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Tuesday, January 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Zephyr Cabaret’ Plays Schoenberg

By Travis Rivers Correspondent

Zephyr Saturday, Sept. 30, at The Met

Count on Zephyr to storm into its season with something outrageous. The scene was Berlin cabaret sometime early in this century before Adolf Hitler stamped out cabarets as immoral and politically subversive. The subjects heard in the songs at the “Zephyr Cabaret” leaned heavily on the seamy side of sex, on radical politics and exploitative commercialism. If the subject matter was dreary, Zephyr’s excellent performers radiated energy and enthusiasm.

The gritty Met stage set featured dim lighting and an effective Expressionist back curtain painted by Curtis Coyote. The groups of songs were framed by David Jones’ imaginative, pungent instrumental arrangements of songs from Kurt Weill’s “Three-Penny Opera.”

People who listen much to classical music know Arnold Schoenberg. They have their own opinions about Schoenberg’s densely organized, highly dissonant music. But Zephyr’s pianist-director Kendall Feeney and soprano Cyndia Sieden hauled out five of Schoenberg early cabaret songs that proved a delightful contrast to Schoenberg’s serious side - easily listenable, simple and sometimes just plain sweet or silly. There was one, though - “Der genugsame Liebhaber” (The Contented Lover) - that was really naughty. And it was the only song on the program sung in English rather than the original German.

Sieden, a last-minute substitute for the ailing Johanne Blank, had the most-polished of the evening’s voices. But her late entry into the concert’s rehearsals kept Sieden from using fully those acting gifts I have observed in her performance with Seattle Opera.

Spokane audiences know Susan Windham and were not disappointed in her bitter-tinged singing of five songs by Kurt Weill or in her humorous (though barely audible from my balcony seat) between-songs patter.

I scarcely recognized the glamorous Ann Fennessy when she appeared with severely tied-back hair, dressed in men’s formal evening clothes. Fennessy sang eloquently in Hanns Eisler’s settings Bert Brecht’s texts - some harsh, mocking, some mournful.

The Berlin cabaret was a perfect choice for Zephyr; both boast of “music with an attitude.” Zephyr’s attitude and performances were irreproachable.

Wordcount: 341

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