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2004 Edinburgh Festival--With No Fringes Attached

By Glenn Loney, September 7, 2004

Carles Santos - El Compositor-- Clàudia Scheider as The Singer (La Cantant). Photo: Douglas Robertson

Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
Edinburgh Festival 2004—With No Fringes Attached! *
Cutting-Edge Drama Classics—
The Berliner Ensemble's Peer Gynt
Calixto Bieito's Celestina
Cutting-Edge Opera & Music-Theatre—
Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande Via Hannover—
Luigi Nono's Al gran sole carico d'amore: Agit-Propped & Post-Modernized—
Catalan Carles Santos' Symbolist Panorama: The Composer, The Singer, The Cook, and The Sinner—
Dance-Theatre and Symphonic Sensations—
Ballet West USA Presents Antony Tudor: Coals to Edinburgh, If Not To Newcastle—
The Cleveland Symphony's Birtwistle & Shubert—
Brilliant Bartók Bluebeard: With the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra—
The Diary of One Who Disappeared—
Piano Music of Helmut Lachenmann—


EDINBURGH FESTIVAL 2004—With No Fringes Attached!

For many years, the Edinburgh Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival ran side-by-side for three weeks in August. Although the regular Festival commanded all the major Landmark Venues, Fringe productions proliferated around the city in scores of lesser venues.

As the Fringe has grown in popularity, so has its roster of productions. In recent years, every August there have been several hundred shows on offer! With as many as two or three-thousand performances! Every available church hall & sanctuary, every school and dorm—even defunct shops and restaurants—are pressed into service as theatre-venues.

Two years ago, the Fringe got the jump on the main Festival—which customarily opens in the second week of August—by opening in the first week. Initially, this proved a godsend to regular Festival visitors who found themselves swamped on sidewalks, in eateries, and in the parks by the thousands of young people performing in or attending Fringe events.

This meant that if one arrived in Edinburgh during the last week of August for major Festival stagings, the hordes of teens and twenties had melted away. This past summer, however, some Fringe shows were still going strong right on to the end of August.

There was a time when your scribe made a real effort to check out important Fringe productions, as well as the mainstream plays and operas. There is now so much going on that it's simply not possible to cover so much artistic activity.

Not only are there major art exhibitions in city and national museums—as well as prestigious art-galleries—but there are also the annual August Edinburgh International Film Festival, Television Festival, and Book Festival!


Cutting-Edge Drama Classics—

Brian McMaster, the Festival's longtime Artistic Director, earned his spurs in the Dance World. But he is obligated to ensure that major modern opera and drama productions are also showcased annually.

Oddly enough, this past summer, some critics took him to task for not programming more outstanding dance ensembles than he has in past years. While America's Ballet West was admired, some wondered where the major European companies were.

But the problem is the same for festival directors all over Europe—whether they are seeking important drama, opera, or dance productions. Without major subsidies from their home-cities, states, and nations, such shows and ensembles cannot afford to travel. Nor can Edinburgh—or Salzburg, say—pay all the costs. Subsidies at either end of this equation are on the wane. Co-productions seem to be a possible solution, with stagings being shown both at home and on tour.

What is not wanted, however, is a conventional staging of an all-too-well-known ancient or modern classic drama. The same is true of the War-Horses of the opera-repertoire.

So McMaster and his fellow-Intendants are always on the lookout for cutting-edge mountings of plays and operas which already have Brand-Name Recognition. In the final week of this summer's Festival, he offered two drama classics. One was a real Winner; the other, a major misfire.


The Berliner Ensemble's Peer Gynt

Last year at the Salzburg Festival, Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt proved an amazing matrix for an astounding staging by Johann Kresnick, with the ensemble of the Hannover Schauspielhaus. Kresnik is known for "Choreographic Theatre," so Ibsen's actual text was merely the inspiration for some arresting images and actions.

