Thursday, July 30, 2015

musicSPACE Concert Series Begins July 31

Gypsy and His Band of Ghosts

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announces the summer line up for its 2015 musicSPACE Series. These monthly all-ages performances in the final Friday of each month showcase the Cultural District in Downtown Pittsburgh and the talent of Pittsburgh musicians. The musicSPACE series invites Steel City dwellers to enjoy the talent of local musicians after hours in a visual art gallery.
Tickets are $5 at the door, and doors open at 8 p.m., with music beginning at 8:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted.  All proceeds benefit the artists. All concerts and take place at SPACE gallery, 812 Liberty Avenue. MusicSPACE is organized by Wood Street Galleries Curatorial Assistant Amy Staggs.
Friday, July 31 at 8:30 p.m. | The Wreckids and Mark Dignam
Friday, August 28 at 8:30 p.m. | The Commonheart and Gypsy and His Band of Ghosts
Artist Biographies
Born in Ireland, Mark Dignam grew up in the adventurous North Side Dublin suburb of Finglas, His father was a truck driver, his Mother was a typical Irish housewife of the time, except she sang around the house – a lot.
First, busking on city streets for pocket change and exposure, along with his friends, Glen Hansard (The Frames, The Swell Season, Oscar winner for best song for the indie movie - Once), Mic Christopher (The Mary Janes), Kila (Irish Traditional supergroup) among others; they quickly became the darlings of Grafton Street, a well-known center, of Dublin busking,; counting among their audience such luminaries as The Waterboys, Van Morrison, and Sinead O'Connor.
Mark struck out on his own in the nineties, releasing the acclaimed Poetry and Songs From the Wheel in 1995. The album, named a top ten best debut of 1995 by Ireland's Hot Press Magazine, cementing Mark's reputation as a powerful voice on the singer/songwriter circuit.
He's continued to release records, from 1997's In a Time of Overstatement, a stark collection of spiritual and political musings, to 2005's Box Heart Man, chosen as one of WYEP Pittsburgh's top picks for 2005. Mark has been invited to open for, or tour with: The Swell Season, David Gray, Billy Bragg, Joan Armatrading, Richard Thompson, Mike Nichols (of The Alarm) among others...
Today, when he isn't touring with his band "The House of Song," or at home with his family, Mark is in the studio preparing his long-awaited follow up to Box Heart Man, Re-Build, recorded live at Treelady Studios in Pennsylvania.  For more information and music, visit
The Wreckids (formerly Scotts Roger) is a husband and wife acoustic duo currently living in Pittsburgh. Their music can be described as easy going folk, but is also lively and contemporary. Most songs feature Scott playing the acoustic guitar and singing, while Sarah sings and plays viola and a host of other instruments. You'll hear comical, thoughtful lyrics paired with beautiful, lilting harmonies. A strange combination to be sure, but the real art here is managing this brittle juxtaposition. Anyone who's attended a live show can tell you they're as much about what happens between the songs as the tunes themselves. Scott and Sarah enjoy telling corny jokes and playfully ribbing each other Sonny and Cher style. Time will fly as you're having fun at The Wreckids show.
The Commonheart formed to invoke emotion through tone and energy, The Commonheart is a band configured of up and coming artists from the Pittsburgh area who came together to create a soulful sound for music lovers.
“We know exactly what we want to sound like and we are ready to go out and bring it to the people,” said front man Clinton Clegg.
The Commonheart takes rock riffs, gritty vocals and a screaming organ to deliver rock 'n' roll with a heavy blues, soul and gospel influence. Their music is a true testament to the past, echoing once again the full circle of music and sound.
Gypsy and His Band of Ghosts is a folk and rock band from Pittsburgh, PA.  In addition to great music, good adventures, good people, good drinks, random adventures, random people, random drinks is what the group is all about.  They also like inspiring others to enjoy life—"it's way too short to take it too seriously," believe  band members which include Giuseppe Capolupo (Lead Vocals and Lead Guitar), Scott Maniglia (Drums, Auxiliary Percussion and Vocals),  Tony Tortella (Bass Guitar and Vocals) and Diego Brynes (Lead Guitar and Vocals).

SPACE is located at 812 Liberty Avenue. Gallery Hours: Wed & Thurs: 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; Fri & Sat: 11 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.–5 p.m. The gallery is free and open to the public. SPACE is a project of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. For more information about all gallery exhibitions featured in the Cultural District, please visit

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Iraqi Poet Schedules Pittsburgh Reading

