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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, August 30, 2007
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
THE EDINBURGH FESTIVAL 2007
Happy 400th Birthday, Monteverdi!
Remembrance of Festival-Directors-Past…
The Tiger-Lillies Salute Claudio Monteverdi in Their Very Own Way!
From the United States of America:
Wooster-Group Combines Cavalli's Didone & SciFi Vampire-Movie!
Mabou-Mines Plays DollHouse in a Very Big Doll-House!
Cambridge's ART Mounts Orpheus X
Even More Orpheus: Stravinsky's Orpheus, Plus Oedipus Rex!
Benjamin Bagby's BEOWULF
No Time for Fringe-Firsts or for the Traverse Theatre, Alas!
THE EDINBURGH FESTIVAL 2007
Happy 400th Birthday, Monteverdi!
In recent seasons, some major Arts Festivals have introduced Themed-Programming. This is basically an attractive idea, rather than just offering a hotch-potch [or hodge-podge] of Drama, Dance, Concert, & Opera-productions, whether home-grown or booked & subsidized from abroad.
But it is not always possible to carry some themes through, as Artistic-Directors often have to program what they can afford at home. Or back-up with foreign arts-subsidies, in the case of guest-visits from Major-Nations & even from tiny Third-World-Civilizations, eager for attention & Cultural-Validation.
Jonathan Mills, the Edinburgh Festival’s new Director—who comes to the Scots Capital from Melbourne, Australia—decided for his first season to salute Claudio Monteverdi & his early-opera L’Orfeo. This had the added advantage of permitting him to move both forward & backward in Arts-Time for his productions.
In fact, the Festival’s Official-Slogan seemed to be: Timeless Stories, Spectacularly Told.
As Monteverdi & his cultural-compatriot-composers & librettists were fascinated by the Ancient-Greek-Myths—and their survivals in Classic-Tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, & Euripides—this also permitted Mills to revisit the Classical-Past, as well as the Italian-Renaissance.
So David Greig’s new version of Euripides’ The Bacchae was the opening-weekend World-Premiere of the 2007 Edinburgh Festival!
But the Really-Big-News was that it featured Scots-actor & Broadway-star Alan Cumming in a slinky gown as the seductive God, Dionysyus! Tony Curran—also seduced into wearing women’s-attire by the vengeful God—was the rigid, but doomed, King, Pentheus, torn to pieces in a wild Maenad-Orgy of Bacchante-Passion, by his own mother, Agave. She was played by the appropriately-named Dionysiac, Paola Dionisotti!
[The late Mildred Dunnock—Willy Loman’s long-suffering wife, Linda, on Broadway—played Agave once at Yale Rep, under Dean Robert Brustein’s oversight. Not quite Dionysian, More Arthur-Millerian…]
Arriving in the midst of the Edinburgh Festival—although it was the third week of August—Your Scribe missed this show-shocker, which later moved to London. He had already missed some other outstanding dance, theatre, opera, & concert programs, as well. And he was to miss even more, after his departure for London, to inspect the Annual-Floral-Offerings of Princess Diana-Worshippers on the Gates of Kensington-Palace, on Diana’s Death-Day, 31 August 2007.
One Opera-Curiosity I was denied by early-departure was what was elegantly-ballyhooed as a "World Premiere" of an opera by Garmisch-Partenkirken’s most famous citizen, Richard Strauss.
Had Strauss composed yet another opera after he had completed his Four Last Songs, or Vier Letzte Lieder?
When I first saw the handsome full-color brochure for this Capriccio World-Premiere, I thought perhaps the late Pauline Strauss had been channeled on someone’s Ouija-Board & had come-through with a revised-score from her husband’s Workroom-in-Paradise…
But no! No-one had found a forgotten Strauss manuscript, hidden away in the vast Archives of the Bavarian Staats-Bibliothek, alas. [Unlike that redoubtable-musicologist, H. C. Robbins-Landon, who was always discovering lost Haydn opera-manuscripts in the Library of Schloss-Eszterhazy in Eisenstadt!]
No, such Amazing-Discoveries & Unimaginable-Delights were not to be: this was only a New-Production from Opera Köln, featuring Gabriele Fontana as the Countess & presented under the Festival-Themed rubric of "Timeless Stories, Spectacularly Told."
Its connection with the Festival-Theme, however, seems sound. From the outset of Opera, the Great-Debate was: Which comes First, the Words, or the Music? Primo le Parole, doppo la Musica? [sp?]
[This should always have been an Easy-Call, as music was originally composed to augment the effects of the lyric-libretto in performance. Not the Other Way Round… [Even Richard Rodgers didn’t begin composing until he had Oscar Hammerstein II’s newest libretto in hand!]
In Strauss’ Capriccio, in the Court-Theatre of her Country-Estate, the rich & lovely young Countess cannot make up her mind between two eager lovers, a Poet & a Composer. So she goes off in her carriage to 18th Century Paris instead…
And why not? She will arguably have a better time there than in Modern Paris. Or even in Köln, for that matter!
