Inviting guest musicians Osmo Vänskä and Alisa Weilerstein to the Sydney Symphony makes an artistic match the muses approved of, not to mention the heavens. They only came for three performances in Sydney, and how they found time to rehearse this dense program thoroughly is a mystery to me, though a shared musical spirit and understanding seemed to be on their side in this performance. It was a rare conjunction of various uncontrollable elements. The program too is very interesting. The Sydney Symphony has found a ‘new’ Tchaikovsky piece, apparently never having played Voyevoda before, and has not played the Prokofiev sinfonia concertante for 40 years. Beethoven is always interesting (at the very least), but here we have a unique interpreter of his symphonies in Vänskä, who seemed even to find in Beethoven hitherto unheard connections to Prokofiev.
William Shakespeare, though he did not of course invent all his stories, rather drawing them from history or myth, makes them seem like his in his vivid tellings. His characters gain real personalities by virtue of the dense poetry but also from their actions and behavior in the plays and the strong linkages of cause, motivation, effect, imagery and expressive action from foot to foot, line to line, scene to scene and act to act give the plays strong coherence through the internal logics, whether ‘real’, poetical, linguistic or dramatic. In a phrase, he had a sense of theater, he magically created real worlds, not just existing in his private imagination, but in seemingly solid words and acting which create in the theater believable atmospheres of battle, or forest serene or sinister, or anything else from any part of the world. Perhaps most of all the stories we grant Shakespeare possession of that of Romeo and Juliet. Ballet has a history of borrowing Shakespeare’s pieces, though it may seem self-defeating to leave the Bard’s words and take only the story, many are successful as theater in their own right, perhaps because they avoid a direct translation into mime and movement rather taking across the essence of their drama and characters.
Cosi Fan Futte is an opera I have sung often so I looked forward to going to The Dangerous Liaisons that Shakespeare and Co. has had up for some time now. The brittleness of the spoken play and the precipitous action constantly crowding scene into scene requires exquisite skill from the actors in this play. Mozart’s opera seems expansive and almost sweet next to it. Making the epistolary prose of Laclos into a working drama of reasonable length is not an easy task. The action has an awful purity which is only softened at the very end and given an almost romantic turn as the true lovers die in close succession.
For over twenty years, the American Shakespeare Center (formerly the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express) has been pursuing a distinctive style of production, marked by speed and intimacy. The troupe attempts to recreate the conditions of Shakespeare’s theater, including universal lighting, minimal sets, and on-stage seating (to recapture some of the effects of the thrust stage, unavailable at this venue). At their staging of Romeo and Juliet at U.Mass.’s Bowker Auditorium, some audience members, still chatting and wending their way to their seats in the brightly lit auditorium, were taken aback when Ginna Hoben stepped forth as the Chorus, speaking right over the hubbub and starting the play at eight on the dot (too rare an event these days). From this moment the play never slowed down, running a neat 129 minutes without an intermission, and the swift scene changes brought a real intensity.