In 1957 society could be cruel to those who were different. Cathy Whitaker, a young Connecticut housewife and mother of two, is different. When her friends sing of once-a-week sex with their husbands, she is silent. Her husband Frank is different; he is gay. When Cathy learns his truth, she seeks solace with her sympathetic gardener, Raymond, also different, a “Negro,” a “gardening Nat King Cole.” Her neighbors gossip with relish. When Raymond takes her to his neighborhood café where he thinks they will be safe, she is ostracized because there, as a white woman, she is different. Cathy is trapped in a conformist marriage with repression, denial and pretense her only defenses.
It felt so good to return to the tiny village of Anatevka – to be uplifted by the heart-warming, brave inhabitants of this Russian, turn-of-the century shtetl, the hometown of Fiddler on the Roof. We get to spend a few hours listening to their songs and stories, and when they are exiled, we once again weep. We miss them and their way of life even before the curtain comes down.
Thanks to the Barrington Stage of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and its wonderful, if not quite perfect, revival of Fiddler, we can revel in the glorious Bock and Harnick score, see Jerome Robbins’ imaginative staging and dances and share the lives of Tevye, the dairyman; Golde, his wife; and their five daughters, three of whom are of marriageable age. Living with the imminent threat of Russian pogroms and the coming revolution, they hang tight to their Jewish traditions.
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!
Did it all start with Ezio Pinza – this crossover practice of opera stars singing American musical theatre? Pinza certainly was the most famous, making ladies of the late 1940s swoon in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. The latest crossover explorer is Deborah Voigt singing the role of Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun at Glimmerglass. Playing Annie gives her something in common with Susan Lucci, the soap opera actress; Reba McEntire, the country singer; as well as Ethel Merman. Unexpected company for an internationally renowned dramatic soprano.
Our beloved Williamstown Theatre Festival has announced its Mainstage productions for the 2011 season, which will extend from July 1 to August 28. (Information about the Nikos Stage Season, as well as additional details about the Main Stage Season, will be announced at a later date.) This will be the first season under the festival’s new Artistic Director, Jenny Gersten, whose appointment was announced last spring. She is the third Artistic Director of the WTF within the past seven years, but no matter: she, like her predecessors, has had a long involvement with the Festival, as associate producer from 1996 to 2004, the years when Michael Ritchie ran it as Producer 1996-2004. He was succeeded by Roger Rees, who only lasted from 2004 to 2007 as Artistic Director. Nicholas Martin then took over. Mr. Martin suffered a stroke only a year into his tenure. After a period of recovery, the stroke seemed to impair his creative work very little, but it did force him to make choices — to Broadway’s benefit. All of these people have had strong connections with Broadway, as well as the non-profit theatres of New York. Hence there has been a solid continuity at the Festival in spite of this rapid succession of quick changes.
My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.