You can check-out the Cologne-rehearsals of this production—with Markus Stenz conducting & Christian von Götz staging—at the Festival website: eif.co.uk!
Just as has become the custom at other major-festivals, Edinburgh’s new Director Jonathan Mills has also integrated some prime-examples of the Visual-Arts in the current festival-program.
[Actually, even a Play-in-Performance—as you have to look, as well as listen—could also be regarded as a species of Visual-Art, could it not? Or is this merely a Curatorial-Quibble?]
In any case, the lucky artists chosen to contribute to the Edinburgh Festival’s Jardins Publiques are Michael Lin, Richard Wright, & Apolonija Susteric!
Just why their artworks are on view in Jardins Publiques, instead of Public-Gardens—where at least one of them is actually sited—is a Semantical-Question.
Possibly this may be because of the Scots Stuart-Dynasty’s French-Connection? Mary, Queen of Scots, was once Queen of France, after all…
And there is no-way the Edinburgh-Festival-Public is going to get into any local Jardins-Privées…
Win a few, Lose a few, as they say.
Remembrance of Festival-Directors-Past…
In the dark red rear stairwell of the Edinburgh Festival’s HUB-HQ, the walls are decorated with some fascinating small statuary groups of performing-artists, also rendered in Wall-Colors. Some of these are dedicated to Worthy-Patrons, such as Scottish-Widows.
Actually, forlorn & grieving Scots Widows are not much interested in Festival-Events. No, Scottish-Widows is an Insurance-Undertaking. Other patrons are saluted as well.
But most interesting are those sculptures or sculpture-groups which bear the names—if not the facial-features—of Festival-Directors over the long years.
Looking at these before Beowulf, I was reminded how many of these estimable men—no Women-Directors yet!—I had been able to meet & interview about their varied visions of the Edinburgh-Festival.
Sir Rudolf Bing—who founded the Festival way back in 1947, an entire decade before I came to teach in Europe—I obviously did not know when he created the Fest. Bing did this as a means of extending the performance-lives of opera-productions he had recently mounted for the Glyndebourne-Festival.
But I did get to know him very well when he was in charge of the Metropolitan Opera. When Sir Rudy was made a Distinguished-Professor at Brooklyn College, he often came to talk to my Seminars on Music-Theatre, both at BC & at the CUNY Graduate Center on Manhattan’s 42nd Street.
Other Edinburgh-Festival-Directors on the red walls include John Drummond from the BBC, Peter Diamond, Lord Harewood—the Queen’s opera-loving-cousin, whom I also interviewed when he was Intendant of the English National Opera, the just-retired Brian McMaster, who won his Managerial-Spurs at the Winnipeg Ballet, & Frank Dunlop, who introduced the then Pop-Star, Jim Dale, to legit theatre-audiences.
[Not long after that, I created the Official Young Vic Production-Book for the Frank Dunlop/Jim Dale Scapino. This had begun at the Young Vic, just down the road from London’s Old Vic, but it moved to BAM in Brooklyn & on to Broadway! You can still get a copy from Sergel’s Dramatic-Publishers!]
The Tiger-Lillies Salute Claudio Monteverdi in Their Very Own Way!
If you have not already heard of the Tiger-Lillies, those malign & merry minstrels, where have you been spending your Leisure-Time?
They were over at St. Anne’s in Brooklyn’s DUMBO-district last season, just after helping Vienna celebrate Mozart-Jahr with their hilarious salute to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart & his gang of Weber-Women: Wife Constanza, Sister-in-law Aloysia—whom he really wanted to marry, & manipulative Mother-in-law Frau Weber!
This has yet to be seen in New York, but their worldwide-touring-success, Shockheaded-Peter, was first seen on Broadway at the New Victory Theatre, followed by a London West-End engagement at the Piccadilly Theatre. After touring, it returned to 42nd Street at the New Shubert!
In their one-night-stand at Edinburgh’s staid Usher-Hall, fortunately there was no danger of the
Fall of the House of Usher—aside from the infectious-malicious mirth which floated about like clouds of comedic-bacteria.
At a prior Press-Conference in the HUB—the EFI’s cultural & administrative-center—the Lead-Lilly, Martyn Jacques, jauntily admitted that the group knew very little about Claudio Monteverdi, but an Invitation is, after all, an Invitation!
Actually, the Tiger-Lillies always seem to be On-the-Road, peddling their own CDs—that way, you Do-Not-Lose-Control & you Get-Them-Right!
CD-savers like Jacques’ disturbing song about the private-thoughts of a Roman-Centurion, hammering the Nails into Jesus on the Cross. The song is simply-titled: Banging in the Nails. Somehow, this elemental-lyric has offended Religious-Groups. None of them Muslim, however…
At the press-conference, Jacques’ merry colleagues—Adrian Huge & Adrian Stout—explained how the trio functions, inspired by Jacques’ often-acidic-lyrics & deceptively-simple-tunes.