Iraqi Poet, Dunya Mikhail at City of Asylum

    Dunya Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965 and came to the United States in 1996. She has six books in Arabic, three in English, and one in Italian. They include The Iraqi Nights, Diary of A Wave Outside the Sea, and The War Works Hard. She also edited a pamphlet of Iraqi poetry titled 15 Iraqi Poets. Her Arabic books are published in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Tunisia. Her books in English are published in New York by New Directions. They are translated into English by Kareem James Abu-Zeid and Elizabeth Winslow, and into Italian by Elena Chiti. Her honors include the Kresge Fellowship, Arab American Book Award, and the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing. The War Works Hard was shortlisted for Griffin, and named one of “Twenty-Five Books to Remember from 2005” by the New York Public Library. She is the co-founder of Mesopotamian Forum for Art and Culture in Michigan. She currently works as an Arabic special lecturer at Oakland University in Michigan.
    This free reading is at 8 p.m. on July 31 in the Alphabet City Ten,t 318 Sampsonia Way  on Pittsburgh’s North Side. For reservations, phone 412-323-0278 or


Monday, July 20, 2015

Sharon’s Grave - Spellbinding Celtic Myth Woven into Reality of Survival

Karen Baum, Bryon Anthony and Martin Giles in "Sharon's Grave" Photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons

    I can’t recall who it was that said learning a second language is like being a citizen of another country. In Irish playwright, John B. Keane’s brilliant play, "Sharon’s Grave" the language may be English, but the way it’s transformed by the characters living on the far western reaches of County Kerry, Ireland, it becomes almost like a second language - one that both understandable to American ears yet foreign in the way it’s constructed, stretched and manipulated into a novel way of speaking.
The manner in which Keane, a popular playwright in his native land, strings together his glorious words is one of the best assets of the drama, now getting a staging by PICT Classical Theatre in the intimate Henry Heymann Theatre in Oakland.
American-born but now living in Ireland, Aoife Spillane-Hinks directs the play and, I presume, has a hand in guiding the cast through the labyrinth of Irish dialect and diction. No expert on the niceties of pronunciation, I thought the cast’s dialogue sparkled with enough Irish color to satisfy my need for linguistic veracity, although some small measure of the lines and phrases did escape my total comprehension.
When the lights go up on the cozy, Conlee family cottage family (impressively designed by scenic designer Johnmichael Bohach), we hear audio cues of screeching seagulls and waves crashing against the palisade atop which the Conlees live.
These haunting sounds are more than just referents to play’s locale (the time period is 1925). They’re also echoes of an older pre-Christian time which gave birth to the local legend of a beautiful princess, Sharon, and her fateful ties to her jealous handmaiden, Shiofra. It’s a seaside legend that’s masterfully woven into the plot of an Irish family set at odds against one another in an effort to survive the challenging obstacles of post-independent rural Ireland where the ownership of land was so vitally essential.
On paper, you wouldn’t give Trassie Conlee, the daughter of the farm owner, much chance of keeping the land after her father John Henry Steelman), seen on his deathbed presumably just hours before his demise, after he passes. Her unscrupulous, duplicitous and half-crazed cousin, Dinzie, wants the property for himself, vehemently so.
James FitzGerald and J. Alex Noble in "Sharon's Grave" Photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons

Karen Baum’s Trassie, while strong and intelligent, seems no match for her crippled cousin, whose hunched back conjures up parallels to King Richard III and his regal malice. As the malcontent, James FitzGerald’s performance is mesmerizing, one of the best I’ve seen on stage this season. While his character may be physically withered, his force of will is powerfully intimidating. Even his burly brother, Jack, (played by J. Alex Noble) who obsequiously carries him around on his back, is fearful of his wrath.
What makes Trassie’s plight even more frangible is that she has to care for her simple-minded brother, Neelus, a youth infatuated with the Sharon myth who spends too much time sitting by the sea ruminating on the ancient princess’ tragic story. Alec Silberblatt brings an earnest, almost child-like, innocence to the role of Neelus, but is also capable of  transforming his character’s usual benign disposition into one of torment when his personal demons close in.
Martin Giles and Alec Silverblatt in "Sharon's Grave" Photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons

Some of the play’s most playful moments take place during  the dead father’s wake when Dinzie reproaches mourners Moll (Sharon Brady) and Miss Dee (Jill Keating) with both clever repartee and threats that verge on the physical.
Keane’s plot does have a silver lining in the form of a heroic figure, a down-on-his-heels itinerant thatcher named Peadar who bursts quietly onto the scene quite conveniently as the play opens.  Byron Anthony initially reveals Peadar as a humble, unassuming and gentle soul, but as he witnesses more and more of Dinzie’s baneful intentions his resolve to protect Trassie and her innocuous brother becomes stronger.
In his colorful panoply of characters, Keane also introduces an almost Falstaffian element in the form of Pats Bo Bwee, a sort of flim-flam man who carries with him a bag of mystifying medicinals. As Bwee, veteran actor, Martin Giles, comes off as a Celtic shaman with one foot in the here-and-now, the other in the flumadiddle of Druidian mythos and his mind hell-bent on his own self-interest. But is it really that simple?
While Keane’s ending may not be to everyone’s liking, the getting there is as entertaining and antic as a leprechaun on midsummer’s night eve.
"Sharon’s Grave," a PICT Theatre production, is at the Henry Heymann Theatre in the Stephen Foster Memorial at the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland through August 1. Phone 412-561-6000
James FitzGerald and Karen Baum in "Sharon's Grave" Photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Stunning Pinot Grigio from Mt. Nittany Winery

