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Season opening performances and theater in Montreal

Vermont Stage Company
The VSC opened its 2007-2008 season at FlynnSpace, their home for a number of years. On stage was a play called Inspecting Carol, with a theme that delights every thespians heart: the theater looking at itself. In brief, the plot has to do with a theatrical company in its last throes, who are looking to use their annual version of Dickens's A Christmas Carol as a fundraiser to fill their coffers. Enter a strange man who seems to want to audition for the company, but he hasn't an actors equity card; enter a rumor that The National Endowment for the Arts is thinking of dropping them from the list of recipients, and to that end is going to send out an inspector to see just what they're doing at this point in time. General Panic! Lots of semi-dated references to occurrences in the theatrical world in the late 1980s! Is the mysterious man the NEA inspector? Will the company survive? If you don't know, you'd best go see the play -- and you don't have much more time in which to do it. As directed by Mark Nash, there are two or three funny situations and several funny lines. Particularly outstanding in her underplaying of her part was Ruth Wallman, aging actress and accent coach [in the play that is]. Jason P. Lorber, who makes of the accountant a real tour de force, shows what he can do when he is appropriately cast (I saw him in Beyond Therapy this summer in Waterbury); Tom Condon as Luther; and an entire cast who are ready to chew the scenery at the drop of just about anything. It isn't blazing satire, it's just the theater looking at itself and having a medium fair [ho hum] time doing it. It might be worth the time to go see it -- that is if it's not sold out already; the audience loved it. And... oh yes! I saw the production Thursday, Oct. 18. The Lane Series
Friday evening, Oct. 19, I heard pianist Joel Fan at UVMs Redstone recital Hall, the second installment of the year-long look at the role of the pianist in music (the first installment was jazz pianist Fred Hersch). Not only is Fan personable and articulate, as his pre-concert talk clearly demonstrated, he is also a powerhouse of technique and control melded together with an acute musical perception. Two of his performances in particular: Beethoven's Sonata no.31 in A-flat Major, Opus 110 and Chopin's Piano Sonata no.2 in B-flat Major left impressions which I hope will remain in my awareness for a long time to come -- my only sorrow is that he has not recorded either of these works yet. They were both model performances -- in fact, they went well beyond the best standards. The lyricism that he was able to bring out in Beethoven was staggering at times, a revelation of vocal lines that were almost aria-like in their production particularly in the central part of the fourth movement. It was as though the audience were hearing the composition for the first time and marveling at its freshness and its relevance both to the past and to the future, what other composers were going to do with the principles he was establishing for them to follow. The Chopin followed on the second half of the program, but in so far as the musical/creative relationship between the two works, one followed directly on the heels of the other. Once again Fan provided (in the second and third movements the vocal lines were spun out as though they were being sung by a Sutherland, all nuance and limpidity, especially in the middle of the third movement). As he asked rhetorically: "What would you follow a funeral march with?" The answer is: A Ride to Hell. And that's how he played the finale. It was not only in the Chopin that the compositional framework was so clearly set forth. Fans playing elucidated everything he played. This was especially true of Beethoven, particularly in the fourth movement. And those are only two of the jewels which he presented to us. Others included the Prokofiev Sonata number 3 in a minor, Opus 28, dripping with Prokofievian wit and speed; the absolutely fantastical Saul Steinberg-like musical arabesques of the Liszt Concert Paraphrase of Verdi's Rigoletto; the complete breathtaking Nine Bagatelles by American composer William Bolcom; and a series of shorter works by composers from Turkey, Syria, Brazil and China (I found the works from Turkey and Syria to the impressionistic in the manner of Debussy or Ravel -- ditto the work from China). It was an arresting evening of musical styles, created by a man who certainly has not only a stunning past, but an even more stunning future. Thanks to The Lane Series for bringing us such a splendid evening of music. The Vermont Symphony Orchestra
VSO opened its 73rd season At the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage on Saturday evening, Oct. 20. On the podium was Jamie Laredo, the Artistic Director and Conductor of the orchestra (it was announced just before the concert that Laredo has agreed to extend his present contract through the 75th season of the orchestra). Soloist for the evening was pianist Peter Serkin. Obviously the main attraction of the evening was Serkin -- Serkin and his playing of the Brahms Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.1 in d minor, Op.15. His was, of course, a world-class performance of the work, which the orchestra and Laredo matched nuance for nuance. It was a taut, propulsive performance that belied its length in time -- the first movement is close to half an hour in length. In the dialogues between the orchestra and the soloist, Serkin continually challenged the orchestra to match his vigor, his articulation, his lyricism, the boldness of his rhythmic patterns -- and