Monday, November 5, 2018

Nell Gwynn

Last night David and I attended a new play by Jessica Swale at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Nell Gwynn, based very accurately on the life of the 17th century actress who was the mistress of Charles II.

She was born in 1650 (?) and was one of the most famous actresses of the Restoration, often mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his diaries. 

The play, with fairly authentic music, was delightful and very well cast.

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Charlotte Strallen was perfect as Nell Gwynn, singing and dancing as well as filling the role with humor and pathos.

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Timothy Edward Kane was regal as King Charles II and John Tufts was very good as Charles Hart, the actor who brought Nell from her life as an orange seller and street walker to the stage.

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Nell had two children by the King, Charles Beauclerk (1670–1726); and James Beauclerk (1671–1680) (the surname is pronounced boh-clair). Charles was created Earl of Burford and later Duke of St. Albans

She was granted a house in Pall Mall which until recently was the only house there not owned by the crown.

The delightful music was written by Nigel Hess and the choreography was by Amber Mak. It was a delightful evening in the theatre!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Night and Day

I'm back in Chicago for the winter and immediately got into the Chicago concert swing with a vocal concert in Oak Park. Oak Park is the location of many Frank Lloyd Wright houses which we drove by prior to the concert. Indeed, the temple in which the concert was held was designed by him.

The concert, entitled Night and Day, was performed by the Fourth Coast Ensemble,  a group of four attractive and talented young singers who are in their fifth season together.

The very long program was divided into groups of songs whose texts brought one from daybreak to slumber with varying success. An eclectic choice of music from Lili Boulanger to Alban Berg filled the hour and forty-five minute program. I could have done without the George Crumb section as well as that of Tom Cipullo.

The singers were Sarah van der Ploeg, soprano, Bridget Skaggs, mezzo-soprano, Zachery Vanderburg, tenor and Samuel Schultz, baritone. The able pianist was Mark Bilyeu.

All four singers have very good voices and sing with enthusiasm; sometimes too much enthusiasm! In various moments they suddenly included synchronized arm, hand, and body movements to punch up the meaning of the texts. This was a bit too 'Rocketish' for me. Or Esther Williams synchronized swimming.

Having worked with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson for twenty years, I grew used to her quiet but intense delivery of song. In a lesson she would often move about to loosen up but then, in performance, she would be very quiet physically and allow the emotion to pour forth from her in sound and energy. Maybe that's old fashioned these days. Lorraine has been dead for over ten years. Alas!

In any event I found this kind of performance very distracting.

I also disliked the Crumb songs very much, especially the one that required Ms. Skaggs to need to scream out several very high note. She has a lovely voice and should not need to sing in this way.

The concert should have ended with Mr. Schultz's redition of Der Erlkònig, which was exciting and vocally excellent instead of the rather silly and pointless Insomnia by Tom Cipulllo.

It's hard being a voice teacher at a vocal concert. You can't stop teaching in your head!