Jacques explained that Shockheaded-Peter was actually constructed around the Tiger-Lillies, rather than the trio merely being a bizarre form of accompaniment.
Also, the Vienna Mozart-Jahr Mozarts-Weiber is, in fact, a German text—with a number of German-performers, so it is not soon likely to be seen at Brooklyn’s BAM, or other Anglo-Outposts of Cultural-Adventure.
On the very day of the Tiger-Lillies’ press-conference, the British press was filled with shocking accounts of the Horrific-Tortures Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales & Pres. Geo. W. Bush have been inflicting on supposed Muslim-Terrorists, held uncharged in Guantanamo & other American off-shore-prisons containing Enemies of Freedom.
These presumed-potential Suicide-Bombers are being subjected to the CDs of Britney Spears, Eminem, & other Pop & Rock & Rapper-Stars, played at Top-Volume, 24/7, for weeks on-end!
[This Cruel & Unusual form of Punishment is meant to induce the Terror-Suspects to crack & reveal all the fearful-plots they have in store for the Degenerate-West.
[It may even force them to reveal their favorite Suras from the Blessed al-Koran, learnt in all those mysterious Mosque-Madrassas!
[Of course, if some of them are, in fact, not Terrorists, but merely possess Arab or Muslim Names & Identities—well, this will Teach-Them-a-Lesson-about-Democracy! A Lesson that they are not likely to forget anytime soon…]
Asked about their reactions to this Unusual American-Music-Programming, Jacques, Huge, & Stout all stoutly & hugely agreed that only a couple of hours of the Tiger-Lillies’ music would have the Terrorists screaming for mercy, crying out all their direst plottings.
[Oddly enough, the thrust of the British press-reports was not so much the bizarre-horror of the Bush/Gonzales Torture-Methods, but the fact that the CIA, FBI, & the Pentagon have not been paying Royalties for using the recordings of Spears & Eminem!]
At the actual concert in Usher Hall, the Tiger-Lillies were preceded by Concerto-Caledonia—a Scots baroque-music-ensemble—as a kind of warm-up curtain-raiser. David McGuinness is its director, so he was responsible for making sure Monteverdi was not overlooked in the lyrical-scuffle that ensued.
What is more, he & his group were able to support the New Zealand-born countertenor David Lewis in two authentic Monteverdi-arias, one from il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria & the other from L’incoronazione di Poppea.
These were performed with plaintive zest, with Lewis in garish white-face makeup, providing a kind of Visual-Bridge to the very strong Trade-Mark garish-white-face makeup favored by Martyn Jacques.
Although the Tiger-Lillies are often shown in promotional-photos with all three in white-face clown-visages, in Usher Hall, only Jacques was so effectively masked. But Stout & Huge did wear their own Trade-Mark chapeaux!
Jacques provided a memorable Monteverdian-Bridge to the real-substance of the evening, his raw, brutal songs: Of Love & War.
His savage-satire of il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda—another one of those Crusader/Saracen-Romances, so beloved in the European West & South, while the Turks still occupied most of Eastern-Europe—stresses the Lesson of that Hippie-Motto: Make Love, Not War!
Although the Christian-Crusader Tancred has fallen in love with the beautiful & brave Muslim Woman-Warrior, Clorinda, as Martyn Jacques retells the tale: "They slashed each other’s flesh with swords until they lost their lives."
Of course, after such Noble-Sacrifices & Courageous-Deaths—Support-Our-Troops!—everything has to be Made-Right in Heaven.
Not so for the Tiger-Lillies: "They fought their holy battle then went to God above/Well God he said ‘You’ve fucked up bad, I am a God of Love.’"
This bracing lyric was followed by more in the same vein: most of them condemning War, with a few of them mentioning Love.
[The Ancient Greek & Roman-linkage of Venus & Mars, of Love & War, survived very well into the Renaissance, where Torquato Tasso & others enlarged on the Glories of War—especially those Heroic-Battles against the wicked Infidel-Saracens who had held the Holy-Land captive for centuries.
[Our Current-Crusaders into the so-called Cradle-of-Civilization seem to have forgotten that the Original-Crusaders only held the Holy-Places for about 150 years, before being decisively-defeated at Acre & driven from the Middle-East. Do we learn Nothing from History?]
The con-mingling of Love & War has survived to this day, although, already in the 19th century, the Concept of Love was detached from the idea of how much your wife & mother would love you, if you were Victorious in Battle. That Old Spartan-Classic-Concept: "Come back bearing your Shield—or upon It!
It was then transferred to the Love of the Glories of Dying for King & Country. As Wilfred Owen quoted the Classics: Dulce e decorum est pro patria mori.
Martyn Jacques & the Tiger-Lillies are having none of this Fatal-Patriotic-Nonsense.
In his savage songs, Jacques even suggests that the Leaders who so easily send thousands & thousands of young men & women off to die—or to be hideously-maimed—for their various Nations, Political-Ideologies, or Religions, are Cynical & even Evil-Men who would never put themselves in the Front-Lines.
