A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 109: Vox Femina

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A Woman Singer, ancient Greek red-figure vase-painting
A Woman Singer, ancient Greek red-figure vase-painting

The voice is all, especially in the rolling sounds of epic. The Iliad, now supposed to have been written by several authors, is fundamentally a bardic oration. One reads ancient descriptions of these bards, rolling or roaring their voices—a physical excess akin to singing. Jeannine Haas in “An Iliad” at Hubbard Hall was the mistress of this music, always with the careful assistance of John Sheldon on guitar. The location of an epic is much larger than any theatre space. It must be formed by sound. The parts of this “Iliad” I enjoyed the most were the great descriptions, where I heard roaring sound coming from the actress, sentence on sentence enjambed, sometimes nearly incomprehensibly. Singing was waiting to take over. The Iliad is a story to tell, not a story to see. Ms. Haas understood this, and she made the minutes fly.

What about gender, a female bard describing the atrocities put upon the Trojan women, always as parenthetical insertions, never given the space of Hector’s tragedy? Did I hear their the story louder because a woman was speaking? Maybe, but the men take up all the space in the poem, they take up all the air. The women are left only to endure.  Still we heard the vox femina, and it reproved us.

An Iliad will return to the region in October of this year at Shakespeare and Company, this time in a male performance by Michael F. Toomey, directed by Jonathan Epstein. Click here for details. (—ed.)

Shortly after hearing this strong performance, I heard Petra Mijanovic, my friend and sometime student, perform the role of Macbeth under the stars. This also was a triumph of voice, a contemplative voice, but sometimes a roaring instrument—rarely though. Petra found a way, because there is a great inside to her acting, to make this role seem engendered and often gentle. Absurd? Not really. One remembers that as the play nears its end, Macbeth becomes a philosopher, no less a warrior for that, but a philosopher still. The “tomorrow” speech being only the most comprehensive expression of this (inexplicable as grammar, sublime in sound) This speech Petra gave us chillingly, the voice clear, present, quiet. The sense is not all, the sound has the content. Petra gave that to us. I heard Macbeth differently than I had heard it before.

Another one-woman show, Masha’s Seagull, held the stage for several days at the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge. It was a rambling monologue that held us, due largely to the great skill of Virginia Scheuer in the title role. She took us to the day before she travels to her island prison cell, which collided various encounters with Chekhov’s play and her own perceptions of what speaking, talking, really could be. Inherent in this production was the contradiction that Chekhov’s plays are often said to be what is not spoken, dramas of silence. This script gave us an abundance of speaking, almost as if the silence had been conquered. I enjoyed the epilogue at the conclusion the most. Here form and content found a long-sought after balance, and this Masha was finally at peace. It was a rich and well-played piece of work. Hats off to the Berkshire Theatre Group for engaging young artists.

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