Kresnik's major set-prop was an immense Astroturf-clad mountain, over which romped Peer and some very sexy Trolls. When this Undertaker's Carpet was pulled off the mountain-peaks, they were revealed as the monumental faces of Stalin, Karl Marx, and JFK, among other historic leaders.

When I first heard that Peer Gynt was to be shown in Edinburgh in August—where the Hanover State Opera would also show its Trovatore and Pelléas—I assumed this would be the Hannover Gynt as well. When I called the Festival Press-Office, I asked: "Is this the same production with the green mountain?" I was assured it had a green mountain.

But this vital revisitation of Ibsen's fable of the braggart Peer is something else altogether. It is Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble, returned to its glory-days of elemental production-values, Alienation Effects, and Agit-Prop. Its green mountain is only a slight green hump center-stage. In fact, the stage is largely bare, with a few chairs, scraps of furniture, and hand-props rapidly conformed by the actors into ships, coaches, and other requisites.

Staged by the 78-year-old Peter Zadek, this production avoided all the trendy Euro-trashy Post-Modernist sets, lighting, and costumes that are the hallmark of so many other Central European revivals of the classics.

Instead of trying to turn a modern classic into a kaleidoscopic theatre-circus, Zadek has done the almost unthinkable: he has—almost—entirely respected Ibsen's plot, characters, text, and vision. Instead of mistrusting the actual play, he has stripped it bare of all theatrical artifice—and let it speak for itself.

In performance, the effect is rather like Brechtian Story-Theatre. With the difference that the cast are not clever Paul Sills clowns, showing the story and characters. They LIVE their characters and adventures.

Both Stanislavsky and Brecht would be delighted! When Uwe Bohm's Peer takes his worried, credulous, admiring mother—the heart-breaking Angela Winkler—on a fantasy sleigh-ride, no scenery or props are needed. These two remarkable actors become Peer and Aase.

Unfortunately, Aase dies early on, as Peer goes from folly to folly. He never matures, but he does get older and even more determined to live life on his own terms. Uwe Bohm brilliantly embodies all the changes in Peer as he grows older and slyer.

But Peer learns nothing and, at the end, there is nothing worth saving. The Button Moulder is waiting to melt down his substance. Only the undying love of the abused and abandoned Solveig [Annett Renneberg] may save him…

Indeed, all the actors—almost all of them in a variety of roles—bring Ibsen's moral tale vibrantly, comically, tragically alive on the bare stage of Edinburgh's Lyceum Theatre. What Zadek—who has mounted his share of Modernist stagings—has rediscovered is the simple straightforward power of the playwright's vision, fiercely, truthfully brought to life by wonderfully dedicated and talented actors.

This has also served Zadek's colleague, Jürgen Flimm, very well in staging Wagner's RING for the Bayreuth Festival. Encourage the actor/singers to be the characters and live their lives! The music and the text are all that are needed beyond that. Sets, costumes, lighting—or Novel Concepts—aren't really needed for the human essentials to be communicated from stage to audience…

The acting-text of this production is the work of Peter Stein and Botho Strauss. Stein is, of course, one of Germany's most innovative directors, as is Strauss one of its most interesting playwrights.

Unfortunately, Zadek asked Strauss to write a new Act V for Ibsen's drama. The original is short and to the point. Strauss extends this almost endlessly, with his own philosophical variations on Ibsen's Basic Theme. Strauss's ruminations are not without interest, but his revision blunts the original point.

Nonetheless, this is such a powerful production that it MUST be seen in the United States, beginning at BAM. And possibly crossing the country. Peer's story is something like the American Dream gone very wrong: Self-Centered Blowhard Capitalism—with no regard for the Consequences! Does this sound a bit like a certain Chief Executive? Peer Gynt as CEO of the Free World?

For the record: Although Peter Zadek is one of Germany's most admired and respected contemporary stage-directors, he actually got his early drama training at the Old Vic Theatre School in London. His family had escaped Nazi Germany, so his early years as a director were spent staging plays in English for British audiences!

