A Singer’s Notes 50: Listening to King Lear

Dr. Johnson famously refused to re-read the play for some years, remarking that it “did not keep faith with the chronicles” referring, I suppose, to an older play on the same subject. Shakespeare’s alterations were radical. Cordelia’s death is the issue. Nahum Tate saves her, and his version ruled the English stage for decades. These days it is either the bleak version where all hope is banished, or what critics quaintly call the Christianizing version. Like today’s pols, it’s one or the other; the middle lies empty. But there is a middle, very possibly a transcendent one. We have already seen the end of Shakespeare’s Lear twice, first in Pericles, and then The Winter’s Tale. Check the Quarto text of King Lear and you will read that music is called for in the awakening scene of Act 4 – just as Paulina does in the corresponding place in Winter’s Tale. Is there a chance the playwright is out to show that Lear’s so-called hallucinations in his final moments are true vision? This is not bringing a statue back to life – a statue that never died. This is seeing a dead person in a new life. Was this a deliberate challenge the playwright set himself – nothing less than all from nothing? Can we believe it? Was the dying King Lear the only one with the ears to hear? And finally the eyes to see? Is his own awakening scene a dress rehearsal for the promised end? Why are we so willing to deny Lear’s seeing? He himself tests it, puts the glass up to her nostrils. He despairs, but this is not the finality. The finality is open. “It is required you do awake your faith,” as Paulina says in Winters TalePace Dr. Johnson, maybe the old faith is kept, just not shown – forcing the imagination still further, the way that music brings us to the edge of the thing and we hear it in the silence after. Kelly Galvin’s Cordelia made us hear this every time she spoke, gave us an assurance of it. Her speaking was partner to her silence.

Vasily Petrenko and Joshua Bell in a Russo-English Program with the SF Symphony: Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, and Elgar

Hats off, ladies and Gentlemen! A conductor! And a great symphony!

Vasily Petrenko’s recent electrifying week with the San Francisco Symphony reminds the listener that Gustavo Dudamel is not the sole “conducting animal” to be found on the musical circuit these days. Esa-Pekka Salonen coined the term a while back, with the impassioned Venezuelan in mind. And indeed, Dudamel is the sort of refreshing performer who has the winds jumping to their feet like jazz musicians and bass players twirling their instruments. He is all about emotion as vitality. But physically, apart from the energy with which he beats time, his manner is unremarkable.

The fascination of Petrenko, by contrast, is his ability to reflect every quivering moment of the music somewhere on his face or body, as though he were a disembodied hologram. We joke about people who are “double-jointed.” But Vasily Petrenko might as well be quadruple-sprung and then some…this is a man who’d have no trouble tapping three heads, rubbing five tummies and signalling with numerous eyebrows at the same time!

Some True Things Arranged Deceptively – a Screenplay

A jumbo jet full of PASSENGERS waits to pass through customs, passports in hand. They are in between, not yet present in any country. At the end of the corridor an automated dispenser of hand sanitizer welcomes them to the United States and to Los Angeles, such as it is. A few passengers exchange anxious glances with the impassive and, for some, unfamiliar machine.

The line does not move.

Eventually a DIMINUTIVE WOMAN approaches the machine, hand extended. The dispenser BUZZES and a tennis ball-sized dollop of hand sanitizer appears in her hand. She returns to her place in line, staring at the impassive white bolus in her palm, more anxious than before.

The line begins to move.

Sol LeWitt III: The ABCDs of Sol Lewitt

This exhibition at Williams College Museum of Art is supplemental to the immense retrospective installation at MassMoca in North Adams. In some surprising ways it reveals more of the evidentiary by-products of the thought process of the seminal conceptual artist than the spectacular realizations at MassMoca.

Dialogue One International Theatre Festival

The pleasant, but potentially mind-numbing routine of holiday entertainment was relieved most satisfyingly this past weekend by Dialogue One, a new international theater festival of solo performances at Williams College. Its founder, Omar Sangare, Assistant Professor of Theater at the College is to be thanked warmly for this serious and extremely stimulating festival, which will be an annual event. It consists of an evening of performances by four of Professor Sangare’s students, Mme. Tussaud, LIVE, which took place on Thursday evening and was repeated on Friday and a day of performances by professional actors from New York, Chicago, and Germany. The festival concluded with a ceremony at which three prizes were awarded by a jury consisting of Williams faculty and students as well as outsiders, one for a student performance, another for a domestic performer, and the third for an international performer. The solo performances were without exception serious, even intensely so, and they provided some extremely welcome intellectual ballast for the season. We had an opportunity to appreciate the impressive talent which exists among the Williams students, both as actors and writers, and to see some of the best and brightest among the young professional actors, who are working in this extremely challenging genre. These were joined by a distinguished mature actor from Poland, Herbert Kaluza, who has been working in Germany in recent years. His linguistic abilities had ample scope in the quadrilingual version of Isaac Babel’s “The Story of my Dovecote.” Americans get regrettably little exposure to theater in other languages, and this solo performance brought together the distinguished traditions of Poland and Germany in a concentrated and accessible form. And what a powerful contrast to the American approaches we’d seen earlier in the day!

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