Trio of White Wines from the Mount Nittany Winery Credit: Bill Rockwelldd

    Ironically, a few days after a friend who's a professional in the wine business with an experienced palate told me that a Gewurtztraminer he tasted from the Casa Narcisi Winery near Gibsonia north of Pittsburgh was the best he ever had, I discovered another Pennsylvania wine worth touting.
I stumbled across Mount Nittany Vineyards and Winery while driving along Brush Valley Road, a tree-shaded, scenic byway that goes through some gorgeous countryside, on my way to Centre Hall near State College. A sign announcing the entrance to the vineyards caught my attention, and I turned up the driveway to the winery started by Joe and Betty Carroll in 1990.
    Six acres of grapes are planted on their 65 acre tract that extends all the way up to the top of the mountain that lends the winery its name. Mr. Carroll, a former Peen State professor, had been a hobby winemaker for years before he started to grow grapes (Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc and Cayuga) to supply local winemakers.
    When he discovered there was little money in the venture, he decided to open a commercial winery of his own at a time when Pennsylvania had only 30 in the entire state. Fortunate to get his product into the state store system early on, he now has several of his 26 varieties of wine available in many state stores across Pennsylvania.
At the winery, I tasted three of Mount Nittany’s whites - a Pinot Grigio, an unoaked Chardonnay fermented in stainless steel tanks and a Reserve Chardonnay, aged in American oak for six months.
    Tasting room manager Linda Carroll Weaver told me the winemaker supplements the juice pressed from grapes grown on the property with juice purchased from a supplier in the Erie area. This holds true for the Chardonnays I tasted as well as the Pinot Grigio, entirely made from juice purchased from the supplier.
    Of the three whites I tasted, I preferred the Pinot Grigio, whose allures start in the glass with a bright golden color and a bouquet rich with tropical fruit. In the mouth, the wine has an excellent fruit to acid balance that ends with a smooth finish and with just enough sweetness to make it a drink-by-itself beverage yet dry enough to pair with food.
    Overall, the Pinot Grigio has to be one of the best I ever tasted, edging out some of the ones I’ve had from both California and Italy. The wine comes with an alcohol content of 12% and a $14.99 price tag.
The Mount Nittany Chardonnay has a lighter pale yellow color, a subtle peach and apricot bouquet and a citrus flavor profile that starts and finishes dry. The retail price is also $14.99. For those who like their Chardonnay oaked, the Reserve spends six months in American oak and comes with an $18.99 price tag. Both Chardonnays come in with a 12% alcohol content.
    Mount Nittany Winery is part of the Susquehanna Heartland Wine Trail, a group of 13 wineries that extends from Williamsport in the north to State College and to just north of Harrisburg in the east. For more information, visit website www
    Mount Nittany Winery is also part of the Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail, a string of 12  wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries. For more information, go to www.centralpatasting
    Mount Nittany Vineyards and Winery was recently voted "Best of the Best Winery" by readers of the "Bargain Sheet" of Centre County. The winery is located at 300 Houser Road, just a mile off Brush Valley Road in Centre Hall, six miles west of State College. Phone  814-466-6373 or visit website


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Community Brass Players Invited to perform with PSO

Musicians in PSO Brass Section

     As part of Neighborhood Week, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is offering community brass players of all ages a unique opportunity to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony brass and percussion sections on Tuesday, September 1 at 7 p.m. at Schenley Plaza in Oakland.
This one-hour concert event is led by guest conductor Lawrence Loh and features a first half with the Pittsburgh Symphony only performing music by Dukas, Warlock, Sousa and Clarke. Principal Trumpet George Vosburgh and Principal Trombone Peter Sullivan will solo on Clarke’s Cousins. Community members will join the symphony players during the second half to perform music by Arnaud, Wagner, Grainger and John Williams.
    The event is free for both the audience and participants. Advance registration is required for players who wish to participate. The registration form can be found at and should be submitted by August 14. All participants need to attend a rehearsal with Loh at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland on Monday, August 31 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Rehearsal attendees are eligible to receive two tickets to the Pittsburgh Symphony’s “Neighborhood Week: Salute to Veterans” concert that evening at 7 p.m.