Mission-Accomplished! As they say…
Or is Mission Impossible a more accurate assessment?
In a sense, Martyn Jacques is an anti-War-heir of Bertolt Brecht, as are the Tiger-Lillies all heirs of Brecht’s composers, such as Paul Dessau & Kurt Weill. But there’s more Anger than Art in some of Jacques’ Rants.
From the United States of America:
In Edinburgh Fest’s Third Week, Three US Groups on Offer!
It is never possible for your reporter to come to the Edinburgh Festival until the third-week of August: Bayreuth & Salzburg come first! So, when the Festival-Program arrived in March, I was a bit chagrined to see that no less than three of the major productions that week would be provided by American groups, two of them from New York!
Did I need to fly all the way to Edinburgh—tormented beforehand by Germanic & Nederlandisch Airport Security-Staffs—just to see Americans-At-Work?
In a word, Yes!
Wooster-Group Combines Cavalli’s Didone & SciFi Vampire-Movie!
Who but the now legendary avant-garde conceptual-stage-director Elizabeth LeCompte & her Wooster-Group would have thought to combine one of the first operas—Francesco Cavalli’s La Didone—with Mario Bavo’s 1965 Terrore nello spazio, one of Grade-B Italian-Cinema’s first
Actually, this works very well—even as a kind of goof—for the Exaggerated Passions & Heroics of the fateful-encounter in Carthage of Queen Dido & the Illegal-Immigrant, Aeneas, fleeing the burning ruins of Troy, on his way to Found Rome—provide an opera-seria semi-serious quasi-tragic-counterpoint to the hysteria of space-ship-cadets whose bodies are being invaded by Vampire-Zombies.
Kate Valk—the performance-ikon of the Wooster Group—is frantic & often funny as Space-ship crew-member Sanya. As she is not exactly Deborah Voigt, she has no Cavalli-Arias, but she does get to move into the opera’s alternate-universe as the Shadow of Dido.
Queen Dido herself is splendidly sung by Hai-Ting Chinn, who also plays Tiona, a character in Mario Bavo’s film, known in English as Planet of the Vampires. Clips of this stylish movie-production are shown mirror-imaged on pairs of giant plasma-TV-screens, to very good effect!
Alternating between Heroic Opera-Seria-Armor & Futuristic NASA-style space-suits, other cast-members also prove outstanding actor-singers, as well as desperate Rocketeers. Notably John Young as Aeneas, Ari Fliakos as Cupid/Ascanius, & both Andrew Nolen & Kamala Sankaram in several roles.
This burlesque Didone/SciFi-Combo has been produced by the Wooster Group, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts. Co-producers include the Edinburgh Festival, the Rotterdamm Schouwburg, Lisbon’s CC Belém, & the Grand Theatre of Luxembourg!
All a long way off from Wooster Street, down in darkest SoHo…
So please Bring This Show Back Home! New Yorkers need to see it!
[Those who admired Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Oscar-winning Lives of Others may be interested to learn that the videos used in this Wooster Group production were the work of Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck!
[Could she be a cousin, who has simplified the spelling of this Ancient-Germanic Family-Name, by dropping the VON? I mean, Henckel von Donnersmarck carries a lot of weight.
[My dear old friend, Gräfin Solveig Henckel von Donnersmarck—who studied acting at Stockholm’s famed Dramaten Theatre-School & came to Munich with the late Ingmar Bergman, when he abandoned Sweden, after a envy-inspired Tax-Raid—often points out that they are not the Henckel-Champagne Branch of the Family!]
Mabou-Mines Plays DollHouse in a Very Big Doll-House!
The Astonishing Visual-Conceit—or Concept—of Lee Breuer’s re-vision of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House initially is to perform it in the giant-sized unfolded-framework of one of those children’s-book cardboard fold-up doll-houses.
But even the blown-up giant-size, Narelle Sissons’ doll-house-set seems crampingly-confined, for very tall actresses have to stoop & crouch to enter its mini-doorway or to peer in through its tiny windows.
Even its elegant late 19th century Victorian doll-house furniture is barely big enough for full-bottomed & overdressed Norwegian women such as Ibsen’s Nora Helmer [Maude Mitchell] & Kristine Lind [Janet Girardeau] to sit comfortably.
It’s even more difficult to drink tea—or Something-Stronger—from miniscule tea-cups! Nora’s towering & often-drunk maid Helene [Margaret Lancaster] is also not built for such small spaces!
All these initial Visual-gags are hilarious, but they are as Nothing, once the Norwegian-Men have made their entrances. Nora’s dominating, ranting, patronizing husband, Torvald Helmer, is played by the wonderful dwarf-actor, Mark Povinelli.
In Breuer-Vision, Ibsen’s Norwegian-Males visually take on the Metaphorical & Spiritual-Stature they have in his drama. The tiny, but tremendously talented, Ricardo Gil is Torvald’s dear, dying old friend, Dr. Rank. And Helmer’s devious-envious bank-clerk, Krogstad, is ferociously embodied by the diminutive Kristopher Medina.
