Monthly Archives: April 2018

Composer’s Notebook: Have Geezer Card, Will Travel

Overlooking the dam on Lake Allatoona, Cartersville, Georgia. [photo: Mark Gresham]

Having turned 62 back in March, I finally got my National Parks Service “America the Beautiful” Lifetime Senior Pass card yesterday, but I had to drive to Cartersville to buy it first hand.

Since I knew the in-town Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park didn’t sell them, I’d gone to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park visitor’s center to buy one, only to find that they didn’t sell them either. The park ranger at the desk pointed me to two closest choices, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area off State Hwy 400 and the Allatoona Lake Visitor Center & Museum, which is run by the U.S. Army Corps of Enginners.

I chose the Cartersville location, since I was already just off U.S. 41, and felt like taking a nice drive in that direction. It was an easy process. I struck up a conversation with the receptionist who sold me the card, and she suggested I take a short walk up to dam overlook, not many yards away from the building, because they were releasing water from the dam at that moment. Monday’s record breaking rain for the day had raised the pool a little much, so they had to open the gates release some of it. That made for a great photo op, this one being the best of the group taken with just the camera of my Kindle tablet.

The Allatoona Dam was completed in 1949. Lake Allatoona (rarely called by its official designation, Allatoona Lake) is supplied mostly by the Etowah River, one of the rivers featured in my string quartet, Four Rivers. Below the dam, the Etowah River passes by the Etowah Indian Mounds, west of the city, before joining the Oostanaula River to form the Coosa River at their confluence in Rome, Georgia.

Restaurant review: Radial cafe (Candler Park)

by Mark Gresham | 23 Apr 2018

1530 DeKalb Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30307
American, New

⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars

Radial cafe is the kind of place you can take vegan or vegetarian friends who are terrified of being invited to a restaurant by those of us who are more or less omnivores. It also takes great pride in its “low carbon footprint” and overall “green” attitude toward running a business. Appropriate coincidence that this is the day after Earth Day.

On a normal occasion, I would give Radial a four or five star rating, but it was a little off norm today. Wait staff, in my experience, has been consistently friendly, if slightly cavalier on occasion; that was again the case today, when I didn’t recognize anyone on duty.

The menu was a different printing than I’ve seen before, on paper, without the normal encoding of the dishes as being vegan, gluten, free, etc. or maybe I just didn’t notice where those things were indicated. Normally they are highly visible and just pop out at you.

I wondered whether there was inordinate turnover since my last visit, or if experienced staff from this Candler Park location had been sent to the newer College Park location, which I have not yet visited.

I normally order the American breakfest, and did so today: two eggs over medium, wheat toast, house grits, and their wonderful chicken sausage, plus decaf coffee, which came first. However, I was told they were out of chicken sausage today, so had a choice of pork or vegetarian sausage, or bacon. I chose the pork sausage, which was my mistake. It was an insignificant portion, mashed flat (1/8″ ). The eggs were more over easy than medium, undercooked from my perspective; the wheat toast burned but cold (no jam offered, but butter), the grits nicely thick but a little on the gritty side.

I am hoping that changes have not gone down here that would warrant more than a dip to a three-star rating on this occasion. All things considered, I will return at some point, though I can’t eat out as frequently as I used to, budget-wise. My total bill came to $11.78 before taxes and tip ($2.79 of that was the decaf coffee), which is in the “reasonable” range these days. The 79-cent breakfast of my college days (1970s) are long gone, of course, and there are more expensive options out there that are pretty much equivalent quality to Radial on its better days, but if your culinary preferences need match your progressive social agenda, Radial is a better choice for you, though it makes no difference one way or the other to me. I do have friends for whom it is important. I’m more interested in the food. ■

[Also published on]

Restaurant review: Cracker Barrel (Marietta)

by Mark Gresham | 22 Apr 2018

Cracker Barrel
2150 Delk Rd, Marietta, GA 30067
American, Traditional

⭐⭐ 2 stars

I had never been to this particular Cracker Barrel, but decided to try it on a Sunday when I had some time to make the drive for the drive itself (none are within 10 miles of me, this one 17 miles). Hostess was very friendly and cheerful, wait staff and cashier pleasant enough for their jobs. Table for one easy, immediate, as no crowd and a choice of open tables.

I ordered grilled trout, mashed potatoes, fried okra, biscuits and just water to drink. The big disappointment was the trout (thus the 2-star rating) which was so small and flat that I thought I’d need a microscope to find it on the plate. Really, it was just a few bites worth and greasy at that. (The old restaurant joke, “How did you find your [trout]?” came to mind.) Mashed potatoes and okra were ordinary, like out of a grocery store box of spud flakes for the former, gravy not even offered as an option and had to ask for butter, which I was told was with the forthcoming biscuits. Biscuits were good, typical of Cracker Barrel. I don’t recall being asked if I wanted dessert, but by this time had decided not to bother anyway. Total cost: $7.99 plus taxes and tip.

Service was quick, the meal went quickly. The restaurant was clean, not crowded or chaotic, not loud. Were it not for the thing that vaguely passed for a serving of trout, I might have given this Cracker Barrel a higher rating. The greeting of the hostess and less crowded environment had made me think better was in store, but, alas, no. Perhaps my experience was an exception, and I just happened to get dinged this time. ■

Also published on

Review: Atlanta Opera’s “Out of Darkness: Two Remain” makes for emotionally powerful drama

by Mark Gresham | 11 APR 2018

Ben Edquist as Manfred Lewin and Tom Key as Gad Beck. [photo: Jeff Roffman]

Ben Edquist as Manfred Lewin and Tom Key as Gad Beck. [photo: Jeff Roffman]

The Atlanta Opera is halfway through their latest Discovery Series production, “Out of Darkness: Two Remain,” by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer. I attended on Friday night, the second performance of the production’s eight-show run. Four performances remain, this coming Thursday through Sunday, April 12 through 15. Presented in collaboration with Theatrical Outfit, the performances take place in that company’s home venue, the 200 seat Balzer Theater at Herren’s.

