Two weeks ago we had an inkling that this week’s concert would be something different as we saw dolls on the cover. And Saturday night did not disappoint. Having the Bob Brown Puppets come along side the PSO provided an aspect of art that is not always seen.
The first half was Manuel De Falla’s "el retablo de Maese Pedro (Master Peter’s Puppet Show)." And in the world of the arts, it is a wide ranging multi-medium production. From the novel El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes, set during the middle ages, comes this puppet show within puppet show. With the orchestra along with soprano, tenor and baritone, they present a story of one whose aims are lofty and noble in its purest form, but in a world where nobility is not valued.
Each of the parts, instrumental, vocals, puppeteers, was well done. The vocals delivered their parts as well as I could tell. The instrumentals delivered aspects of subtlety, especially the trumpet in an orchestration where the delivery was meant to be otherwise without hint of irony or anything other than the honest aims of the characters in question. The puppet show was highly engaging, and at times humourous at it showed the reality of the moment.
But was all this really necessary?
Having a work in three simultaneous media, plus the translations on
the screen above the stage? I almost get dizzy trying to think about
it. But following the translation on the stage, I’d have to agree that
this works. Here is the problem the artist faced, how to communicate
nobility in a world where to be noble is to be crazy. Each of the
characters in actions and intent is noble. The Master desires to tell
a piece of the history of Spain, and entertain an audience in the
process. The Boy desires to entertain, even as he has his urges to
tell of injustice as well. Don Quixote has a desire to be the living
embodiment of the ideal noble hildago. But the results of their noble
intentions to any outside observer able to see all viewpoints is comic
and tragic all at once. How does an artist do this? One way would be
to do as Kodaly’s Hary Janos from the first concert of the
season, each part is played by a different section which takes on a
role either serious or light. But you almost lose the nuance that each
character is noble and comic at the same time. And so de Falla’s
solution is elegent and wonderful. Use the whole orchestra and the
vocalists to convey the nobility and purity of each character’s
intention, and the libretto and the puppet show to convey the
unintended comic effect. And each of the parts without the other while
it could be appreciated, looses in depth of meaning.
Is this important? Is it enough for classical music to be about
beauty or power, or triumph, or sadness or love or some combination of
these and other feelings? I was almost feeling this way listening to
Richard Strauss ‘Don Quixote‘ in the second half of the
program. Fortunately for me, Jim Cunningham gave a nice little
introduction to the performance giving in about 2 minutes a summary of
everything to follow. And for the Strauss it was critical. The play
to my ear was wonderful, but without warning of what was to come, and
the titles displayed above the stage announcing each of the Variations
in the second movement, the many shifts in mood as the Variations went
by would have felt like someone was playing the dial of a mood organs from ‘Do androids dream of electric sheep?’
Yes, Strauss (and the PSO) can evoke happiness, joy, sadness, and
tragedy, on queue, and very well. They can leave us enthralled by the
music and at our feet at the end. But de Falla and Cervantes (as well
as the combination of the PSO and the Bob Brown Puppets and vocalists)
can leave us with an appreciation of the depths of being human if we
can take it all in.
After the show, the PittArts
had a talkback with the Bob Brown Puppets company backstage. We had an
up close look at the many types of puppets, some of the more practical
aspects of a show (try holding a 5~15 pound anything at the end of
your arm, or high above your head, for any length of time). But also
many stories of being a performing artist. Of discovering that being a
performing artist is indeed ones life calling. Of the differences in
doing puppet shows for children, and a Don Quixote which is for adults,
of always learning new ways of both making the puppets do things, and
using the medium of puppeteering to teach and communicate ideas and
feelings. It was a wonderful way to close the night, to be in the
company of artists who love their art.