[Casa Magazine] A Family Feud & Midsummer Night Dreams
By Daniel Kepl, Casa Magazine
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From its icy opening chord, Prokofiev’s music to the ballet Romeo and Juliet perfectly describes the deadly confrontation between the play’s Capulet and Montague families that will ultimately engulf its two lovers, while Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music to the bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream sparkles with puckish mirth and merriment. Composers, choreographers, visual artists, poets, even prizefighters have been inspired by William Shakespeare’s magical use of the English language for 300 years and counting. The Santa Barbara Symphony, in collaboration with actors from Ensemble Theatre Company, celebrated the playwright’s genius with a program titled Shakespeare Set To Music last weekend at the Granada Theatre. It was a feast of bard-inspired music that included a Suite by Sir William Walton from his film score for As You Like It; conductor Nir Kabaretti’s personal selection of seven scenes from Prokofiev’s monumental ballet, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64; and from a teenage Felix Mendelssohn, the immortal melodies from his Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 21 and 61 that have become universally recognized as a musical signature for the play ever since. The homage in sound and word delighted Saturday night’s audience.
Conductor Nir Kabaretti opened the program with William Walton’s 1936 film score to As You Like It. It’s four sections, Prelude, Moonlight, The Fountain, and Wedding Procession were orchestrated in the composer’s distinctive color palette. Wind, brass, and percussion batteries executed the score’s stirring martial tunes with vigor and panache, while the strings, often in chamber music mode (string quartet) obliged with an array of handsome romantic mood shifts.
In stunning contrast, Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet score, composed for the Kirov Theater in Leningrad in the same year as Walton’s film score, is muscular and catastrophic as suits the tragic story. Maestro Kabaretti, conducting from memory, selected seven scenes from the monumental three Act ballet: Montagues and Capulets; Scene; Morning Dance; Juliet, the Young Girl; Masks; Romeo and Juliet; and Death of Tybalt. Prokofiev’s mastery at orchestration, including solo moments for several principals sprinkled throughout the music, reminded listeners the Santa Barbara Symphony is a first-rate ensemble.
Actors from Ensemble Theatre Company joined the orchestra for visual fun and frolic on stage during a quasi-staged performance of Mendelssohn’s iconic Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream which occupied the second half of the program. Staged discreetly by Ensemble’s Executive Artistic Director Jonathan Fox to suit the concert milieu, Puck (Karole Foreman) popped up in the percussion section and later lingered on Kabaretti’s podium while narrating the story of Shakespeare’s hapless lovers Lysander (Ross Hellwig) and Hermia (Katharine Leonard), Demetrius (Charles Pasternak) and Helena (Rebekah Trip). A simple but magical lighting design and perfect audio quality allowed the bard’s several spoken snippets by Ensemble Theatre’s five outstanding actors to be enjoyed fully, while the physical interactions between the characters at proscenium’s edge in front of the orchestra, clarified for the audience a necessarily compact recounting of the play’s convoluted romantic dilemmas.
This latest collaboration between two of Santa Barbara’s cherished professional organizations was an unqualified success.