Opera

NEA Funds Anti-Christian ‘Jerry Springer’ Play With Taxpayer Money

Deal W. Hudson
January 30, 2018

Once again the National Endowment for the Arts is in hot water, and deservedly so. A musical entitled, “Jerry Springer, the Opera,” is now being performed in previews at an off-Broadway theatre, The New Group. The musical is ferociously and deliberately anti-Catholic, while The New Group receives substantial NEA funding.

The question being raised by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, at his January 23 press conference is simple: if the government is forbidden from funding projects that promote religion, why is the NEA allowed to fund a project that directly attacks religion?

Donohue is no stranger to this debate. Over the years he has led the fight against government funding of other anti-Catholic artists such as Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and David Wojnarowicz. His success in challenging all of them is a tribute both to his ability to influence public and elite opinion by razor-sharp arguments rather than emotional outrage.

His strategy is this case is similar. Rather than calling for protests or boycotts, he has written a letter to President Trump asking that the next chairman of the NEA “not continue to fund anti-Christian grantees, exhibitions, or performances.” The present chairman, Jane Chu, will be stepping down in June, and Trump will likely be announcing his replacement nominee in February.

Donohue has also written to Dr. Jane Chu asking two questions: why she funded the “most obscene anti-Christian play ever performed,” and why she funded The New Group in a way that violates NEA guidelines which clearly state no funding can be provided for “general operations or seasonal support.” Yet, Chu signed off on a 2009 $50,000 grant to The New Group because of “the current economic downturn.”

This grant evinces blatant disregard for the responsible use of taxpayer money because some sort of favored status of the theatre group in the eyes of its chairman. Donohue has also written a letter to chair of the Congressional Committee responsible for NEA oversight, Cong. Ken Calvert pointing out Dr. Chu’s “clear violation” of NEA funding regulations.

Jerry Springer, the Opera” is no opera, it’s a 2003 Broadway-style British musical first performed in London and eventually winning four Laurence Olivier Awards. That such an adolescent and musically-dull musical could have won such prestigious awards is bizarre. I watched the entire 2-hour BBC production. Its entire narrative is adolescent and it’s musically completely undistinguished.

It relies on one repeated conceit: the juxtaposition of profanity in the context of a Broadway musical devoted to religious issues. In other words, when a character steps forward, Sondheim-style, to deliver a love song, we are treated to a description of how she urinates on a naked man in her bathroom. Yes, that kind of thing is repeated over and over until the BBC audience itself stops laughing out loud and fails to applaud at the “big moments.”

Act I of the show is an actual Jerry Springer TV show where the participants talk and sing about the various iterations of their sexual lives and their hatred of the Christian faith. One repeated refrain of all the characters is “Eat, excrete, and watch TV.” One male character, Montel, dressed in a diaper, sings to his girlfriend that he would prefer she treat him as her “baby,” and proceeds to defecate in his diaper.

After a brief Act II stop in purgatory, the show moves to hell in Act III, and the Montel character, still in a diaper, is now called Jesus. He squares off against Satan who declares the injustice afflicted upon him by God. Satan is joined by Eve who also complains of being too harshly judged and grabs Jesus by the genitals under his diaper. (I’m using the least offensive examples from the musical in order to spare the reader.)

The NEA funding to The New Group is an embarrassment on artistic grounds and a direct insult to Christians.

Established in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts reached its apogee of funding in 1992, over $170,000,000. Then it suffered a deep decline to under $1,000,000,000 due to similar controversies generated by its grants. Funding did not begin to recover fully until the appointee of President George W. Bush, Dana Gioia, became Chairman of NEA. Gioia, who served from 2003-2009, demonstrated how the NEA could fulfill its original mission, “to strengthen the creative capacity of our communities.”

Bill Donohue, like President Trump, believes the NEA should be eliminated. The Congress, however, disagreed with the president and included NEA funding in the 2018 budget. Thus, a new chairman will soon be appointed.

I strongly suggest the president and those responsible for choosing the nominee look closely at the extraordinary programs created by Dana Gioia at the NEA. Those include: “The Big Read” which was designed to address the national decline in literacy with a “one city, one book” approach reaching over 25,000 communities; “Poetry Out Loud” is a national poetry recitation contest attracting over 375,000 students each year; “NEA Jazz Masters” created the highest award in the jazz world and sought to raise the visibility of jazz artists; and “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” offered writing workshops for veterans and their families leading to the publication an anthology, Operation Homecoming.

I’m a Catholic conservative who believes passionately in the power of the arts to benefit all of us individually and collectively. The amount of federal money being spent is minuscule compared to the monumental waste of taxpayer dollars elsewhere. The NEA needs to be given another chance to prove the worthiness of its cause.

