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

NEW THIS WEEK

2020 CABRILLO FESTIVAL CANCELED: Message above from music director Cristian Măcelaru. SANTA CRUZ SYMPHONY cancels May concerts; June Pops Concert still scheduled. MONTEREY SYMPHONY cancels April concerts. Max Bragado-Darman’s last concerts as Music Director are currently set for mid-May. CARMEL MUSIC SOCIETY’s May 10 concert canceled. APTOS KEYBOARD SERIES postpones April recital by Frank Huang. I CANTORI cancels May concerts at Carmel Mission. MUSIC IN MAY still plans to go forward. NEW MUSIC WORKS moves May 4 concert to November. SANTA CRUZ BAROQUE cancels remainder of current season. YOUTH MUSIC MONTEREY COUNTY calls off final 2020 spring concert. YOUTH ORCHESTRA SALINAS goes to its students on line.

CABRILLO FESTIVAL OPENS ITS ARCHIVES

THIS MESSAGE arrived in our in-box last Wednesday. “We hope this message finds you safe and well. As the world slows down during this chaotic and unsettling time, we come to you with an offering of aural relief, hopefully heartwarming and mind-opening. Reaching back into the Festival’s archives, we will release a series of treasures via our Blog, starting with our first post today!” Click HERE

C-19 TAKES DEADLY TOLL ON ARTISTS

TERRENCE McNALLY, 81 (right). SF Opera press release: “A voice for humanity. A voice for compassion. Today, we lost an icon, a leader, a friend: Tony-winning playwright and librettist Terrence McNally. He passed away at age 81 from complications from the coronavirus. McNally brought a critical eye to the greatest social issues of our time, immortalizing them in plays and music, as he did as librettist for our 2000 world premiere of “Dead Man Walking,” an opera about pain, forgiveness and morality set against a Louisiana death penalty case.” STAGE, FILM & TELEVISON ACTOR MARK BLUM, 69; he starred opposite Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, Gus and Al and numerous television franchise series. SAXOPHONIST MANU DIBANGO at age 86 in Paris.

CORONAVIRUS ÉTUDE

 

KRZYSZTOF PENDERECKI, 1933-2020

POLISH COMPOSER Krzysztof Penderecki died Sunday after a long illness. He forced Polish music out of Stalinist oppression in 1961 with his powerfully atonal work for massed strings, Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. He became the pioneer of Polish modernism, the fulcrum of Warsaw’s Autumn Festival and the figurehead of a different kind of music that would lead Poland out of its long darkness. Alongside Hiroshima at the 1961 Autumn Festival, the world also heard the world premiere of Lutosławski’s Venetian Games and the playful Three Diagrams by Gorecki. Poland had resumed its rightful place as a musical powerhouse. Polymorphia (below) was used in the soundtrack of the horror films The Exorcist by director William Friedkin (1973) and The Shining by director Stanley Kubrick (1980).

 

DONNA MARIE FORSTER, 1946-2019

OBOIST DONNA FORSTER was a familiar figure at the Monterey Symphony during the 1970s. She took a Masters of Arts in Music degree from Stanford University. A Connecticut native, she performed and worked at Carnegie Hall in New York and was a member of the Singapore Symphony. Later, Donna returned to the States and moved to Carmel Valley where she continued to play oboe and teach music. She served as recruiter and coordinator for John Mack, principal oboe of the Cleveland Orchestra for 35 years, when he conducted master classes at Hidden Valley Music Seminars from 1985 to 2002. (She always referred to him as Mister Mack.) When Luciano Pavarotti came to the Monterey Peninsula to sing a concert at Pebble Beach, Donna served as his music librarian. She retired to the family home near Troy, NY.

