Having Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius scampering across the stage during the second half of this November 14 concert may have seemed unusual to audience members used to decorum in the orchestra, but to William Shakespeare, they would have been the only recognizable element. It’s amazing that a single author has had as profound an impact on another art form as Shakespeare has had on classical music, but what’s more incredible is that he could wield such influence on the symphony, which did not come into existence as we know it until more than one hundred years after his death.
There must be something in Shakespeare’s work that particularly stimulates the musical imagination. How else to explain the fact that in this program alone – between the Prokofiev Suite from Romeo and Juliet and Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream – we heard several of the most popular and enduring musical themes of any kind ever composed. What kind of night is it when the Wedding March places third in this category? Only Shakespeare.
The opening Suite from As You Like It by Sir William Walton set the stage for what was to come with delightful panache, entirely appropriate both to the play and to the golden age of Hollywood in which the score was originally composed. Things really took off, however, as the full-tilt mazurkas of Prokofiev came crashing over the room. What a terrific piece, an ideal match of modern orchestration to folk material.
After the intermission, five actors joined in the fun to give some verbal body to the glorious dreams of the young Felix Mendelssohn. All five were excellent – Karole Foreman as Puck particularly so – and Jonathan Fox did everything possible to knit the scenes together through clever, imaginative blocking. The familiarity of the material, along with the crisp, professional delivery, meant that even the difficult passages were crystal clear. Yet the contrast between the score, which manages to comprehend the entire range of figures in the play, and the necessarily selective cast, which was narrowed down to the lovers and Puck, proved to be on the side of the music. When the wedding march played, it was hard not to feel shortchanged, as the play makes it clear that the youthful foursome are merely the tip of the festive iceberg.
Nevertheless, this was an admirable collaboration, and another great example of how the downtown arts district has become an incubator for experiments of all kinds.