Saturday, September 19, 2015

"The Winter’s Tale" - A Rare and Blissful Experience

Opening Scene of "The Winter's Tale Photo Credit: Heather Mull

    Area aesthetes might want to sit up and take notice of Quantum Theatre’s latest production. "The Winter’s Tale," musically adapted from Shakespeare’s play of the same name, is getting its world premiere in a work commissioned by The Benter Foundation. For anyone with the taste for the sublime, it’s a must-see experience.
The venue for the transformation of one of the Bard’s later plays into a Baroque opera couldn’t be more perfect - an intimate, 300-seat theater on the tenth floor of the gorgeous Union Trust Building in Downtown Pittsburgh.
    Shakespeare published the first folio of "The Winter’s Tale" in 1623 near the beginning of the Baroque Era (1600 to 1750), and the creative team that put together what turns out to be a visual and auditory masterpiece culled music both well known and less familiar from the catalog of Baroque era composers such as Handel, Bach, Purcell, Lully and Vivaldi.
    They then judiciously compressed Shakespeare’s text to serve as lyrics to the musical selections without losing the flow and comprehension of the plot, leaving behind much of the archaic language and expressions of the original without derogating the mood and sense of time and place. As an aid to further audience comprehension, the words sung are projected above the stage as supertitles in the current manner of most opera houses.
    The major masterminds behind the project are Karla Boos, stage director and Quantum Theatre founder; Patty Halverson, one of the original members of Chatham Baroque, a trio that specializes in the music of the Baroque Era; Scott Pauley - player of the theorbo, a plucked string instrument in the lute family; violinist Andrew Fouts;  Andreas Cladera, conductor of the opera orchestra and dancers from Attack Theater, Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope.
    The program passed out to the audience holds a lengthy but thorough synopsis of the plot and the supertitles give an in-the-moment explanation of what’s taking place on stage. Therefore, I’ll not belabor the story line other than say it centers around two kings, once boyhood friends whose relationship is fractured when one suspects the other of seducing his wife.
    Interesting plot elements include the Oracle of Delphi, a changeling, ardent lovers, a conniving comical thief, a shepherdess, a faithful man servant and lady-in-waiting, a notoriously ferocious bear - even an unexpected magical transformation that ends the play on a blithe and buoyant note.
    The singers and dancers cavort all over the stage and also make use of two large square spaces above and to the left and right of the main proscenium. Four dancers add a kinetic element to the mostly stationary singers and sometimes evoke through movement and facial expression the feelings and thoughts of the characters.
    Just below the stage, the ten-piece early music ensemble playing period instruments like the theorbo, harpsichord, viola de gamba and wooden flute provide a balanced sound that neither overpowers nor understates as  accompaniment.
    Set designer, Toni Ferrieri, and projection designer, Joseph Seamans, team up in the opening scene to give a sample of the stagecraft  inventiveness to come. They have some of the cast peer through sits in the curtain, their heads vaguely resembling some sort of floral bud, while video projections seemingly paint arabesques and filigree over the rest of the curtain.
    Periodically throughout the performance, Seamans also casts images of elaborate Baroque interiors and designs over the stage creating the visual equivalent to the lush music.
    The singing is strong on all levels, starting with the powerful voices of the two kings - Robert Frankenberry and Polixenes and David Newman as  Leontes. (Their second act duet is spellbinding. Raquel Winnica Young is a dulcet Queen Hermione who captures your heart with her natural innocence and tragic fate. Gail Novak Mosites has one of the evening’s best moments when she pleads for mercy for her accused queen. Dan Kempson and Rebecca Belczyk as the two starry-eyed lovers, Florizel and Perdita, have honey-toned voices that compliment their ardent affection.
Cosmo Clemens as Clown and Katy Williams as ShepherdessScott Pauley on Theorbo Photo Credit: Heather Mull

    As the avaricious thief Autolycus, countertenor Andrey Nemzer proves his mettle both as a singer with tremendous range and technique and a comic actor. Convincing and effective in supporting roles are Shannon Kessler Dooley as Camillo, Eugene Perry as Antigonus, Katy Williams as Shepherdess and Cosmo Clemens as Clown.
    I can’t remember a production as polished and near-to-perfection as this one. "The Winter’s Tale" is an ebullient, electric experience, one I'd recommend to anyone with a taste for exquisite artistry.
    "The Winter’s Tale," a Quantum Theatre production, is at the Union Trust Building, 501 Grant Street in Downtown Pittsburgh through October 3. Phone 412-362-1713.

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