For more information, visit

Monday, July 13, 2015

Thursday Night Icons - Diana Krall Performs with PSO

Diana Krall to Perform with Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

    Multiple GRAMMY® Award-winning jazz pianist and world renowned singer Diana Krall returns to Heinz Hall in Downtown Pittsburgh at 7:30 p.m. on July 23 to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as part of her “Wallflower World Tour." Krall will perform material from her new album "Wallflower," set for release on Verve Records on February 3.
     Krall is the only jazz singer to have eight albums debut at the top of the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. To date, her albums have garnered five Grammy® Awards, eight Juno® Awards and have also earned nine gold, three platinum and seven multi-platinum albums. Her unique artistry transcends any single musical style and has made her one of the most recognizable artists of our time.
Discount for Multiple Summer Concert Purchases:
    Those interested in attending more than one summer concert can craft their own series of concerts at a discounted price! Buy tickets to two concerts and receive 10% off the ticket price; three concerts receive 20% off the ticket price; and four or more concerts receive 30% off the ticket price! These discounts are only available via phone or in person at the Heinz Hall Box Office. Please note that this package includes all July and early August concerts. Those who have already purchased tickets to Thursday Icons: Diana Krall will receive the next-highest discount tier for any additional concert ticket purchases. Pittsburgh Symphony subscribers can receive a 15% subscriber discount by calling their patron services representative (PSR).
    For tickets, phone 412-392-4900 or 1-800-743-8560 or visit

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Hansen/Grunner 2013 Pinot Noir - Exceptional Yet Eccentric

2013 Hansen/Grunner Pinot Noir Photo Credit: Bill Rockwell

    In the last five years, my red wine palate preferences have swerved all over the place, finding the most enjoyment in rich and dense Cabs, then making a safari into Syrahs, only to awaken to the joys of Zinfandels, then cross over into Merlot territory as an occasional contrasting alternative to everything else.
But after I tasted a absolutely heavenly Pinot Noir, first at the Mie N Yu Restaurant in Georgetown (DC), and another at Soba in Shadyside, I moved Pinots to the top of my preference list.
I recently got a shock when I opened a bottle of the 2013 Hansen/Grunner Pinot Noir from California’s Sonoma Coast. If I was blindfolded, I’d have been hard pressed to guess the grape varietal. It was like no other Pinot I ever tasted, and I probably would have guessed a blend, perhaps of Petite Syrah and Cabernet with touches of Zinfandel and Merlot.
The bright red color I was accustomed to was there in the glass along with a assertive berry/plum/spice nose. On the palate, the wine has a smoky, mushroom, leathery base that’s punctuated with blackberry, black raspberry and cranberry flavors and enriched with herbaceous and cinnamon accents. Nicely balanced, the wines tannins are tamed to a silky-smooth texture that lingers long after the swallow.
Produced by veteran wine professionals, Jeff Hansen and Gary Grunner, this Pinot packs a punch with 14% alcohol and, at $25 a 750 ml bottle, is less expensive than many other Sonoma County Pinots. Food-wise, this Pinot would stand up to more dishes than most of its cousins but would be great with duck in a port reduction, a pork tenderloin stuffed with prunes, or blackened redfish.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

SummerFest Opens Season Friday Evening with Four Week Long Menu of Music

Both Susannas and Both Figaros in Summerfest's Productions of "Figaro"  L-R;  Yungee Rhie, Glenn Ayars, Michael Scarcelle, Katarzyna Wilk Photo Credit: Catherine Aceto

For lovers of music, there will be plenty to chose from starting this Friday evening when Opera Theater launches SummerFest, a four week long run of operas, musical theater, a family opera, a world premier, recitals, late night cabarets and production forums.
SummerFest opens with a classic - Mozart’s comic masterpiece, "The Marriage of Figaro," sung in English and directed by Opera Theater artistic director, Jonathan Eaton. This Marriage doesn’t miss a beat – musically or emotionally, and includes a sparkling overture, some of the greatest ensembles ever written, and divine arias that tell a witty tale of the tensions between love and lust, servant and master, wife and lover.
The plot: The Count has his eye on his valet’s fiancĂ©e, who happens to be his wife’s chambermaid. Meanwhile, the Countess is pursued by the charming Cherubino - a pageboy disguised as a girl! Upstairs meets downstairs in this glorious romp.
Next: On board the current theater trend of having the audience move to different locations within the auditorium, SummerFest will stage "Figaro Redux," a slightly shorter, modern dress version of  "Figaro, "billed as fresh, edgy and mobile. Music director, Robert Frankenberry, said the format is peripatetic, in that the audience will move into different areas of the auditorium that will serve as the scenic locales.
For the first scene, they will meet in the rehearsal space, then transfer upstairs to the ballroom, which will serve as the Countess’ bedroom, then to the main hall where they’ll face the balcony for another scene, only to turn around and face the stage for the finale.
Accompanying the audience will be a reduced size orchestra made up of a string quartet, winds and piano (There will be a separate piano in each location).
For lovers of musical theater, "Damn Yankees" will  have an interesting twist in that the women will be playing the men and vice versa.  "In the opera world, there are a lot of sopranos as opposed to a lot of male actors/singers in the musical theater world," Frankenberry said. "Jonathan Eaton thought it might be interesting to do the work this way, and the gender reversal decision is therefore both a practical matter and theatrically  enlivening, and we hope it will give out audiences food for thought."

