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

JOHN WINEGLASS original commission premiered by the Monterey Symphony in October, 2016, Max Bragado-Darman conducting at Sunset Center in Carmel. Click HERE

NEW THIS WEEK

MONTEREY SYMPHONY SHELVES 2020-21 SEASON

THE MONTEREY SYMPHONY will postpone the 75th Anniversary Season which was slated to open at Sunset Center in October of 2020. The 2020-21 season will be pushed back one full year. This season focused on selecting the next Music Director of the Monterey Symphony, along with concerts in celebration of the orchestra’s 75 years. Music director candidates will return for the 2021-22 season.

MONTEREY COUNTY POPS! (pictured above) celebrated Independence Day with their concert band in a live stream from the new outdoor amphitheater at York School. Wind, brass and percussion played a variety of patriotic music from the US with Carl Christensen conducting and introducing the pieces in English and, for music from south of the border, in Spanish. Vocalists were Jackie Craghead and Mia Pak. (Pak did a Steinbeck favorite, Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” in fine style.) The telecast on AMP TV accessed through the Pops! website, was beset with technical problems, from sections that totally disappeared to weirdly inexplicable ‘wowing’ out of tune on the audio feed. But it was a first for the orchestra and hopefully the people at AMP learned from the exercise.

DANCER SARA WILBOURNE, RIP

EXCERPTED FROM an obituary in the Santa Cruz Good Times by Wallace Baine, June 18, 2020.

THE SANTA CRUZ dance community learned of the death of Sara Wilbourne (pictured in red)  in early May. A few years ago, after a diagnosis of encroaching dementia, friends say, the intensely private Wilbourne retreated from public life and news of her death leaked out only gradually. She was believed to be around 70 years old. She first came to Santa Cruz around 1980 after she and Tandy Beal met at the University of Utah. Beal recruited Wilbourne to become part of her Santa Cruz-based dance company and she followed Beal to California. Over the next 35 years, Wilbourne was not only a central figure in the fertile local dance community, she also became an irreplaceable resource and creative force in the larger arts community, giving her focus and energies to such organizations as Cabrillo College, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre and others. She worked to connect artists with each other, and with whatever they needed for collaboration and support.

ENNIO MORRICONE, 1928-2020

FROM The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to Cinema Paradiso

 

THOUSAND HAND GUAN YIN

ORIGINAL DANCE created by Chinese choreographer Zhang Jigang. This dance is performed by 63 deaf dancers of the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe. Because they cannot hear the music, six conductors in white costumes help them synchronize with the music.

 

HOW CLOSE IS TOO CLOSE FOR CHORAL SINGERS?

NEW RESEARCH into spread of virus particles suggests at least eight feet. Click HERE

LETTERS

THANK YOU for sharing that wondrous combination of “Slap that Bass” and Gershwin’s filming of it. (Weekly Magazine, June 30.) More than made my day. We need more joy. We need more Fred (Astaire)! I forgot how happy just watching him makes me. ~Layne Littlepage, Carmel chanteuse

VIOLIN PRODIGY CHRISTIAN LI

VIVALDI’S “SUMMER” STORM at the 2018 Menuhin Competition, which he won at age 10. He has signed a recording contract with Decca.

 

IDA HAENDEL, LAST OF THE GOLDEN AGE

THE 20TH CENTURY delivered perhaps the greatest era of outstanding violinists in history. Beginning as a child prodigy and still performing in 2010, Ida Haendel’s lustrous career survived, and flourished, through every imaginable privation and human catastrophe. This obit from The Guardian includes a 1989 performance of Saint-Saens Concerto in B minor. Click HERE

HAENDEL’S BACH CHACONNE

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

ON LISTENING TO this new Delos CD, I thought I had stumbled onto a reincarnation of Joan Sutherland, the operatic diva from New South Wales who, by virtue of her astounding career, came to be known as La Stupenda. I compared the opening track of this collection of French and Italian arias, “Depuis le jour” from Charpentier’s Louise with the same scene in a Sutherland collection and was indeed not far off the mark. Born and trained in Russia, the diminutive Ekaterina Siurina does indeed produce a creamy legato and coloratura à la Sutherland, with similar horsepower in the big, dramatic repertoire. And, like Sutherland, she prefers to put her riches into the vowels at the expense of the articulating consonants, a criticism of the Australian through much of her storied career. I learned to get over it, and have no real complaints in Siurina’s new collection, titled “Amour éternel,” that includes opera scenes and arias by Gounod (Roméo et Juliette, Faust), Bizet (Les pêcheurs de perles, Carmen), Puccini (La bohème, La Rondine, Turandot) and Verdi (Desdemona’s final scene from Otello). A lustrous, warm soprano who can easily handle dramatic roles is a rarity in any generation, and her worldwide reputation proves it. She is joined on this new release by tenor Charles Castronovo and mezzo Rita Preiksaite along with the Kaunas City Symphony (Lithuania) skillfully conducted by Constantine Orbelian. SM

