2007 – 2008 WordStage Season

The Hollow Crown

The Hollow Crown
For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings . . .
For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court; and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp . . .

The Hollow CrownThe above is a passage from Shakespeare’s Richard II which sets the stage and forms the basis of The Hollow Crown. It was devised by John Barton in 1961 for the Royal Shakespeare Company as a celebratory entertainment by and about the kings and queens of England, and its informative, yet lively, entertaining glimpses of British history have since delighted audiences from London to Broadway.

From the death of William in 1066 to Queen Victoria’s description of her coronation, a quartet of readers present poetry and extracts from plays as well as speeches, letters and diaries from monarchs over a period of 800 years. Also included are chronicles of their contemporaries and self-styled historians, (including a very witty teen-aged Jane Austen) describing their lives and reigns with mordant humor, sympathy and stinging satire.

The readings are delectably supported by music of the relevant period, including songs, vocal ensembles and arias by John Dowland, Henry Purcell and by a few of the monarchs themselves, notably Richard the Lion-Hearted and the infamous Henry VIII.

die Winterreise (the winter’s journey)

Music by Franz Schubert and Poetry by Wilhelm MÜller

Schubert and MullerWinterreise (Winter Journey) is a cycle of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller, best known as the song cycle set for male voice and piano by Franz Schubert (op. 89, published 1827). It is the second of Schubert’s two great song cycles on Müller’s poems, the earlier being Die schöne Müllerin (op 25, 1823) . Both were originally written for tenor voice, but are frequently transposed to suit other vocal ranges – the precedent being established by Schubert himself. These two works, in their scale, their dramatic coherence and power, their musical and literary unity, and their interpretative demands, stand in a league of their own within the song-cycle genre. Indeed, Schubert’s two cycles hold the foremost place in the history of the genre.

Winterreise was composed in two parts, each containing twelve songs, the first group being set in February 1827 and the second in October 1827: they were also published in two parts, by Tobias Haslinger, in January 1828 and in December of that year, after Schubert’s death at the age of 31. Müller himself, poet, soldier, and Imperial Librarian at Dessau, died in 1827 aged 33, and probably never heard the first cycle let alone the second. The Müllerlieder of 1823 had become central to the performing repertoire and partnership of Schubert with his friend the baritone singer Johann Michael Vogl, who introduced Schubert and his songs into many musical households great and small in their tours through Austria during the mid-1820s.

Vogl, a highly intelligent man of philosophical reading and accomplished in the classics and the English language, came to regard Schubert’s songs as ‘truly divine inspirations, the utterance of a musical clairvoyance.’ On 4 March 1827 Schubert invited a group of friends to his lodgings intending to sing the first group of songs, but was out when they arrived and the event was postponed until later in the year, when the full performance was given.

Among the startling innovations of Schubert’s lieder and of Winterreise in particular, is his emphasis on the importance of the pianist to a role equal to that of the singer. In particular the piano’s rhythms are constantly expressing the moods of the poet. And in the Nature imagery of the poems the voices of the elements, and of the creatures and active objects, supply the rich pianistic effects for the rushing storm, the crying wind, the water under the ice, birds singing, ravens croaking, dogs baying, the rusty weathervane grating, the posthorn calling, and the drone and repeated melody of the hurdy-gurdy.

Both our performing artists – Mr. Chaussé and Ms. Thomas have had the opportunity to coach this epic work with the world’s pre-eminent accompanist and coach of the Lieder and art song repertoire, Dalton Baldwin. Mr. Tavcar’s narration will include short excerpts from Schubert’s letters and diaries as well as thumbnail sketches of each of the 24 songs in the cycle.

The Letters of Chopin and George Sand

Chopin and Sand

At the time when he came into George Sand’s life, Chopin, the composer and virtuoso, was the favourite of Parisian salons, the pianist in vogue. He was born in 1810, so that he was then twenty-seven years of age. His success was due, in the first place, to his merits as an artist, and nowhere is an artist’s success so great as in Paris. Chopin’s delicate style was admirably suited to the dimensions and to the atmosphere of a salon. He confessed to Liszt that a crowd intimidated him, that he felt suffocated by all the quick breathing and paralyzed by the inquisitive eyes turned on him. “You were intended for all this,” he adds, “as, if you do not win over your public, you can at least overwhelm it.”

Chopin was made much of then in society. He was fragile and delicate, and had always been watched over and cared for. He had grown up in a peaceful, united family, in one of those simple homes in which all the details of everyday life become less prosaic, thanks to an innate distinction of sentiment and to religious habits.

Prince Radz’will had watched over Chopin’s education. He had been received when quite young in the most aristocratic circles, and “the most celebrated beauties had smiled on him as a youth.” Social life, then, and feminine influence had thus helped to make him ultra refined. It was very evident to every one who met him that he was a well-bred man, and this is quickly observed, even with pianists.

On arriving he made a good impression, he was well dressed, his white gloves were immaculate. He was reserved and somewhat languid. Every one knew that he was delicate, and there was a rumour of an unhappy love affair. It was said that he had been in love with a girl, and that her family had refused to consent to her marriage with him. People said he was like his own music, the dreamy, melancholy themes seemed to accord so well with the pale young face of the composer. The fascination of the languor which seemed to emanate from the man and from his work worked its way, in a subtle manner, into the hearts of his hearers. Chopin did not care to know Lelia. He did not like women writers, and he was rather alarmed at this one. It was Liszt who introduced them.

In his biography of Chopin, he tells us that the extremely sensitive artist, who was so easily alarmed, dreaded “this woman above all women, as, like a priestess of Delphi, she said so many things that the others could not have said. He avoided her and postponed the introduction. Madame Sand had no idea that she was feared as a sylph. . . .” She made the first advances. It is easy to see what charmed her in him. In the first place, he appealed to her as he did to all women, and then, too, there was the absolute contrast of their two opposite natures. She was all force, of an expansive, exuberant nature. He was very discreet, reserved and mysterious. It seems that the Polish characteristic is to lend oneself, but never to give oneself away, and one of Chopin’s friends said of him that he was “more Polish than Poland itself.”

Such a contrast may prove a strong attraction, and then, too, George Sand was very sensitive to the charm of music. But what she saw above all in Chopin was the typical artist, just as she understood the artist, a dreamer, lost in the clouds, incapable of any activity that was practical, a “lover of the impossible.” And then, too, he was ill. When her former lover , the autor and poet Alfred de Musset left Venice, after all the atrocious nights she had spent at his bedside, she wrote: “Whom shall I have now to look after and tend?” In Chopin she found someone to tend.

SINS OF MY OLD AGE

An Evening at the Rossinis at Beau-SÉjour

Produced in Cooperation with the Vermont Opera Theater – Joan Stepenske, President & General Director

RossiniGioacchino Rossini’s comparative silence during the period from 1832 to his death in 1868 makes his biography appear almost like the narrative of two lives — the life of swift triumph, and the long life of seclusion, of which biographers give us pictures in stories of the composer’s cynical wit, his rapier-like intelligence, his mask of humility and indifference to public opinion.

However, the Belgian journalist and musicologist, Edmond Michotte, was a frequent guest at the soirées at the home of the Rossinis during the composer’s latter years. Having already won literary notice by the publication of Rossini’s historic meeting with the composer Richard Wagner, Michotte often transcribed the heady exchange of Rossinian wit, musical intelligence and astute criticism he shared with musical and literary luminaries of the day.

One such evening at Rossini’s home in Beau Séjour, was captured almost in its entirety, and is performed by members of WordStage Vermont & the Vermont Opera theater, replete with some lesser-known as well as most memorable music of this jocular Italian Maestro.