Ad man Jack Front (Christopher Scott) tries to convince his well-informed wife Alice (Lara Lynn Cottrill) that scientist Rachel Carson is a "nutcase," knowing adverse PR about DDT could put his company out of business. Photo by Patti Brahim from Carrie Furnace Performance 
Another highlight is a world premier commissioned by Opera Theater titled "A New Kind of Fallout." Inspired by the writings of Springdale native, Rachel Carson, whose childhood home lies a few miles up the Allegheny from Pittsburgh, the opera features music by acclaimed New York-based composer Gilda Lyons and a libretto by award-winning Pittsburgh playwright, Tammy Ryan.
"Jonathan [Eaton} is always interested in engaging the Pittsburgh community and thought for years of commissioning an opera based on Rachel Carson," Frankenberry said.
While reading her momentous and best-known work, "Silent Spring," Frankenberry said Ryan was inspired by the story of a young woman concerned by the spraying of DDT by airplane to combat the spread of the gypsy moth infestation and came up with the idea for her operatic character, Alice.
The plot: Recently married to an ad man who writes jingles for Better Life Chemists, a DDT manufacturer, Alice is confronted with the challenge of finding out more about the environmental effects of DDT after reading an article about "Silent Spring" and gets her book club to read Carson’s opus.
The opera follows Alice’s voyage of making a life-changing choice - answering the call to action to preserve the world in which her child will live or supporting her husband in his work for the very company manufacturing poisonous pesticides.
"In addition to producing good opera, Opera Theater also wants to inspire its audiences to get involved in the issues of the day," said Frankenberry, who will conduct the work with an orchestra of 14 and a large cast and ensemble. "Hopefully, ‘A New Kind of Fallout’ will do that."
The conductor and composer have a personal connection and professional relationship. After meeting Lyons while she was completing her graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh, Frankenberry’s performed in quite a few of her pieces, including several appearances in her The Phoenix Concert series in New York City.
He describes the score as "beautiful, breathtaking, moving, and powerful in a way that will simultaneously seduce and challenge, not unlike Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ did in 1962."
"Those familiar with the choral works of Eric Whitacre will discover similarities of style in ‘A New Kind of Fallout,’" he said. "There’s also a lot of wonderful textural elements in what the singers and ensembles do, the big vocal moments have a Puccini-like quality and some of the music will ring a bell for those familiar with ‘West Side Story’ and Bernstein’s symphonic pieces."
"A New Kind of Fallout’ has undergone some revision over the course of at least seven presentations and workshops during the past year, and Frankenberry said he’s still discovering new things about the piece and looks to discover more with audience feedback from the Sumerfest productions.
Another SummerFest offering, Richard Strauss’ luminous final opera, "Capriccio," contains ravishing music that belies its composition in the midst of war in October, 1942. The plot centers around the gorgeous countess Madeleine, who’s courted by both a writer and a composer as her home fills with birthday party-goers and beguiling melody.
"The Countess is a strong and powerful woman who’s coming to terms with aging," Frankenberry said. "The older Alice in ‘A New Kind of Fallout’ is equally strong as she comes into her own during an era when women were questioning their roles in society."
Continuing Opera Theater’s tradition of sold-out recitals, SummerFest includes an expanded array of concerts, featuring world-class singers, emerging international talent and special programs to celebrate music from around the world.
A six-concert series kicks off with Andrey Nemzer in Recital on Sun., July 12 at 6 p.m. The winner of the 2012 Mildred Miller International Voice Competition, Pittsburgh’s celebrated countertenor has wowed audiences regionally and at the Metropolitan Opera. Savor favorites drawn from the Russian repertoire.
Daphne Alderson performs Piaf Under the Stars on Wed., July 22 at 7:30. The acclaimed chanteuse and her band of accordion, cello, and guitar enchant with songs of Edith Piaf – Leonard Cohen!
Young Artists recitals take a tour around the globe, making stops in: the U.S., Wed., July 15 at 7:30 p.m.; Belgium, Sun., July 19 at 6 p.m. featuring the winners of the SummerFest Europe’s International Voice Competition; Italy, Sun., July 26 at 6 p.m.; and Germany, Wed., July 29 at 7:30 p.m.
For family friendly entertainment, SummerFest is staging "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs " at 11 a.m. on four consecutive Saturdays beginning on July 11.
"The family-oriented productions are a good way to introduce younger audiences to opera," Frankenberry said. "Those in elementary school should be most engaged by the work, although tweens should also enjoy it, not to mention adults with a taste for Looney Tunes cartoons. Adult fun comes from watching the characters do different things from what they remember from the story but ending on a familiar note."
This season’s singers come from a large range of experience - professionals both regional, national and international, those stepping out of school into their professional life, undergraduates, even a few high school students.
They’ll be supported by orchestras of various sizes ranging from 25 for "Figaro’ to smaller, scaled down ensembles. "The musicians enjoy working with us, and we try to be loyal to them," Frankenberry said. "Many are returning from previous seasons and are definitely part of the Opera Theater family."
In keeping with the festival spirit, SummerFest again features pre-show talks in the elegant Twentieth Century Club before performances, and free Late Night Cabarets after selected main stage productions. For each opening night, SummerFest provides a show and party package. For further details visit
The setting: The Twentieth Century Club, one of Pittsburgh’s hidden jewels, features a glorious Art Deco auditorium along with its handsome ballroom and elegant dining space. It provides a singular environment for innovative and intimate performances, for which Opera Theater is known. The 121-year-old club is located in the heart of Oakland, adjacent to the University of Pittsburgh’s campus near Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and convenient parking options.
 Tickets for all events start at $25, with Pigs tickets at $5-10. Groups of 8 or more save 10%. 20 or more save 20%. Student Rush tickets (half price) available with a valid student ID an hour before each opera or musical performance. Students with ID are admitted to recitals at no charge. Order tickets online at or by phone at 412-386-9687.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Doo Dah Days - Stephen Foster Remembered

