In this issue: Excerpt from Giselle performed by Bolshoi Ballet and Orchestra;  Excerpts from HK Gruber’s Frankenstein!! performed by Swedish Chamber Orchestra; William Shakespeare’s Macbeth featuring and co-directed by Kenneth Branagh; Bartók’s “The Sixth Door (The Lake of Tears)” from Bluebeard’s Castle; “The Bird” from Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein; Verdi’s “Libera me” from Requiem performed by Leontyne Price

A Spooky Now, More Than Ever

Now, More Than Ever: Issue 43

A series of performing arts videos for a time of physical distancing,
compiled by Jeremy Geffen, Executive and Artistic Director, Cal Performances.

During these challenging days, as we all spend our time around fewer people in real life, Cal Performances is guiding a series of virtual journeys (using YouTube links) specifically curated for our adventurous and eclectic audiences. For the time being, these recordings of great artists past and present will serve as a reminder of the performing arts’ unsurpassed ability to express the power and potential of the human spirit—until, that is, we can share such moments together again, under the same roof.

Cal Performances encourages one and all to find time—each and every day—for the performing arts.

A ghost-story ballet. Two imaginative retakes on the classic Frankenstein tale. A little “Double, double toil and trouble” action from three fortune-telling witches. An operatic psycho-drama involving a famous Frenchman with an unpleasant habit of murdering his wives. Music to raise goosebumps, from Verdi. And even some passing references to James Bond and Goldfinger, a dancing “test-tube lady,” gay lovers Batman and Robin, a baby vampire, and much, much more…

Looks like it’s time for Now, More Than Ever to celebrate Halloween!

Excerpt from Giselle

Bolshoi Ballet and Orchestra
Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa, choreographers
New choreographic version by Alexei Ratmansky

Everyone loves a good ghost story, and one of ballet’s best is Giselle, a spirit-filled Romantic work first performed in Paris in 1841, and an unqualified hit with audiences ever since. Set to music by Adolphe Adam and originally choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, Giselle tells the tale of a beautiful young peasant girl who learns that the man she loves is actually the duplicitous nobleman Albrecht, disguised as a peasant to deceive her, and that he is set to marry another. Crushed by this cruel deceit, Giselle dies of heartbreak, leaving Albrecht to suffer at the hands of the Wilis—spirits of young girls who have died after being betrayed by their suitors, who take revenge by forcing the men to dance to their deaths. Ah, the 19th century!

There have been many, many productions of Giselle, but among the more exciting is a recent “new choreographic version” for the Bolshoi Ballet by Alexei Ratmansky, one of today’s most important choreographers, a serious dance historian with deeply researched restagings of classics such as Paquita, Swan Lake, and La Bayadère to his credit.

Ratmansky’s reworking of Giselle draws on choreography from past productions, as well as some of his own original material, and honors in “the era’s fascination with the supernatural, the moonlit and the spooky” (New York Times). This iconic scene from Act II features the brilliant Angelina Vlashinets as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis; Ksenia Zighanshina as Mona (Moyna); Anastasia Denisova as Zulma (Zulmé); and, of course, the peerless Bolshoi corps de ballet.

HK Gruber: Excerpts from Frankenstein!!

Swedish Chamber Orchestra
HK Gruber, vocalist and conductor

(If this video doesn’t begin at 58:14, please reset it. Excerpts [“Frankenstein,” “Rat Song,” and “Crusoe Song”] end at 1:04:05.)

Heinz Karl Gruber’s Frankenstein!! (and yes, both exclamation marks are mandatory), a so-called “’pan-demonium’ for chansonnier and orchestra,” premiered in 1978 with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under a young Simon Rattle and quickly established an international reputation for its Viennese composer, who would go on to appear frequently in the piece as both conductor and vocalist. “Including television and radio, I must have performed Frankenstein!! over 1,000 times,” he has said. “In fact, I’ve stopped counting. But I never grow tired of it, because it’s always a different experience.”

The work—strictly speaking, less about Frankenstein and more a collection of cartoon vignettes—is set to poems from allerleirausch, a collection of children’s verse by Gruber’s friend, the absurdist Viennese poet H.C. Artmann. Put together in alluring, semi-pop-music fashion, this is music with deep roots in the Weimar Republic cabaret tradition and Stravinskian neo-classicism. It’s all wacky, weird, and clever, and if the humor is sometimes dark, it’s always delivered with an impish grin.