In fact, he first came to prominence in England. Germany came later…


Calixto Bieito's Celestina

Fernando de Rojas' epic Spanish drama, Celestina, is perhaps the oldest Iberian play-text. But it was originally meant to be read, especially read aloud—rather than to be performed—among friends. Shortly after it first appeared, it ran into many editions in Spanish and other European languages.

Barcelona's celebrated Catalan director, Calixto Bieito—explaining his concept of this very strange Birmingham Repertory production—says his intent was to make this great classic better known to modern audiences who could not know it in Spanish.

Alas, his stage-tricks and visual games have made the play almost incomprehensible—even to those who know the drama both in Spanish and in English translation.

The actual text is very long, and it is customarily cut in performance. John Clifford has translated and adapted—shortened & vulgarized—the original, ostensibly to make it more focused and powerful.

But Bieito wastes a lot of stage-time—which could be well used exploring the text—in mimes, sexual hi-jinx, and mini-choreographies. Considering that his own first name is the Catalan version of the drama's quasi-hero, Calisto [Christopher Fox], he might have been more careful with this classic.

His biggest coup de théâtre is presenting a cigar-smoking Kathryn Hunter in male-attire as the old bawd, Celestina. She plays this for all it's worth.

The mainspring of the drama is Calisto's desperate, hopeless love for the beautiful, virginal Melibea [Laura Rogers], who spurns him. He enlists Celestina to win him access to Melibea. Once sated with her charms, he is no longer interested. This leads to dishonor and tragedy for her and her father.

All this could have been made very powerful had Bieito emulated Zadek. A bare stage, with the actors totally committed to their characters and passions. This could have been devastating.

Instead, the most interesting aspect of the Birmingham staging—which looked like it had been first tried out on a Barcelona ensemble, as Kathryn, Chris, and Laura just do not have that special Spanish flavor—was Alfons Flore's towering setting.

Above a bar, semi-circling a raised band-stand, rose a three-story iron cage, disappearing into the flies high above. Minor characters could be caged—though the reasons for this were unclear. But the major visual effect of this latticed cylinder was the exterior spiral-staircase which permitted some stagey poses and descents.

Above the bar were color TV monitors—some were also suspended in the air at both sides of the stage—featuring a video-loop of a bullfight. At one point, the bartender put on a bull's head and charged. This was surely a visual metaphor for Calisto's raging hormones.

As a combo played lively Hispanic music on the band-stand, the cast lolled at the bar. Fox, as Calisto, was constantly flexing his muscles: "swimmer's body," as the ads phrase it. He demonstrated an amazing capacity for extended push-ups.

Oddly enough, when he was on top of poor Melibea, having his way with her, he was also doing push-ups. This was surely intended as another visual metaphor.

There was a surfeit of pants-dropping and gratuitous vulgarity in this production. Granted, Celestina is a dangerous and devious old whore-monger, but that is clear enough from the plot and dialogue, without repeated vulgar visual underlinings.

Although Bieito first came to international attention with Barcelona productions shown in Edinburgh—and even at BAM—some British critics indicated this summer that they'd had more than enough of his cutting-edge visual revisions of the classics.

He gave Edinburgh a highly unusual Hamlet last year in which Ophelia longed to be another Britney Spears and Horatio was a white-suited lounge-pianist at a white baby-grand! Actually, I found this very amusing, though it shed no new light on Shakespeare's tragedy.

One Brit-crit said of Celestina & Bieito: "He should get out more!"

At the performance I witnessed, older spectators were falling over themselves in the aisles to escape, even before the curtain came down. There weren't many people in the audience to begin with, as the Word Was Out. But at the close, there were no more than a third of the seats occupied. Voting With Your Feet!

Brian McMaster should give himself an Embargo on production-scouting trips to Spain and Catalonia. He can certainly continue to invite Peter Stein and Peter Zadek. And it's high time Edinburgh welcomed back Glasgow's Citizens Theatre and Dublin's Abbey!