IN THE APRIL 21 edition, our Weekly Magazine carried a video of Niv Ashkenazi and the Violins of Hope. Click HERE  Now the new CD is out on Albany label. The program contains Robert Dauber’s only surviving piece, Serenade; Ernest Bloch’s Nigun; John William’s theme from Schindler’s List; Julius Chajes’ The Chassid; Sharon Farber’s cello concerto, Bestemming: Triumph; Three Concert Pieces by Szymon Laks; George Perlman’s Dance of the Rebbitzen; Paul Ben-Haim’s Berceuse sfaradite and Three Songs Without Words; and Maurice Ravel’s Kaddisch. SM

ORCHESTRAS WHO PAY THEIR BOSSES THE BIGGEST BUCKS

DREW McMANUS has been doing his annual trawl through orchestral accounts to see who’s getting paid what. But fiscal 2017/18 was a weird year in which the really big spenders—New York, LA Phil and San Fran—had no CEO in place, or only for part of the season. That meant only one orchestra was paying its boss more than a million bucks. Who was that? Mark Volpe. So why is he about to retire when he’s finally broken into big money?

  1. Boston Symphony: $1,050,596
  2. Philadelphia Orchestra: $770,708
  3. Cleveland Orchestra: $578,617
  4. Chicago Symphony: $537,541
  5. Seattle Symphony: $484,982
  6. Detroit Symphony: $467,857
  7. Pittsburgh Symphony: $431,015
  8. Saint Louis Symphony: $427,176
  9. Utah Symphony: $407,519
  10. Minnesota Orchestra: $383,681

INTERVIEW WITH AMERICAN COMPOSER ADOLPHUS HAILSTORK

IT INCLUDES YouTubes of his music. Click HERE

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON RESPONDS IN KIND

MASTER SONGWRITER takes no crap, misses old friends, forgets birthdays. Click HERE

ITALIAN FOOD FEST, THEN A COP SHOWS UP

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Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

Weekly Magazine

NEW THIS WEEK

MONTEREY POPS! JULY 4 CELEBRATION

WHERE OTHERS REMAIN STRANDED AND SILENT, Carl Christensen and the Monterey Pops! orchestra have figured out a way to make live music for all to enjoy. On this Saturday’s Independence Day, Monterey Pops! will, as ever, renew its annual gift to the community in an outdoor live stream from 1 to 2 pm in Monterey. It will feature a variety of patriotic favorites, plus Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and the singing talents of Mia Pak and Jackie Craghead (pictured above). The thirty-eight member orchestra will perform outdoors while taking all COVID-19 precautions. (Winds and brass should probably be on the downwind side.)

MĂCELARU GETS CONTRACT EXTENSION

CABRILLO FESTIVAL MUSIC DIRECTOR Cristian Măcelaru has been extended as principal conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra by an extra three years until 31 July 2025. WDR programme director Valerie Weber said: ‘With his personality and an unusually broad repertoire that ranges from Bach right up to contemporary music, he has made such a convincing impression in his first year that we would like to keep him for longer in North Rhine Westphalia and at our orchestra.’ Măcelaru, 40, was also recently named music director of the Orchestre National de France starting next year.

NEW SHAKESPEARE WEBINAR SERIES

JOIN SANTA CRUZ SHAKESPEARE, the Humanities Institute and UC Santa Cruz Shakespeare Workshop for a virtual Shakespeare Summer Series titled Undiscovered Shakespeare: The Wars of the Roses, Wednesdays at 6:30pm, ten sessions starting July 1 and running through September 2. You will need to reserve your free tickets to participate in the July sessions through Zoom. Sign up HERE

HOW MUSIC HELPED A P.O.W. SURVIVE

PHILLIP BUTLER (pictured with his wife Barbara) was held captive for eight years—and tortured—by North Vietnam after his fighter jet went down during the civil war there. Much has been written about Butler’s extraordinary life, including a thoroughgoing article by Walter Ryce for the Monterey County Weekly in 2010. Now 82, and in response to our invitation, Butler put his love of music into and beyond that hellish war experience.

