The great pages in Terrence McNally’s Masterclass are those in which music takes stage. I know of no-one else who writes better about the act of music-making than Mr. McNally. Since the first student singer in the action sings very little, the words the playwright gives to Maria Callas as her teacher expand in our imagination into an imagined and sublime kind of singing, what we want it to be, what it ought to be. And most beautifully, he says that even the greenest student singer is connected to the long line of the piece, through herself, through her teacher, through the score, to the composer. The play is an in-house agon about being a singer. It is something the audience overhears.
The “overture” to the Barrington Stage Company’s production of On the Town, the Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical, wasn’t written by the composer. The honors belong to John Stafford Smith, who with later lyrics by Francis Scott Key, wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.”
It’s an unexpected way to begin this hilarious and horny show about three sailors on a one-day leave in New York City, but the anthem creates the context of the time. The show occurs during World War II and was premiered in December of 1944. The national anthem was played before every performance of On the Town’s initial Broadway run and is now a tradition with director John Rando’s productions.
It was excellent to go to the venerable Mac-Haydn Theatre last night. One comes upon it like a secret location, hidden in the landscape. It is a company full of real people; pretension is not allowed. It has a round stage, and has seen a succession of musicals performed on it for forty-five years. I went there to see one of my favorite shows, Harvey Schmidt’s and Tom Jones’ The Fantasticks.
The barn at Tannery Pond is particularly well suited to cello music — a kind of cello-within-a-cello, the musical equivalent to the old literary framing device, maybe. The instrument’s range and woody timbre are particularly appealing, even restful, resting on the ear’s most sensitive range of pitches, so it is no wonder cellists seek out such acoustics, or do things like making arrangements for 6, 8, or 10 cellos. In fact listening in the Tannery barn gives one the overwhelming urge to make music in it, even if just laying down a few purple chords on the piano — in that way perhaps Rachmaninoff is particularly well suited to the barn too. The audience did seem thrilled by Haimovitz’s and O’Riley’s playing of the young Rachmaninoff’s sonata in G minor. Rightfully enough, it was the sort of full blooded and full bodied (figuratively speaking, the musicians bodily movements were in fact very restrained) interpretation of Rachmaninoff that doesn’t spoil easily. They did take certain risks, though, over and above those of choosing such unplayable chamber music, O’Riley especially coming into his own in this sonata, which is really more of a duet between equals. His piano style seemed more at home with this kind of music than pure accompaniment, which is an art in itself, partly because he seemed more easy with the dynamic of two equals playing together, something sounding more like a trio or a contrapuntal quartet.