Monday, May 24, 2021

two events

Somehow I wound up with tickets to two online performances at exactly the same time. Fortunately both remained online for a short period afterwards (though only to ticket-holders, I think), so I was able to partake of both. This wouldn't have been the case had they been in person, when I would have been forced to eat the first ticket if deciding that the second-arriving one was the one I really wanted to go to, never to learn that the first one was actually more enjoyable.

This was a chamber music concert by members of the Berkeley Symphony, made visually intriguing by placing the musicians around various spots in the stark and vaulting, but apparently not echoing, Berkeley Art Museum. I signed up for this one for an Andante for string quartet by Florence Price, which proved to be performed in a lush and tender manner which suited Price's style excellently. But I was familiar with all the composers and they all gave good offerings: a solo horn piece by Messiaen (Appel Interstellaire), plus an outstanding string quartet, Strum, by Jessie Montgomery, and a riveting suite for violin, viola, and percussion by Michael Daugherty, Diamond in the Rough, I think the best piece of his I've heard.

The other performance was a production by the Lamplighters, the local Gilbert & Sullivan company, of Cox and Box. This is the only non-G&S piece in the typical G&S company standard repertoire, having been composed by Sullivan before he ever met Gilbert, and suitable for pandemic work because it has only three characters, but despite its turning up from time to time, I'd never seen it before. Judging from this, it'll be quite a while before I see it again.

Sullivan's music is very capable and reasonably attractive, though he had not yet reached the supreme melodic gift he'd achieve in his fourth collaboration with Gilbert, H.M.S. Pinafore, and thereafter. The libretto by the justly forgotten F.C. Burnand, however, is tiresome and the wit, compared to Gilbert's, is infantile. The premise and plot are extremely silly, but they're not Burnand's; he adapted someone else's farce about a penny-pinching landlord who (without telling them) rents one room to two tenants, one who works at night and one by day so they never meet until one has a day off, at which point they also discover they're engaged to the same woman, whom neither of them can stand so they each try to push her off onto the other. No, it doesn't make any sense, and the opening scenes in which each unknowing co-tenant wonders why he keeps running out of things like coal and matches are wearying, but perhaps it was the fact that, for pandemic reasons, the performers were only interacting via video trickery that made the show fall flat.

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