CAMERATA SINGERS SEEKS NEW DIRECTOR

APPLICATION deadline is April 18. Click HERE

FROM 1924

VIOLINIST FRITZ KREISLER plays Tanzlied by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

 

THE INCREDIBLY DISAPPEARING SAXOPHONE

YOU RARELY HEAR IT in today’s popular music. Click HERE 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

ANY CLASSICAL RADIO LISTENER who’s heard the name Henry Charles Litolff (1818-1891) might recall only his Scherzo for piano and orchestra from the oddly named Concerto Symphonique in D Minor. That piece has consigned the brilliant European (born in London) pianist to that of ‘One-Trick Pony.’ Hyperion Records is one of few labels that includes ‘project’ categories. In 1990, an idea was hatched that the following year turned in The Romantic Piano Concerto. Within the first 50 CDs of mostly forgotten concertos are two that contain four of Litolff’s Symphonic Concertos—actually symphonies with piano obbligato—with pianist Peter Donohoe and conductor Andrew Litton. (The 70th CD in the series, from 2017, contains three concertos by women composers with Santa Cruz native Rebecca Miller conducting and her husband Danny Driver as soloist.) The new release of two piano trios, plus a Serenade for violin and piano—the second trio and the Serenade in first commercial recordings—by the Leonore Piano Trio enriches the repertoire for violin, cello and piano fabulously and further demonstrates that Litolff was a composer of prodigious gifts. All the glitter of his piano writing is on display, along with his authoritative command of the classical models plus his own visionary twists and surprises. His facile grasp of the influences of his time at times takes one’s breath away. Weber, Hummel, Mendelssohn, Alkan and especially Liszt are found in abundance but filtered through Litolff’s individual personality. The First Trio in D Minor, from 1850, predated by one year the Concerto Symphonique in D Minor. (All of these works contain a scherzo movement, not typically found in concertos and trios.) The Second Trio in B-flat Major, was composed around the same time. The Trio in D Minor is darker at the outset but spends much of its time in the major. These works are full of energy, self-confident and constantly entertaining. Fugal passages show up in unexpected places; likewise pizzicato. They rely on sturdy themes that make contrasts with lyrical melodies with theatrical touches. The cellist is Gemma Rosefield. Her colleagues are violinist Benjamin Nabarro and pianist Tim Horton who get the tender Serenade of 1851 to themselves. Polished and sizzling performances of some fine music are your rewards. SM

WHO CLIMAXES “NESSUN DORMA” BEST?

SORRY, but there’s no other way to ask.

 

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

OUR CALENDAR lists no public performance events

SUMMER FESTIVALS IN JEOPARDY

CALIFORNIA ROOTS at the Monterey Fairgrounds has been pushed back to October. Monterey International Blues Festival postponed to summer 2021, Santa Cruz Shakespeare, Carmel Bach Festival, Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Monterey Jazz Festival might have to join festivals worldwide that have already opted to cancel. Such would likely extend to theater companies that put on summer shows, like Cabrillo Stage and The Western Stage. Staff and board members are all developing plans and strategies, including deadlines, in anticipation of worst-case scenarios. At stake is the future well-being of musicians, actors, dancers, patrons, ticket buyers, and the merchants and vendors who provide them essential services—in other words, all stakeholders.

PAPER WING CANCELS CABARET forced by statewide “shelter in place” order. CHAMBER MUSIC MONTEREY BAY postpones its season finale St Lawrence String Quartet; no new date announced. PARAPHRASE PRODUCTIONS postpones Blame it on Beckett in April and The Elephant Man in May. KUUMBWA JAZZ CANCELS through the first week of May. DISTINGUISHED ARTISTS SANTA CRUZ postpones spring concert. HIDDEN VALLEY STRING OCHESTRA April concerts canceled. I CANTORI DI CARMEL hopes to perform spring concerts this summer. NEW MUSIC WORKS cancels April concert.

MUSICIAN RELIEF FUND

GIGI DANG, a Monterey Symphony violinist, is one of dozens of Monterey and Santa Cruz members of the so-called “freeway philharmonic,” musicians who regularly transit between numerous Northern California orchestras. Gigi sent us this appeal last week: “In case you would like to donate to help Bay Area musicians whose gigs are all cancelled so they have no work nor income, I send you this link.  I have other income so I have donated, too:  I know the musicians who organized the GoFundMe site, so I assure you this is not a scam. Please do forward it also to anyone you think might care.  I’m sure any amount is appreciated by all of us musicians.” Click HERE

DANCE MAGAZINE PICKS TOP 20 FROM THE LAST 20 YEARS

SEE IMAGE at top of the page. Fran Spector’s East-West should have made the cut. Click HERE

