Season Opens with Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove’s Musical The Frogs, Inspired by Aristophanes’ Play as Rewritten by Nathan Lane
New York City Premiere of To My Arms / Restore, a Co-Presentation with Doug Varone and Dancers Performed to Composer Nico Bentley’s Handel Remixed
Revisited Concert Version of Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s Opera The Grapes of Wrath Based on John Steinbeck’s Novel
New York, NY, May 11, 2023 — Ted Sperling, Artistic Director of MasterVoices, announced details of the celebrated chorus’ 82nd season, celebrating the power of the human voice to unite, inspire and connect since 1941. The 2023-24 season, which is Ted Sperling’s tenth as MasterVoices Artistic Director, opens on November 4 and features rare revivals of Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove’s satiric musical The Frogs, last heard in New York City in 2004; and Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s “great American opera” (Musical America) The Grapes of Wrath, last performed in New York City by MasterVoices in 2010; and the New York City Premiere of Doug Varone’s To My Arms / Restore, a co-presentation performed to music by Handel including a remix by composer Nico Bentley.
The Frogs at Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center
On November 4, 2023 at 2pm and 7:30pm at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Ted Sperling leads the 120–member MasterVoices chorus and guest soloists in two performances of a concert staging of Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove’s The Frogs, inspired by the ancient Aristophanes play of the same name, and as rewritten by Nathan Lane for its 2004 staging at Lincoln Center Theater. This boisterously hilarious yet poignant musical follows Dionysos, Greek god of wine and drama, and his servant Xanthias as they journey to Hades to identify and bring back “the best playwright,” to help inspire and save mankind.
To My Arms / Restore at NYU Skirball Center
MasterVoices reunites with its frequent artistic collaborator, choreographer Doug Varone, and his company, Doug Varone and Dancers, for the New York City Premiere of Varone’s To My Arms / Restore, on March 22-23 at the Skirball Center in New York City. This co-presentation with Doug Varone and Dancers is a two-part work set to a suite of exquisite operatic arias by Handel and his choral work Dixit Dominus. Eleven dances will be performed in Part 1: To My Arms to Handel arias sung by five soloists, accompanied by musicians from the New York Baroque Incorporated orchestra, conducted by MasterVoices leader, Ted Sperling. For Part 2: Restore, composer Nico Bentley and the MasterVoices Chorus will join the dancers, orchestra and soloists in performing Handel Remixed, the choral masterwork Dixit Dominus layered with Bentley’s electronic DJ’ing.
The Grapes of Wrath at Carnegie Hall
The season ends on April 17 at Carnegie Hall with a new look at the first work Ted Sperling brought to MasterVoices, in 2010. Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s “great American opera” (Musical America), The Grapes of Wrath, is based on the haunting American classic novel of the same name by Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck, about the Great Depression. This concert version of the story of the greatest migration in American history, when 2.5 million people left their homes in the Great Plains states, feels even more relevant in today’s world: The MasterVoices performance of this work will feature music exclusive to this version, with a keen focus on choral elements. This production will once again feature projections by Wendall K. Harrington.
Said Mr. Sperling, “As we celebrate my tenth anniversary with MasterVoices, I’m delighted to revisit the very first project I brought to the group, the magnificent American opera, The Grapes of Wrath. And following up on the rare Sondheim gem we presented last season (Anyone Can Whistle), I’m excited to bring The Frogs to a new audience. The show is wildly funny, with a sophisticated and sometimes haunting score by the late master. With our cherished collaborator, Doug Varone, we are honored to collaborate on his latest work, set to the soaring melodies of Handel remixed by composer Nico Bentley.”
A play written in 405 B.C. by Aristophanes
Freely adapted by Burt Shevelove
Even more freely adapted by Nathan Lane
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Saturday, November 4, 2023, 2:00 pm & 7:30 pm
Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center
Ted Sperling, Director and Conductor
Tickets, priced from $30, are on sale on August 28, 2023, and may be purchased online at jazz.org, at the Jazz at Lincoln Center box office, Broadway at 60th Street, or by calling 212-721-6500.
Burt Shevelove’s first adaptation of Aristophanes’ 2400-year-old comedy The Frogs, set in a troubled war-plagued society that is bereft of moral and cultural leadership, with frogs embodying the complacency that keeps the world from moving forward, was performed at Yale University while Shevelove was a student there in the early 1940s. In 1974, it was restaged in and around the Yale swimming pool with Christopher Durang, Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver as members of the chorus in a new version with music by composer Stephen Sondheim and book and lyrics by Shevelove. Sondheim and Shevelove had worked together earlier on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, also inspired by the ancient Greeks.
