Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

EMIL KHUDYEV, Seattle Symphony clarinetist, plays a recital concert at Hidden Valley on Monday evening. THE CARMEL BACH FESTIVAL continues through July 27 with concerts at Sunset Center, Carmel Mission and various church venues around the Monterey Peninsula. THE JOHN HANRAHAN QUARTET pays an homage to Wayne Shorter. “ROCKET MAN” Elton John tribute to play Santa Cruz Civic. KIM NALLEY pays respects to Aretha Franklin. For links to these and dozens of other live performance events click on our CALENDAR

MARIN ALSOP’S BALTIMORE SYMPHONY ON THE ROPES

AUDITORS find that it may no longer be a viable enterprise. Click HERE 

THE CABRILLO FESTIVAL WINS A NEW CONDUCTING FELLOWSHIP

YANNICK NÉZET-SÉGUIN, music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and artistic director of Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, has gifted the Cabrillo Festival with a $30,000, three-year conducting fellowship, which will provide free tuition and travel support to top-tier Fellows of the Cabrillo Festival Conductors/Composer Workshop, itself designed to advance the careers of talented young composers and conductors. “I firmly believe we must invest in the future generation in order for our art form to thrive and inspire,” said Nézet-Séguin. “Contributing to the Cabrillo Festival is all the more meaningful because of my history with Cabrillo’s music director Cristian Măcelaru.” In his role as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Nézet-Séguin became Măcelaru’s mentor, colleague, and friend, as Măcelaru served as the orchestra’s assistant conductor, associate conductor, and Conductor in Residence, respectively.

WHEN MINGUS MET JONI

JONI MITCHELL’S Mingus, her vinyl LP that turns 40 this year, distills a sui generis project instigated by the jazz great, who died early in 1979 from ALS, even as neither of them was deeply immersed in each other’s music. Matthew Barton tells the unlikely story for Jazz Journal. Click HERE    

WHEN JENNIE MET DIZZY

AT 14, Jennie Litvack asked Dizzy Gillespie for a trumpet lesson. It lasted more than four hours. Remembering the finest female shofar blower in the world. Click HERE  

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

IF YOU GOOGLE “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” you will find links to Maya Angelou’s first autobiography. But you will have to look harder to find a link to the poem Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar, published in 1899, from which Angelou took her title. Dunbar’s tragically short life—33 years—is the subject of this new CD recording of Richard Thompson’s chamber opera The Mask in the Mirror. Thompson wrote both the libretto and the music for the two principal characters, Dunbar and the better educated Alice Ruth Moore—who would become his wife—a miscellany of friends, relatives and others, and an orchestra of 15 instruments, plus a jazz combo. Thompson, originally from Scotland, studied at the University of Edinburgh, Rutgers University and the Berklee College of Music. He is now associate professor of music at San Diego State University. His compositional skills are eclectic and masterful. What this CD reveals is a superb melding of words and music, economical yet vivid, passionate in its conflicts and unflaggingly intense. It confronts head-on the issues of racial identity and confusion, sexuality and alcoholism as they were experienced by black Americans in the first generation born to ex-slaves. The piece was brought to my attention by Monterey Peninsula native Leberta Lorál, who has two small roles in the recording—Paul’s friend Victoria and a woman in a Harlem bar. On listening to it I quickly recognized Thompson’s brilliant synthesis of story and score. Indeed, I find the opera deeply moving, even heartbreaking. Dunbar was a naturally gifted wordsmith and poet, but with profound wounds from a dysfunctional childhood. In the opera, he falls in love with Alice, but continues to womanize and drink heavily. One drunken encounter between them ends with rape. The CD notes provide this background: “Despite his success and determination, (Dunbar) was also confused about his identity as a black man in America, being ashamed of his dark complexion. Moore had similar problems with her racial identity: as a product of a casual interracial sexual relationship, she preferred to reinvent herself as a Creole from Louisiana.” In a broad brush, the notes continue, “The Dunbars wanted to promote themselves as role models for a new black middle class, comparing themselves to (well known) English writers. Sadly, Dunbar and Moore lacked the psychological strength to live up to their ideals.” Featuring tenor Cameo Humes and soprano Angela L Owens in the principal roles, and conductor Stephen Tucker, the recording was performed by the Sanaa Opera Project orchestra. SM

TO READ reviews of The Mask In the Mirror in Opera News and Fanfare Magazine, click HERE   The complete libretto is available at richardthompsonpiano.com

S.A. UBER DRIVER FINDS AN OPERA CAREER

VIDEO BY PASSENGER of self-taught tenor Menzi Mngoma goes viral. Click HERE 

JOAN BAEZ’ FAREWELL TOUR

REPORTED by Jeffrey Brown for the PBS News Hour.

