A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 125: Four Good Things—Aston Magna, Two from TMC Orchestra, and the Berkshire Theatre Festival

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Dominique Labelle
Dominique Labelle

Aston Magna’s J.S. Bach concert in The Mahaiwe Theatre was a banquet of riches. The music itself ranged from abject woe in Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen to vaudeville hijinks in The Singing Contest of Phoebus and Pan. Where do I begin? The unique singing of Dominque Labelle arrests the senses. You must listen to it. Ulysses Thomas’s rich, aristocratic voice, Jesse Blumberg’s clear, actorly voice, William Hite’s beautiful, beautiful tenor, each spoke eloquently. Above all, the redoubtable Frank Kelley’s complete control of the act of singing, his exaggeration (wildly funny), his movement, and most wonderful of all, the subtle creativity of his timing, brought the house down. He is the complete package. On the instrumental side, the slow Air in the D Major Overture ravished the ear. This was a concert in which you might have wept and laughed. The audience deserves credit. One could hear soft sounds of approbation everywhere. May Aston Magna live forever.

Ken-David Masur
Ken-David Masur

The Tanglewood Fellows opening orchestral concert was a splendid event, dazzling in its virtuosity. Everything was about energy. Slow energy, fast energywith all voices in magnificent synch. The violins in particular, played with a singular unity and fed blazing energy one to another. Sean Krissman might as well have been a solo singer in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. This young clarinetist I would gladly have heard as Figaro in Mozart’s great opera. He comes very near to making words come out of his instrument. His playing was like playing itselffree, joyful, inventive. There were other fine solos. Eileen Coyne’s French horn playing was arresting in its clarity. Principal violinist Amos C. Fayette dazzled once again in his solo passages as he did last summer. I could go on. Both young conductors, Nuno Coelho and Christian Reif, were already leading like pros. And there is so much more to come. Most amazing is the ability of these young players to produce first-rate performances in three or four days.

The TMC Orchestra’s second concert on July 18th was highlighted by an elegant performance of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica.” Yes, elegant. Conductor Ken David Masur had an exquisite sense of balance and form. It was what you would call “classical.” It was buoyant. It had great clarity. Oboist Gretchen Myers played eloquently in the slow movement. There was a still, intense thread that told the tragic story powerfully, like a great singer. Christian Reif conducted a broad and brilliant Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey by Richard Wagner. Nuno Coelho partnered the BSO’s hornist Richard Sebring in a superb performance of Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto No. 1.

Company of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" Berkshire Theatre Group, 2016. Photo Emma Rothenberg-Ware.
Company of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” Berkshire Theatre Group, 2016. Photo Emma Rothenberg-Ware.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is an epic play. In the Berkshire Theatre Group’s performance silence and bombast strive mightily. Little is said that sticks. We sense at the outset that silence will win the battle, and so it does, a constructed liquor-soaked silence from Brick, played by Michael Raymomd-James who defeats the orotund speech of Big Daddy, a well played pillar of pomposity in Jim Beaver’s hands. Lost in the midst of this is Maggie, who tries to convert Brick’s silence in what amounts to a 45-minute monologue. Rebecca Brooksher turned this part into a tour-de-force, the length of it being an absolute necessity in her mind.  Marvelous in this play was Raymond-James, who most of the time, speaks or shouts only three or four words at a time, and those rarely. Between these extremes lives an unconceived child, held prisoner by silence. Raymond-James was believable; he had a hidden tenderness. He may even have righted all wrongs, had he the chance. His listening face, liquor-washed, riveted the attention—a kind of Shylock who with few lines, dominates his play. His passivity was an energy.

Other roles were variously taken, with Timothy Gulan’s Gooper and Jenn Harris’s Mae close to caricature. A bright presence on the stage was Julianna Salinovici’s Dixie.

Michael Raymond-James and Rebecca Brooksher in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Photo Emma Rothenberg-Ware.
Michael Raymond-James and Rebecca Brooksher in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Photo Emma Rothenberg-Ware.

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