The contrasts in physical-size are often deliberately hilarious. But their counterparts in Human-Passions can seem even more outsized. It may be a thigh-slapper to see a tiny man—in the full-fury of sexual-arousal—trying to mount a Giantess, flanked by flounces, furbelows, & corsets!
Even if this DollHouse were only played as an Operatic-Burlesque of late 19th century Continental-Melodrama—which it, in part, is—that would be reason enough to rush off to see this show when it comes back Manhattan. Or, indeed, wherever it may roam…
But it is much more than a Visual-Romp. Not only do the painful realities Male-Female Social & Sexual Roles of Ibsen’s Original remain fairly intact—this is a difficult play for an avant-garde director to ruin—but the production also obliquely suggests that many Modern-Marriages may not be so different from that of Nora & Torvald…
Central to the conceptual-success of DollHouse is the Nora of Breuer’s co-adapter of Ibsen’s original-text, the amazing Maude Mitchell. She seems immense in her tiny house & her enthusiasms & emotions are also outsized.
She looks & acts like a Giant Over-cute, Over-dressed Doll. Mitchell’s Nora also speaks with a Betty-Boop-like Fake-Norwegian-Accent. The rest of the cast also sounds like Laurence Welk on something stronger than acquavit.
Naughty Nora sneaks the Forbidden-Macaroons from such hiding-places as under the wig of her child-like doll. Or from the erse-hole of her children’s Rocking-Horse! Tasty indeed!
At the same time, both she & her forlorn old friend, Kristine, are all too well aware of their position in the Male-Dominated-Society of their day. The often desperate Kristine has learnt to cope, through hard-work & unremitting self-sacrfice.
But the seemingly-child-like Nora has managed to get-by on beauty, cuteness, helplessness, & other feminine-wiles. Nonetheless, she is well aware that good-looks do not last.
Nora has saved her ailing husband’s life with an Italian-Vacation, dearly bought with a Forged-Signature. He knows nothing of this.
And Nora knows nothing of Business & Law, unfortunately, so Krogstad’s threatened-exposure of this Illegal-Act—to protect his own endangered-position at Helmer’s bank—could destroy both the Doll’s-House & its Witless-Occupants!
In Ibsen’s drama—as in this Monty-Python-Worthy Re-Vision—Nora’s slowly-growing awareness of who she might actually be, or become, as a Human-Being is hampered, not only by the conventions of Traditional Male-Female Role-Playing, but also by the Romantic-Vision, fostered by Victorian-Novels, of the Man, the Husband, the Lover finally realizing what a courageous, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, Wife & Lover he possessed & protects.
Nora longs for "The Miracle"—which never comes. Saved from Krogstad’s threats of exposure, Helmer’s first thoughts are for his own reputation remaining intact. "And you, too, of course," he adds gratuitously.
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House could be viewed as the First Great Modern Drama to deal with Real-Social-Problems. Mabou Mine’s often hilarious/delirious production—although a Visual-Goof—does not negate the Great-Debate.
If anything, it throws the ongoing-injustice of Male-Female Relationships into even Higher-Relief.
But—quite aside from the Social-Issues—this choreographed [by Eammon Farrell] & operatic production is a highly-styled Melodramatic-Parody, fun in & of itself. Ning Yu plays an Edvard Grieg piano-accompaniment.
There is even a kind of opera-house-finale, complete with puppet Torvalds & Noras in upstage boxes, swamped in red-velvet opera-drape-curtains! As Nora, standing in a real stage-box in the King’s Theatre, strips off all her clothing to reveal the Essential-Woman.
Puppets by Jane Catherine Shaw. Lighting by Mary Louise Geiger. Sound by Edward Cosla. Stilt-performance by Jessica Weinstein.
The Wonder of this All is that its stage-director, Lee Breuer, is now 70 years old! How has he been able to keep avant-gardedly-innovating for so many decades?
Cambridge’s ART Mounts Orpheus X
Just looking at the title of Rinde Eckert’s Orpheus X—before having actually seen the show—your reporter wondered whether the title was inspired by Jean Giraudoux’s Amphytrion 38, the supposedly 38th Version of that Ancient Greek Myth?
Surely there have been many more than TEN versions of the Orpheus/Eurydike Legend?
Or was Eckert’s title, rather, a conflation of the two Stravinsky-titles, Orpheus & Oedipus Rex into one, as in Orpheus [Oedipus Re]X?
In the event, it is its Own-Thing.
Created in Cambridge, Mass, at Harvard’s Loeb-Center—home of the Robert Brustein-conceived American-Repertory-Theatre, modestly alphabetized as ART—Orpheus X does provide some contemporary thoughts on the ancient tale.
Eckert—who IS Orpheus—decided to update this Apollonian-Antique-Singer—who could charm the birds out of the trees—into a played-out Rock-Star. [Someone had the same idea for Theseus/Oberon, in a Germanic Midsummer Night’s Dream, on view almost simultaneously at the Bregenz Festival!]
