DC's In Series celebrates Thirtieth Anniversary

Capitol city's feistiest little performing arts company in concert at Gala Hispanic. Photo: In Series

WASHINGTON, October 4, 2012 – Somehow, from its obscure birth on campus of the former Mt. Vernon College in 1982; through the Crash of 1987, the dot.bomb recession of 1999-2001, and the current Great Depression II (2008-????), the tiny performing arts organization now known as the In Series has managed to survive if not always prosper, rewarding its patrons and fans with the kind of eclectic arts programming that’s rarely available in the DC Metro area.

Along with In Series founder and still current artistic director Carla Hübner, the company chose to celebrate its 30th anniversary this past weekend at the Gala Hispanic Theatre at the Tivoli with a delightful, well-executed, and at times highly emotional art song program entitled “Songs We Love.”

Prelude Singers Cast, with Frank Conlon at the piano. (In Series)

The company’s rotating cast of twelve vocalists, accompanied by well-known Washington pianist Frank Conlon and assisted by dancers from the Washington Ballet’s Studio Company, presented a widely-varied menu of Romantic and contemporary art songs, American and Latin favorites, and selections from Mozart’s operas, all of which celebrated the ups and downs and the ins and outs of that thing called love.

Vocalists included Anamer Castrello, Mary Gresock, Fleta Hylton, Debra Lawrence, Tara McCredie, Laura Wehrmeyer, Peter Burroughs, Byron Jones, Richard Potter, José Sacin, Gregory Stuart, and Richard Tappen, all occasionally accompanied by Linette Tobin on the congas in addition to Mr. Conlon. 

As is typical for the In Series, there was a little something for every taste in this program. Fans of music with a Latin beat enjoyed selections from popular zarzuelas (a bit like a cross between Hispanic-flavored operas and Broadway shows) as well as Latin-tinged music from Noël Coward (“Nina”) and Eliseo Silveira (“Orgullecida”).

Anamer Castrello, with Frank Conlon, Lin Tobin with Washington Ballet Studio Company dancers Daniel Savetta, Robert Mulvey and Chong Sun (Clockwise from front center) in “Orgullecida.” (In Series)

This portion of the vocal program was colorfully illuminated by the Washington Ballet’s Studio dancers who performed a pair of excerpts from Septime Webre’s ballet Juanita y Alicia as Ms. Castrello handled the vocals. The marvelously expressive ballerina Esmiana Jani was joined in this performance by company members Pinar Atik, Francesca Forcella, Fernanda Oliviera, Robert Mulvey, Daniel Savetta, Chong Sun, and Hasan Topcuoglu in this inventive, fluid, and moving performance. This set proved yet another highlight of the In Series’ ongoing and increasingly successful partnership with this talented young ballet troupe.

Vocal highlights of a program that was loaded with them included Mr. Jones’ gut-wrenching interpretation of Jacques Brel’s famous “Ne me quitte pas;” the entire trio of flabbergastingly astringent and clever William Bolcom/Arnold Weinstein pop/art/cabaret songs performed by Mr. Jones and Ms. Hylton; Ms. Lawrence’s unusual and showy presentation of two rarely heard Richard Wagner art songs in addition to her brave and astounding interpretation of “Lia’s Aria” from Debussy’s nearly unknown early composition L’Enfant prodigue (The Prodigal Son); and a touchingly affectionate take on Mozart’s famous love duet from Don Giovanni as sung by Ms. McRedie and Mr. Jones.

Frank Conlon and Richard Tappen in ‘Nina.’ (In Series)

The emotional core of this recital in many ways was its focus on the memory of one of the In Series’ most loyal collaborators and supporters, Virginia Freeman, who worked with the series from 1994-2008 and who passed away just under a year ago. The opening portion of the program was dedicated to Ms. Freeman, including the Brel song as well as clever and romantic songs of Rudolph Friml and (surprisingly) an acid-tipped art song from Benjamin Britten and poet W.H. Auden entitled “Tell Me the Truth About Love.”

But perhaps the most touching (and fitting) moment of this weekend’s program was the ensemble’s final song, Irving Berlin’s well-known and deeply nostalgic song, “Count Your Blessings.” Prior to this number, the performers called Ms. Hübner up on stage in appreciation of her heroic efforts in keeping this series afloat for thirty difficult years; and by its conclusion, there were few dry eyes in the house.

Hopefully, many of us will still be around to celebrate the In Series’ Fiftieth Anniversary. In the meantime, “Songs We Love” will serve as a memorably moving prelude to that upcoming 2032 event.

Rating: *** (Three stars)

The In Series will return in early November with another of this company’s virtually patented “pocket opera” events. This one will pair Purcell’s early short opera Dido and Aeneas—inspired by the central love story of Virgil’s epic Aeneid—and Manuel De Falla’s more contemporary El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician), originally designed as a ballet accompanied by singers and instrumentalists. These short gems will be performed in tandem at the Series’ home stadium, the Source, at 14th and T Sts. NW.

For tickets and information on this “Love and Witchcraft” event, visit the In Series’ web site.

Read Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times (1994-2009). 

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