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Hindemith, Verdi and Edward Albee

By Alfonso C. Hernandez

The Winter Concert Series in Three Rivers in February presented the Calidore Quartet formed by four young musicians from the best of the Colburn School of Music: Estelle Choi, cello; Jeremy Berry, viola; and Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violin. The quartet played with brilliance, musicianship and energy the Hayden Quartet in C major, the Mendelssohn Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Hindemith’s Quartet No. 4 and as an encore Schubert’s Quartet in D minor.

The Calidore Quartet, touted in the program as a great one in the footsteps of other great string quartets such as the Guarnieri, the Amadeus and the Julliard, and formed just two years ago, still lacks quality of expression, particularly in their performance of the Hindemith Quartet, which was nevertheless daring, precise and beautifully executed, but lacked depth of emotion, forgiven only because of the youth of the musicians. I would like to see the Calidore Quartet performing the same in five or 10 years to see their evolution as artists and musicians.

The Tulare Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bruce Kiesling played in March at the Fox Theater in Visalia Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, followed by Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with violinist Lindsay Deutsch in an arrangement by Cristian Macelaru. Despite the impressive rapport between orchestra and violinist, who appeared playing to the orchestra to keep them on track, I prefer the piano version that I kept hearing in my mind as Deutsch played the well-known piece. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” was contrived in execution and at times off in tempo but still enjoyable.

Kiesling introduced each piece and instead of speaking about Grieg or the suite, he told two jokes, one about the worst nightmare of a conductor (to walk into the theater to conduct with his fly open) and the other about the difference between a bull and an orchestra. Many in the audience did not laugh. The introduction to Stravinsky’s piece lasted more than 15 minutes. This was not fun, considering that his talk before the concert lasted more than 40 minutes.

Theater companies update plays to please contemporary audiences and sometimes succeed but mostly do not. The Metropolitan Opera, direct from the Met, presented Rigoletto by Verdi, with orchestra direction by Michele Mariotti and staging by Michael Mayer in 1960s Las Vegas instead of 16th century Mantua.

The set, which was covered with neon signs and characters dressed in tacky jackets, did not improve the meaning of the opera or the great singing of such well-known arias as “Questa o quella” and “la Donna e mobile” by Piotr Beczala as the Duke of Mantua in his Rat Pack clad suit imitating Frank Sinatra’s moves, or “Caro nomme del mio cor” sung to perfection by Diana Damrau as Gilda.

If the purpose for this updating was to attract a younger audience, this production has failed. I know people who stayed away precisely because they did not want to see Rigoletto in Las Vegas with all its vulgarity. Perhaps the opera should have been set in contemporary Mexico, where women have been abducted and murdered as Gilda is by Sparafucile, a perfectly dressed assassin for hire sung also to perfection by Stefan Kocan.

Rigoletto can be seen as a study in dramatic irony at several levels. First as Rigoletto, without a hump here, played and sung by Zeljo Lucic as the jester who is hated by the Duke’s courtiers so much that they abduct his daughter Gilda and take her to the Duke’s hotel. Rigoletto is such an unaware character that he attributes his tragedy to the curse thrown at him by Monterone, Robert Pomakov, who appears dressed as a sheik and almost makes one laugh at the incongruity of this character transformation. When the Duke sings “La Donna e mobile,” telling us that woman is fickle, the dramatic irony takes a different meaning since it is he who is “mobile” and not Gilda, who knowingly offers herself as a sacrificial lamb to prove her enduring love.

Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee at the Ice House Theater produced by the Visalia Players is a professional production in a community theater, directed by Donny Graham, who also designed the perfectly suited constructivist set. The play is acted practically faultlessly by Susan Mathews as Martha, Craig Harrill as George, Aaron Johnson as Nick and Karly Butler-Shirk as Honey. These four outstanding actors clarified for me the “Humour Noir” of Albee’s play so well that with their line delivery made the audience laugh at the recognition of the verbal daggers that people after a long party meet at a home, here that of George and Martha, and play their injurious games of “get the guests” or “hump the hostess” bursting out their most private stories.

The highly skilled actors in the Visalia production, with their true-to-life characterizations, showed the humanity and the vulnerability of such characters rising in mood from enraging to tragic. Albee would be proud of this Virginia Woolf despite the fact that his play has too much exposition and repetition. However, Albee’s “in medias res” dramatic convention still works as we see the two marriages peeling their psyche, like the skins of an onion, right in front of our eyes.

There are other concerts to review such as the one by the Emerald Duo, formed by Dieter Wulfhorst and Susan Doering, at the Porterville First Congregational Church. This master duo played several pieces such as Bela Bartok’s For Children and Walter Saul’s Praise the Lord in the Dance, among others.

Also, why did Lincoln directed by Steven Spielberg not win the best movie Oscar? I have two reasons: The first 15 minutes of the film were somewhat incoherent, and the movie should have ended at the scene when Lincoln is going to the theater, where we all know he will be murdered, and as he leaves his gloves on a table and goes out descending the stairs of his house. That scene should have been the end because the final scenes are too melodramatic and unnecessary.

*****

Alfonso C. Hernandez is a writer and poet from Three Rivers, Calif. Contact him at alfonsochernandez@hotmail.com.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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