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CLASSICAL  October 2006

CLASSICAL October 2006

Subject:

Berlioz in Tacoma, or, the Multitasking Conductor

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 29 Oct 2006 22:24:22 -0800

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text/plain

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   Tacoma Opera crafts BIG production on postage-stamp stage
   Rialto Theater presents creative challenges to staging a musical
   adaptation of a play by Shakespeare
   
   ROSEMARY PONNEKANTI; The News Tribune
   10/29/06
   
   It sounds a bit like a comedy line: How do you get 18 singers,
   11 musicians and some sets onto a 17-yard stage with no pit or
   wings?  Be creative, that's how. Tacoma Opera opens its season
   next weekend with Hector Berlioz's "Beatrice and Benedict" and
   has taken every liberty you can think of to fit an opera onto
   the tiny Rialto stage.
   
   Musicians are on stage, cast members sing in French and speak
   dialogue in English, the conductor takes on a solo vocal role
   and the stage director - obviously not challenged enough by a
   total lack of fly (overhead rigging) or wing space - has volunteered
   to write extra Shakespearean dialogue. The result? A version of
   the opera that hopefully fits the chocolate-box theater - and
   its audi--ence - perfectly.
   
   The first task was to rewrite the libretto. Rarely performed,
   the 1862 "Beatrice and Benedict" is an operatic adaptation by
   Berlioz of Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing." It
   deals not so much with Shakespeare's reunited lovers Hero and
   Claudio as with two sub-characters, Beatrice and Benedict, who
   hide true affection with mock fighting and witty repartee - to
   everyone's delight. The original is, however, three hours long
   and involves lines and lines of Berlioz's French translation.
   Stage director Kristine McIntyre and general director Kathryn
   Smith both agreed that something more approachable was needed.
   
   "I decided to set the story in 1919 America in Messina, a fictional
   town that's probably right here in the Northwest," explains
   McIntyre. "So it seemed appropriate to use the original English.
   I even went back and found parts of "Much Ado" that Berlioz had
   left out and put them back in."
   
   Berlioz's exquisitely light, lyrical music would be ridiculous
   in anything but French, however. So in hiring singers, general
   director Kathryn Smith had first to ask if they could perform
   bilingually. For most singers, used to multiple European languages,
   this isn't a problem. For the audience, it can take some getting
   used to, though anyone who saw Tacoma Opera's "The Abduction
   from the Seraglio" will be familiar with the idea.
   
   Using Shakespeare, though, is a problem when the composer has
   invented some completely new scenes and characters. Somarone, a
   pretentious European music master, is one of these. McIntyre's
   solution was to mix and match from the original, even writing
   some lines in faux-Shakespearean prose ("Halt! You bellow this
   ode like a funeral dirge!")
   
   The next thing to be rewritten was the score. "Beatrice and
   Benedict" is the chamber piece in Berlioz's otherwise massive-scale
   repertoire ("Symphonie Fantastique" has five movements and 120
   musicians; another opera, "Les Troyens," takes five hours to
   cover the entire fall of Troy). Nevertheless, it requires full
   orchestra. The Rialto doesn't even have a pit. Conductor Bernard
   Kwiram had some long computer hours ahead of him.
   
   "Berlioz's score is huge," grimaces Kwiram. "There are two harps.
   The violins split into eight parts. So I went to Kathryn (Smith)
   and asked, 'How many musicians can we afford? How many will fit
   on stage?'" The magic answer was 11, and Kwiram spent "more hours
   than I kept track of" reducing the 300-page score and cutting
   the length to two hours. Meanwhile, McIntyre worked on a stage
   arrangement that would involve the musicians in the action. "It
   seemed better to integrate the orchestra, rather than pretend
   they weren't there," she says.
   
   As part of the integration, McIntyre volunteered Kwiram to sing
   a role himself: Somarone, appropriately enough. In costume, the
   conductor (who has sung with the Seattle Opera) both conducts
   the real orchestra and the music group in the story (the Tacoma
   Opera chorus), blurring the line between singers and accompaniment.
   
   Yet McIntyre had to fit even more people on the stage. Without
   wings, the chorus and lesser characters are forced to be part
   of the action much more than in larger theaters. The solution
   was to make each chorus member a character - a maid, gardener
   or cook in the huge Cape Cod mansion that Benedict's uncle owns
   - and even involved them in turning the reversible set for scene
   changes.
   
   "It's very much an ensemble piece now," says McIntyre, and the
   rest of the cast agrees. ...

   http://www.thenewstribune.com:80/soundlife/story/6199173p-5418099c.html

Janos Gereben/SF
www.sfcv.org
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