MY APPRECIATION for music, especially classical, began at age five when my mother gave me beginning piano lessons. She taught me to read music and sent me to a piano teacher at around seven. I stuck with it until age 12 when I became more interested in sports, constantly spraining fingers to the consternation of my teacher. Around that time my parents divorced so there was no longer music leadership to compel me to continue on. Fast forward to age 26, when as a Navy carrier pilot I went down over then North Vietnam, was captured and became a prisoner of war. My treatment at the hands of my Vietnamese captors was very bad and I spent long days and nights with no diversions other than my own mind.

So early on I began to recall classical music but even more, popular lyrical music of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. I began to create my own mental “jukebox” of all the songs and words I could remember. Later on when in cells with other POW’s I plumbed them for words. In time my mental jukebox consisted of over 100 songs I had arranged in alphabetical order. Now I could close my eyes and call up any popular singer I could remember, singing any of my songs.

Fast forward to age 46, when one day I decided to drop in on the Monterey City Senior Center and introduced myself to the piano teacher. After one lesson I discovered I had an ability to read music. Within a year I had a piano in my home and another year or so later began serious piano lessons again with Katie Clare Mazzeo. I took lessons from this magnificent teacher, performer and woman for 15 years.

Now I am 82 and enjoy my favorite composers here at home on my restored 1887 Ivers and Pond. I especially enjoy playing lyrical works and the Romantics. Some of my favorites are the more manageable works of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff. I can get lost in my piano. Once again music makes my heart sing. And yes I still have that jukebox.

CRISANTEMI FOR CHRYSANTHEMUMS

AT THE LICEU opera house in Barcelona. Click HERE

VIENNA BOYS CHOIR NEEDS HELP

FIVE-HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD INSTITUTION has lost 113 performances to COVID-19. Desperately needs to raise money. Click HERE

GERSHWIN’S SLAP THAT BASS

FROM SHALL WE DANCE, 1937, with Fred Astaire and an uncredited cast.

GERSHWIN PLAYS HIS OWN I GOT RHYTHM

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

A LAD’S LOVE

FOR RELEASE THIS FRIDAY, American tenor Brian Giebler, praised by the New York Times for his “lovely tone and deep expressivity,” finds delight in the friendships of one’s youth and suffers the pain of unrequited love, and the destruction, horror and futility of war. A Lad’s Love is a disc that brings together the profound beauty created by Britain’s poets and composers during the turbulent years of the early 20th century. Moreover, he brings to my attention songs and even composers unfamiliar to me. Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) is represented by the song cycle Ludlow and Teme (1923) and the song In Flanders (1917). Ian Venables’ (b. 1955) “Because I liked you better” is excerpted from his Songs of Eternity and Sorrow. There are songs by Peter Warlock, Roger Quilter and John Ireland (including Ladslove of 1920). A major body of work in the collection comes from Benjamin Britten, including his canticle “Abraham and Isaac” (for which Giebler is joined by countertenor Reginald Mobley) and the six-part song cycle Fish in the unruffled lakes. Pianist Steven McGhee and a string quartet of Katie Hyun, Ben Russell, Jessica Meyer and Michael Katz share the accompanying obligations. The CD is a welcome addition to some rare but excellent repertoire and a fine lyric tenor voice. The song texts are available by an online link. SM

SMUIN BALLET TAKES A BREAK THIS WEEK

CLASSES take the place of archives.

CELLIST ZUILL BAILEY STREAMED LIVE

ON JUNE 20, with pianist and former child prodigy Natasha Paremski. To hear the actual program (a Bach suite and Chopin sonata) scroll to 30 minutes after the start of the YouTube.

 

CARMEL MUSIC WINNER SENDS SHIVERS

ELIZABETH SCHUMANN gives a hair-raising account of Franz Schubert’s horror story in Franz Liszt’s virtuosic transcription. Click HERE then on her picture.

CORONADÄMMERUNG

THE BETTER YOU KNOW Richard Wagner’s Ring the funnier this gets. Jamie Barton is the Indiana Jones of opera, and other romantic sports.

 

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Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor