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November 16, 1995 - Image 16

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-11-16

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Jazzbos of the world unite
An afternoon workshop with an evening concert by the WCC Jazz
Orchestra and Sherman Mitchell and Gene Parker. Check it out in-
between classes. Be at WCC, Morris Lawrence Building at 1 p.m. Free.

Page 16
Thursday,
November 16. 1995

4.,
'Jream' reveals a darker truth r*..±
Shakespeare's classic is transformed into an opera h ?.||

M

By Emily Lambert
Daily Fine Arts Editor
"It's not like investing, it's not like
buying a commodity," said Keith
Warner, director of the School of
MusicOpera theater's season opener,
"A Midsummer Night's Dream."
"You go to try things out, to be
tested, to be shocked. You don't go
there thinking 'I know how I want "A
Midsummer Night's Dream" to be,
I've read the play, I know everything
about it...' You go there to experi-
ence it staged exactly how you never
imagined it could be staged."
It's certainly risky to take a well-
known, well-liked Shakespearean
play, set it to twentieth century
music by Benjamin Britten and then
add massive, 1990s directorial de-
cisions. Yet Warner, a University
guest-artist, is risky, renowned and
has a trusted track record. The up-
dated, altered and outrageous opera
productions of the British director
have been successful, both with the
many contemporary composers he
has worked with and with audiences.
In the nine years Warner was as-
sociate director of London's En-

glish National Opera, "we never did
a production conventionally," he
said. "We turned everything on its
head." Audience numbers skyrock-
eted and the average age of the au-
dience dropped.
"There are all these maniacs who
go around saying 'What was
Wagner's intention? What was
Mozart's?"' said Warner. "You can
research in every book in the world
and you will not know what their
reaction is. So it's just an invalid
argument, it's rubbish. What we
should be doing as creative artists
is exploring for ourselves the mate-
rial for our age, trying to make the
score come alive.
"It's alive and living. If it upsets,
people, it's living. If it aggravates
them, it's living. If it makes them
laugh, it's living. If it makes them
cry, if it makes them want to rush
off with their wives and go to bed,
it's living. If they sit there bored,
that's the only crime in the theater,
seems to me."
Despite the cold Saturday after-
noon, Warner emanated provoca-
tive enthusiasm. From a room bur-
ied backstage in the nearly empty
Power Center, he expounded on his
philosophies.
"Many opera companies have be-
come the province and control of
rich fat cats in any city who don't
want provocative, different theater,"
he said. "They want it to be pretty

and anodyne and absolutely use-
less. They don't want it to shock
them or stir them or make them
think about their lives.
"But there's never been a com-
poser who lived who hasn't written
an opera because they desperately
wanted to say something about the
human condition. Wagner spent 21
years of his life writing The Ring.
You don't do that so people can fit
it in between dinner and bonking
your girlfriend. It's an alternative
to living. It's life itself."
Warner conveys all the qualities
of a creative, expressive, articulate,
motivated and stubborn director. At
the moment, he is pleased and has
every reason to be. The University
Opera Theatre, by nature of its pur-
pose, is not a slave to the ticket
office. This gives Warner a good
amount of artistic freedom, and he
has also received much support from
his colleagues in this production.
"There is no such thing as typi-
cal," said Pier Calabria, Italian con-
ductor and new School of Music
faculty member who conducts the
orchestra in the production. "It's
very hard to find what you would
call a 'traditional' production of
anything."
"Shakespeare was such a human
artist... you have a whole range of
genres and emotions," said the con-
ductor, unknowingly paraphrasing
Warner. "This production has to do
with a way of performing, a slant or
a way of looking at things."
The Power Center setup for "A
Midsummer Night's Dream" has a
dark, minimalistic feeling about it.
A large wall with six doors spans
the back of the stage, setting the
tone for the production's challeng-
ing, mind-bending experience. Nei-
ther the conductor nor director
wished to discuss details of the pro-
duction, but both mentioned its ef-
fectiveness. Shakespeare would ap-
prove of the production, said

Calabria. "Oh yes, I'm sure."
"It's meant to be that the theater
is a place for social, political de-
bate," said Warner. "So it seems to
me that the true way of treating
Shakespeare is in contemporary
dress because that's how it would
have appeared to his audience."
Adding Britten's post-World War
II composition reinforces the mod-
ern aspects of the story, he said.
"The other thing about Shakespeare
is that it is in no way naturalistic.
I'm not trying to delve into facts
and figures of the characters. I'm
trying to delve into their psyche,
their innermost beings."
"I mean, what is the forest in Mid-
summer Night's Dream? What are
the woods? ... Like in so many
fairytales, you go into these dark
woods to discover truth about your-
self. The woods are psychological,
they're inside you."
"Some scenes can be very funny...

but you can't ignore the music in
opera, or you do so at your peril. It
seems that the music always makes
the darker, more serious choice."
Calabria agreed. "While the ro-
mantic element is treated in a light-
hearted kind of way in Shakespeare,
it's treated more seriously by
Britten. The music that accompa-
nies the lovers is a very somber,
deep kind of music."
This production has been
doublecast, as is typical for Uni-
versity operas.
Notably, the principal role of
Oberon is sung by a countertenor, a
high male voice seldom heard in
modern opera. The countertenors
in this production are Masters stu-
dent Calvin Braxton and guest-
singer David Daniels, a 1992 Uni-
versity alumnus who has already
received tremendous reviews from
the New York Times and the Wall
Street Journal.