 

DAVID CROSBY’S FAREWELL TOUR

HOW IS he even still alive?

 

FRESH REVIEW

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE at Santa Cruz Shakespeare. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

CARMEL BACH FESTIVAL completes its 82nd season on July 27. CABRILLO FESTIVAL OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC opens on July 28 with a free open rehearsal.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

Pride and Prejudice

By Jocelyn McMahon

IF THERE WERE ever a fair assessment of family dynamics, social status, and relationships, Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice certainly offers an accurate one. Updating the language and overall vibe, Hamill’s modernized show sticks true to the themes of Jane Austen’s beloved novel and takes a candid look at the absurdities of love and the odd sport of romance through an unfiltered lens. Opening its 2019 season, this fast-paced, off-beat comedy follows the Santa Cruz Shakespeare tradition of keeping it simple. Casting only eight actors to fill fourteen roles, limiting costume changes to only the essential and skipping scene changes altogether, it ultimately focuses on what we all really came to see: the acting.

Staying true to the traditions of Shakespeare, the double, or triple casting in some cases, calls for an array of character changes, quick transformations of gender, and a merry-go-round of entrances and exits. The wig changes and minor costume bits help define who the actor is portraying in the moment, but ultimately it comes down to his or her ability to jump back and forth between roles. The cast flawlessly fulfill their multiple roles; watching Landon Hawkins go from the ever-coughing socially inept Mary to the charming heartthrob Mr Bingley in a matter of seconds is absolutely incredible. The switch contributes an element of absurdity to the farcical humor of the show.

Where the production did not scrimp was with its phenomenal sonic design. The sound effects, both live and recorded, added an essential dimension to the show, my favorite being the boxing bell sound, a great metaphoric symbol for the face-paced, brutal game of love. The playlist ventured outside the era, crossing genres and styles of the 20th and 21st centuries and adding another modern touch to the Hamill adaptation. (The iconic Beyoncé “Crazy in Love,” kept the house rockin’ throughout intermission.) The onstage piano that the actors take turns playing was also a nice touch.

Quick summary for those unfamiliar with the story. The play begins in the Bennet household where Mrs Bennet (Carol Halstead) is fussing over her four unmarried daughters (one less than in the novel) and the lack of a male heir to their estate. Three of the four are also fussing, but our protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet (Allie Pratt), cannot be bothered by the pursuit of a husband and the hoops a lady must jump through to climb the social ladder. Mrs Bennet will stop at literally nothing (her tactics are definitely a bit cringeworthy) to ensure her daughters marry well-off husbands before Mr Bennet passes and the estate is transferred outside the family. Mr Bennet (Allen Gilmore) is distant and seems to be impartial to just about everything, even his own passing. Mrs Bennet has no problem making a show of herself and her family, and insists that Mr Bennet get them an invitation to the ball that the new eligible bachelor in town, Mr Bigley, is throwing. The daughters attend the ball and here we meet the iconic Mr Darcy (Lindsay Smiling), best known for his wealth and complete lack of social graces. Afterwards Elizabeth continues to run into Darcy and he develops a liking for her, as she him, but the strong personalities clash and he seems unable to articulate his affection without insulting her social status. The story continues to follow the Bennet sisters and their potential suitors as they navigate classes and tackle the prospect of marriage from very different angles.  

Bold ladies are needed to fulfill the strong/durable female characters of Austen’s iconic 1813 novel, revolutionary for its time; a female author with strong female characters commenting on marriage and the choice to remain single in order to pursue personal happiness (gasp). As playwright Hamill is quoted in the director’s note: “We think of it as dated text, but the truth is, all these rules and behaviors around love, we still very much follow today. There are literally books out there called The Rules and The Game. And it’s particularly codified for young women, especially today, and I am a young woman who’s historically been very ambivalent about marriage.” These actresses hold their own.

