I wish I could like this production more. Clearly well-intentioned and sincerely played, it still did not touch the center of the fearsome verse. Betsy Holt as Lady Macbeth was eloquent, but did not convince me she would kill a baby. The charismatic Gino Costabile as Macbeth fell into shouting too often and not only in the last moments of the play. The witches just were not scary, with the exception of Myka Plunkett whose steady intensity showed the real way into the play.
The Acting Company’s As You Like It in Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Wednesday, March 13th, was quite the gentlest performance of the play I have seen. The wrestling scene was mercifully brief, the songs sweet and soft, the relationships clear as a bell without exaggeration. For me, the center of this approach was the excellent Orlando, played by Joseph Midyett. He was neither bewildered nor positive. His participation in the feigning, which is the middle of the play, had a knowingness to it which never quite went over the edge, even though there was that one kiss which came across, to me, as utterly spontaneous—a young man kissing the boy Ganymede who is really a girl, wooing him for herself by playing another.
The challenge, the risk of counter-tenor singing, still fairly young as a revived technique, seems to appeal to modern audiences; it is a peculiar type of virtuosity just by virtue of the technique. It is only natural that the the counter-tenor revival took off in the 1950’s and developed in parallel with the historical performance practice movement. That was Alfred Deller who helped it take off, who started as a boy in a choir in the 1920’s and as an adult helped the Purcell revival in singing alto, and gave recitals of Italian madrigals and Elizabethan songs, but also singing contemporary opera, creating the role of Oberon for Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.[1. See J. B. Steane writing for Grove Music Online.] Philippe Jaroussky cites Deller’s very distinctive voice, and also James Bowman, who too inspired Britten, creating the role of Apollo for Death in Venice, as voices he listened to in forming his own, and forming as an artist, Bowman especially. Bowman gave his farewell concert in Paris only last November, and many good recordings exist of Deller. Now with some hundreds of professional counter-tenors in the world and they inching up into the soprano range, the hole in the Baroque and classical “instrumentarium” left by the extremely distinctive and castrato voice which tickled so much enthusiasm in audiences — and composers — in the 17th and 18th century is filling, or at least better circumscribed, without needing to resort to a false general preference or dichotomy determined by fashions between counter-tenors and sopranos en travestie, in recital or in opera, or between counter-tenors and contraltos.
A musician who undertakes an entire program of Bach’s music needs perspective, especially if the program is to be varied. Bach wrote an amazing quantity of music in an amazing variety of styles and genres, and Peter Sykes’ program was assembled with a clear sense of the big picture. There is no substitute for experience, and having played virtually all of Bach’s keyboard music, as well as much of his contemporaries’, Sykes has a clear and convincing idea (whether accurate or not, no one can know) of Bach’s intention for each piece, even each note.