A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 104: Molière at Hubbard Hall and Schubert played by Shai Wosner at Williams

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Molière's Tartuffe at Hubbard Hall
Molière’s Tartuffe at Hubbard Hall

Tartuffe has lately trod the stage as a demon whose main weapon is subtlety. Doug Ryan, at Hubbard Hall, would have none of this; he was dastardly from line one. Excellently, he came close to desperation more than once, fighting for his life. Mr. Ryan does two important things at once. His face and voice are often in line, but just as often they are not. He is the master of mixed messages. His voice was seedy, grabbing for all it could get, mangling the play’s rhymed couplets like a master. As often out of rhythm as in, he had us hanging on the next sonic event. Scott Renzoni as Cleante leavened the preaching he was required to do by also rhyming well. His rants had a gentleness rarely heard in this part, and it seemed right. Aleda Bliss played the physicality of the discovery scene superbly. Her resilience and lightness of being made me wonder what she saw in Orgon in the first place. The older-younger thing was always there, as it was in Molière’s life. (It was, and still is suggested that the playwright took up with the daughter of his own mistress.) Her wrestling match with Tartuffe seemed made up on the spot. John Hadden’s direction was not fussy. It had an elegant simplicity and gave his actors plenty of room to maneuver. But I will remember the performance for its wonderful physical excess, where faces spoke clearly and voices tried to keep up.

So much of Schubert’s music wants a precipice, rarely an apotheosis. It is full of interruptions, dark, vast, and empty. I have been hearing it it sharply in terms such as these: razor-edged, always dangerous. Mozart’s music is dark all the time, something is always simmering in the harmonies. It has that sweet darkness, steadily maintained, only occasionally is the window opened on it. But you know, hearing pianist Shai Wosner play some short Schubert pieces in Chapin Hall a few days ago made me hear that Schubert can do this too. The sweetness of Impromptu (D. 935), the sheer length of it, the mesmerizing repetitions, calling back from the left hand to the right hand, had some of the Mozartian inclusiveness. It has always seemed to me that Schubert’s is the saddest music, certainly the loneliest. But the very private playing of Mr. Wosner told a different story. It wasn’t dramatic; it was something like an eventful, long song. I’m thinking now of two songs (apotheoses) where Schubert constructs an entire landscape of drama—the great songs “Ganymede” and “Totengräbers Heimweh.” Each reaches a heaven, though in vastly different ways. The “Ganymede” is a straight-arrow deification. The “Totengräbers Heimweh” demands a death, reaches a precipice of near annihilation where the piano nearly ceases to play, and then slowly rises into a heaven straight out of the late Beethoven sonatas, with the singer so raised into beatitude that he can sing only, “Ich komme” over and over again. I’m going to begin listening to Schubert’s short piano pieces better.

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