    The tenth annual Doo Dah Days: The Stephen C. Foster Music and Heritage Festival will take place Saturday, July 11 at the Butler Street entrance to Allegheny Cemetery
from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. This event, a collaborative venturebetween the Allegheny Cemetery Historical Association and the Lawrenceville Historical Society, is free to the public.
Foster, who composed over 280 songs and musical compositions,was born in Lawrenceville in 1826. Following his death in January 1864 in New York City, Foster’s body was
returned to Pittsburgh, and he was laid to rest in AlleghenyCemetery.
    Trolley tours of Allegheny Cemetery will take place during the festival. There will be a slight charge for the trolley, which are staffed by skilled docents, who share stories about many of the famous people buried in Allegheny Cemetery.
    As in the past, food vendors and historical reenactors will be on hand to add to the gala event. Everyone is invited to bring a lawn chair and enjoy the fun as Doo Dah Days turns back the clock to the time of Stephen Foster’s most successfulperiod, the 1850s in a mostly rural America.

11:00 – 11:15 Introductions and opening remarks
11:15 – 12:15 Prof. Guibert and the 1913 Blue & Gray Reunion Band
 This brass band of Civil War reenactors specializes in “campfire entertainments” offering a stirring mix of patriotic melodies, waltzes, and soldier’s reminisces. In 2013, drummer Jim Smith marched from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg in remembrance of PeterGuibert’s original 1913 march to Gettysburg.
12:30 – 1:30 Home Front
 Appearing at their 10th Doo Dah Days (they’ve performed at all of them), Home Front is a group of musicians from Pennsylvania and Maryland who perform authentic Civil War era music in period style and dress. They are a Foster festival favorite.
1:45 – 2:45 AppalAsia
 Few Americans realize how popular Stephen Foster’s music is in the Far East. AppalAsia presents a fusion of Appalachian and Chinese instrumentation and they’ll show you how easily Foster’s
music gets found in the translation.
3:00 – 4:00 Bay Chamber Players
 Are known for their ability to easily perform works in different styles including folk, country, jazz and classical genres. Foster’s tunes readily lend themselves to a chamber ensemble.

Throughout the afternoon
The Miracle Elixir Side Show
 An old-fashioned medicine show right out of the Victorian era,with plenty of amazing stunts and lots of laughs.
Web page

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cosmo Pittsburgh Party This Friday

2014 Cosmo Pittsburgh party Photo Credit: Josh Cohn
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Partner Board, announces the 9th annual Cosmopolitan Pittsburgh ("Cosmo") will be held on Friday, July 10, 2015. Cosmopolitan Pittsburgh, the Cultural District’s biggest summer celebration, celebrates The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s leadership in the ongoing development of Pittsburgh’s award-winning Cultural District.  Guests are invited to indulge in astounding performances, art, music, activities, and a wondrous dance party. Savor signature beverages and delicious treats, while enjoying a fabulous night on the town. 
    Co-chaired by Michael McAllister, Laura Seifert, and Dan Unkovic, Cosmopolitan Pittsburgh has something fun for everyone. Michael McAllister shared, "What I love about Cosmo is the diversity. It’s young, it’s mature. It’s new faces and familiar. This is seen from the incredible food and drinks, to patrons and the art.  There are not too many events in town that you have a 25 year old student on the dance floor next to a 60 year old major donor; and both dancing ‘til the lights come on, to boot!  To me, that's what makes this night so dynamic."
    Immediately following the Cultural Trust’s Gallery Crawl, guests are invited to attend the Cosmo VIP Party and Main Event to be held at the African American Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh. This year’s theme invites attendees to run away with the circus in the Pittsburgh Cultural District via an all-inclusive dance party where everyone is invited to dress the part in their weird, wild, and wonderful groups.   
7:00 – 9:00pm –THE VIP PARTY will be catered by incredible Pittsburgh talent, including  Asiago’s Tuscan Italian, Chef David Bulman with Creative Culinary, Chef Jason Dalling with Habitat, Chef Curtis Gamble with Bloomfield’s soon-to-open Station restaurant, Chef Clare Lise with Bill’s Bar & Burger, and Chef Derek Stevens with Eleven Contemporary Kitchen. Complimentary cocktails, sensational live music, and other feats of wonderment will dazzle the senses. The Main Event commences at the crack of the whip, featuring desserts galore and magnificent unlimited cocktails. Games, sideshow acts, and more amazing feats will thrill partygoers as DJ Pandemic spins the Big Top.
9:00pm – midnight – THE MAIN EVENT commences at the crack of the whip, featuring desserts galore and magnificent unlimited cocktails. Games, performances, sideshow acts,  and more amazing feats will thrill partygoers.
Performances will include a wide variety of artists. Some artists to perform include Marti Gould Cummings, an NYC based comedian, singer, and nightlife host who will be performing during the VIP Party and hosting karaoke during the Main Event. The Dance Hall will feature DJ Pandemic, locally based DJ who features a hybrid of traditional folk music and contemporary dance music from around the world. Other artists at the event include Jody Perigo, The Hills and the Rivers Band, Steel Town Fire, Colonel Eagleburger’s Highstepping Goodtime Band, and many more.
Tickets for Cosmopolitan Pittsburgh for Trust members are: $85 for the 7:00 p.m. VIP Party and $40 for the 9:00 p.m. Main Event at the African American Cultural Center. For non-members, the VIP Party is $95 and the Main Event is $50. For persons aged 21-29, admission to the Main Event is $25 with promo code DAZZLING. Valid ID is required at Will Call. Must be 21+ to attend.

