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A Singer’s Notes 132: Lovers’ Spat at Shakespeare & Company; Padmore & Biss at Union College

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Fr. Schwoerer illustration of Act 4, Scene 1 (Petruchio rejects the bridal dinner). Engraved by Georg Goldberg (c.1850).Fr. Schwoerer illustration of Act 4, Scene 1 (Petruchio rejects the bridal dinner). Engraved by Georg Goldberg (c.1850).

Shakespeare and Company’s latest offering, “Lovers’ Spat: Shakespeare’s Famous Couples’ Encounters” was a frolic; gags and ad-libs abounded. It had an Elizabethan tinge. Actors were on-book and off-book; everybody was having a wonderful time. It has long been a positive aspect of the Company not to take everything so seriously. We remember that Shakespeare’s plays were new plays, experimental plays, which doubtless took a different path every performance. I particularly enjoyed the natural speech of Kaileela Hobby as Viola in a scene from Twelfth Night. She seemed a real person; the Bard’s words in her performance were utterly natural. MaConnia Chesser and Jason Asprey, as Kate and Petruchio in a scene from Taming of the the Shrew, were wildly entertaining. One just didn’t know what they would do next. The visual absurdity of it all, paradoxically, gave the actors a closeness. They made hijinks and ad-libs a natural thing. I could gladly watch it all over again. All in all, the show was just plain fun.

I am very happy to hear that Shakespeare and Company’s summer season will include Cymbeline, a play I have rarely seen on stage and which deserves more attention. Yes, it is incoherent at times. There is no straight narrative. The relationships are strained. But reading it makes me hear it as a kind of magic, a magic not troubled by incoherence but fed by it. There is no demanding structure. One hears the late Shakespeare in Cymbeline, but in a rough way. It is hard to believe that The Tempest, a superbly finished work, and Cymbeline, a kind of workshop, nudge each other chronologically. I applaud the Company for undertaking a difficult work. Now I will hear the play, not just read it, and this is good.

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Tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Jonathan Biss gave a riveting interpretation of Franz Schubert’s Schwanengesang on Sunday at the Union College Chapel in Schenectady. Mr. Padmore does not cavort about the stage. His voice makes its own theatre, his gestures simple and telling. It was a great privilege to hear the entire collection and not the usual selections. I heard, when he finally got to the Heinrich Heine songs, a desperate deconstruction of any kind of happiness. Mr. Padmore was superb at building a terrifying silence, this also achieved by Jonathan Biss’s control of silence, always waiting to hear the next sounds as if he were a listener. It was the directness and simplicity of both men which moved me. Never showboating, Padmore and Biss drew us in.

Mr. Biss also worked a miracle. I heard the first movement of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A major, marked Allegro, at a pace which really worked. The piece is long, but this young pianist mastered it. As in the song cycle, he was unafraid to invite silence.

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