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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

'A Quiet Place' by Leonard Bernstein

This performance and piece of art merited coverage in my blog the very night that I saw it, however, due to my extreme lack of time, it is only getting its due at this point in time, much to my own personal dismay.  However, I must rejoice in the fact that at least I am getting out there my thoughts about a really underappreciated piece of art by one of America's most beloved native composers, and hopefully thereby spurring other people to try to listen or see this work whenever and where ever and by whomever it is performed.

I realize that in the previous paragraph there is a multitude of praise which might seem a bit 'too generous' for a work which only had its very second performance in the states, and that actually being its very first performance in New York, the city in which Bernstein actually lived and worked for most of his life.  However, there is, to me, no lack of positive adjectives through which I can describe the sheer brilliance of this piece and of its NYC premiere in the recent group of performances at New York City Opera, this past Fall 2010.

The libretto of 'A Quiet Place' is written by Stephen Wadsworth, another famous American personality in the opera world, best known for his productions recently at places like The Met, La Scala, Covent Garden, the Vienna Staatsoper, and Santa Fe.  He is also beloved as a director for straight play acting and has directed at a multitude of venues equally noteworthy in that realm.

It seems that with a composer who wasn't afraid to use 12-tone compositional techniques, and a librettist who  was also a director, this work was destined to become something supremely sublime.  And, that was definitely what my experience was when I saw it for the first time at New York City Opera on November 16th, 2010.

This production was designed by Christopher Alden and conducted by Jayce Ogren with costumes by Kaye Voyce and lighting by Aaron Black.  The main characters of Dede, Francois, Junior, Dinah and Sam were played by Sara Jakubiak, Dominic Armstrong, Joshua Hopkins,  Patricia Risley and Louis Otey, with notable smaller role performances by Christopher Feigum as 'Young Sam', William Ferguson as the 'Funeral Director' and Judith Christin as 'Susie'.

Now on to the most wonderful part: talking about what was so exciting and great about this piece and this performance and this production!

First off, the singers were wonderful.  There was not a weak link in the chain.  The Chorus was well prepared, the smaller roles were superbly cast and equally superbly sung and acted, and the leads were just out-of-this-world.  I know I am bordering on becoming dogmatic about how much I honestly enjoyed this performance, but I honestly feel that it cannot do any harm; that's how good it was.

In order to better explain I should first tell you that it was performed in three acts with two intermissions, and the part which everyone knows well (Trouble in Tahiti) was right smack in the middle of all the action- it was really perfectly balanced (as per the Golden Section and all that other good technical stuff).  The first act was a bit slower dramatically speaking than the second two, but if it weren't that way, the audience wouldn't have any foundation to further understand the actions that follow in Acts 2 and 3.  Besides, being that the entire first act took place at the funeral of Dinah, how much should possibly go on?  And Bernstein, in his generosity, even spices things up by adding the quasi-sexual-seduction of Sam by Junior when Junior sings his defiantly homosexual solo at the end of the Act 1.  So, I think Bernstein knew exactly how much he was giving the audience to mentally chew on, and when.

In Act 2 things get more exciting and more sad, all at the same time.  There is the introduction of Young Sam and Dinah when they were still married and how their life was with each other and with their children at that point in time.  It was made into a psychological introspective by the commentary provided by the older selves of Junior, Dede and Francois sitting on a sofa in the middle of the flash-back action, and making comments on what was happening and why, out of their understandings not from childhood, but from their adult selves.

Though, the most poignant moment was certainly when Dinah and Sam were singing the Duet about their own imperfections and their crumbling marriage, and also Dinah's poignant soliloquy when she sings her aria at her psychologist's office 'There Is A Garden'.

There are two really wonderful YouTube clips from New York City Opera about this piece and their new production that I would like to share with those of you who weren't able to see it in person.  We can only hope that there will be a revival production of this very soon!

So, here's those clips:

Clip 1: A Quiet Place Remembered

Clip 2: Behind the Scenes at NYC Opera

As always, thanks for reading and looking forward to sharing more with you all very soon!

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