Weekend Update

I’ve had headaches on and off for a week now, probably due to all the damn pressure fronts coming in and going out, and I haven’t had the energy or desire to blog. But I really gotta say at least quickly that:

First, The Tempest at Butterfield 8 in Concord is a very enjoyable production. Very small and very low budget but fun and warm and imaginative. Don Hardy, an old friend of Dave’s and mine, is Prospero, and he’s very good. Honest, I’m not just saying that. There are several other very good performances in the show, too, but I don’t have my program at hand so I’ll have to try to remember to come back later and put in some names. (Later: I thought Becky Potter as Miranda was the other standout performance, and I also particularly enjoyed Edwin Peabody as Caliban and David Hardie and Molly Kate Taylor as Stephano and Trincula. Ms. Potter was also terrific as Elizabeth Bennet in the company’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which they’re repeating this summer.)

The play has been adapted so that several of the men’s roles — most of those stranded by the shipwreck, in fact — are now women’s roles. Worked well, I thought. The adaptation is nicely managed and the actors all handle the verse adroitly, so it’s a very clear telling of the story. The play is substantially trimmed, but it seemed like a good job of trimming to me, losing some richness and power but gaining clarity and directness in exchange.

After saying all that good stuff, though, I still gotta confess: I’ve seen quite a few productions of The Tempest by now and it’s still not one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. But this is a clearly told, imaginative, and enjoyable production.

Second, last Friday’s Listener crossword, “Breach of Contract”, is terrific. Maybe my favorite so far this year. I found it slow going at first, but as the pieces came together I picked up speed and finished the last few clues in a satisfying rush. And there are several nifty surprises along the way.

“Sinecure”

This morning I finally finished this week’s Listener puzzle, “Sinecure” by Franc. Not a very hard puzzle at all, really, but I got a late start on Friday and then was busy with other things much of Saturday. Still, by bedtime on Saturday I’d solved everything except for unscrambling the ten-letter theme word. Turned out I didn’t have quite the right combination of letters. This morning I spotted where I’d made an unjustified assumption and got the right combination and found the word. I’d never heard of it, but it was a nice surprise to discover that it meant exactly what I’d suspected it had to mean, given the rest of the puzzle. (Turned out that it was a familiar word to Dave, though.)

Weekend Update

What a weekend! It’s Wednesday and I’m still tired.

Thursday, Dave and I went to the American Mavericks opening concert at Davies — works by Copland and Harrison and Ives, the last being the wonderful Brant orchestration of the Concord Sonata.

Friday night was the second performance of The Manga Flute. A very full house and a great performance. Dave and I watched it from the back row of the balcony, where the visuals are less effective but the sound is better. The supertitles are party obstructed from there, but I thought you hardly needed them — the sound of orchestra and singers is better blended up there and it was easy to make out the words. Of course, I can usually remember what people are singing on any given line, so I’m not necessarily the most accurate judge of that.

The performance was very polished — the whole show zipped along happily, acting was sharper, everybody’s characters seemed a notch or two more focused and intense than they were on opening, the music (both singing and orchestra) was confident and full of detail and nuance, and set changes and other cues were crisp. Lovely.

Saturday night, Dave and I headed to the Castro Theater to see a beautifully restored print of Children of Paradise. It’s a favorite of Dave’s. Me, I like parts of it enormously but other parts seem kind of silly to me, and the whole movie strikes me as being at least a half hour too long for the story it’s telling. But the story is rich and many-layered, and I’m never bored by it, even in the places where the story and characters feel a bit too dry and mechanical for my taste.

Sunday afternoon was the final performance of Manga Flute, and it was even better than Friday’s. Tempi were more energetic, transitions between scenes were tighter and smoother, the dialogue scenes were brisker and more focused, and the whole show felt like its energy level had been cranked up a notch or two.

Monday, the SF Chronicle‘s review came out — overall a rave, though with a few qualifications. The prize paragraph for my résumé is this:

Chief among the pleasures of the piece is the sleek virtuosity of Marley’s English libretto, which — like his many previous efforts for the company – turns the foreign-language original into a faithful, witty and effortlessly naturalistic translation. The rhymes all fall where they should and the sense of the text remains intact — and all without any impression of strain.

I’m a bit startled, though, that he calls the libretto “faithful”, says in the above quote that “the sense of the text remains intact”, and writes elsewhere that “the plot remains largely intact”. It seems to me that — after you get past the first musical number, at least — my plot is just about entirely different from Schikaneder’s and only gets more obviously so as it progresses, and that the few places where the English words are more or less faithful to the German original — the Queen of the Night’s second-act aria, for example, and some individual lines and couplets here and there in Papageno’s second-act solo scene (the one leading to the entrance of the Raccoons and then Papagena) — are very much the exceptions.

But I shall choose to interpret this as meaning that Mr. Kosman found that the story and the words fit the music so well that they create the illusion in the theater of being exactly right for the score, and thank him for the compliment.