Cutting-Edge Opera & Music-Theatre—

In the Millennial Year of 2000, I made the pilgrimage to EXPO 2000 in Hanover, Germany. But my evenings I spent at the Hanover State Opera and Schauspielhaus Hannover, where I thoroughly enjoyed some very avant-garde Post-Modernist stagings. [Hanover has two "nn's" in German!]

But something direly Euro-trashy seems to have happened at the State Opera since I was last there. So it was a distinct disappointment in the third week of the Edinburgh Festival to have only three opera-productions on view. And all of them provided by the Hanover opera-house.

I had requested press-tickets for all three operas in advance, with no idea that the conceptual-standards in opera-staging had changed—for the worse—in the Capital of Lower Saxony. There were no tickets left for Il Trovatore, but, at the last minute, I could have had a cancellation ticket for £58. I passed, in favor of Bartok in Usher Hall.

When I read the appalled reviews the next morning, I thought: £58 saved is £58 earned! Apparently, there was something clinical about this production. Maybe the villainous Count de Luna really was a Lunatic? If I can find one of those reviews before this is posted, I'll share some choice comments.

My colleagues noted that the stage-environment had absolutely nothing to do with the putative locale, historical-period, atmosphere, or action of Verdi's opera. That also proved to be the case with Hanover's re-vision of Debussy's haunting musical setting of Maurice Maeterlincks's Symbolist drama, Pelléas et Mélisande.


Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande Via Hannover—

The Strange & Mysterious Orient visually informed Hanover's Pelléas production. That—and Post-Modernist Architecture & Contemporary Fashions.

Arkel was played and sung by Xiaoliang Li, and he was first discovered cross-legged on the floor in deep Eastern Meditation. Sunhae Im was the innocent child, Yniold, while Shao-Chia Lü conducted, and Kazuko Watanabe designed. So Belgian Symbolism and French Lyricism were resoundingly trumped by a different vision entirely.

Pelléas et Mélisande is an exceedingly delicate, fragile, haunting, mysterious fable, with a score to match. None of this was in evidence in the Hanover staging of Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito.

The almost clinically white-walled setting had a long forced-perspective central corridor, flanked at either side by white rooms with doors, set almost at the curtain-line. Spectators who were not sitting squarely in the middle of the theatre could see only a small triangle of the center-set action. Nor could those on either side see much of what was happening in the white room on the opposite side of the stage.

This is utterly ridiculous as a theatre-design. If it was indeed Festival Director Brian McMaster who checked this production out for possible import to Scotland, he must have been sitting in the exact center of the orchestra. That is the only position from which the entire action could be seen.

Nor did the aseptic set-environment remotely suggest the dark forest and dark castle of the fable. Instead of Golaud [Oliver Zwarg] hunting in the forest, he was discovered in the stage-right white-room, fiddling around with some markers. I had the oddest sensation I'd seen this visual metaphor before, perhaps even in Hanover in 2000 AD—but not in this Pelléas.

Initially, the lost, abandoned Mélisande [Alla Kravchuk] does not want to come back to the castle with the forbidding Golaud. Perhaps she already sensed what she'd find there?

Arkel is remote, but his wife, Geneviève [Danielle Grima], is a tireless busybody, rushing about, making notes at her table, swigging bottled water. Wieler and Morabito have an absolute horror of quiet moments on stage. People have to be DOING something.

As directed and played, Yniold is a Total Noisy Annoyance. He plays only with Toys of War, preferably ones with electronic remote-controls, and is fond of slamming into walls. The Warrior-Hunter Goldaud seems to be his Role-Model. But he may be Autistic: He's always running into the walls…

In the stage-left white-room, Pelléas and Mélisande apply sun-tan lotion, although they are supposedly in a dark castle in a dark forest in a very mysterious fable. The Sun Symbolism is reinforced with a huge bouquet of sunflowers on the white breakfast-table. Sunflowers are later strewn about on stage.