The opera's text was adapted from
Shakespeare's comedy. Written in
1595, this year is its four-hundredth
anniversary. Benjamin Britten's "A
Midsummer Night's Dream" was de-
buted in 1960.
"I only hope that people are tot
put off by the idea of it being a
modern opera," said Warner, who
described the music as "very beauti-
ful, very lush, very user friendly."
"I think that people who are very
suspicious of opera, who don't re-
ally like the form of people standing
and singing one word in Italian for
ten minutes, usually find that this
kind of 'modern' opera is actually
much easier to approach because it's
dramatically credible...
"And I just hope that students,
even if it's just one or two people
who have never been to an opera
before who have thought about giv-
ing it a try, might give this a try. I
think they'll have fun."

Conductor Pier Calabria.

Solid Frog's rock is rock-solid

By Tim Furlong
Daily Music Writer
If you are looking to go out and
buy the next Bush or Stone Temple
Pilots disc, or any other guaran-
teed-to-sell-a-gazillion copies
pseudo-grunge sound alike bands
then I wouldn't recommend this disc
to you. On the other hand if you're
looking for powerful melodic rock
with driving guitar riffs, and over
the top vocals all intertwined with
aggressive grooves and rhythms
then you may want to give this group
a close listen.
On "Supercoat," their debut al-
bum released on Indie label Over-
ture Records, local boys Solid Frog
have dared to put out an album that
doesn't sound like everybody else
within the rock 'n' roll mainstream.
The strategy has apparently paid
off as the disc has rapidly sold close

SOLID FROG
Where: Blind Pig
When: Saturday.
Tickets are available at the Union
ticket office. For more information,
call 996-8555.
to 8,000 units since it's release early
last summer, quite an accomplish-
ment for a young indie band. These
sales were driven mainly by non-
stop gigging and the AOR radio
success of the single "Standard
Day," a tune which displays a thick,
darker side of the band and received
a considerable amount of airplay
over the summer.
From the grinding opening chord
on "Bumper Car Sticker" it is obvi-
ous that Solid Frog is a group that
doesn't take itself "oh so seriously,"
a very refreshing quality in today's

market. Tunes like "Hello," a mock
of the way bands are treated on the
road, or "Marino," a hammering
guitar laden mosh with tasty vocal
treats sprinkled on the top, mirror
the band's lighthearted attitude (and
yes, Marino is named in honor of
NFL quarterback and band favorite
Dan Marino). This lightheartedness
also comes across in the live per-
formance which is a well propor-
tioned blend of "Arena Rock Gods"
meets "Bozo the Clown," and guess
what kids, these guys even look up
from the floor when they are per-
forming (a novelty in the '90s). The
group shows a thoughtful, more se-
rious side with tunes like "Benn,"
and "My God," a song which ad-
dresses being true to oneself in the
ever-changing climate of today's
pop culture.
Throughout the album there is a

Amy Tan
The Hundred Secret Senses
Putnam
Most of Amy Tan's characters deal
with the issue of Chinese vs. Ameri-
can identity, and this contrast is also
apparent in her writing. In Tan's pre-
vious books, "The Joy Luck Club"
and "The Kitchen God's Wife," her
Chinese characters were far more de-
veloped and interesting than her
American ones. Fortunately, in "The
Hundred Secret Senses" (Putnam,
$25), the pattern has changed. The
novel has not only an absorbing
American plot, but a truly inventive

Throughout the book, a disbe-
lieving Olivia watches Kwan talk
to ghosts and describe her past
lives. The story alternates with
Kwan's narration of events in her
previous life, in 1860s China. It's
hard to see the necessity of this
plot device at first, but it eventu-
ally makes sense.
Most of the novel, however,
takes place in the present. Olivia
is divorcing her husband, Simon;
she believes he still compares her
to Elza, an old girlfriend who died
before Olivia met him. When they
reluctantly go to China together
on business, Kwan accompanies

seeing a photo of Elza: "I thought to
myself, Why, she isn't gorgeous. She
isn't even button-nose cute. I was
trying to restrain a smile, but I could
have danced the polka, I was so
happy."
Tan's characterization of Simon
is also a change for the better. Previ-
ously, her male American charac-
ters were mildly nice or rather self-
ish, but not very distinctive. Simon
is more complex, sometimes likable,
sometimes not, which greatly in-
creases the depth of the story.
The one fault of the book, as some
will see it, is theconclusion. Taking
it seriously requires suspension of

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