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A CurtainUp Berkshires Feature
By Elyse Sommer
My major complaint about Shakespeare & Company's artistic director Tina Packer's fifth collaboration with theTanglewood Music Center Composition Fellows, and TMC Coordinator Michael Gandolfi is that this must be an after the fact report. It's not that I arrived too late in the run of this blend of staged readings and original music inspired by Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra to recommend it but that it was a one night affair (Wednesday, August 9).
Previous collaborations were a case of the Tanglewood Composing and Performing Fellows creating and performing incidental music for productions of King Lear, Coriolanus, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and A Winter's Tale mounted at Shakespeare & Co in Lenox. This year Packer and Gandolfi created an evening especially for this bringing together of composers, musicians and actors. They therefore chose to work with scenes from a play not part of this season's offerings. However, I wouldn't be surprised if an unabridged, fully staged Antony and Cleapatra, with the music heard for the first time on Wednesday, were to show up in a future season's calendar.
There was a special piquancy to seeing the actors playing Hamlet, his queen mom and duplicitous uncle (Jason Asprey, Tina Packer and Nigel Gore) again facing off. Gore who, in Hamlet, is a cool and corporate King Claudius, proved to be especially interesting as a hotly passionate Antony. As Cleopatra, the diction-perfect but hardly fashionably slim Packer dares you to rethink visions of other more slinky queens -- a dare endorsed by Gore when he literally lifted her up to hold in his muscular arms.
Packer, who staged the excerpts, used Ozawa Hall much like her Founders Theater, with actors using the aisles and Nigel Gore, in the highly dramatic final scene, appearing in the corner of the upper balcony. With so little rehearsal time or for the actors and musicians to work together, the actors appeared with scripts in hand. There were no props but just enough costuming (courtesy Govanne Lobhauer) to evoke the sense of more than a concert reading.
With the music much more than incidental accompaniment, the nine musicians and directer Stephen Asbury were right on stage -- not distractingly but exactly where they belonged. The music itself was quite wonderful, ranging from movingly melodic when accompanying some of the speeches and aptly dissidend for the war scenes. It was beautifully played by the musicians and only very occasionally overwhelmed the voices. Clarinetist Amy Advocate a particularly noteworthy standout.
Music (most of it lost) ran regularly through Shakespeare's plays. Scholars posit that it was composed ad hoc by The Globe's resident musicians. While economics dictate that Shakespeare & Company's future productions of the Bard's plays will undoubtedly continue to be recorded, let's hope that we'll have mroe opportunities to experience this sort of intertwining of the actors voices and the Tanglewood's Music Fellows' live and original music.
While Antony & Cleopatra with live, original music has come and gone, Hamlet and The Merry Wives of Windsor can be seen at the Founders Theater through September 2nd: Hamlet Review and The Merry Wives of Windsor.