Pelléas, in fact, is casually dressed for sport. This shows off his arms. Tennis, anyone?

The net effect of all these visual and kinetic innovations is for Debussy's music and Maeterlincks's drama to be engulfed by bizarre cutting-edge stage-craft.

In fact, much of the gratuitous stage-action was not in character and distracted from the power of the music and the dark fantasy.


Luigi Nono's Al gran sole carico d'amore: Agit-Propped & Post-Modernized—

Italy's two most famous Serious Modern Composers are now safely both dead. But, in their heyday, both Luigi Nono and Luciano Berio lost no opportunity to proclaim their Socialist Sympathies in music and texts.

Berio was a great favorite at the Holland Festival, with such Anti-Fascist epics as The Prisoner. I was able to interview him when he was Artistic Director of Florence's Maggio Musicale. He admitted he'd had no real experience of Socialism as it was practiced behind the Iron Curtain. His Communism was more theoretical, more cultural than practical.

The same could be said of Luigi Nono. But the Berlin Wall came tumbling down way back in November 1989. So why did the Hanover State Opera think it was time to revive Nono's Anti-Fascist Epic Al gran sole carico d'amore?

Its Marxian, Brechtian, Leninoid, Che Guevarian, Castroian, Pavesian sloganeerings are now almost sadly, ironically comical. The Truth of Life Under Communism—as opposed to the Capitalist/Fascist Horrors posited in Nono's libretto—makes it almost impossible for intelligent, history-conscious spectators to watch such a spectacle without either amusement—or disgust.

For the Record: Nono's title can be translated as: In the Bright Sunshine Heavy with Love. A much more optimistic title than his Intolleranza.

An Historical, Philosophical, Theoretical, & Political Lie is being celebrated in this work of Music-Theatre, presented as a massive Social Antidote to the Evils of Fascism. Those Fascist evils were certainly real—and they are again evoked in slogans, actions, and projections on stage.

But the Hagiography of Communist Saints & Martyrs—including some notable Socialist women activists, who have otherwise been largely overlooked in modern history-books—now seems strangely out of place. Louise Michel, Tania Bunke, and Celia Sanchez are hardly on the tip of most Feminists' tongues, though they were both authors and activists.

But, with rising unemployment in Lower Saxony—Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's base is Hanover and its State—as all over Germany, it may well be that Socialism is going to be trotted out again as an all-answering remedy to Globalization and the rising tides of American Fascism.

Four sopranos interchangeably represented the fiercely poetic Socialist Women. Designer Helmut Brade created some impressive stage-pictures largely with props. Victims of Fascism rising from scores of coffins was one. Great towering white walls closing in on striking workers was another.

A portable Punch & Judy Booth was used to make some political points.

Brecht's classic Agit-Prop plays, Days of the Commune and The Mother, provided Nono with a narrative line, as did the Cuban Revolution. And, although Nono was a fiercely Modernist composer, even his electronic scorings serve the text very well. One commentator suggested that it's the musical equivalent of Agit-Prop!

It's worth noting that Nono collaborated on the libretto with the innovative Russian director of Moscow's Taganka Theatre, Yuri Lyubimov. When this work was created, Soviet Socialism was still the Hope of Italian and French radicals.

But Lyubimov himself fell afoul of Soviet Censors and defected to the West. I first met him, oddly enough, when he was staging Verdi's Rigoletto for Luciano Berio at the Maggio Musicale! With no experience of life or culture in the West, he visualized Gilda's virginal innocence by having that great lady, Edita Gruberova, girlishly zooming back and forth in a garden-swing.

I pointed out to him that in the West, women swinging out over the audience were not generally regarded as Virginal. Stage-Door Johnnies wanted to look up their skirts. Evelyn Nesbitt, as The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, was not about maiden virtue!

