Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

Our Thanksgiving guests are already arriving

NEW THIS WEEK

SMUIN BALLET presents “Offstage, Onscreen” November 29 and December 2. MONTEREY SYMPHONY Balcony Sessions presents cellist Isaac Pastor-Chermak on Thanksgiving. UCSC AFRICAN-AMERICAN THEATER troupe online, December 1. FOR DETAILS AND LINKS, CLICK HERE

 

HOPE@HOME

VIOLINIST DANIEL HOPE and his New Century Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco have produced a series of six programs of new music and well-known masterpieces available online. The daily webcasts began last Wednesday and ended yesterday. BUT, all six episodes will be archived and available for viewing 30 days after the air date. The series will be delay-streamed free at ARTE Concert. Make sure the sound is turned on; click HERE

SIMON WOODS ON AMERICAN ORCHESTRAS AFTER COVID

CEO OF THE LEAGUE OF AMERICAN ORCHESTRAS ponders the future. Click HERE

JAMES CONLON GOES TO BALTIMORE

INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED conductor James Conlon will join the BSO as Artistic Advisor beginning in the 2021-22 season. Conlon, who has affirmed that he is not a candidate in the BSO’s forthcoming Music Director search, has cultivated a vast symphonic, operatic and choral repertoire, having conducted virtually every major American and European symphony orchestra since his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1974. He is currently the music director of Los Angeles Opera and principal conductor of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra. As Artistic Advisor, Conlon will help ensure the continued artistic quality of the Orchestra. In addition to leading three concert weeks per year in each of the 2021-22, 2022-23, and 2023-24 seasons, Conlon will fill many duties off the podium including those related to artistic personnel – such as filling important vacancies and attracting exceptional musicians as outlined in the BSO’s recent five-year collective bargaining agreement.

IRVING BERLIN’S SUPPER TIME

IT WAS WRITTEN by Irving Berlin for the 1933 musical As Thousands Cheer, where it was introduced by Ethel Waters. It is about a wife’s reaction to news of her husband’s lynching. It was a newspaper report that Berlin read that inspired him.

 

WHITHER THE CHOIRS?

VENERABLE I CANTORI AND CAMERATA SINGERS of Monterey County are currently without music directors. The former parted ways with Cyril Deaconoff after two seasons and the latter when longtimer John Koza retired last spring. For obvious reasons, the groups cannot rehearse, so it only remains to be seen if they will come back to life after the pandemic relents. Meanwhile, Deaconoff, an adjunct but currently shelved professor at Monterey Peninsula College has accepted an offer to lead the newly formed Monterey Chamber Singers. They are holding in-person rehearsals in strict compliance with covid-19 protocols, chorus member and MCS board treasurer Carole Dawson told us. “We want to keep singing to maintain our voices, our sanity and our sense of joy,” she said. Currently, the ensemble, consisting of two groups, rehearses outdoors with a maximum of 12 people per group, wearing masks while maintaining six-foot spacing. “We plan to produce a virtual concert with selections from both groups and are pursuing having our in-person sessions recorded, using a microphone for each singer, so that we can maintain proper social distancing.”

CORRECTIONS

BREATHING AT THE BOUNDARIESby the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company livestream with the Paul Dresher Ensemble was postponed at the last minute. Our VOICES OF SILICON VALLEY piece from last week ascribed the music of the Sugihara Project to Cyril Deaconoff. In fact it was written by I’lana Cotton, a composer from Oregon; the new VOSV recording contains only music by Deaconoff and Stockhausen.

OPERATIC BASS ARTHUR WOODLEY, 71

TRIBUTES are pouring for Woodley, a fine operatic bass who died on Saturday. A New Yorker who grew up in the Virgin Isles, he sang in an Italian rock band to get him through his studies in Bologna and made his debut in October 1979 in Mendelssohn’s Elijah at Carnegie Hall. He sang at the Met and many other US houses, latterly in Porgy and Bess. He appeared in 12 productions at Seattle Opera. His last major appearance was as Rocco in Atlanta’s Fidelio.

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

HSIANG TU’s new solo album for Bridge looked a little suspect on first glance, but turns out to be quite an adventuresome wander into to some very rare corners of the keyboard literature. It opens with The Swan by Saint-Saëns in an ornament-encrusted transcription by Leopold Godowsky, a late 19th-early 20th century virtuoso that pianist Antonio Iturrioz has dubbed “The Buddha of the Piano.” Some pieces are expected: Debussy’s Goldfish, Granados’ The Maiden and the Nightingale, Schumann’s Prophet Bird, Liszt’s Saint Francis’ Sermon to the Birds and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. But there are more surprises: Messiaen’s The Golden Oriole (which captures the bird’s own song), Ravel’s Night Moths, William Bolcom’s Butterflies, hummingbirds, Tabby Cat Walk and The Serpent’s Kiss (complete with knocking on wood, mouth clicks and whistle), Bartok’s From the Diary of a Fly and The Night’s Music & The Chase, Villa-Lobos’ The Little Lead Bull (from The Baby’s Family suite) and Henry Cowell’s Tiger. If this sounds like a collection of concert encores, it’s a pretty unusual one. SM