Read Newsmax: NEA Funds Anti-Christian ‘Jerry Springer’ Play With Taxpayer Money | Newsmax.com
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New Production of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ Magnificent

Deal W. Hudson
October 30, 2017

From its first performance in 1951, “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” an opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams has suffered from a checkered history on stage. Its Covent Garden premiere was criticized for its lack of “theatricality,” and the attempt at a revival the following year was a failure.

A subsequent and successful performance by the Royal Northern College of Music of Vaughan Williams’ “morality,” as he preferred to call it, and probably saved the piece from being assigned to musical oblivion. And, it was the same John Noble who sang the Pilgrim in 1954 who sung the role for the 1971 recording by Sir Adrian Boult for EMI/Angel.

The late conductor Richard Hickox championed “Pilgrim” with a Chandos recording in 1998 and a Sadler Wells performance in 2008, but it wasn’t fully staged again in the UK until 2012. The English National Opera production was praised for its music but, once again, questions about its “dramatic viability” were raised by the critics.

Those of us who greatly admired the recordings of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and knew about its rocky performance history have wondered if a concert performance was the best way to hear what is one of this composers’ masterpieces. I can now safely claim, however, that such a conclusion would be wrong. The performances held on October 27 and 28 at the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts, prove that “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is indeed an opera, and a very good one.

The internationally known choir Gloriae Dei Cantores and the Elements Theatre Company combined with invited soloists and members of the Community of Jesus to mount this production with 40 in the cast, 60 in the chorus, and a full orchestra, providing a near one-to-one ratio of audience to performers inside the cathedral-like Church of the Transfiguration, itself a wonder to behold.

Dr. James Jordan conducted with a fully idiomatic feel for various sound worlds of Vaughan Williams. The opera was written over a space of 40 years, thus, containing the pantheistic majesty of the 1st “Sea” Symphony (1910), the English pastoralism of the 3rd Symphony (1921), the dissonant anxieties of the 4th (1935) and 6th (1948), the probing, inward spirituality of the 5th (1943), and the roguish charm of the Tudor Portraits (1935). The orchestral soloists, in particular, rose to the occasion when the musical narrative fell to them alone.

Director Sr. Danielle Dwyer, however, has to be congratulated on demonstrating the true operatic nature of Vaughan Williams “morality.” Employing three screens as backdrops, Sr. Danielle worked with projection designer Kay Tucker to create a backdrop that not only provided a dramatic visual context but also kept the audience oriented to the Pilgrim’s place in the journey.

Given the performance space of the nave and the choirs, the stage was placed on one side of the aisle and the audience on the other. The stage created by placing one fixed platform in the middle and two movable ones to the sides. The 300 original costume designs were an integral part to the performance’s visual impact.

Whoever it was who criticized the lack of “theatricality” in the work’s premiere would have to eat his words after seeing this production. Soloists, chorus, and cast members moved back and forth the length of stage, often within arm’s length of the front row of the audience. They sang, danced, contorted, prayed, tempted, and convincingly blandished swords and staffs.

But “The Pilgrim’s Progress” cannot work without great singing and lots of it — there are over 41 solo roles. But even more challenging is the need to have tenors, baritones, and sopranos who can sing the composer’s sometimes subtle, sometimes soaring, melodies with firm pitch and legato. On that score, they all delivered.

Richard R. Pugsley fully embodied the anguish and searching Pilgrim and made the most of Vaughan Williams’ greatest moments, such as the encounter with the “Shepherds on the Hill” which was musically thrilling. Paul Scholten, playing both John Bunyan, who appears at the beginning and the end, and one of those Shepherds, but he also delivered the famous “Watchful’s Song” with complete authority and tender beauty. John. E. Orduña’s playing the demanding role of the Evangelist never wavered, singing the demanding role, lying high in the baritone range, with ringing security and felt devotion.

At the other end of the morality scale came Lord Lechery who was deliciously, and unapologetically, portrayed by Doug Jones. Andrew Nolen used his beautiful base to be appropriately menacing as Apollyon and bring a dandyish charm to Lord Hategood. Aaron Sheehan was a comic and vocal standout as the disingenuous Mister By-Ends and well-partnered by Sr. Melody Edmonds his Madam By-Ends. Br. Richard Cragg who sang the Interpreter and one of the Shepherds showed particular sensitivity in the vocal lines he shared with the Pilgrim. Soprano Eleni Calenos sung the roles of the Branch Bearer and the Voice of the Bird effortlessly, her high notes firm and clear. (However, her “Bird’s Song,” sung from behind the screen could have been less covered by the men’s voices on stage.)

Special mention should be made of the Gloriae Dei Cantores’ contribution to the performance — every chorus was delivered with a precision of beauty that would compare to the world’s greatest choirs. Along with Jordan’s conducing, they created a seamless operatic performance out of an opera long thought to be dramatically episodic. Bravo!

“The Pilgrim’s Progress” will be repeated on November 3 and 5 at the Church of the Transfiguration. Call 508-240-2400 for tickets.

Read Newsmax: New Production of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ Magnificent | Newsmax.com
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