that catchy songs-including such lyrics as "Girl, you make me want to wait" and "Who needs a G.E.D when you've got a B.I.B.L.E"-never stray too far from what a Christian boy band might actually have on its set list.