“Out of Darkness: Two Remain” is comprised of two 45-minute acts, each telling the story of an aging Holocaust survivor, each a kind of “ghost story” where the unresolved memories of their experiences and persons who died continue to haunt them.

Act I tells the story of poet and lyricist Krystyna Zywulska (soprano Maria Kanyova), who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau as a political prisoner, rather than for being a Jew – a fact which he successfully hid from her Nazi captors. She is confronted by memories of her of her younger self who survived Auschwitz, nicknamed Krysia (soprano Bryn Holdsworth), and friends in the camp who did not: Zosia and Edka (mezzo-sopranos Elise Quagliata and Gina Perregrino), and the late-arriving Mariola (soprano Jasmine Habersham), a Jewish woman who immediately recognizes Krysia as childhood friend from Łódź, and calls her by her real name, Sonia Landau, in front of Wala, a “kapo” – a prisoner functionary (Funktionshäftling) assigned by the SS to supervise and control other prisoners (a brief role also portrayed by Quagliata).

The encounter with Mariola creates immediate peril for Krysia, in which she must deny her former identity and hr childhood friend. It’s the ghost of Mariola who haunts Krystyna the most, and who is the first character to sing, wordlessly, at the beginning of the opera. In the end, Krystyna reaffirms that she is no longer Sonia Landau, but Krystyna Zywulska – and that is why she still lives to see another day.

The aging Krystyna Zywulska and Krysia, the ghost of her younger self (sopranos Maria Kanyova and Bryn Holdsworth). [photo: Jeff Roffman]

The aging Krystyna Zywulska and Krysia, the ghost of her younger self (sopranos Maria Kanyova and Bryn Holdsworth). [photo: Jeff Roffman]

Act II is the account of German homosexual Gad Beck (actor Tom Key), whose first true love was the poet Manfred Lewin (baritone Ben Edquist), executed in Auschwitz at age 19 along with his entire family. Although he keeps a book of Manfred’s poems in a side table drawer, Gad tries but cannot forget, and is visited one night by the ghost of his young lover, and must reconcile himself to accepting that love and his memories of Manfred. He does as he and the ghost of Manfred embrace in a close dance as the lights fade.

That seemed like it would be the end of the opera, but a Finale follows, involving the whole cast of both acts, that comes across less as epilogue than as anthem of defiance and solidarity. Key, who has only spoken dialogue all night, is the first to break into song, delivered directly to the audience, reprising a tune and text from the first act, in which the rest of he cast quickly join him:

Take off your striped clothes, kick off your clogs.
Stand with me, hold your shaved head high.
The song of freedom upon our lips will never, never die.

Although two separate stories, with protagonists that are unconnected except by Auschwitz and the Holocaust, there is much synergy between the two Acts. That synergy becomes fused in the opera’s final, collective anthem and it does something unusual for 21st-century opera: it risks being remembered by the audience as they depart.

Whether emulating folk-song and dance of Ashkenazic Jews, or the decadent atmosphere of a Berlin nightclub, or eerily adapting waltzes by Chopin and Johann Strauss into the sonic thread, Heggie’s music colors the drama and amplifies it. The orchestra is a sextet – essentially a “Pierrot ensemble” of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, with the addition of a contrabass. The Atlanta Opera Orchestra principal players, ensconced in a narrow passageway behind a scrim at the back of the stage, performed skillfully under the baton of conductor Joseph Mechavich.

Four dancers (Miriam Golumb, Nicole Johnson, Brandon Nguyen and Joshua Rackliffe) round out the cast, portraying multiple silent characters important to the drama as well as executing the evocative choreography by John McFall. Producing director Tomer Zvulun balanced the creative forces onstage, emphasizing the opera’s strong theatrical elements, which suited the Balzer Theater’s space and Christopher Dills’ pragmatic scenic design, drawing from the complete cast of players a solid ensemble performance.

On his website, composer Heggie describes this Atlanta Opera production as the “premiere of revised opera and official professional opera company world premiere.” Like many operas, it has taken time for the work to evolve to this stage. “Out of Darkness” had its beginnings as three separate theatrical song cycles: “For a Look and a Touch” (2007), “Another Sunrise” (2012) and “Farewell, Auschwitz (2013).As none of these alone made for a complete theatrical evening, Heggie and Scheer worked them over to create the first “Out of Darkness” opera.

That first version was commissioned by the concert series Music of Remembrance and premiered in 2016 at the Nordstrom Recital Hall in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, directed by Erich Parce and conducted by Joseph Mechavich. Since then revisions have been made, with a trial run of four performances only two months ago February 8 through 11 by Peabody Chamber Opera of Baltimore’s John Hopkins University. Subsequent further revisions were made just after; vocal scores used by the Atlanta Opera bear the date “2/18/2018.” In the process, the title of the new version was expanded to “Out of Darkness: Two Remain.”

In its current form, “Out of Darkness: Two Remain” proved an effective, well-crafted, emotionally complex evening of agitprop music theater that makes its poignant point to those interested and willing to be moved by its deeply heartfelt message.

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