Some months later, Lyubimov was in Washington, DC, replicating his celebrated Taganka production of Crime & Punishment for the Arena Theatre's Kreeger stage. As I interviewed him about his work, he was waiting for a call about the delivery of his new Western Automobile. A Mercedes, I seem to remember. He now had a lovely Swedish wife as well… So much for the superiority of Soviet Socialism over Democracy.

But, aside from political and historical considerations, the Hanover cast was excellent—super-charged even—and Peter Konwitschjny's staging was dynamic, if a bit cluttered at times with so many choristers protesting Social Injustice. Johannes Harneit conducted the demanding score with the State Opera's orchestra.

Edinburgh Festival opera-goers, on entering the theatre, were given a red rectangle—not a Red Square—bearing the slogan: think for yourself. Bert Brecht would have loved that: "Let's remind those stupid spectators of the dangers of Fascist Propaganda!"


Catalan Carles Santos' Symbolist Panorama: The Composer, The Singer, The Cook, and The Sinner—

Calixto Bieito isn't the only Theater-Macher in Barcelona. Carles Santos has out-stripped him by several meters. Santos is the piano-playing centerpiece of the Performance Pieces he creates with his Companyia Carles Santos. Bieito doesn't need to perform on stage.

Nudity and the sexual excesses that may be inspired by naked bodies fascinate Santos. But, with that Old Iberian Catholic Guilt, there have to be counter-balancing images as well. Santos plays The Composer in this arresting theatre-confection, and he is mainly seen at the keyboard of a black grand-piano.

His thunderous musical style—which has echoes of the music of Helmut Lachenmann, heard the same week in Usher Hall—was helped at points by having black-clad stage-hands drop the live body of an actor on the keyboard! His score is a blend of Rossini Hits and his own inventions.

Santos may be making an homage to Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dali in this work. In their famous black & white Surrealist cinema classic, Le Chien andalou, black-robed monks drag a grand-piano with a dead donkey resting on its strings.

In The Composer, The Singer, etc., The Soprano is on the piano, not the donkey. And Santos at one point is tugging on a rolling platform—instead of the piano—on which two Lovers are coupling. They are, in fact, El Cuiner and La Pecadora: The Cook and The Sinner [Antoni Comas & Clàudia Schneider].

Santos is obviously fascinated with fluids, especially body fluids. He offers Urination, but no Carrie Nation. During the performance, large illuminated drops keep falling on the stage and the performers. But Santos does refrain from playing Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.

In one "movement" of his work, the piano itself begins to piss from its side. These drops fall into translucent open-headed plastic busts of Beethoven, Verdi, and Wagner.

There is even a scat-suggestive scene. Santos' tenor is lying on his back on a rolling platform. His head is partially enclosed in a clear plastic seat—with a hole in its center. The Soprano is seated directly above him as if to defecate. But, instead, she reaches forward to masturbate an immense black dildo attached to his groin. This spouts copious drops of fluid!

In fact, The Tenor gets quite a workout. He even has to wear a very tightly laced ladies' corset—and still sing. This he does very well. At the opening of this event, he even appears singing inside an open oven, rather like microwave TV.

The Fluidity of Experience is also explored in a black & white film-sequence in which The Tenor and The Soprano get hosed and showered in the face.

One stunning set-piece consists of a stepped platform with sixteen giant pots simmering on sixteen electric coils.

If you've not yet been to Barcelona—which is the birthplace of Modernisme, thanks to Antonio Gaudi and other Catalan architects—you really have been missing some sensational theatre and opera-adventures!


Dance-Theatre and Symphonic Sensations—

In New York, there is a distinct tendency to patronize Ballet and Modern Dance ensembles from cities beyond the Hudson River. This has not deterred Brian McMaster from bringing to the Edinburgh Festival some American regional companies that are virtually unknown in Manhattan.

For British and European critics and audiences, however, these troupes are often a revelation. The San Francisco Ballet was an astonishment in Edinburgh when it was headed by Michael Smuin, for instance. This past August, McMaster imported Ballet West USA, which is based in Salt Lake City.

