The current concert set of the Winston-Salem Symphony is a co-production with the School of Drama of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and a hit production not to be missed. The foundations for the production are the masterpiece by Shakespeare and the quintessential Overture and Incidental Music by Felix Mendelssohn.
In this first rate spectacle, the drama students of UNCSA were directed by Gerald Freedman, Dean of the School of Drama, whose inspired direction was complemented by the captivating lighting and projections of Norman Coates of the School of Design and Production. Fine orchestral playing, under the direction of Maestro Robert Moody, framed the whole performance, but the vibrant actors and their antics commanded the audience’s attention whenever they were present - even when asleep in their “neck of the woods”.
The music includes some of Mendelssohn’s finest writing, eventually building to a climax in the familiar “Wedding March.” The Overture, Op. 21, was composed by the 17-year-old composer and is a work of genius - from the fairy tale mystery of the opening to the repeated asinine braying of Bottom. Written for a chamber orchestra, one of the marvelous touches young Mendelssohn uses is to add the ophecleïde (literally “keyed serpent”) as the predominant bass instrument, deftly played on the modern tuba by Matt Ransom. One might have wished for a softer, more staccato performance from the strings, but the overall effect of the overture remained magical.
The rest of the Incidental Music, Op, 61, was composed 17 years later in a style remarkably consistent with his previous youthful writing. The Scherzo was breathtaking (especially the flute-work) and the Romance, beautifully played by principal horn, Robert Campbell, was heartwarming. I have always been partial to the Intermezzo, Allegro appassionato, with its agitated restlessness, but the audience responded visibly to the best-known segment, the famous Wedding March, whose orchestration expands to include a full complement of low brasses - trombones, in particular.
The ladies of the Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale were joined by soprano Carla LeFevre and mezzo-soprano Janine Hawley in several numbers. The light amplification of the voices was unfortunate, unnecessary in the case of Ms. Hawley, and creating a “zingy” sound in the case of the higher pitched Ms. LeFevre. The middle voices of the orchestra were loud enough to interfere with the clarity of the diction in the chorus.
Many of the actors’ roles (lovers, queens and more) were doubled: one frantic Puck (Jordan Pratt-Thatcher) running off to the right and the other Puck (Jonny Price) appearing almost instantaneously from the left, adding to the agitation and hilarity. Despite a minimum of props (some large cushions and some chairs) and thanks in part to the scene-setting projections on the scrim behind the orchestra and chorus, we willingly succumbed to the mood of the moment. We ached with the distraught mismatched lovers and laughed at the antics of the actors in the climactic play-within-a-play, especially Wall (Will Schnurr) and Lion (Jacobi Howard). Bottom (Adam Levinthal) bore the ass-head well; Jennifer Webb and Drew Moyer were properly pompous as Theseus and Hyppolyta and Gabe Brown was marvelous as the regal yet mischievous Oberon. The Fairies (Aila Peck and Jackie Hansen) were alluring flower children along with the two previously mentioned vocal soloists.
The ladies of the Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale seated behind the orchestra, waited patiently for the lovely closing Finale which hands the drama back to Puck, now doubled on stage, to apologize for presuming upon the audience. In turn it was the audience which imposed its stamp of approval in a short but heartfelt burst of applause.
We were appreciative that the Stevens Center’s management had left the lights on higher and longer, but regretted the extremely small font of the Symphony’s program notes, printed in a non-contrasting gray.
The following preview ran in advance of the review:
The current concert set of the Winston-Salem Symphony is a co-production with the School of Drama of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and a hit production not to be missed. From the masterpiece by Shakespeare and the quintessential Overture and Incidental Music by Felix Mendelssohn to the acting of the Drama students of UNCSA, directed by Dean Gerald Freedman, and the exquisite lighting effects of the School of Design and Production, this is a first rate spectacle.
Fine orchestral playing, under the direction of Maestro Robert Moody, was the underpinning of the whole performance, but the vibrant actors and their antics commanded the audience’s attention whenever they were present - even when asleep in their "neck of the woods."
The music builds to the iconic "Wedding March" and the drama to the climactic yet hilarious "play within the play."
The performance is repeated Sunday afternoon, February 6, at 3 p.m. and Tuesday evening, February 8, at 7:30 p.m.. See the sidebar for details.
A complete review will follow on Monday, February 7.