The Weekend That Was: China, Mieka, Norma, Tony

From the Tampa Museum of Art to St. Pete Opera to a living room-turned-concert venue.

Posted by David Warner on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 2:08 PM

Elizabeth de Trejo plays the title role in "Norma" at St. Pete Opera.
  • Elizabeth de Trejo plays the title role in "Norma" at St. Pete Opera.

An exhibit that expands your view of the world, a concert that expands the capacity of your living room, a juicy love triangle with killer music (or was that a killer love triangle with juicy music?), and an impressive display of Hugh Jackman’s cardiovascular fitness — how’s that for a weekend?

My Generation: Young Chinese Artists is an extraordinary show, and I’ve only seen the half of it, or really only a quarter of it. If you read Megan Voeller’s story  in this week’s CL, you know it’s not only a collaboration across international boundaries. It’s also (and this is maybe even more of an achievement) a collaboration between two museums on either side of the bay, the Tampa Museum of Art and St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts.

An exhibition of 27 artists born in mainland China since 1976, the show is “the first U.S. exhibition to focus solely on the new post-Mao generation of Chinese artists,” say the museums, and is grouped loosely around several themes, including family, politics and environment. There are numerous breathtaking works (the gigantic “Utopia” by
Qiu Xiaofei, vigorous and thickly painted in a style that recalls Anselm Kiefer, was one of the most arresting).

Jin Shan with his installation, "No Man City," at the Tampa Museum of Art. - CHIP WEINER
  • Chip Weiner
  • Jin Shan with his installation, "No Man City," at the Tampa Museum of Art.

But at the TMA members’ opening on Friday night, the most memorable moments for me were conversations with two visiting artists who told fascinating stories about how they were incorporating the heritage of their fathers, both artists, into their own pieces. Ye Nan of the collective Irrelevant Commission created a chandelier using bowls created by his father, and Jin Shan built a utopian house (aptly described by Megan as a cross between a cathedral and an iceberg) out of Tyvek paper, above which hung a mobile of motifs from his father's art, lit so that they cast endlessly shifting shadows of tradition onto the son’s modern dream house.

Equally revelatory was a talk by curator Barbara Pollack, whose startling statistics (China is now the second largest art market in the world) alerted us to the sheer size and vibrancy of a Chinese artistic culture that is thriving despite (and in some cases because of) a repressive government. Interestingly, Pollack said that only one piece had been held back by Chinese censors, who examined everything in the show before allowing it out of the country. According to Pollack and TMA exec director Todd Smith, it was banned not because of a political message but because it was deemed too racy — and maybe would have given even an American museum pause.

I can’t wait to go back and look at the widely praised selection of video, and to see the MFA’s half of the show. The shows are up till Sept. 28 — a don’t-miss and a fine parting shot from Smith, who leaves for his new job at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, CA, later this summer.

Mieka Pauley performs at the house concert in St. Pete.
  • Mieka Pauley performs at the house concert in St. Pete.

On Saturday,
my husband Larry and I had the pleasure of hosting a house concert by Mieka Pauley, a singer-songwriter so funny, sexy, engaging and intense — mesmerizing, in the words of one guest — that it left us wondering, why isn’t this woman famous already? We got to know Mieka when she performed during the Listening Room Festival this past spring, first in an office concert at CL and then during the showcase at the Palladium’s Side Door Cabaret. We liked her so much we jumped at the chance when Fran Snyder of Concerts in Your Home asked if we’d be interested in hosting.

So on Saturday night, about 25 people packed into our living room to enjoy her disarming combination of self-deprecating banter and, yes, mesmerizing delivery of original songs like “Marked Man” and "Another Go," and sang covers of “Hallelujah” and “Fields of Gold’ so specific and deeply felt that she made you realize that you’d never really heard them before. Fran asked audience members to consider hosting a concert themselves; he deals with a national network of talented performers, and there’s no cost to the host beyond, say, desserts and beverage and chair rental — and even those elements are optional. All the proceeds are donations that go directly to the artist. This was our second hosting gig — Hannah Miller, another talented singer-songwriter, was our first — and I highly recommend it. You’ll never look at your living room the same way again.

Elizabeth de Trejo as Norma.
  • Elizabeth de Trejo as Norma.

On Sunday afternoon,
we saw the St. Petersburg Opera Company’s production of the wrenchingly beautiful Bellini opera Norma, and it soared — literally. The majestically arched centerpiece by set designer Steven Mitchell, framing a giant circular panel inscribed with Celtic runes, set the tone from the moment you climbed the steps into the Palladium’s main auditorium. Artistic Director & Conductor Mark Sforzini and an accomplished cast captured the complex passions of a love triangle in which spirituality and sensuality, romantic and parental love, military and religious honor do battle with tragically inevitable consequences in ancient Gaul. As the two-timing Roman proconsul Pollione, James Chamberlain had a tenor so strong that you understood why it could knock a nice Druid girl right out of her graduation gown (which the Celtic priestesses’ costumes mostly resembled). As his forbidden beloved, Jennifer Feinstein pushes right back with a rich, powerful mezzo. And soprano Elizabeth de Trejo, as the Celtic high priestess Norma, has the chops to tackle the notoriously difficult bel canto score while also being wholly convincing as a regal figure torn between her feelings of betrayal by Pollione and her abiding love for him and their children. Benjamin Spierman’s stage direction is sensitive — commendably so in a scenario which could drown in extremes — and leaves room for subtleties like a passing glance between Norma and her father (sung by the formidable bass Nathan Whitson) that suggests volumes. And the harrowing scene in which the three main characters realize the depth of their betrayals is as suspenseful as anything ever concocted for an episode of Scandal. The last performance is tonight — go!

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And one word about the Tonys
, aka the Gay Super Bowl: Isn’t it cool that the news was all about Hugh Jackman’s awesome ability to hop continually for minutes on end, and not about Neil Patrick Harris kissing his husband or any of the other same-sex displays of affection which once upon a time would have made big scandalous headlines? Ah, progress.


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