Carol Halstead channels the buffoonery of the brassy Mrs Bennet wonderfully, the guilt-tripping words of a desperate mother land well and are hilariously relatable. Karen Peakes does well as Jane, definitely the driest of the characters in the script, while her croaking Miss De Bourgh in Act 2 was irresistibly laugh-out-loud-worthy. Lydia (Madison Pullins) appears to be the novice of the group, but her naiveté was still charming as the boisterous young sister and her “intoxicated” interaction with the audience made for a great gag.

Allie Pratt’s Elizabeth catches your eye off the bat; commanding the stage as quick-witted, multi-faceted and with humorous movement she seems able to do anything. Sarcastic and clever, yet charming and loving to those closest to her, Pratt channels the Pride and Prejudice heroine wonderfully.

The climactic moment when Darcy confesses his love and she rejects his proposal (known to many as the ‘rain scene’) was a disappointment. It is Elizabeth’s golden moment to shine in a romantically tragic scene that comments on love, prejudice and social class. Just as the depth of the moment is about to settle, Pratt goes for laughs instead of sticking to her guns. The script (or director’s choice, not sure) steals from the sincerity of the moment. It’s not that Pratt can’t channel that emotion, she just never really gets to.

As for the boys, shout-out to Ian Merrill Peakes, who switches it up between Mr Wickham, the charming (at least initially) officer, Miss Bingley, the jealous sister who has her eyes set on Darcy and heart against Lizzy, and Mr Collins the repulsive and pompous clergyman—Mr Bennet’s second cousin—who has come to marry one of the daughters. Peakes relies on his skilled physicality to juggle three very distinct characters, my favorite being the uproariously slimy Mr Collins. 

As mentioned before, Landon Hawkins had the quickest of transformations, flipping between Mr Bingley and Mary. Casting a male to play Mary was a great comedic choice. It sets aside the fact that Mary is a rather sad young woman with little hope at romance and frightens all who she approaches, even her own parents. She doesn’t speak often, but when she does there is definitely a channeled wisdom; she can teach them all a thing or two. The chivalrous heartthrob Bingley also came as a breeze to the very talented young Hawkins.       

Allen Gilmore captures the dry wit and subtle sarcasm of Mr Bennet well. A man hiding behind his newspaper, he pops out every now and again to make a comment. But he really gets to shine in the second act as he breaks out of his disassociated shell to defend Lizzy when she refuses to marry Mr Collins. A strong, and obviously experienced actor, Gilmore highlights the stage occasionally as Charlotte, the chattery but good-natured best friend of Lizzy who eventually marries Mr Collins herself.

Lindsey Smiling charms the audience as the oddly endearing heartthrob, despite his character’s back-handed compliments and harsh judgments. His version of Darcy comes across definitely as more jaded and socially awkward then pompous. Smiling’s subtle humor complements the character well; he isn’t trying to be insulting, it just comes out that way. His awkward dancing in Act 1 adds an endearing element to the character as well.

Smiling and Pratt play well off each other in their heated debate-ridden courtship. Physically the two are so mismatched (he towers over the extremely petite Pratt by a foot easily), but, as a rather odd couple, the physical mismatch seems to work in their favor. The two actors shine in the final minutes of the show; after having set their judgments aside, Darcy has redeemed himself to Elizabeth by rescuing her sister and they confess their affections. Elizabeth asks him a simple, but honest question: how she can know that he is the right one for her. He confesses that he doesn’t know, but explains that there is never a “perfect” match. This heartfelt moment was sincere and offers the audience a moment to reflect.

Ultimately, we are left asking what are we willing to do in order to marry out of our social status. Are we willing to leave behind our home and those we love to climb the social ladder? Hamill’s slapstick adaptation ditches the subtleties and goes for the laughs. It’s farcical, fast-paced and anything but boring. It lacks some of the endearing moments of Austen’s text, but overall it summarizes the key points and will appeal to a broad spectrum of audiences, a great pick to start the 2019 season of Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

Photo by rr jones