Thursday, May 26, 2022

Hurry: Waning Days “Picasso: Painting the Blue Period” at Phillips Collection


If you have been dawdling about whether to see “Picasso: Painting the Blue Period” at Washington, DC’s Phillips Collection, the Dresser urges you to book your ticket now before the exhibition closes June 12, 2022.


Here are several reasons you might want to see this show.


—It is well curated. There is just enough text to give you the information needed to understand this period  of Picasso’s work. There is also enough breathing space between the Blue Period paintings so that you can get close to the work without other visitors to the museum getting in your way. There is also an audio guide you can access by QR code. Be sure to bring your headset if you prefer this method.


—Three of the paintings were done on top of another painting, including the well known The Blue Room (1901) oil on canvas which is owned by the Phillips Collection. Exhibition videos and photos show you what is underneath these three paintings and the process used in the discoveries.


—Influences on Picasso during this period are shown with his work leading up to the Blue Period and what followed (Rose Period work) as well as works from other well-known artists like Toulouse Lautrec, Matisse, Rodin, Daumier.


While Picasso was an agile and engaging portrait painter (you can see his ability in this area of his craft in the early works), his Blue Period work demonstrates his interest in masks and facial abstraction. Themes of the Blue Period include down and out people such as prostitutes, prisoners, and those suffering from poverty. The blue color was a manifestation of such living difficulties and deprivation. One painting, “The Dead Woman” and its accompanying text made the Dresser think what will happen to women in the United States if Roe vs Wade is overturned.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Opera from the P.O.



UrbanArias at Washington, DC’s Keegan Theatre has produced a vibrant world premiere with Stephen Eddins’ chamber opera Why I Live at the P.O. The libretto by Michael O’Brien is based on Eudora Welty’s short story by the same name. The vibrancy manifests in the outstanding cast whose singing and acting both excites and agitates the ear and eye. Notable as well is Brian Ruggaber’s two-level scenery that adds an additional polish to this production.


The Dresser, who saw the May 1, 2022, performance, particularly appreciated coloratura soprano Melissa Wimbish’s creation of the character Stella-Rondo, the sister who returns home and spoils the narrator’s peace causing the narrator to move to the post office where she is postmistress. In the librettist’s interpretation of Welty’s story, the narrator—sister to Stella-Rondo—has two roles, her younger self Sister 2 (sung by coloratura soprano Kyaunnee Richardson) and older narrating self Sister 1 (sung by the award-winning Emily Pulley).



After Stella Rondo returns home, leaving her husband Mr. Whitaker and bringing with her a young child known as Shirley-T, things heat up between the sisters in a rivalry that is fed by their parents (baritone Eric McKeever plays Papa-Daddy and contralto Alissa Anderson plays Mama) and their Uncle Rondo (tenor Ian McEuen). Stella Rondo introduces her child Shirley-T (represented by a doll) as her legally adopted daughter, but Sister 2 remarks that if Papa-Daddy cut off his beard, Shirley-T would look exactly like him. The suggestion of cutting off his beard angers Papa-Daddy. Not having read Welty’s story in advance of the opera performance, the Dresser initially wondered if the story would reveal incest, because we never learn why Stella-Rondo leaves her husband and comes home. We do, however, hear repeatedly that Sister was the first to date Mr. Whitaker. Then there is the matter of Uncle Rondo showing up and asking to borrow one of Stella-Rondo’s kimonos. Why Stella’s name has an appended Rondo is also a mystery of the original story.


Something is off in the story. This is not a Southern story like what Tennessee Williams or William Faulkner serves up. This is absurd. This is a comic opera and to heighten how Why I Live at the P.O. has an unreliable narrator, librettist O’Brien splits the unnamed sister’s role in two parts and, furthermore,  Dennis Whitehead Darling as Director casts Sister 1 as a white woman and Sister 2 as a woman of color. Given Sister 2’s costume with her apron and purple gingham dress, the Dresser thought initially that Sister 2 was the household maid. However, Welty’s narrator gave herself a decidedly domestic role in her family.


Eddins’ tonal music moves back and forth between jazz and contemporary classical. Featured in the chamber orchestra conducted by Robert Wood are winds and horns. The instruments include flute, 2 clarinets, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, string bass, percussion, and piano. Most of the singing is ensemble with, to the Dresser’s ear, no memorable arias except perhaps the number Papa-Daddy sings regarding his outrage over the idea that he cut off his beard. While Welty’s story suggests a rising level of stress, the Dresser thinks that the forte-fortissimo production of unrelenting sound was hard on the listener and that a lullaby, perhaps around the introduction of Shirley-T, would have been a welcomed respite to have in memory.


Why I Live at the P.O. runs through May 7, 2022.