Molière at Kleinhans
The three highest profile classical music, theater and dance producing organizations in Western New York—the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Irish Classical Theatre Company and Lehrerdance, respectively—will combine their very considerable talents for three performances this weekend of Molière’s sparkling comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, featuring Vincent O’Neill in the title role. Audiences at Kleinhans Music Hall at 10:30am on Friday, 8pm on Saturday and 2:30pm on Sunday, will have the very rare opportunity to experience Molière’s timeless comedy, The Bourgeois Gentleman, as a comédie-ballet, that is a play intermingled with music and dance, as did the members of the audience at the work’s premiere at the Château de Chambord on the Loire River, one of Louis XIV’s royal residences, on October 14, 1670.
While that performance was highlighted by the quintessentially baroque music of Jean-Baptiste Lully, superintendent of the French Royal Music, this production will offer the first-ever BPO performance of Richard Strauss’s incidental music to Der Bürger als Edelmann, a German language version of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. This new version of Molière’s play, as adapted by the composer’s closest collaborator, the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, had its premiere as the first part of a very long evening that culminated with a performance of the then one-act opera Ariadne auf Naxos that premiered in October 1912. The entire event, which lasted almost five hours, was a flop, but luckily Strauss preserved his incidental music from the play, even as he went on to expand Ariadne auf Naxos to a full-length opera, which was never again performed with the play as a prelude.
BPO music director JoAnn Falletta will be on the podium and she is very enthusiastic about this new collaboration. “Being able to perform Molière’s play, along with Strauss’s incidental music, which will be making its BPO debut, is very inspiring for me, since what he had to say about anyone of us wanting to be something other than what we are is still very relevant. Through his music, Strauss has managed to add his own gentle touch to the play, allowing us to laugh along with the title character, rather than laugh at him. I like to think that he offers the audience a genuine handshake, back to the 17th century.”
William Preucil, concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra since 1995, will be the guest concertmaster for these performances. Falletta worked with him this past year, and when he found out that the BPO would be performing Strauss’s rarely programmed suite, he asked if he could sit in, as concertmaster. “Bill Preucil was very eager to be a part of this event,” says Falletta, “and he even used a week’s vacation time so that he could join us to perform one of the very most challenging solo parts for the concertmaster in the entire repertoire, a part that even has him musically ‘sewing-up’ the new outfit for the title character.”
Fortunato Pezzimenti, the ICTC’s award-winning producing director, has directed numerous shows for the company, including many comedies by 17th century French playwrights such as last season’s School for Husbands, by Molière, and the just concluded, highly successful run of a new adaptation by David Ives, of Corneille’s The Liar.
“This production will be something more than a concert staging”, says Pezzimenti, “as the actors will be fully costumed and wigged and will employ the properties necessary to the story, while the contributions of LehrerDance will imbue the evening with a sense of completeness. Given the parameters of the Kleinhans stage, set designer David Dwyer has cleverly imagined a design that will convey a sense of 17th century France as it frames the actor entrances. That said, in the plays of Moliere as well as the Corneille version of The Liar, the setting is usually just a Paris street or square with a bare minimum of props. David Ives’ adaptation of The Liar included several locations that ICTC had to figure out in the round. I do enjoy the minimalist approach since the rehearsal work focuses primarily on the acting, the language and the argument.”
“We are using a translation by Murray Ross that was specifically commissioned for a concert production in the 1990’s in San Antonio. BPO Executive Director Dan Hart and Chris Wilkins, conductor at Colorado Springs, along with Ross, were responsible for some theatre/concert pieces, so there is no need for heavy editing, although we have made some internal cuts in the text. I do enjoy working on the comedies of Moliere and I appreciate the musicality and sensuality of the language, with Ross’s incisiveness reflecting Moliere’s cutting satire along with his faithfulness in interpreting Moliere’s glorious panoply of characters”.
“With regard to challenges working with an on-stage orchestra, the most important issue for us is to be ready when we finally rehearse with the orchestra. The actors have to know their musical cues, and the length of music underscoring for certain scenes. Challenges aside, the cast is very excited about meeting Joann Falletta and the BPO this week and hearing Strauss’ music vividly brought to life.”
“With respect to dance integration, Jon Lehrer has attended rehearsals, but he choreographed his pieces in the studio, and much discussion has ensued as to how we will blend in the dancers to the action of the play. What we have seen by LehrerDance in rehearsal has been seamless and simply exhilarating, with choreographer Kelly Cammarata creating very effective movements for the baroque dances in the piece. One of the biggest challenges for the cast is a shortened rehearsal period, a week less than we usually have to deal with. Vincent O’Neill, as the title character Jourdain, hardly leaves the stage, and he has had to incorporate text, dance and fencing in such a short period of time. No small feat indeed!”