La Scena Musicale

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Irons, Mirren and Orchestra Shine in Shakespeare Concert

Conductor Lorin Maazel brings his Castleton Festival Orchestra to the Black Creek Summer Music Festival

Dame Helen Mirren (photo: Giles Keyte)

Jeremy Irons

"Music Inspired by Shakespeare"
Prokofiev - Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet
Tchaikovsky - Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
Mendelssohn - Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream Op. 21 & Op. 61

Castleton Festival Orchestra
Lorin Maazel, conductor
Dame Helen Mirren
Jeremy Irons
Joyce El-Khoury, soprano
Tharanga Goonetilleke, soprano
Women's Voices of the Castleton Festival Chorus
June 29th 2011 8 pm, Rexall Centre, Toronto

By Joseph K. So

Following the blockbuster opening with Domingo and Radvanovsky, Black Creek presented its second classical event last evening, starring three big names - conductor Lorin Maazel, and actors Dame Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons, in a program of music and words. It was a warm day but a cool evening that turned unseasonably cold as the evening went on, leading a number of patrons to sport blankets after intermission. But the music-making on stage was hot. The crowd, while on the small side, was enthusiastic and totally attentive to the proceedings onstage, gamely ignoring the frequent jet planes blazing across the sky since Rexall Centre is in the flight path. (Let's just be thankful that the supersonic Concorde is no longer in service!) Thanks to the superb sound system and the excellent video projections, such distractions weren't difficult to ignore.

The first half of the evening consisted of Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet and Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture. The band was the three-year old Castleton Festival Orchestra, the brainchild of conductor Lorin Maazel. It's an orchestra of young musicians, but don't be fooled by their youth. Based on last evening's performance, their playing was astoundingly good, especially the wonderfully translucent strings and the incisiveness, the absolute precision of their attacks. Maazel certainly has had lots of experience working with young people, as he was the first music director of the Orquestra de la Communidad Valenciana, an orchestra made up entirely of young musicians. I had the pleasure of hearing them play when I was in Valencia three years ago, covering their recording of a new opera, Wuthering Heights. The Castleton Festival Orchestra is reminiscent of the Spanish orchestra, with young musicians from all over the world.

The second half was the centerpiece of the evening - a coupling of Mendelssohn's Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream with Shakespeare's play as adapted by scholar and poet J.D. McClatchy. To many in the audience, the big attractions were Dame Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons, and the two stars did not disappoint their fans. Taking on multiple roles in the play, they sailed through the dialogues with verve and wit, especially Irons who charmed the audience with his many guises - a truly amazing performance. Dame Helen was slightly off form, perhaps a touch under-rehearsed, as she had a number of fluffs which she covered up expertly. (Incidentally, the same forces performed the identical show at the Music Center in Strathmore in the U.S. the next day) It was a long and episodic piece, and the risk of having the audience prematurely applauding was great. So it was to the great credit of Maazel whose timely body language kept the crowd in check. In addition to the two actors, sopranos Joyce El Khoury (a Canadian) and Tharanga Goonetilleke contributed nicely, together with the Women's Voices from the Castleton Festival Chorus. Near the end, Maazel let the orchestra in a highly spirited playing of the familiar Wedding March, bringing the enjoyable evening to an end. This being an outdoor venue, one could complain that the weather could have been warmer, or the planes flying overhead could have been fewer, but such is al fresco music-making! There is something magical about hearing divine music on a summer's night outdoors, and it's an experience not to be missed.

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