But Eurydice is not the Love of His Life. Instead, she is a would-be poet—unknown to him, &, indeed also to the increasingly small audience of poetry-readers—who suddenly steps off the curb, to be struck by Orpheus’ Limo, on the way to the airport. Or wherever…
She dies, cradled in his arms. At the hospital, thinking he must be her Significant-Other, they give him her few possessions. He becomes Obsessed with this Lost Women & her surviving-objects.
His Agent remonstrates: Orpheus’ fans are clamoring outside in the streets. They want to see him, to share his Grief—& perhaps get his New Album?
But he is as one Transfixed. He cannot move, he cannot act, he cannot think.
He must see Eurydice again, having known her only in the hour of her death.
Fortunately, his Agent has obtained Instructions for Entering Hades & Finding Eurydice!
In the meantime, the dazed Eurydice has passed-over, giving up her trifling possessions—including a draft of a new banal poem—to Persephone, Goddess of the Underworld, at the Gates of Hades. The insidiously perceptive Persephone notes that the poem is little more than lists…
Slowly, gradually, Eurydice prepares herself for the Selfless-Nothingness she will become in Hades.
Nonetheless—unable to let go of her longtime writing-habits—she furiously writes upstage on clear plastic-panels in white Cursive-Greek!
Your Scribe is more used to reading things like Phi Beta Kappa in capital-letters, so reading cursively-written-Greek—even when it is not reversed—is not easy.
I mention this only to indicate that such simultaneous visual-activities—as well as some ingenious-videos, projected on the narrow vertical-innards of a construction-worthy steel-beam—occasionally distracted from the frenetic activities & explosive singing of the now frantic Orpheus-Eckert, eager to descend into Hades.
But it is Not To Be: that he will bring Eurydice back into the Land of the Living, as in the Legend.
In fact, he does not even have that legendary Fatal-Opportunity: to look back at her, as they ascend into the Light.
As soon as they encounter each other—Orpheus still blindfolded for his entrance into the World of the Shades—Eurydice tears the blindfold away, looking him full in the eyes. They embrace, but all is already Lost for Orpheus. She does not want to leave. She does not love him. They didn’t even know each other on earth…
Suzan Hanson was a fascinating Eurydice, fading into Nothingness, forgetting even her poems. She was also in excellent voice, tremendously & tremulously moving at times.
The admirable multi-award-winning John Kelly was both Orpheus’ Agent, John, as well as a sedate no-nonsense Persephone.
As in Rinde Eckert’s recent Horizon—for the New York Theatre Workshop—he has written both music & text for Orpheus X, shaping & reshaping it after much research & demanding rehearsals.
And, of course, Rinde Eckert also is at the Center of His Creation, often singing at the top of his lungs & moving with great power & determination.
He faced one tremendous Artistic-Challenge, however, in re-telling the Orpheus-Story. If Eckert was to be singing the Orpheus-role all through the production, how could the Song Orpheus sings to
Enchant the Underworld & win Eurydice’s Freedom be any better than what Eckert had already been singing?
Presumably, Eckert had previously been singing the best lyrics & music he could possibly write: So how could he top himself?
[W. H. Auden had this same problem when he created—with partner Chester Kallman—the libretto for Hans Werner Henze’s opera, Elegie für junge Liebende, or Elegy for Young Lovers.
[Inspired by the Imagined-Heroic-Deaths of his young secretary-lover & her boy-friend, in a sudden Alpine-blizzard—into which he has knowingly sent them—the Great-Poet composes the Greatest-Poem of his life! To Universal-Acclaim, back in Vienna…
[As Auden told me: "I had been writing the best poetry I could up to that point. I could not purposely write something less good before, saving my best for the Great Poem…
[His solution was to write no words at all, but leave it to Henze, as composer, to devise a Magnificent-Vocalise that would exceed anything that could be uttered in verse!]
Eckert comes near to this, as his Chaotic Orphic-Outcry—to the Spirits in Hades & of the injustices in the World—goes far beyond words in its frantic, disordered, impassioned overpowering outburst.
This is an unusual-reading of the Orpheus-Legend—you could even reverse it by having Courtney Love go down into Hades to bring back Kurt Cobain!
But who needs that?
You have to admire Rinde Eckert’s tremendous determination, focus, intelligence, energy, & vision to continue building & performing such a distinctive body of work.
He seems a Force-of-Nature in performance.
Nonetheless, his Charisma as a performer—for this viewer, at least—does not match his apparent-intelligence & obvious-passion as the deviser of his unique form of Performance-Art.
Would Horizon or Orpheus X have been more compelling, performed by someone other than Rinde Eckert?
Even More Orpheus: Stravinsky’s Orpheus, Plus Oedipus Rex!
Although the Orpheus & Oedipus Legends are much, much older than the 400-year-old Claudio Monteverdi—whose anniversary the Edinburgh Festival is nominally celebrating this summer—there is certainly a Classical-Connection!
