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*+-ABT’s The Dream is highly poetic, romantic and vaguely Victorian. It differs from the version presented by the New York City Ballet in that it is only one act and has a somewhat different story line as well as highly contrasting choreography. (I confess to a preference for the NYCB version, but so be it.) Herman Cornejo was unquestionably the star of the performance, a magical, energetic Puck whose leaps are astounding. He spins so brilliantly I couldn’t tell how many rounds he made; took to the air as though truly born an elfin sprite and displayed a keen a sense of humor. Oberon was danced by Cory Sterns in place of the injured David Hallberg. In one charming moment, Oberon partnered Puck; when the sprite leapt into his master’s arms, the audience let loose a collective chuckle. This Oberon, regal and compelling, does some of his own dirty work, sprinkling the love charm into Titania’s eyes so that when she awakens she is entranced by Bottom, complete with ass’s head, and danced with panache by Blaine Hoven.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream deals with totally unrealistic events including crossed lovers, magic spells, and meaningless arguments. The performance by the New York City Ballet with Balanchine’s original choreography integrates broad comedy with magnificent dance for a hugely satisfying evening.
*+-Being a little out of touch with mainstream movies and TV nowadays, I came to the RSC’s new production of Richard II without the usual expectations associated with a famous face (from the screen) in the lead, and this feels like an advantage to me. It is easier to enjoy a play expecting a rounder cast, or indeed expecting nothing in the way of faces and mannerisms. I had forgotten about the new Doctor Whos and that David Tennant had been one, and avoided the Harry Potter films, so the squeals and the mad applause were a surprise. But even so, in reality, it was a balanced cast, and fame doesn’t mean a thing, especially to Shakespeare.
*+-By curious coincidence, three of the most anticipated plays in New York this season—Betrayal, Domesticated, and Macbeth—explore the subject of marriage, infidelity and betrayal, offering, as a package, new insights into these timeless themes.
*+-It was James Levine’s many cancelations that most directly led to his (perhaps forced) resignation as the Boston Symphony Orchestra music director in the spring of 2011. But Levine has no monopoly on health problems and accidents. The glow of the two superlative concerts I attended at Tanglewood (July 19 and 20) was clouded over by the startling announcement that Levine’s young and healthy replacement, 34-year-old Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, was unable to conduct the July 27 Verdi Requiem, his first scheduled concert since his appointment, because he had suffered a “severe concussion” after being “struck in the head by a door that unexpectedly swung open at his residence in Bayreuth, Germany.”
*+-A recent visit to London offered interestingly comparable back-to-back performances: Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck at the English National Opera, London Coliseum, Saturday evening, May 25th; and the next afternoon Shakespeare’s Othello at the National Theatre. Both works center on a military man, mad from the start or driven mad as things progress, who comes to kill his lover (female) out of sexual jealousy, and then kills himself. Comparison of the two works (the Berg opera, of course, based on Georg Büchner’s play Woyzeck) can lead one into interesting thoughts on the nature of tragedy, modern tragedy versus classical tragedy, the function of character and fate in such dramas, and so on. But remarkably, these two London productions were given the same setting: the military world of the recent Iraq and current Afghanistan wars—thereby making a particular and strong point about the nature of experiential and environmental pressures upon such characters as we see.
*+-If you ever need proof of Shakespeare’s universal appeal, stop by Rome’s Globe Theatre. Within a single evening you’ll be convinced that the Bard, disarmed of dactylic hexameters, can still speak to everyone and anyone.
All the more so to Italians when it comes to As You Like It (Come vi piace). Their temperament — irascible, passionate, effusive — stands opposite that of the English but squares precisely with what Shakespeare wanted to lampoon in this subtle masterpiece. Rosalind (Melania Giglio) is so sickly in love with Orlando (Daniele Pecci) that she can barely maintain her act as “Ganymede” in his presence. Duke Frederick (Nicola D’Eramo) hates his brother (also played by D’Eramo) so fiercely that anyone who reminds him of Duke Senior is mindlessly banished from the dukedom. Silvius (Patrizio Cigliano) dotes on Phebe (Barbara Di Bartolo) so cloyingly that the audience would gladly join her in strangling him if only he weren’t so hysterically funny. Each character is a caricature of Italian emotional excess, and no one can make fun of emotional excess better than the excessively emotional Italians.
*+-Gnawing the flesh. It was the best of Timon; it was the worst of Timon. Reducing a stage production to one sentence rarely does it justice, but the National Theatre’s new, wildly popular Timon of Athens, mounted as a showcase for London’s favorite actor, Simon Russell Beale, wins the best and worst prize on several counts. It takes the messiest of Shakespeare’s late plays, a nasty, grinding parable about misanthropy, and delivers a glittering first half that is unexpected magic before the genii departs and we endure the dismal gray of the second half.