Though Gruber frequently performs the work in English, this German version appears to be the only full-length performance available on YouTube. If you don’t have time for the entire piece (which starts at 42:38), I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of these three songs. And please check out the wind tubes at 52:45 and at the very end. Have no fear… all the toy instruments—including whistles, kazoos, and paper bags—will be delivered by publisher Boosey & Hawkes if you rent the music.

(English translations of these songs will be found at the end of this blog post.)

Macbeth

by William Shakespeare
Featuring and co-directed by Kenneth Branagh

First staged in a deconsecrated Victorian church for the Manchester International Festival, this heavily edited 2013 production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, co-directed by Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh (who also stars), burst out of the gate at 100 mph and never slowed down for its entire intermission-less duration. The physical production was astounding—the audience assembled in facing sets of bleachers that filled the one-time sanctuary, stretching from the former altar to the rear wall, with the floor in between covered in dark, loamy soil that overhead sprinklers quickly transformed into the mud that would foul the costumes of everyone involved. And reigning supreme over it all stood Branagh, brilliantly reminding us of just how thrilling Shakespeare can—and should—be.

And then, of course, there are those witches… the most famous in theatrical history.

Yes, truly… All hail, Macbeth!

Bartók: “The Sixth Door (The Lake of Tears)” from Bluebeard’s Castle

Sylvia Sass (Judith)
Kolos Kováts (Bluebeard)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Miklós Sznetár, film director

There’s Halloween, and then there’s the truly spooky and frightening.

Béla Bartók wrote only three works for the stage: the ballet The Wooden Prince (1914–16), the ballet-pantomime The Miraculous Mandarin (1918–24), and this work, the one-act opera Bluebeard’s Castle (1911–17). But while it can and has been staged—with greater and lesser success—Bluebeard, a dark and gothic psycho-drama, is perhaps more successfully realized in the mind than in an opera house. There are mysteries here, many of which are best left to individual interpretation.

Bluebeard and his new wife, Judith, have arrived at his castle. Young and immensely curious, she insists that he reveal himself to her. At first, Bluebeard is reluctant, perhaps because of an unwillingness to connect, but possibly due to a deep desire to protect her. The couple progress through a series of doors: the first revealing a blood-spattered torture chamber; the second, an armory stocked with weapons; the third, a treasury filled with riches; the fourth, a lovely garden; and the fifth, a room that overlooks Bluebeard’s vast kingdom. By now, bright sunlight has replaced darkness, but blood and dark-red shadows continue to stain even the most beautiful sights.

The journey inward, through the chambers, only entices Judith and tempts her on. In the fifth chamber, seeing the extent of her husband’s kingdom, she is dazzled, letting out a cry in a thrilling high C sung over chords from the brass section, music that remains among the most electrifying ever written for these instruments. Judith insists on continuing, and now, behind the sixth door, discovers the Lake of Tears in one of the saddest, most haunting, and yet most magnetic moments in all of opera.

Yes, Judith realizes, there’s power that comes with being Bluebeard’s wife, but there is also tragedy. If the fifth door reveals the glory of being wed to this man, the sixth promises darkness and tragedy, for the lake is filled with the tears cried by Bluebeard’s previous wives.

I won’t spoil the ending other than to say things don’t end well for poor Judith and the work concludes with Bluebeard standing alone, in total darkness.

Sir Georg Solti’s hybrid version—the vocalists (Sylvia Sass and Kolos Kováts are the actors!)
lip-synching their roles over a soundtrack recorded using the Hungarian vocal score—captures much of the mystery of this grand, enigmatic work. It includes moments of supreme beauty as well as extended sections that make the blood run cold.

(An English translation of this scene will be found at the end of this blog post.)

“The Bird” from Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein

I’m delighted that Cal Performances at Home will premiere Manual Cinema’s new production of Frankenstein right before Halloween, on Thursday, October 29. (The streaming video will remain online for viewing through January 27.) This clip is a helpful demonstration of how the company achieves its amazing visual effects.

Chicago’s one-of-a-kind collective of musicians, composers, theater artists, and filmmakers, Manual Cinema—a favorite with Berkeley audiences—is renowned for its handmade and marvelously imaginative productions. Frankenstein, a Cal Performances co-commission, weaves together the plot of Mary Shelley’s gothic tale with themes of desire, birth, and loss from the author’s own biography, asking us to consider our responsibility to—and for—our modern-day creations. During the course of the performance, the company members manipulate hundreds of paper puppets to create—in real time—a silent animated film featuring live actors and an immersive score performed onstage by four musicians. Part of this season’s Illuminations: Fact or Fiction programming, this new iteration of the classic Frankenstein story has been produced specifically for viewing by Cal Performances at Home audiences.