The Birth of Opera—in which Monteverdi was intimately involved, if not an actual midwife—was a direct result of Classics-Loving Renaissance-Worthies attempting to reconstruct the practical circumstances of the Ancient Greek performances of the Tragedies in Athens’ Theatre of Dionysus!
The gentlemen of the Camerata in Florence understood that the all-male Greek Choruses for Classic Tragedy actually chanted, sang, & danced their Heroic-Odes. No music had survived, nor stage-directions neither, but they had the evidence of the costumes & poses of Orpheus & Oedipus classically carved-in-stone.
From such early efforts at Dramatic-Reconstruction, Opera—and even Ballet—soon developed. Indeed, embedded in one ancient stone church-floor in Florence is a memorial to Jacoppo Peri, as The Father of Melodramma!
Reconstructionists went even further in North Italian Vicenza, where members of the Olympic-Society caused the erection of a quasi-Greek-Theatre—although indoors—designed by no less an Architectural-Great than Andrea de Palladio!
Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico is still in use today, as is its smaller version—by Scamozzi—in Sabionetta!
So it was entirely in keeping with the Festival-Theme to have Igor Stravinsky’s ballet-music for Orpheus & his opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex combined in Usher Hall for a concert of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, monitored by Chorus-Master, David Jones.
These splendidly-realized works were strongly conducted by Finnland’s own Susanna Mälkki—who favors a podium-uniform of elegantly simple long black form-fitting coat & black trousers. A real Trade-Mark-Look!
Susanna Mälkki has conducted most of the major European orchestras by now, but she is known in America only for her work with the Cincinnati Symphony. This should soon change!
Performed in concert in Latin—with a libretto by Jean Coctea—the major characters in
Sophocles’ original drama were interpreted by Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts [Oedipus], Natascha Petrinsky [Jocasta], Terje Stensvold [Creon], Matthew Rose [Tiresias], Andrew Kennedy, & Neal Davies.
The Oedipus-Myth was narrated in English by Simon Russell Beale, CBE. [Isn’t that something like Commander of the British Empire? Or does it mean only Companion?]
Unfortunately, Beale was not miked—& did not avail himself of the fabled Diaphragmatic-Breathing that is the Salvation of Singers—& so could not be clearly-heard by Your Reporter, whose Press-Seats were way up in the Upper-Circle, very close to God.
There is NO ELEVATOR for Public-Use in Usher Hall, Scotland’s Premier-Concert-Hall! This is almost Unbelievable, as most of the elderly & infirm Scots music-lovers seem only able to afford Usher’s Cheap-Seats, way up in Heaven. Talk about Class-Distinctions!
Most of the Edinburgh Golden-Agers were puffing & panting almost as badly as your 78-year-old Scribe. Why—after over 50 years at the Festival—didn’t I merit an Orchestra-Seat?
Just asking… Otherwise, the concert was very rewarding.
In fact, Brit-crit Ismene Brown was moved to refer—in her glowing-review of this concert—to Stravinsky’s "love of Bach, exposed everywhere in grave woodwind entwinings over dewy massed violins."
It would have been fun to have had Dame Evelyn Glennie—also at the Festival—add some thumping drum-strokes to Stravinsky’s robust percussions.
[Incidental-Note: When he was Capo of the New York City Opera, Maestro Julius Rudel liked to program Oedipus Rex with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. In costume, not just in concert. If you have to get all those percussions out of storage, might as well use them!]
But maybe we all need more of those dewy massed violins…
Benjamin Bagby’s BEOWULF
Born—as the Edinburgh Festival Program phrases it—on the shores of Lake Michigan—could this have been in Chicago, or actually in the Tidal-Waters of that Great Lake?—Ben Bagby—not to be confused with the late Ben Bagley—is yet another one of those talented American-Artists who have had to go off to Europe for their work to be appreciated!
For a quarter-of-a-century, he & the late Barbara Thornton presided over the Medieval-Music ensemble, Sequentia, in Köln, aka Colonia & Cologne. Now he & Sequentia are based in Paris, where—in addition to his performances—he is also on the Faculty of the Sorbonne, specializing in Performance-Practice of Medieval-Music!
This, of course, is not so easy to reconstruct, as Medieval-Ideas of Musical-Notation were rather different from those currently in vogue. Fortunately, there are still a lot of Authentic-Instruments surviving in Museums & Private-Collections, so the sounds certainly can be evoked, if not always the exact pitches, tempos, volumes, & other audial-dynamics.
But for his reconstructed performances of the Anglo-Saxon-Epic—called Beowulf—Bagby had to dig deeper into the Fundus of music & lyrics from the Dark Ages to the Early Medieval. This actually-untitled Heroic-Tale—recited & sung by Scops & Bards to Mead-Halls & Castle-Courts, filled with brave Viking-Warriors—must have been accompanied upon a six-stringed Harp.