Fast forward to the early 21st century when The Frogs was presented in concert at the Library of Congress and given its first recording. In 2004, Nathan Lane, who had starred in this recording, joined Mr. Sondheim in expanding and rewriting the show for a production at Lincoln Center Theater, starring Mr. Lane as Dionysos and Roger Bart as Xanthias. Like Sondheim’s rarely heard Anyone Can Whistle, which was performed by MasterVoices last season, The Frogs has a rich and varied score with a substantial role for the chorus and includes one of Sondheim’s most beautiful love songs, “Ariadne.” As Nathan Lane wrote in 2004, “There’s something in this piece right now – where the country is and for me in particular – there’s something idealistic about the notion of believing that the arts can make a difference. You can affect a change. And in The Frogs, that is Dionysos’ dream – to go down to Hades and bring back this great writer. The belief that that could actually have an effect on the world is noble and touching and crazy – all at the same time.”
To My Arms / Restore
TO MY ARMS (Part I)
featuring arias from Handel’s Alexander Balus, Atalanta, Giulio Cesare, Orlando, Samson, Scipione, Semele, Serse, and Teseo
RESTORE (Part II)
Handel Remixed (Dixit Dominus) by Nico Bentley
Friday, March 22, 2024, 7:30 pm
Saturday, March 23, 2024, 7:30 pm
NYU Skirball Center, 566 LaGuardia Place, New York
To My Arms / Restore embodies Doug Varone’s decades-long choreographic fascination with the deeply emotional and the immensely physical, two aspects that are on full display and resonate in the rich dances crafted by Varone for this two-part work. Set to excerpts of operatic arias and duets by Handel and featuring five vocal soloists and a chamber ensemble, To My Arms (Part 1) builds a rich and distinct landscape of love and loss within a suite of eleven dances, evoking a strange otherworld of intimacy. In stark contrast, Restore (Part 2) is a visceral, tactile, and unsparing movement that explodes across the stage, revealing a new and wide-open terrain of physicality. It is driven by the 21st century sound of composer Nico Bentley’s Handel Remixed, a score that fuses the fundamentals of Handel’s 18th century choral work Dixit Dominus with beats more commonly heard in clubs around the globe; the result of which is a marriage between a score and a dance that is unabashedly glorious.
Award-winning choreographer and director Doug Varone works in all genres of the performing arts, including film, as well as in fashion. His New York City-based Doug Varone and Dancers company has been commissioned and presented to critical acclaim by leading national and international venues for three decades, and his dances have been staged on more than 75 college and university programs in U.S.A. For MasterVoices, Varone has created choreographies for its stagings of Kurt Weill, Ira Gershwin and Moss Hart’s Lady in the Dark, and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. His Metropolitan Opera credits are Salome, with its Dance of the Seven Veils for singer Karita Mattila; the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy; Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, designed by David Hockney; and Berlioz’s Les Troyens. He directed multiple premieres for American opera companies and his numerous theatre credits include choreography for Broadway, Off-Broadway and theaters across the country.
Tickets will be on sale online at nyuskirball.org, at the NYU Skirball box office, 566 LaGuardia Place, New York, or by calling (888) 611-8183.
Details regarding on-sale date and ticket pricing will be announced later.
The Grapes of Wrath
Music by Ricky Ian Gordon
Libretto by Michael Korie
Orchestrations by Ricky Ian Gordon and Bruce Coughlin
Wednesday, April 17, 2024 at 7:30 pm
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Ted Sperling, director and conductor
Wendall K. Harrington, projections
Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s opera The Grapes of Wrath premiered at Minnesota Opera in 2007. Based on John Steinbeck’s prize-winning historic 600-page narrative depicting the exodus of impoverished Oklahomans to California during the Great Depression, it was Gordon’s first large-scale work, written in three acts and 33 scenes with no recitatives, and with thirteen principal and 50 featured roles. Writing in Opera Today Wes Blomster placed The Grapes of Wrath in the company of Janáček and Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth, continuing, “almost a century after Mahler’s quintessential score, Gordon and Korie have created a new – and American – song of the earth.” In the Los Angeles Times, critic Mark Swed wrote that: “…the greatest glory of the opera is Gordon’s ability to musically flesh out the entire 11-member Joad clan…Gordon’s other great achievement is to merge Broadway and opera… greatly enhanced by his firm control over ensembles and his sheer love for the operatic voice.” Gordon and Korie’s Grapes of Wrath has been revised in subsequent years and has been performed as a two-act concert version. In 2010 MasterVoices, then known as The Collegiate Chorale, premiered the concert version in Carnegie Hall, directed by Eric Simonson, who had staged the opera’s premiere, with Ted Sperling conducting. The cast included a rare mingling of theater and opera singers, and featured narrator Jane Fonda, whose father Henry Fonda had memorably played Tom Joad in John Ford’s film of The Grapes of Wrath in 1940. Reviewing the concert version with its trimmed score, Anthony Tommasini wrote in The New York Times, “Mr. Gordon’s music combines his deep sympathy for musical theater with his devotion to American song.”
Tickets, priced from $30, are on sale on January 17, 2024, and may be purchased online at carnegiehall.org, by calling CarnegieCharge at 212.247.7800 or in person at Carnegie Hall’s box office at 57th and Seventh Avenue.