If you can't make the Cosmo Pittsburgh Party, you can still join in on the Gallery Crawl, a quarterly showcase of what’s new in Pittsburgh’s art scene. With over 20 Crawl Stops, you will find something that will grab your attention. Admission is FREE to all locations on the Gallery Crawl.

Wall Paintings | Curated by Robert Raczka, SPACE, 812 Liberty Avenue
12 artists will each create a large painting directly on the walls of the gallery using standard latex house paint. This will be a live art event with the artists working in the gallery throughout the day of the Gallery Crawl, with the gallery open to the public during the day, culminating in the evening reception during which the artists will be completing their paintings.
Don't Miss                   
D-Fuse | Wood Street Galleries, 601 Wood Street
This London-based artist collective has more than 15 years of history in installation, film, experimental documentary, photography, live cinema performance and architectural projects. In recent years much of their practice has focused on environmental issues.
Live Country music by Slim Forsythe | Backstage Bar, 655 Penn Avenue
Lindsey Smith & Soul Distribution | Katz Plaza, 7th Street & Penn Avenue
For more information, visit:

 The Cultural District has exploded with new restaurants, theatre, dance, comedy and other art happenings. Stay Late. Don't Go... Keep Crawling. Cover charge varies per location.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rhoneymeade Revisited - 25 Years Later

Sculpture at Rhoneymeade Credit Bill Rockwell

    It was at Rhoneymeade that I first learned the word conservation easement.. Dr. Richard Morgan, a retired Penn State molecular biologist at the time, had just completed the legal agreement to protect from development his 151-acre farm tucked away off Route 45 in Potter Township, Centre County, and I arrived just as he began planning to turn seven acres of the site into a sculpture garden. That was 25 years ago.
At that time, I was impressed with his plans to allow the public to stroll the grounds free of charge and enjoy the sculptures by regional artists, himself included, that were carefully placed at strategic places. It was to be a marriage of art and nature, nature being some of the oldest trees in Centre County mixed with flowering bushes, annuals and perennials and embellished with gazebos and cozy botanical niches fitted with small ponds and benches.
Dr. Morgan’s enthusiasm was inspirational and even though his concept was in its elemental stage, I fell in love with the place. This past June, I braved a severe thunderstorm to make a return visit. Happily, by the time I reached Altoona, the skies had cleared. Following Route 45 through a beautiful valley that reminded me of Bucks County of years ago, I eventually veered off the main road onto an even more bucolic area. A few miles down Rimmey Road, I saw the sign announcing that I’d arrived at my destination - now officially titled the Rhoneymeade Arboretum and Sculpture Garden.
I immediately recognized the mood and general features of the place, but there were new additions too. A lovely wood and glass artist’s studio, recently built with remnants of an old barn, now served as the visitors welcome center, where the works of local artists are displayed and rotated on a monthly basis.
There to greet me, James Lesher, manager, and John Andrews, a board member of the non-profit, explained that Dr. Morgan now resided in a retirement home but still owned the property. Lesher, it seems, is even fonder of Rhoneymeade than I am. He started volunteering 25 years ago and is now caring for the grounds in Dr. Morgan’s absence with evident concern and enthusiasm.
Starting out on a tour, I asked about the name Rhoneymeade. It seems it’s a German rendition of Rhone’s meadow, a reference to the Rhone family, whose patriarch, Michael Rhone began clearing the land on his farm in the Penns Valley of central Pennsylvania in 1794.
It was Michael’s grandson, Leonard, who completed the family’s lovely brick farmhouse in 1853. Still sturdy and standing tall, the first floor of the house now serves as an art gallery showcasing some of the paintings Dr. Morgan collected over the years. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the house is open to the public as part of the Rhoneymeade experience.
Japanese Style Lantern Photo Credit Bill Rockwell
    After walking along a lawn lined with fruit and impressively large deciduous trees, we arrived at the first sculpture - a massive Japanese-style lantern that sits atop  an overlook whose vista includes Mt. Nittany and the Tussey Ridge.