Benjamin Bagby’s Beowulf-Harp was based on remains of just such a harp, excavated from a 7th Century Alemannic—Germanic—Noble’s grave. Grave-Robbery in a Good-Cause!
As we no longer have Traditionalist-Music-Critics like Erik the Red around anymore to tell us how accurate—as well as how Good—Bagby is in retelling the Beowulf-Saga, we more or less have to take it on credit that he is Very Good Indeed!
The Music-Critic of London’s Daily Tory-graph—oops! Telegraph!—had some fun at Bagby’s expense, but your reporter found the performance fascinating
Of course, the Meter & Alliteration typical of these ancient Bardic-Sagas & Eddas could make for a rather Sing-Songy evening, but Bagby avoided that by using deft changes in Volume, Emphasis, Pacing, & even Facial-Expressions & Body-Language to indicate the Scop’s savoring of the tale of Valor & Courage & Physical-Prowess he was retelling for perhaps the hundredth-time to a Mead-guzzling audience of illiterate & deadly-dangerous warrior-knights.
Some of these Saga-Sequences could run on for five or six hours: almost like some Japanese Kabuki-dramas. In fact, after Beowulf has vanquished the Horrific-Monster, Grendel—descended of the First-Criminal, Cain!—Bagby segues into brief account of Sigmund, the Dragon-Slayer!
If this sounds suspiciously like an Early-Version of Richard Wagner’s Ring, that’s not far-off-the-mark, as Wagner based his operatic-epic on the Nibelungen-Saga, another Medieval variant of this famous legend. But Wagner’s Dragon-Slayer is Siegfried: Siegmund is only his father…
Dressed simply in black, seated with his hollow-bodied six-stringed harp, Benjamin Bagby animatedly performs flanked by thick guttering yellow-wax-candles & two video-screens, with running English-translations.
For those who were not English-Majors—missing excursions into Middle-English, Middle-High-German & Anglo-Saxon—the language of Bagby’s Beowulf may remain a metrical-mystery. Some words, however, do sound rather like their modern counterparts or cognates.
Other words & phrases—as iterated & reiterated by Bagby—sound more like Swedish or Norwegian…
An Englishman in front of me was disappointed not to find a printed Beowulf text in the official program, as is often the case with opera-programs in Europe. He told me: "Well, we do have it at home in a translation by Seamus Heaney!"
Middle-English turned into Middle-Irish? Or Middle-Erse?
For those who did not see Julie Taymore & Elliott Goldenthal’s Grendel last summer at Lincoln Center, perhaps a New York visit by Ben Bagby & Beowulf might make up for what they missed?
Bagby’s musical reconstruction of the Icelandic Edda, The Rheingold Curse, was, in fact, staged by Ping Chong at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2001!
For that matter, the Irish Repertory Theatre of Charlotte Moore recently presented Beowulf as a kind of musical!
No Time for Fringe-Firsts or for the Traverse Theatre, Alas!
Over half-a-century—early-on with bought-seats, as Your Scribe had never heard about Press-Offices & Press-Seats!—I have always made a point of also seeing as many shows as possible on the
Edinburgh-Festival-Fringe, as well as Mainline-Headliners programmed in the regular Festival.
As there are literally hundred & hundreds of these shows, over time I chose only those that had won Fringe-First-Awards. Now there seem to be scores of such Winners.
Indeed, encountering my friend & colleague, Ian Shuttleworth—Editor/Publisher of the essential British-Theatre reference, The London Theatre Record—I was shocked to learn that there are almost 2,500 different Fringe productions on-offer! Ian showed me his copious notes for the 98 he had already seen!
So, in recent summers, I have begun to focus on the innovative productions of new native plays shown at the Traverse Theatre, which is also on the Fringe during the Festival, but a regularly-producing & much-admired Edinburgh-Theatre for the rest of the year.
With the recent inauguration of the Brits on Broadway seasons at Manhattan’s 59E59 Theatre, checking-out the Traverse seems no longer necessary. The Best of the Traverse is sure to come to 59E59! In Edinburgh, the Traverse won’t give Yanks like Your Scribe press-tix anyway…
For the record, however, here are some of the Traverse Theatre’s Festival-Fringe offerings, not all of them produced by the Traverse, however:
•Night Time, by Selma Dimitrijevic—
•Damascus, by David Greig—
•Believe, by Matthew Hurt—
•Game Theory, by Pamela Carter & Selma Dimitrijevic—
•The Human Computer, by Will Adamsdale—
•Ravenhill for Breakfast, by Mark Ravenhill—
•Long Time Dead, by Rona Munro—
•Is This About Sex, by Christian O’Reilly—
•Johnson & Boswell: Late But Live, by Stewart Lee—
•An Audience with Adrienne, by Adrian Howells—
•Pit, by Megan Barker—
•Stoopud Fucken Animals: a Suffolk Western, by Joel Horwood—
•The Walworth Farce, by Enda Walsh—This play & this production has been raved about by Jason Zinoman, of the New York Times!
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2007. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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