A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 83: Christmas over the Mountain

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Kevin McGuire as Scrooge
Kevin McGuire as Scrooge

Kevin McGuire’s Scrooge in Capital Repertory Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” had more than a touch of Falstaff in it. His villainy was vivacious, startlingly so—almost playful. Its benefits became clear late in the show when his transformation seemed inevitable. Always energetic, Mr. McGuire roamed the stage and let us know on several occasions that he was an actor, his story larger than life. I found his penitence to be strangely convincing, as if it were the real thing, not the penny-pinching. One gained additional sympathy watching the most moving performance of the evening, that of the boy Scrooge, played by a beautifully crafted puppet (tenderly manipulated by actor Kevin Kelly). Here we saw an implacable wooden face, the abrupt but always moving gestures of the puppet drawing pity from us for the boy Scrooge. One could have heard a pin drop in the house. There was an ensemble of actors (Kevin Kelly, Marcy McGuigan, Doug Trapp, and Kristyn Youngblood) who made the phantasmagoria of Patrick Barlow’s version of the tale believable. It was a whirlwind of a show, almost hard to keep up with in its inventiveness, but somehow one did keep up. These were super-fine pros, showing a super-fine flexibility, making the story lighter and more buoyant than we usually hear it. This was one of the best evenings I have had at Capital Rep.

There was a remarkable performance in the Russell Sage Theatre Institute‘s The Secret Garden a few nights later. Claire Flynn, 11 years old, gave a comprehensive performance of the show’s main role, the girl Mary Lennox. This young actress showed a quite remarkable ability to move from speaking to singing and back again—always believably. She never exaggerated or merely indicated as child actors often do. I came away form the performance feeling like hers was the most detailed finished work of the night. The Secret Garden is a gentle show, and all the more welcome for that. There are not so many gentle musicals—Gigi comes to mind, perhaps The Light in the Piazza. But The Secret Garden remains a child world, a world of consequences and exhilirations a child would know. As in Blake’s great lyrics, when we start feeling superior to the lines, we are reproved by their grace. Claire’s performance had this grace. Always excellently prepared by Michael Musiel, a troop of professionals and students from Russell Sage performed admirably. The show gets you – it can’t be resisted.

A favorite of my Christmas has been listening to the Boston Camerata. Forty years on and they are better than ever. This year’s program in the Union College Memorial Chapel was full of rich complex music which thrilled. I especially enjoyed hearing period trombones making duets in which they did not dominate, but complimented the singing. I have long read that this was a common practice, especially in Spain, and now I hear that it can work beautifully. As always, there was excellent singing. Camila Parias sang with a voice that had pathos and sweetness; the higher it went, the more beautiful it became. Joel Frederiksen sang with a rich, rough-hewn bass voice that captivated. Anne Azéma is the compleat singer of this repertoire. All the ingredients—style, one heck of a good voice, appearance, and best of all, enthusiasm, come together in her work to make this repertoire live. A long monophonic medieval song on a CD can be deadly. When she sings it, you understand what it really is and how it can captivate—how it did captivate. Her ease with the language, the great narrative skill that she has, enthrals. I never tire of hearing her. She is one of the important singers of our time. This concert was also an audience event. The house was packed; there was careful intense listening going on, and warm appreciation for the unpretentious accomplishment of the artists. One of the best concerts of my year.

Another New Year’s Day, another afternoon with Johann Sebastian Bach – what could be better? This time the Berkshire Bach Society took its troupe to the inviting old Academy of Music in Northampton—a beautiful dark-hued proscenium, full of ghosts. Leader Kenneth Cooper decided to program all the Brandenburg concerti in reverse order, which meant that the magisterial first concerto ended the concert, and this had a grandeur, the first being more like a suite than the usual three-movement concerto. Especially wonderful this year were contributions by the wind band. There were sterling offerings by the oboists: Meg Owens, Gerard Reuter, and Marsha Heller. Stephen Walt made his bassoon sing, as always. Brass players Gerald Serfass and Allan Dean and Neil Mueller played on old style brass instruments with consummate skill. One would never know they presented any difficulty. I cannot say that I did not miss the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The Hall is a miracle, and I hope it will not be a permanent stranger to the Bach troupe. There were compensations: performing in a theatre has some of the elements of a narrative, a dramatic kind of speech which the Bach players supplied generously. Best of all was the music itself. After two and half hours of Bach, one feels that one has been reborn, re-made, liberated. Many thanks to Kenneth Cooper and his players for this.

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