Friday, June 28, 2013

performances on the road

I squeezed an eight-day road trip in between my last two San Francisco Symphony concerts of the season. Since my trip was to the north, and so is San Francisco, I simply made those the first and last stops on the drive, driving on for a couple of hours after last Wednesday's concert to reach my hotel reservation, and organizing myself to return in time for dinner before this Thursday's.

I tapped out a brief review - which was all it deserved - of the first concert on my Nook while on the road. But that isn't all I did musically or theatrically.

Tuesday, June 25: Oregon Bach Festival, Bend
In the Tower Theatre, which appears to be an old converted movie house of rather small size, the OBF, which is mostly in Eugene starting this week, presented a touring prelude concert of chamber music on modern instruments by an ensemble from LA called Bach's Circle. Played also Fasch, Goldberg, Couperin, and Vivaldi. Sloppy but enthusiastic.

Wednesday, June 26, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland
Two plays in their big indoor theater, the Bowmer, left me much happier than on my last visit two years ago. Taming of the Shrew in a modern vernacular setting - Baptista runs a hot dog stand on the boardwalk (Kate throws a bag of popcorn at one of the suitors), and Petruchio is a rockabilly guitarist - evaded incongruity and skated over the play's sex-role problems by simply bursting with energy and verve. Not just Ted Deasy as P. and Nell Geisslinger as K. but everybody kept the script popping along at top speed, as if this were A Comedy of Errors. Best incidental comedy bit: John Tufts as Tranio incessantly mispronouncing Bianca's name, a different way each time. The ending was solved with added stage business showing that Kate has Petruchio tamed as much as the other way around. This isn't really textual, but no matter. They close with the two singing a duet, her playing his guitar.

Rather to my surprise - I thought it'd take longer to drive over the back mountain highways from Bend than it did - I arrived in Ashland in time for both lunch and a lecture by a visiting prof arguing that even Shakespeare himself and his contemporaries were aware of the dicey aspects of this story, and adducing as evidence an almost proto-feminist sequel by John Fletcher called The Tamer Tamed. This is the only sequel by another hand to a Shakespeare play to appear in his lifetime; I certainly know of Fletcher, so why had I never heard of this play? I didn't agree with everything the prof said, but he was a very entertaining speaker.

And after the play, those who knew to duck through a particular side door in search of a post-performance Q&A by one of the actors were greeted by Royer Bockus, who played Bianca. She was a rare case of an Ashland newcomer in the cast; she talked of the expected casting and directing issues, revealed that her dream role is someday, when she's older, to play Sondheim's Mrs. Lovett, and said that she conceived Bianca as a happy, cheerful person - why not; everyone loves her - though I'd say that the result came across more as bobbled airhead.

OSF has taken to performing occasional musicals, and this year's was My Fair Lady. Though enjoyable, it felt odd. Partly it was the arranged accompaniment for two pianos (grands with the lids down, in the middle of the set-less stage where they, and the pianists, could occasionally be incorporated into the action - Liza (Rachael Warren) sang part of "I Could Have Danced All Night" while lying on top of one - and partly it was the casting. Musicals are usually performed by singers who can act, and this was by actors who could sing, which makes a big difference. Of course there are always exceptions; the original musical Higgins was an actor who couldn't sing. This Higgins (Jonathan Haugen) could and did sing, but he was short (shorter than his Liza), stocky, and peppy, an unusual type for the role. Imagine Ross Perot as Higgins - without the accent and the mannerisms, but that kind of guy. Liza was middling, without extremes of either refinement or fire, at both of which the original musical Liza excelled. Her accent, and everyone else's, warbled, switching unexpectedly and inappropriately among American Actor's Imitative RP, watered-down Cockney, and their own American. Best "saved by the bell": moment: Freddy (Ken Robinson) turning "On the Street Where You Live" into a comedy number by lying down and writhing on the floorboards, making love to his Liza-metaphor.

Thursday, June 27, San Francisco Symphony
And exactly 24 hours after seeing My Fair Lady at OSF, I was back in the City for the Symphony's West Side Story. Hey, I could get used to this kind of life.

This was a just-the-music performance - no staging, no dancing, no dialogue except for the parts with musical underscoring, not even a plot summary in the program book - intended for a future CD of the complete music of WSS as Bernstein wrote it, before director Jerome Robbins made his cuts. This freed them from having to cast dancers, so they could go straight for the best singing possible. All the cast, mostly musical theater rather than opera people, were good, especially Cheyenne Jackson as Tony - a rare combination of a light, high tenor with real power behind it - and the vibrato-filled Julia Bullock (one of the few grand opera veterans) as the anonymous girl who introduces "Somewhere". Every time the chorus sang, they jumped out at you in quality, because they were select members of the SF Symphony Chorus. MTT took some awkwardly slow tempos, but he conveyed the emotion and complexity of Bernstein's score, with premonitions of songs from later in the show appearing in the underscoring. If not totally inspiring, it was a vividly clear performance of a masterwork.

More on the trip later.

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