Chambers 12th Edition

Woo hoo! My Chambers Dictionary iPhone app is updating free to the new 12th edition! I wasn’t expecting that — if you buy a print dictionary, you don’t get a free update to a new edition, so I was just figuring they’d bring out a separate app for the new edition.

As I cannot even remotely afford to buy the new edition at the moment, and as I don’t seem destined ever to have any of my entries drawn in the weekly competition for the Listener crossword, this is very welcome. Thank you, Chambers people!

Review of The Manga Flute at Repeat Performances

There’s a lovely rave for The Manga Flute at Repeat Performances, a website I hadn’t come across before. Some excerpts:

… [T]he ever-adventurous West Edge Opera commissioned a complete and artistic reworking of this staple of the stage, re-titled The Manga Flute, with a poetic and fanciful English libretto by David Scott Marley. The opening … was not only a success, but surprising in the scope of its originality.

And:

… fetchingly illustrated in backdrops by Megan Willis …

And:

The magic of the comic book format was as unlikely as it was an effective vehicle for our time, while the wind score accommodated the vocal range without sacrificing the meaty overtures.

(Did he mean overtones? Only one overture.) And:

[T]he real success of this venture was at least partly due to the talented cast, led by Eugene Brancoveanu as Papageno. I have no idea why that huge-voiced and velvet-tongued baritone is still in the Bay Area, instead of piling up fame and fortune at the Met or La Scala, but I suspect he chooses creativity over earthly desires …

And:

The princess Pamina was played to the hilt as a blue-haired manga vision, by Heidi Moss Sali … with the charm and purity that also makes her a darling of concert repertoire. Opposite her, Tamino bumbled about as a briefcase-toting Tokyo businessman who painfully transforms into her hero, sung with warmth and a sense of natural ease by tenor Darron James Flagg. And Elyse Nakajima popped out amazing high notes with crystal clarity in that most difficult of all coloratura soprano parts, the vengeful Queen of the Night.

And:

At first it was surprising how many young children attended, but it was a great fit for young audiences …

Woo hoo!

Is Repeat Performances a new website? Not many reviews up. Nice to see they plan to cover theater and dance as well as music and opera.

First review of The Manga Flute

A review by Janos Gereben is now up at the San Francisco Classical Voice website. A couple of excerpts:

David Scott Marley’s The Manga Flute, a new English adaptation in Japanese comic style, is bold, outlandish, delectable entertainment. Add a wonderful cast, with some major vocal/stage performances, and there is a must-see Flute in the El Cerrito Performing Arts Theater.

And:

Among Marley’s many “innovations,” perhaps the best is his substitution of three young-soprano raccoons for the Three Boys, another puzzlement in the original. The raccoons don’t just float in and out — they are essential parts of the story, playful and destructive one minute, wise and problem-solving the other ….

Opening Performance

The premiere of The Manga Flute is this afternoon at 3:00 pm. The theater will be very full — as of yesterday morning the orchestra section was full except for a handful of singles around the edges, but there were still seats available in the balcony.

The show looked great at the dress rehearsal on Friday. Megan Willis’s art is glorious and vibrant, and the costumes play beautifully against her backdrops. The prologue, a manga sequence created by Megan and beautifully assembled by Jeremy Knight, is terrific — you don’t want to miss the overture.

The cast was terrific, despite some dialogue flubs and nerves. Eugene is a hoot as Papageno. The Three Ladies were stronger and funnier in the opening scene than I’ve seen them before. All of act one feels like it is working beautifully all the way through. Act two felt like it might be five minutes or so too long. Caroline, the stage director, Jonathan, the musical director, and I talked Friday about the possibility of cutting a few minutes out at the dress rehearsal to see how it went, but Caroline decided it was wiser not to, and while I was open to the experiment, I don’t mind at all not making it after all — it’s easy to make a poor decision when you haven’t played the show before a real audience. Seeing how the show works for an audience may make clear exactly what it would be best to trim (if not for this production, then for the next), or could reveal that some other adjustment than trimming is what’s needed, or even that the show works fine as it is and we’ve just gotten to know the show too well to see how it will play.

And of course making changes is a burden on the memories of the performers and makes it that much harder to be acting and singing at their best. Given that the potential improvement to the script is somewhat minor, it may well be wiser to let it go for this production and make a note of the change for use in the next production, should there be one.

“O Gather Twelve”

I don’t have much time today for working on the Listener puzzle, as I’ve got to finish laying out the libretto for Manga Flute so I have printed copies for sale on Sunday, and then there’s the final dress rehearsal tonight. But I took the puzzle (“O Gather Twelve”) with me on a break from work, and in five minutes had solved one clue and figured out from its answer what the theme of the puzzle is. So it doesn’t look like it’ll be a tough one this week.

That’s good for me, as I may not have much time for it till after the show Sunday, and I try to get my entry in Monday’s mail if I can so it has a decent chance of reaching England by the deadline.

Sunday morning: I started on the puzzle again last night, after I picked up the printed librettos for The Manga Flute, and I’d finished all but 29 Down by bedtime; this morning I saw what I was overlooking and finished it. Now to get ready for the show.