With Shakespeare and Company’s Winter Studio Festival of Plays drawing to a belated conclusion, because of a fierce winter storm, and the press announcement of the 2019 season coming up, it seems a particularly opportune time to publish the Podcast of my interview with Artistic Director Allyn Burrows about the highly successful 2018 season.
I wish I could like this production more. Clearly well-intentioned and sincerely played, it still did not touch the center of the fearsome verse. Betsy Holt as Lady Macbeth was eloquent, but did not convince me she would kill a baby. The charismatic Gino Costabile as Macbeth fell into shouting too often and not only in the last moments of the play. The witches just were not scary, with the exception of Myka Plunkett whose steady intensity showed the real way into the play.
Shakespeare was a great inspiration to Verdi, as he was to Berlioz and to many other nineteenth-century composers, writers, and artists of all kinds. Opera Boston recently presented Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict, adapted from Much Ado About Nothing; and before this late work Berlioz had, of course, written his great “dramatic symphony” Roméo et Juliette and an early King Lear Overture. Verdi wrote Macbetto in 1847 (and revised and added to it later), his tenth opera, and just on the cusp of his great middle period that would include Rigoletto and La Traviata He concluded his career decades later with the magnificent Otello and Falstaff, works that rival in greatness their Shakespeare sources. (Maybe Falstaff more than rivals The Merry Wives of Windsor. As for Otello, ages ago I was at a splendid Metropolitan Opera production—Levine, Vickers—and on the way out encountered a prominent Renaissance literature scholar from Princeton—“I think it’s greater than the play!” he gasped.)
The Winter’s Tale is the finest play by Shakespeare which nobody knows. Form and content meet and marry in this play. Everything is focused in a concentrated and clear line. The poet had two dry runs before writing the tale. Pericles, one of the most popular plays of the 17th century, is a rough-hewn rollicking tale which finds its heroine converting lechers and being lusted after by her own father. Next up, in the trial of romances, is Cymbeline, a complex rambling play with too many resurrections. The rightness of the The Winter’s Tale takes us by surprise. The themes of the last plays: separation, fathers and daughters, emotional destruction and rebirthing, here seem to have found a shape which sears itself into the mind. The most played and latest of the romances, The Tempest, can seem almost valedictory after Winter’s Tale.