CÉCILE SERAUD’s first album, Shoden, offers a strangely seductive introduction to a budding keyboard talent, now in her early 40s. The album was inspired by Yann Tiersen’s melancholy music of his native Brittany, and reflects the influence of musicians from farther north, including Chopin and Arvo Pärt. A surfer, Seraud takes to the waves on the Atlantic coast of Brittany near her home in Lorient. The album contains ten tracks, three of them titled Shoden, a Japanese word referring to a first step into a meditation technique called reiki; it means ‘open your wings and dare to fly.’ The other tracks come with such titles as Frozen Earth, The Blue Kiss, Lost Little Waltz, Pen er Malo (a popular surfing beach), Tenderness and Life. Seraud composed all of them and plays them at the piano with lots of sustaining pedal in the slower moments, joined in two cases by cellist Juliette Divry, and with occasional digital sound effects. Some short pieces actually serve as introductions to longer ones. When one hand is busy, the other often supports it with statically repeating tones and patterns. The collection sets and sustains a hypnotic mood. SM  To hear a sample or collect it as a CD or digital download, click HERE

BEETHOVEN@250

NANNETTE STREICHER, piano maker to the great composer was also a fast friend. Click HERE

AUTUMN LEAVES

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Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

Weekly Magazine

THIS COMING WEEK

BLUESMAN TAJ MAHAL livestream tonight, from UC Berkeley and in support of Carmel’s Sunset Center (will remain available for 48 hours). SMUIN BALLET WINTER DANCE SERIES Program C, Wednesday and Sunday. MARGARET JENKINS DANCE COMPANY (pictured above) in collaboration with the Paul Dresher Ensemble in five free streams of Breathing at the Boundaries. ACTOR HOWARD BURNHAM ON ZOOM “William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation and the Mayflower Voyage of 1620” on Saturday. SANTA CRUZ BAROQUE FESTIVAL’S Linda Burman Hall interviews viola da gamba player Roy Wheldon. MUSIC@MENLO EXPLORERS SERIES homage to Beethoven. HARTNELL COLLEGE Gala for the Arts, Saturday. FOR DETAILS AND LINKS, CLICK HERE

WHAT SPECTORDANCE NEEDS

RECENTLY SpectorDance was forced by the COVID-19 economic slump to sell their building in Marina and liquidate their entire inventory of dance-related equipment, including costumes, lighting system and even office furniture. But their ever-resourceful director, Fran Spector Atkins, continues her program of socially targeted and innovative choreography and talent. Once again, SpectorDance is listed with Monterey County Gives, the collaborative program between the Community Foundation for Monterey County and the Monterey County Weekly, which magnifies donations to non-profit recipients of all different kinds throughout Monterey County. Contributions that target SpectorDance will allow the following projects to continue developing. As Fran Spector puts it:

YOUR DONATION will enable us to:

  • Complete a new film of Ocean Trilogy with four associated educational videos featuring science content, creative movement exercises, and segments from Ocean Trilogy
  • Present our second Virtual Choreographers Showcase (February 2021)
  • Present our second Monterey Ocean Arts Festival (Fall 2021)
  • Plan for a new work, Wildfires, about fire in California (premiere 2022)

FOR MORE INFORMATION about SpectorDance programs and projects, click HERE

BAY AREA FAVORITE TENOR DIES AT 47

THE SF BAY AREA opera community was shocked by the death of rising star Samuel Hall, whose accidental death occurred in his Ohio hometown. Click HERE

PAKISTANI BROTHERS ON TABLA

 

A NEW TEMPEST IN THE CLASSICAL TEAPOT

‘FULLNAMING’ FAMOUS COMPOSERS is silly. Click HERE

SEE WHO WON THE CMA 2020 AWARDS

EVENT televised from Music City in Nashville on Veterans’ Day. Click HERE

SINATRA AND GRAYSON SING MOZART

GLEN CAMPBELL PLAYS ROSSINI

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

VOICES OF SILICON VALLEY performed an Orpheus label release sampler on Sunday of excerpts from their new digital album. Conductor Cyril Deaconoff took them through excerpts from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s innovative Stimmung (mood), for the first time in the SF Bay Area in 30 years. The program also included bits of choral music, a string quartet and a couple of songs by Deaconoff himself, an adventuresome composer and advocate of new music whose recent experience included a couple of seasons locally with I Cantori di Carmel chorus and on the music faculty at Monterey Peninsula College. Stimmung is actually simpler than any explanation of it I have read: it has been described as “the first major Western composition to be based entirely on the production of vocal harmonics” and the first “to use overtones as a primary element.” It draws on tones from a major scale (B-flat) but deploys them using a serial technique—with the voices singing as if a choir of monks moving their voice placement in the oral cavity forward and back—interspersed with spoken texts from a variety of sources drawn on universal themes. The presentation was a little confusing, now emphasizing Stockhausen then giving equal time to Deaconoff’s own music. It then went into lengthy verbal descriptions of VOSV’s related projects, one to memorialize the 36 victims of the Ghost Ship fire disaster in Oakland in 2016 and one to honor Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986), Japanese diplomat in Lithuania during the second world war who ignored orders from Japan and wrote transit visas for thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis. Deaconoff has composed music for both. I have yet to hear the new album by itself, though the excerpts from this online event make a strong impression. Orpheus records are available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. SM

HISTORIC RECORD LABELS

A WINDOW to the past. Click HERE

PIANIST GLENN GOULD COMPLAINS

TELLS ALEX TREBEK he “detests” live audiences.

 

LIGHTHOUSE JAZZ QUARTET

COURTESY of the Carmel Foundation that serves senior citizens from all over the Monterey Peninsula. Pianist Bob Phillips, Stu Renolds reeds, Zach Westfall bass and Mike Shannon on drums. Since these professional musicians very kindly donated their time and talent to the Carmel Foundation’s new YouTube channel, after listening to them, please consider giving them a “Thumbs Up.”

 

FRESH CONCERT REVIEW

CRISTIAN MĂCELARU conducted the French National Orchestra in a concert telecast from Paris. Music of Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Francis Poulenc filled the program. Click HERE

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor