by Michael Caruso
Hank’s Cadillac brought the 2015 season of summer concerts in Pastorius Park to a warm but delightful close Wednesday evening, July 29. The band’s performance was heard by an audience that filled the natural amphitheater. The series – at 67 years and counting – is the longest set of free concerts in the region. Sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Community Association and Chestnut Hill Hospital, this year’s installment presented seven concerts, only two of which were moved indoors due to inclement weather.
Oddly enough, my two favorite concerts were those two that were held in the auditorium of the Cherokee Avenue campus of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. Singer/songwriter Jesse Ruben was the featured artist July 8, followed by the John Byrne Band July 15. Both made the most of the auditorium’s more intimate setting, turning down the volume without lessening the intensity of their music making. Both focused their attentions directly on each individual listener, lavishing their superb skills of story telling and personal revelation upon stalwart fans and newcomers alike.
Chestnut Hill vocalist and songwriter Kim Alexander named her band Hank’s Cadillac after the legendary car in which Hank Williams died of heart failure in 1953. When I was growing up as a kid in the 1950s, the triple personifications of beauty, glamour and luxury were actresses Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe and General Motors’ top-of-the-line Cadillac. So one would be correct to suspect that I was pre-ordained to enjoy the closing concert in this year’s Pastorius Park season.
Alexander and her bandmates Scott Rodgers on guitar, bass and vocals, Michael Salsburg on fiddle, Mike Hood on upright bass, Mike Kennedy on rhythm guitar and pedal steel guitar, and Glenn Cowen on drums performed an appealing mix of country, rock and jazz. Even in slower-tempo songs, the band’s engagingly upbeat style kept the mood light and energetic. In songs such as “Blue Kentucky Sky, “Tracks,” “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” Alexander and Rodgers sang with breezy projection, eloquent phrasing and superb blend and balance. They were accompanied with stylish panache.
When I first started writing for the Local and covering the summer concerts in Pastorius Park in 1986, the roster of performers leaned heavily in the direction of traditional concert bands with a Mummers band thrown in for good measure. Times have changed, and more popular-styled musicians make up the current bill-of-fare. Although I enjoyed virtually all of this season’s offerings, I wonder if an old-fashioned concert band wouldn’t have its own appeal, as well?
The Delaware Valley Opera Company will bring its season of fully-staged operatic productions to a close with Puccini’s “Tosca.” Described by legendary Greek-American soprano Maria Callas as a “shabby little shocker,” “Tosca” will be performed Aug. 8 and 12 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 16 at 2 p.m. in the Venice Island Performing Arts Center in Manayunk.
Heading the cast in the title role will be Laurice Simmons Kennel of East Falls. She earned her bachelor of music degree in vocal performance from Michigan State University and her master of music degree, also in vocal performance, from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has appeared in such operatic roles as Mimi in Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Micaela in Bizet’s “Carmen,” Donna Anna in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata,” etc.
Set in Rome in 1800 in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, “Tosca” unfolds in classic Greek tragedy fashion in which all the action is the direct result of a character flaw in all three of the major roles: jealousy in Floria Tosca, a celebrated singer; reckless republican leanings within the borders of Papal Rome in Mario Cavaradossi, a famous painter; and unrepentant lechery in Baron Scarpia, the sadistic chief of police. Perhaps most fascinating of all, each of the settings for the opera’s three acts – the Church of San Andrea della Valle, Scarpia’s apartment in the Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy), and an outdoor platform atop the Castel Sant’Angelo – can still be seen and visited in the Eternal City today.
For ticket information, call 215-725-4171 or visit www.dvopera.org.