    Twenty-five other sculptures are scattered over the arboretum, each identified on annotated guides available at the welcome center. Some of the more significant trees are also identified both with labels and on an annotated tree walk guide.
    In shaded areas, plants like wood poppy and hostas add even more color and interest while plants like the unusual Canada lily, whose flowers dangle upside down from long stems, seem to relish soaking up the sun in more open areas.
    In the 25 years since my first visit, development has taken place in the area surrounding Rhoneymeade. Thanks to the preservation efforts of Dr. Morgan and his conservation easement, Rhoneymeade is still a tranquil enclave, a slice of natural beauty kissed by man made works, resting gracefully an aesthetic symbiotic marriage.
    Rhoneymeade Arboretum and Sculpture Garden, located on Rimmey Road off Route 45 in Potter Township between Boalsburg and Old Fort in Centre County, is open Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. April through October. Admission is free, although donations are accepted. For more information, visit website

Canada Lily at Rhoneymeade Photo Credit: Bill Rockwell

The Berkey Creamery
    With the Penn State campus nearby, I couldn’t pass up a chance to drop into the Creamery, now celebrating its 150th anniversary. Located in the Food Science Building, the Berkey Creamery is noted for its ice cream, over 90 flavors of which about 24 are dipped on any one day.
    According to assistant manager, Jim Brown, the most popular flavors are vanilla followed by chocolate, including Death By Chocolate. "About 70% of our milk comes from the campus dairy barn’s 225-cow herd," Brown said. "The rest comes from local dairy farmers."
    To celebrate this year’s anniversary, a new ice cream flavor "birthday cake" beat out the runner up "strawberry cheesecake with graham crackers" as the newly introduced taste favorite. Birthday Cake will be released on July 8 in time for the Arts Festival on Alumni Weekend (July 8 - 12).
    According to Brown, the Creamery serves 750,000 cones each year, using 5 million pounds of raw milk annually. The ice cream is also available in bowls, pints, half gallons and three gallon tubs. With the aid of 50,000 pounds of dry ice per week, the Creamery ships product all over the United States, Fed Ex 2-Day Air. Those living in Pittsburgh will find Creamery ice cream served at Klavon’s in the Strip District.
    Nearby and within walking distance, the Arboretum at Penn State  sits on a 370-acre parcel of land. When fully developed, it will include nearly 30-acres of gardens and more than 340 acres of restored woodlands and environmentally-sensitive landscape. Already, the arboretum is worthy a visit to see is developed Oasis, Rose and Fragrance and Pollinator’s Gardens.

Whiskers at the Nittany Lion Inn
Whiskers at the Nittany Lion Inn Photo Credit: Bill Rockwell
    Located right on campus, Whiskers at the Nittany Lion Inn serves lunch and dinner in a casual, pub-style setting as well as outdoors on the garden patio. Dinner includes both vegan and vegetarian selections as well as inventive dishes using lamb, duck, pork, beef, seafood and chicken.
    My dinner companion and I both loved our beef satay appetizer, tender strips of beef on skewers served with a peanut and Sriracha sauce. Our spinach salad was unique in that it was topped by a fried egg done medium, and my duck entree was as good as any I ever had.
    Creamery ice cream, including Peachy Paterno, is available for dessert, but my waitress suggested a slice of a special Highlander Grogg Chocolate Opera Cake with coffee-chocolate syrup and chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache icing created for Culinary Week by the in-house pastry chef.  I’m so glad she did. 200 Park Avenue in State College. Phone 814-865-8500.

The Keller House B & B
    Located in picturesque Centre Hall, not far from Rhoneymeade, the Keller House Bed and Breakfast is a cozy retreat near one of the town’s main crossroads. Five rooms are available for overnight stays, and the innkeepers have furnished each one with antiques, air conditioners, and, in some cases, fireplaces. A full breakfast is served each morning in the dining room and an outdoor patio overlooks a garden, small pond and cascading waterfall. 109 W. Church Street in Centre Hall. Phone 888-554-2588 or
    The last full Thursday to Thursday in August, the Grange Fair in Centre Hall attracts tens of thousands of people to one of the few remaining tenting fairs in the United States. Almost a thousand Army-style tents are laid in rows throughout the grounds which becomes a mini-city with food, games, rides, music and exhibits. Incidentally, the fair has a Rhoneymeade connection. It was founded by Leonard Rhone, one of Rhone’s descendants, in 1874.