For those festival-goers who don't care for Post-Modernist revisions of beloved drama and opera classics, dance programs can be less challenging for the eyes and the understanding. Unless, of course, the choreographer is Merce Cunningham or Pina Bausch.

Fortunately, there are always Festival orchestra concerts, chamber-music, and individual instrumental or vocal artists scheduled who do not appear in Post-Modernist stage-environments. Sometimes it is a real relief to sit quietly in Usher Hall or Queens Hall, close your eyes, and just let the music pour over you…


Ballet West USA Presents Antony Tudor: Coals to Edinburgh, If Not To Newcastle—

That old saying about Prophets Being Without Honor in Their Own Countries might be applied to the choreographer Antony Tudor. He had to come to America to make his career and his choreographic reputation, even though he was British-born.

So Ballet West may have been doing him a distinct service in presenting an Edinburgh program of three Tudor ballets. The audiences certainly seemed to savor the trio of productions.

But some Brit-crits were dismissive of Tudor's talents and of these three ballets, especially. One suggested the ensemble wasn't quite up to the challenge of making the choreographies seem more interesting than they appeared.

Frankly, I found the young, attractive company generally admirable and especially charming in The Leaves Are Fading. This was originally an American Ballet Theatre set-piece, built on Antonin Dvorák's Cypresses and other works. It is beautifully danced, in a haunting set by Ming Cho Lee, with Pat Zipprodt's lovely costumes. Kristin Hakala & Christopher Rood were featured.

With Ernest Chausson's Poème as its musical inspiration, Lilac GardenJardin aux Lilas—is both ironic and elegantly sad. And it is danced with bittersweet elegance by Hakala, Tong Wang, Christopher Ruud, and Kelly Ocharzak. Hakala is Caroline, who encounters the man she really loves at a party which she attends with the man she must marry. Unfortunately, she also discovers her husband-to-be has had a real love which has not been extinguished.

Tudor's Offenbach in the Underworld is one of those crowd-pleasers which really does not please the more discriminating dance-lovers. It goes on entirely too long, burdened with a repetitive plot. Often, there are too many dancers on stage who are merely onlookers, rather than participants. Nonetheless, the company gave its all to the work. The now legendary George Crum orchestrated the score's Musical Crumbs from Offenbach's various operettas for Tudor.


The Cleveland Symphony's Birtwistle & Shubert—

Were it not for an impressive rendition of Schubert's Ninth Symphony in the second half of this Cleveland concert in Usher Hall, this would have been a fairly depressing evening of orchestral adventures.

The UK premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle's Night's Black Bird was paired with his The Shadow of Night. They formed the bookends—or bread-slices—for John Dowland's Jacobean lute classic, In Darkness Let Me Dwell.

Birtwistle was inspired by Albrecht Dürer's famed engraving of Melancolia, and his darkly dissonant tonal textures certainly evoke the darkly depressing. Counter-tenor Andrew Watts was very expressive in the Dowland text.

I was much more impressed by Birtwistle's The Passion of Io, shown at the Bregenz Festival only weeks before this premiere.

Franz Welser-Möst conducted with vigorous authority. He had been under consideration as the new Artistic Director of the Salzburg Festival, promoted by powerful politicians in Vienna. But, with his obligations to the Cleveland Orchestra and the Vienna State Opera, he realized this was not another post he wanted to add to his musical portfolio.


Brilliant Bartók Bluebeard: With the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra—

Steven Osborne was masterful playing Béla Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 3, ably supported by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ilan Volkov. This was preceded on this all-Bartók program by his Divertimento for strings.

Bluebeard's Castle was the second half of the evening, passionately interpreted by John Relyea and Petra Lang.

This is a very good orchestra, though certainly not one well known to American lovers of symphonic music. Indeed, how many Musical Americans are aware of the various admirable symphony orchestras which are supported by British and European radio-TV broadcasters? In Germany, virtually every state or Land has its own Rundfunk Orchestra.

