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A Singer’s Notes 127: Great Things at the TMC, and Good Fun at the Berkshire Theatre Festival and Shakespeare and Company

TMC Vocal Fellow Fleur Barron and Dominik Belavy perform in Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins in Ozawa Hall. Photo Hilary Scott.

TMC Vocal Fellow Fleur Barron and Dominik Belavy perform in Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins in Ozawa Hall. Photo Hilary Scott.

Tanglewood Vocal Fellows and TMCO

In line with the excellent work I have heard at Tanglewood, was the Fellows’ vocal concert. Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins was masterfully led by mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron, Nuno Coelho, conductor, with Nicholas Muni as director. Mr. Muni’s direction was not fussy, and it tapped into the knife-edged nature of the show without excess. Ms. Barron gave a masterful performance. Not only was her voice beguiling in every way, she moved decisively, and somehow naturally, through the opera. Each of her skills contributed to a larger convincing performance in this ice-cold piece.

Shostakovich Symphony No. 14 was a real leap for the vocal students, and they succeeded marvelously. Of special value to me was the focus Dawn Upshaw maintained during the movement entitled “The Suicide.” Everything about this performance was of a piece—the silences were as eloquent as the sounds. It moved us into another world, barely accompanied, desperate, lyrical. Sanford Sylvan’s singing showed the beauty of his voice, as always, and the elegance with which he forms each word. These mentors helped their young charges to reach a professional level in every respect. Christian Reif conducted passionately.

The last concert of the summer, led by the great Charles Dutoit, confirmed what I have thought all along, that the 2016 Fellows are one of the finest young orchestras I have heard. I hesitate to call it a student orchestra. Its skill level, its commitment to each performance, just the plain vitality of it, was consistently thrilling. I do not know another venue where one can hear music-making with this kind of newness, commitment, and joy. In their last concert, Kodály’s Dances of Galanta sported not only a lyrical clarinet solo by Erin Fung, but a blistering speed from the strings. Later Maestro Dutoit conducted a marvelous performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. In each performance of this piece, he finds a decorum as well as a wildness. The young players really outdid themselves. Of special notice was the opening solo, marvelously played by bassoonist Toby Chan.

Kate Baldwin and Graham Rowat in "Constellations," BTG, 2016. Photos Emma Rothenberg-Ware.

Kate Baldwin and Graham Rowat in “Constellations,” BTG, 2016. Photos Emma Rothenberg-Ware.

Constellations by Nick Payne , at The Unicorn Theatre, Berkshire Theatre Group

Constellations was as fine a piece of acting as I have seen in a long time. I could imagine it being a crashing bore. It features tongue-twisters aplenty, and it leaps into the abyss suddenly in the midst of the play. These virtuoso actors had the skill, just the plain chutzpah to make it hold you tight. There are rapid successions of contradictions, sudden changes, half-articulated sentences, all contributing to a kind of word-game play that whirled around the ear. I enjoyed so much the skill of Graham Rowat. His part, almost entirely reactive, was the glue that held the chaos together. Being on stage with Kate Baldwin is itself a great treat. But the script required of Mr. Rowat a kind of manic empathy that never let up, and was moving. I wished to see more young people at this performance because these wonderful, wonderful actors showed what words can do. This is a play I could imagine myself seeing over and over.

Tod Randolph in 'Or,' at Shakespeare & Company, 2016. Photo Ava G. Lindenmaier.

Tod Randolph in ‘Or,’ at Shakespeare & Company, 2016. Photo Ava G. Lindenmaier.

Or by Liz Duffy Adams, at Shakespeare and Company

Aphra Behn was a Restoration playwright, loved by some, scorned by others. Or, a play by Liz Duffy Adams, showed us how she might have lived and created. At the front of the play, Tod Randolph introduced herself with self-referential humor, well-controlled and suggestive in its detail. Her two partners, Allyn Burrows and Nehassaiu deGannes, in a variety of roles, slowly but surely took over the play. I liked Ms. Randolph’s performance best when she became reactive, never giving in all the way. Ms. deGannes delivered her way-difficult speeches, clogged with words, brilliantly, accents included. Mr. Burrows had a less virtuoso turn, but he convinced. Best of all, this play was fun, rather like a game. You never knew who was going to pop up next, and the narrative itself became less and less important. I saw a kind of 17th century vaudeville in it. It must be said that there was a simple, beautiful set that enabled the actors. It stayed there- it had a stability; it gave us a center amidst the hijinks. This was a fun evening.

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