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Archive for July, 2009

Prom 12: Sir Charles Mackerras conducts Elgar, Delius, and Holst’s The Planets

Old home week. There’s a daring side to the Proms, which devoted a lot of space last summer to Messiaen and Stockhausen, but there’s a comfy side, too. It was rolled out last night for a concert led by the veteran conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, now eighty-three and the closest thing, I suppose, to a grand old man of the podium that England has. The music of Elgar, Delius, and Holst is reminiscent of empire, since all flourished before and after the Great War. To someone not of these shores their talents widely differ, however. I thought about that during the lulls in this concert, which unfortunately were frequent.

Time and the Conways by J. B. Priestley at the National Theatre, directed by Rupert Goold

“Spots of time.” In the same months when Edward R. Murrow was galvanizing American radio listeners with his besieged reports from the Blitz, wartime Londoners were glued to J.B. Priestley. His broadcasts were second in popularity only to Churchill’s (supposedly out of pique, the Prime Minister had Priestley booted off the BBC as a leftist). Now I wonder if anyone thinks much about this literary jack of all trades, tweedy pipe-smoker, and loudly public socialist. Although born before the automobile, Priestley outlived John Lennon by four years before dying in 1984, a month before he would have turned ninety. The National Theatre has revived one of Priestley’s most accomplished West End dramas, Time and the Conways. No doubt the hope was to make him relevant again, since the themes of the play, economic ruin and twisty time, are a perfect match with our Great Recession—Priestley wrote his drama in 1937—and the cosmic scheme of quantum physics.

Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well at the National Theatre, directed by Marianne Elliott

The feigned knot. Fashions change, even in clichés, and the London critics all responded to a superb production of All’s Well That Ends Well at the Nation Theatre with references to its fairy-tale plot, the current cliché, it seems. They also labelled this a problem play, a term invented in 1896 to explain why a comedy, so baffling and unsatisfying as this one, isn’t funny. There’s no record of it being produced in Shakespeare’s lifetime. The first known production came 125 years after his death, and since then it has had a spotty record, perhaps a poxed one, to use a healthy old-fashioned derogatory—actors and critics were quick to blame it for immorality, to the extent that thee plucky heroine, Helena, was accused of being either a man-hunter or man-eater. Hovering in the background was another cliché, inherited from the Romantic era, that Shakespeare should improve our view of life and provide a poetic model for love and death, the twin subjects that Keats was fixated on (not that he indulged in the clichés himself).

Bernstein’s Candide at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, starring Julian Whitley

The story of the creation of Candide is a fascinating but hardly edifying one, considering the result: a series of miscellaneous libretti and various combinations of musical numbers, none of which are really satisfactory. Nonetheless, it is hard not to become engaged in its rag-tag series of satirical scenes adapted from Voltaire’s classic novella, and it is even harder not to fall in love with the music, which is stage Bernstein at his best. A cult has grown up around it, and Bernstein himself was especially fond of the score, returning to it several times, including at the very end of his life, when he conducted a concert version at the Barbican, which was videotaped and recorded.

Greylock Arts and Pure Theory, Adams, Massachusetts through August 27th 2009

Greylock Arts and Pure Theory, Adams, Massachusetts through August 27th 2009 (THE DNA-PHOTON PROJECT) RE-ADAPTED FOR SECRET CENTURY statement by Dan Rose: “WHAT CAN WE HUMANS BECOME?

Selig sind die Toten – What Schütz Taught Brahms

Brahms, always a musical preservationist, revered the liturgical works of Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672), the greatest German Baroque composer before J. S. Bach. When Brahms penned his crepuscular Ein deutsches Requiem, much of his intention – musically and textually – was modeled after careful study of Schütz’s longest work, the Musikalische Exequien (Musical Exequies) of 1636. Both works are titled similarly (for Schütz’s Exequies is “in Form einer teutschen Begräbnis – Missa,” in the form of a German Burial Mass)

Award-winning Playwright A. R. Gurney brings Ancestral Voices to Shakespeare & Company: A Photo Gallery

Award-winning Playwright A.R. Gurney brings Ancestral Voices to Shakespeare & Company   One-Night Only Benefit Performance to support the company’s capital campaign! Monday, July 20, a photo gallery by Kevin Sprague with additional photography by Michael Miller After the most enjoyable production of A. R. Gurney’s early play Children at Williamstown Theatre Festival, I was more […]

Duet for One, by Tom Kempinski

There’s a built-in mystery about psychotherapy that benefits a play like Duet for One. Diving into the unconscious is an exciting, risk-filled exploration that’s bound to uncover hidden demons. Finding out where the bodies are buried never ceases to create a frisson. But on the opposing side, this exploration is mostly of interest to the patient, not to outside observers. Psychotherapy is solipsistic. We have our own diving expeditions to go on, never mind a third party’s. Duet for One needed a bit of extra insurance, and it got it. When Tom Kempinski’s two-character drama first appeared in 1980, a guilty element of voyeurism helped fuel its success. The principal character is a famous musician sidelined by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. All of England knew that she was a stand-in for the great cellist Jacqueline du Pre, whose career was tragically cut short by the same disease; she succumbed from it in 1987 at the age of forty-two.