In the United States, we have Reality TV and Donald Trump on the Boob-Tube, with Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern on the airwaves. Whatever became of the NBC Symphony?

Where did American Broadcasters go wrong?



They must be doing something right in Scotland and at the Edinburgh Festival. Not only do the Scots have their own BBC Symphony, but also a series of late night musical & dance festival performances sponsored by The Royal Bank of Scotland!

These are produced in major fest venues, often only a half-hour after a major mainstream production has come to a close. Even museums & galleries may be venues. Every seat costs only £5!

Because some major festival productions were longer than I had anticipated, it was impossible to cross hilly Edinburgh from one major production venue to the next Royal Bank Late. So I missed both They Come Watering Flowers from Havana to Morón and The Mouth, The Feet, The Sound.

Nor was there time for some other appealing Late titles: Biokhraphia, Tempus Fugit, Lucia Melts, or The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza by György Kurtág.



Although this fascinating production was offered at the King's Theatre as a Late Night, it could well have been a Main Attraction. Developed by the Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne—which has created several arresting avant-garde Performance Pieces like this—it began modestly with a string-quartet coming on stage and beginning to play in what appeared to be a black-box void.

Soon, however, a Narrator appeared center-stage. The black stage-covering slid back in the center to reveal a glowing white surface. The man was caught in a rectangular block of white light, which moved as he moved.

He proceeded to describe the customs, thoughts, and doings of The People who were, he indicated, La bas

Then he left the stage as a video-camera—its images projected on an overhead screen—showed him leaving the theatre, walking through the streets of Edinburgh to his car and driving home. The audience then saw him in his study, continuing his disquisition on those people la bas. He was being video-taped, of course.

A simple white house-facade with windows descended. In the windows, we could see him in his study, the videographer in another window, and others we'd just seen in the video!

And through most of this, the quartet continued to play!


The Diary of One Who Disappeared—

The last time I heard & saw Leos Janácek's song-cycle of the young Moravian man who abandons family and future for life as the lover of a wild gypsy maiden, the jeans-clad tenor Ian Bostridge was making love underneath a grand-piano with the sexy gypsy-girl. This was one of those Lincoln Center Great Performances, at John Jay College auditorium.

Frankly, I much preferred the Edinburgh Version, with Toby Spence and Wendy Dawn Thompson, in formal concert attire, bringing their lyrics to life through passionate vocalism and responsive body-language. Without having to act it all out…

Llyr Williams accompanied sensitively, as the piano is certainly another voice in this cycle.


Piano Music of Helmut Lachenmann—

When I was very young and my mother tried—unsuccessfully, as it turned out—to teach me to play the piano, instead of practicing set-pieces such as Schumann's The Happy Farmer, I joyed in playing chords serially, as individual notes, and in plunging all five fingers down on random keys. Scraping glissandos were also fun.

I stroked the strings with a spoon [1938] long before Richard Peaslee did that for Peter Brook. We had two pianos: one a very good upright. The other cost only $5 and was used for summer-camp kids. With the latter, I put newspapers behind the strings and thumbtacks on the hammer-felts. The sonic results were astonishing. But this was years before John Cage and Prepared Pianos.

Perhaps, had I pursued these musical adventures, I could have been another Helmut Lachenmann? He really knows how to Punish a Piano. In Guero, for example, the pianist Marino Formenti pounded and punched keys, keyboard, casings, plus striking and stroking strings and stamping on pedals.

Also on Marino's program—which he played with deadly seriousness, although Monty Python's players could have got big laughs with the same degree of pretension—were Lachenmann's Wiegenmusik, Ein Kinderspiel, and Serynade.

The Salzburg Festival also featured Helmut Lachenmann, for he is one of the towering cutting-edge composer-geniuses of this Age! But I was doing something very much like this sixty years ago. And I was punished for it!


Copyright Glenn Loney, 2004. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: jslaff@nytheatre-wire.com.

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