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November 15, 1990 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1990-11-15

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The Michigan Daily
Falstaff displays
opera's excess

Thursday, November 15, 1990

Page 5

by Mary Beth Barber

L et's face it, opera is the most
difficult genre of all stage art to per-
form. It incorporates acting and
singing (the vocal demands of opera
are more strenuous than those for
musical theater) with an elaborate set
and a full orchestra. But because
much of the beauty is in the music,
opera has gained a reputation for
simply featuring individuals singing.
This is not so with the School of
Music's production of Giuseppe
Verdi's Falstaff this weekend.
"Opera worldwide is progressively
making more demands on the per-
formers - acting," says director
Travis Preston. The presentation of
Verdi's masterpiece is no exception.
Falstaff, written in 1893, is
based on Shakespeare's The Merry
Wives of Windsor. Its comic main

character, Sir John Falstaff (also fea-
tured in many of Shakespeare's other
historical plays, especially Henry
IV), is an indulgent man with an in-
satiable appetite for food, fun and
women. It is his lust that gets him
into trouble, when his wooing of
two married women becomes appar-
ent. But Sir John is not portrayed as
the vulgarly obese individual as
whom he is commonly regarded.
Rather, he is depicted as a man of
high sophistication.
The opera, set somewhere be-
tween myth and reality, is not just a
lighthearted comedy, Preston claims.
There are parodies of ecclesiastical
text and music buried under the
comic elements. Mr. Ford, the hus-
band of one of the married women,
is fraught with tension and has a
sadistic side. "I was shocked to dis-
cover such fatalistic implication in

Nanetta (Karen Swan) rejects Sir John Falstaff (Kyle Hancock), both his
brandy and his lustful advances, in the U of M Opera Theater
presentation of Verdi's Falstaff, at the Power Center this weekend.

what is traditionally thought of as a
benign comedy," Preston says.
Known for his non-traditional inter-
pretations of classical texts, the
director has "merely sought to make
the darker undercurrent of the text
visible to the audience."
Gustav Meier, conductor of over

20 operas at Michigan in the last 12
years, observes some differences in
Verdi's final opera. "In it, it is as if
Verdi learns of polyphony. The mu-
sic is tightly fused to the text ... and
there is a lightness to the entire
work that is nearly approaching op-
See FALSTAFF, Page 7

Do not go gentle into that good theatre
by Jenie Dahlmann

Soph Show takes the stage,
exhibits Sweet Charity
by Beth Colquitt
It seems odd that Sweet Charity , which the Soph Show is presenting
this weekend at the Mendelssohn, is set in the '60s and not the '20s,
since a major theme - the American work ethic - is one associated
particularly with the early years of the 20th century. Although it is
packaged like a typical romantic comedy, Sweet Charity deals with hard
realities. Its main idea is that of getting out of a rut and moving up into
a more comfortable existence.
Charity Hope Valentine, a character who is everything her name
implies, just wants to be loved. As a variation on the hooker-with-a
heart-of gold theme, she is one of hundreds of girls with a "rent-a-body"
job - a job they plan to keep just long enough to get on their feet but
in which they find themselves trapped. Unlike her jaded companions,
Charity is always hopeful and willing to give her love, money and
emotional support.
"The girls in the ballroom never intended to stay there. (Charity) just
wants to find the right guy and get out," says producer Steve Jasgur. The
show can be depressing when one realizes that the girls will never get
out, but Charity's optimism is so infectious that the show is not allowed
to sink under their predicament.
Neil Simon's script is permeated by his light, frivolous humor. The
delightful bump-and-grind-style songs, of which the best known are
"Hey, Big Spender" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now," are a
tribute to the enduring talent of songwriter Cy Coleman, who swept this
year's Tony Awards for his work on Broadway smash City of Angels.
The original Charity production that ran for a long time on Broadway
garnered one main piece of criticism - it had a melancholy ending.
Jasgur says that the directors of Soph Show have altered the plot so that
the ending does not leave Charity hanging at the altar. She has also been
assigned three guardian angels in this weekend's production, embroidering
on the one fairy godmother that appears at the end of the original script,
who help to provide a happier ending. These actors initially dress like
ordinary passersby, and become more angelic, presumably earning their
See CHARITY, Page 7
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Last month the Michigan Theater
hosted America's foremost touring
repertory company, The Acting
Company. Now, as if in some
cultural exchange program, The
Michigan has invited Ireland's na-
tional theater company, The Abbey
Theatre, to share with audiences
John Millington Synge's frolicking
Irish comedy, The Playboy of the
Western World.
Through the use of a simple kind
of humor and the beautiful cadence
of the Irish dialect Playboy
incorporates themes of adventure and
romance. Audiences will be trans-
ported to a small Irish village at the
turn of the century and into the life

of a man ostracized from this small
town because he has killed his fa-
ther. Emotional battles ensue be-
tween young and old, male and fe-
male. Like most classic comedies,
the play continually teeters on the
brink of tragedy, but focuses on the
hilarity found amdist the most
hideous situations.
Although tame by today's
standards, at the time of its initial
performance in 1907, Playboy re-
ceived a reaction much like Robert
Mapplethorpe's photographs gar-
nered in Cincinnati. Because the play
deals with patricide and the transition
from boyhood to manhood in a
comedic manner, many audience
members were offended. Riots raged,

cast members were jailed and a scan-
dal was born.
Today Playboy is considered a
classic. It has been translated into
most modern languages and adapted
into other cultural settings. The
play's enduring message of the
innocence of youth and the pain of
evolving into adulthood make its so-
cial relevance timeless.
One might be alarmed at first to
see a small glossary of Irish terms

included in the cover of the program.
Past reviews of The Abbey's
production, however, note that
although the brogues are heavy, the
cast makes the plot easily understood
through body language. The beauty
of the prose is said to quickly open
the initially deaf ears of the audience.
presented tonight at the Michigan.
Tiheater at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26.50.

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