“Shakespeare in Love” by the Helena Symphony – Saturday, February 20
By Brian D’Ambrosio
To commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, Broadway and Shakespearean actor Rick Wasserman makes his first appearance in Montana narrating moments from Shakespeare’s comic “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to Mendelssohn’s popular score. The Helena Symphony concert also includes features from Prokofiev’s ballet “Romeo & Juliet.” Purchase your tickets here for the upcoming performance on Saturday, February 20, 2016.
“There are very few people whose works have lasted as long as Shakespeare’s works,” said conductor Allan R. Scott “Still, there are a lot of misconceptions about Shakespeare. And I can tell you that you don’t need to know or even like Shakespeare to enjoy this concert or to find him relevant to today. You need to know nothing about him to experience the music, and to be thrilled.”
Regarded as Shakespeare’s first comic masterpiece, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is an enchanting tale of love, charm and slapstick. Audiences enter a fantasyland of moonlit wonder. Four lovers arrive in this forested world, followed by Bottom and his friends, who have gone there to rehearse a secret play. The lovers have reason for discontent. Hoping to help the lovers with a magic mixture, Oberon finds things worsening. He also uses the special concoction on Titania, and when Bottom is given the head of a donkey, she falls in love with him.
Outwardly light and fantastical, the score has darker elements, rotating between illusion and reality, love and hatred. Ultimately, order is returned, elation prevails as Bottom and his friends perform their personal drama.
Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Overture is an astonishing accomplishment, and not only because Mendelssohn was only 17 when he created it. But in the Overture, Mendelssohn composed a musical genre, and a musical prose and expression, unlike any before it.
“Mendelssohn’s score is uplifting and fun,” said Scott, “and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is an immortal act of comedy and silliness.”
Scott said that Rick Wasserman, who has a plethora of Broadway acting experience to his credit and is known principally as the official voice of the AMC television network, will be doing different voices from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“Rick is known for his voice and voiceover work,” said Scott, “and he’s been doing that type of work for more than a decade. He has specialized in Shakespeare and worked on Broadway on “The Lion King,” which required unique voices.”
The first part of “Shakespeare in Love” is derived from Ukraine-born Sergei Prokofiev. Born in 1891, he composed “Romeo and Juliet” in 1935 and 1936. The initial performance took place in Czechoslovakia, in 1938; the Kirov performed the work for the first time on January 11, 1940. Prokofiev gave the first United States performances of music from “Romeo & Juliet” when he conducted the Second Suite with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in March 1938. The San Francisco Symphony played music from the ballet, in November 1943, with Pierre Monteux conducting. “Romeo & Juliet” is perhaps Prokofiev’s most treasured score, written after many years of self-imposed exile from Russia, primarily in the United States and Paris.
Scott said that Prokofiev’s composition communicates tremendous emotion and encapsulates the vivid brush of one of the world’s greatest love stories.
“Prokofiev did a number of symphonies, concertos, operas, and ballets and his “Romeo & Juliet” is just a wonderfully delightful pastiche,” said Scott. “You get the romantic dream and beauty of “Romeo & Juliet,” and get to hear it with 20th century flair.”
Scott said that “Shakespeare in Love” is not only riveting theater and technical proficiency but an engagement of patience and immersion and the opportunity to experience the smartness and pertinence of the arts.
“I believe that it’s very important not to dummy it down,” said Scott. “We can do the work of Prokofiev, or Beethoven, or Brahms, and we can connect it to our lives today and it’s just as relevant. These works stand the test of time. Orchestras in the 1990s tried to get younger people and tried to do the gimmicky stuff. Orchestras, unfortunately, are the last thing that adapts to the real world. We are constantly re-discovering who we are and who we need to be. There are a lot of orchestras that do the Beatles and they do just about everything. We don’t. You can go to a bar and hear a band, not at the orchestra.”
Scott said that he would like to reach and inspire those folks who think that they are unable to get comfortable in such a symphonic setting or look at the orchestra with uncertainty.
“Music is fascinating because so many people can hear the same piece, yet it triggers different things to different people, appealing to different faiths, spirituality, and intellect, and all those responses are equally important. You can hear the same thing as someone else and have a completely different experience. Composers don’t tell people how to react or what to enjoy or what not to enjoy. I would like to have people come and take time to stop and feel and think and experience. They will be inspired by two amazing pieces of art.”
For more information about the Helena Symphony’s February 20th “Shakespeare in Love” concert, visit www.helenasymphony.org.