Thursday, January 17, 2013

concert review: Peer Gynt at SFS

Well, that was a mistake.

I was foolish enough to be attracted by the concept of a program combining Edvard Grieg's incidental music to Ibsen's Peer Gynt - thus implying more than the two standardized suites of it - with Peer Gynt music by other composers, initially listed as "including" Alfred Schnittke and Robin Holloway, but turning out to include nobody else, which I think is a violation of the rights of the word "including".

But instead of a Peer Gynt-themed concert program, what we got was a semi-staged production of an abridged (fortunately) version of the play, with bits of the contributing composers' music inserted where appropriate.

This did have the advantage of clarifying the role in the play of Grieg's music, often criticized as incongruously sweet for Ibsen's cold, inhuman drama. What it does is cut the bitterness, same as a little sugar cuts chocolate's.

But not enough. Staging it this way turned the focus from the music to the play itself. From the one perspective, this forces you to have to care about Peer and his adventures, and I just don't. He's a willfully unlikeable character who stomps on the feelings of everyone he knows. And from the other, such a play performed under such circumstances is sure, in acting and directing, to be deadly, and oh, was this ever.

This was the most tedious performance I've attended since Menlo put on Stravinsky's pointless L'Histoire du Soldat with equally desperate actors, and that was a lot shorter.

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