Verdi: “Libera me” from Requiem

Leontyne Price, soprano
La Scala Orchestra & Chorus
Herbert von Karajan, conductor

At first, you may be surprised to find a section from the Verdi Requiem in our special Halloween issue of Now, More Than Ever, but if ever there was music more often used—some would say “ripped off”—by filmmakers scoring scenes of battle, darkness, or the supernatural, it’s the terrifying “Dies irae” that first appears early on in the work and then returns shortly after the soprano and chorus’ opening section in this final movement.

Even when surrounded by the impressive forces of La Scala’s great orchestra and chorus, and led by a figure as commanding as Herbert von Karajan, soprano Leontyne Price absolutely dominates the scene. In fact, it’s worth noting that this legendary artist actually begins singing before we see her on camera. Yet, the mere sound of her voice is enough to raise the hair on the back of the neck. Few artists have been so magnetic—so kinetic—without even being seen.

Listen to her final words. This isn’t a prayer so much as an intense plea, and somehow she delivers its urgency stoically, with her trademark aristocratic mien. And the intensity of this timeless voice is so magnetic, so overwhelming, that—you’ll pardon the extended Halloween metaphor—one wonders if there’s a kind of sorcery at work here.

Of all the requiems, Verdi’s is possibly the most theatrical. (Berlioz’s comes close.) Certainly, it’s the least sacred, and there’s grand fun to be had watching the old master reach into his bag of tricks to present a true master class in orchestral and vocal writing. Then, of course, there’s also something more than a little frightening about Karajan himself, a great musician but certainly not a faultless man, marshalling his forces and leading everyone into battle.

(An English translation will be found at the end of this blog post.)

ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS

HK Gruber: Excerpts from Frankenstein!!

Frankenstein
frankenstein is dancing
frankenstein is dancing
with the test-tube lady,
with the test-tube lady,
and my little daughter dear, my daughter dear,
it’s you!
and my little daughter dear, little daughter,
it’s you!

Rat Song
little rat now come with me,
happy playmates we shall be,
angel wings tie to your toes,
take you to the circus shows.
children will be standing by
when they see you fly they’ll cry—
goodness me! is that a rat?
no, a flying circus bat!

Crusoe Song
do you see good robinson
sneaking off to have some fun?
he’s had too much of roasted goat
watch him wading to his boat,
the next island is his goal
robinson, intrepid soul.
listen how the oars are lapping
listen to the wet sails flapping.
as he sees the pale moon rise
there he meets a new surprise.
cannibals live on this shore
(any child can tell you more!)
robinson is in for a treat—
dining on some rare fresh meat!
little rat now come with me, etc.

Bartók: “The Sixth Door (The Lake of Tears)” from Bluebeard’s Castle

JUDITH
Waters, gray, unmoving, mournful
Waters, mournful, silent waters,
Waters still and dead: What brought them?

BLUEBEARD
Weeping brought them, Judith, weeping.

JUDITH
(With a shudder)
Never a lake so mute and lifeless . . .

BLUEBEARD
All of teardrops, Judith, teardrops.

JUDITH
Comfortless, opaque and sterile . . .

BLUEBEARD
Tears of sorrow, Judith, sorrow.
(Judith turns and looks into Bluebeard’s eyes. He slowly opens his arms.)
Come, my arms are open, Judith,
Warmly, waiting . . .
(Judith remains silent and motionless.)
Judith, Judith, how I love you!
(Judith remains as before.)
The last door will not be opened—
Locked forever.
(Judith, her head drooping, walks slowly toward Bluebeard and nestles appealingly in his arms.)

JUDITH
Love me, hold me. Bluebeard, hold me.
(Bluebeard closes his arms about her. Long embrace.)

(Resting her head on his shoulder)
Do you love me, truly love me?

BLUEBEARD
Life you are and light, my Judith.
Kiss me, trust me, ask me nothing.
(Long embrace)

Verdi: “Libera me” from Requiem
Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death on that awful day,
when the heavens and the earth shall be moved:
when you will come to judge the world by fire.
I tremble, and I fear the judgment and the wrath to come, when the heavens and the earth shall be moved.
The day of wrath, that day of calamity and misery;
a great and bitter day, indeed.
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and may perpetual light shine upon them.
Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death on that awful day.
Deliver me, O Lord, when the heavens and the earth shall be moved;
when you will come to judge the world by fire.
Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death on that awful day.
Deliver me.



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