the orchestra responded with its own vigor, its own articulation, its own lyricism, its own boldness of rhythmic patterns. Serkin is justifiably and on his own merit one of the world's great pianists performing today. Vermont is extraordinarily blessed that Serkin is at least a part-time resident of Vermont, as is Laredo, in addition to which they have been friends for 30 or more years. One can only hope that Serkin might be willing to play with the VSO again during its 75th anniversary year, two years hence. The audience almost literally jumped to its feet at the conclusion of the Concerto. It was a true success. The program opened with Ravel's suite from his two-piano Ma M貥 LOye [Mother Goose]. It is some of the most diaphanous music by composer known for the diaphanous quality of much of his music, and is thereby a trap for unwary conductors and orchestras. The performance by the VSO was, in a word, spectacular -- in its reticence, its clarity, its exposition of the orchestration of the work. I believe it's the best I've ever heard the orchestra play. The unknown quantity on the program was a set of concert variations for orchestra by the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera. The music is totally different both from that of Ravel and that of Brahms. The theme, presented by solo cello over harp accompaniment, is followed by two interludes, eight variations, and a reprise of the original theme by solo bass. The music is quite angular because the theme is a bit on the angular, spiky side. A number of variations were rather somber in sound, although quite different one from another. The sixth variation, written in the manner of a Moto Perpetuo (perpetual motion) for solo violin was rhythmically highly sophisticated, and perhaps did not end exactly at the same time. It was a work well worth hearing, and represents the type of programming that has marked the raid as tenure as Artistic Director and Conductor. Since subscriptions now account for about a thousand of the 1400 seats plus or minus at the Flynn Center, single ticket buyers are advised that it may become increasingly difficult to acquire tickets for single concerts. The next concert will be on December 1. The Leonor and Alan Segal Theatre, Montr顬
Their current production which just opened is a production of The Diary of Anne Frank (I saw the third performance on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 21). As is usual with this company, the sets and costuming were nearly pluperfect. The casting was obviously carefully chosen, and the look of most of them was right, especially Gianpaolo Venuto (cast as Peter Van Daan, the young man with whom Anne Frank falls in love, and he does one of the best jobs of the evening). Also outstanding was Sally Singal, who played Edith Frank; Tara Nicodemo as Miep Gies; Susanna Fournier as Margot Frank and Nicholas Rice as Otto Frank. The problem for me with the production is that it had more the feeling of a memorial service than a funeral -- the corpse wasn't there. The nightmare chilling sounds of European police cars and fire engines and ambulances no longer hold the ability to chill, because they have become commonplace. We know the inevitable result -- just within view of the end of World War II seven of the eight members are to be hauled to a gathering place and deported by train, in their case to Auschwitz. Except for Otto, none of them survive. We know it in advance. We may have forgotten from our reading or viewing of the movie exactly how and when and by whom they are taken away, but we know the inevitable end. Even though this production takes into account the pages from Anne Frank's diary that had been found in the last several years, the chill is gone. It may even be that we are so numbed by the news reports out of Iraq on Sunday, Oct. 21 -- conflicting stories in which one describes the impact of the firefight on the babies and children and innocent bystanders. It may be that the Rwandas of the world are too much with us -- but it seems to me that Director Marcia Kash relied too much on the intellectual appreciation in the minds of the audience members and not enough on the horror, for it is the horror that brings out our recognition that they could have been you and you and you or I who am writing this, and with that recognition comes the catharsis, comes the cry "never again". It is not an intellectual stirring; it is an emotional stirring which, after all -- despite the fact that frequently anymore theater doesn't even attempt to engender catharsis, intentionally avoids catharsis by the building of fourth walls on stages -- our salvation as human beings is most dependent upon. Maybe someday someone will do a production of this play as a memory play with a difference -- maybe they will show rearview projections of then-current horrors; maybe the cast will be garbed in prison garb with shaven heads. Maybe then the irony of Anne Frank's diary will have a more useful purpose once again, because it is tied into our real lives. I am 70 years old -- I remember World War II and its aftermath. I've seen the films, the judgment at Nuremberg, the American army films of the liberation of the camps. I personally cannot forget. But what of the young people such as those who filled the balcony on both sides of the theater? How will we burn this into their emotional memory so that they too will not forget? So that they will shout out with a single voice: never again? This production did not do that for me. I hope I am the only one who left the theater feeling the way I did. The show runs through November 4. Ticket information can be found at www.segalcentre.org .

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