WHAT A WEEK TO START A NEW JOB

MEET the Washington Post’s new music critic. Click HERE

HILDEGARD AND THE ECLIPSE

THE FRENCH four-hand pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque and the Canadian singer Barbara Hannigan have posted a video in response to the coronavirus situation. Hildegard of Bingen was a 12th century mystic and visionary, a composer, and writer of theological, medicinal and botanical texts. Recent events have led us towards the desire and need to offer this recording to anyone, anywhere, who wants to listen, and who may find an oasis of calm within this meditative music. Around the time (1150) that Hildegard of Bingen wrote this music, there was a total eclipse, and the world expects another at the end of 2020. An eclipse can be viewed as a time to focus on internal and political change, and to remember that the sun does return after complete darkness. This offering comes out of our explorations and rehearsals for multidisciplinary collaboration called Supernova, with the above-mentioned artists as well as pianist Marielle Labeque and composer Bryce Dessner. Supernova will premiere in autumn 2020 as a coproduction of LA Phil and Lincoln Center. 

 

NO HAY REVOLUCIÓN SIN MÚSICA

“THERE IS NO REVOLUTION WITHOUT MUSIC” proclaimed a banner at the Teatro Caupolicán in Santiago when Salvador Allende was sworn in as Chile’s democratically elected socialist president in 1970. Allende’s regime was overthrown in 1973 by Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship that dominated Chile for 17 years and caused the wholesale disappearance of countless Chilean citizens and artists. How is this relevant today, you ask? The protests going on in Santiago have brought back the protesting street music of 1971, including cacerolazos—banging pots and pans. Once-silenced voices are resounding in Santiago and new protest songs are being added to the canon. Click HERE

TREE RINGS ON A RECORD PLAYER?

FASCINATING SOUNDS, but don’t try this at home. Click HERE

FOR COVID-19 SHUT-INS OF A CERTAIN AGE

REMEMBERING MATT MONRO

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

I’M GRATEFUL to the folks at Bridge Records for including Chinary Ung’s Spiral I on this fourth album of the Cambodia-born composer’s music. Dating from 1987, and composed for solo cello (Felix Fan), piano (Aleck Karis) and percussion (Matthew Gold), it helped me get past bewildered and well into bewitched. The remaining four works on the 2-CD release date from this side of the new millennium and, on first hearing, took me to places I had never been before. (Yet I have had an Ung piece, Inner Voices—a Philadelphia Orchestra commission premiered by conductor Dennis Russell Davies in 1986—in my CD library since the mid ‘90s to which I am listening as I write this.) For Ung, spiral functions as “a metaphor of something winding continuously around a fixed point.” His own term for the “style” of his music is “futuristic folk music” by way of two processes: quotation and evocation. In Spiral I, “steadily overlapping arpeggios in unison rhythm reminds the listener of the Cambodian Pinpeat ensemble.” I find Ung’s music more about quotation and evocation and less about pinpeat. It’s plainly Asian in flavor, often without a discernable pulse, frequently modal, sometimes pentatonic and vivaciously colorful. Ung was inspired by his mentor, Chou Wen-chung, in New York. His music features numerous cameo solos, bird imitations, with elements of Igor Stravinsky and George Crumb. He uses words from English, Khmer and Pali. Many of Ung’s individual effects spill out of the percussion section. The other works are Singing Inside Aura (2013) featuring viola (for Susan Ung, the composer’s violist wife) and in which the eight instrumentalists are required to vocalize and shout. Spiral XIV (2012) replaces the cello of Spiral I with a clarinet and features a duet for percussionists and non-pitched instruments. The Buddhist-inspired Therigatha Inside Aura (2018) calls for two sopranos as both singers and speakers, solo viola with clarinet and percussion. (The Aura pieces are derived from previously composed theatrical oratorio by that name.) The second disc is given over to Spiral XII: Space Between Heaven and Earth (2008) a sprawling 40-minute cantata (my word) for 13 singers and 10 instrumentalists, conducted by Gil Rose. It also takes Buddhist themes and addresses “the richness of the culture of Cambodia.” To be fair to the listener and the music, one should take extra time for a more immersive experience. SM

CORRECTION

LAST WEEK’S cellist with Bill Murray was actually Jan Vogler.

SPRING IS HERE

LORENZ HART’S sad self-portrait, set to music by Richard Rodgers

 

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor