Thursday, October 23, 2014

ArtsEmerson Presents Isango Ensemble's "Mozart's Magic Flute - Opera With A Distinctly South African Flavor

 Paulene Malfane. as Queen of the Night
Isango Ensemble's "Mozart's Magic Flute"
Photo by Keith Pattison. 

In his Program Notes for Isango Ensemble's "Mozart's Magic Flute," ArtsEmerson Director of Artistic Programs, David Dower, recounts his experience of flying to Munich to check out an Isango performance.  Jet-lagged and a bit grumpy, he recalls saying to himself, "Why had I flown all this way to see a company from the townships around Cape Town perform Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' when I had seen this opera half a dozen times done by  'real' opera companies in 'real' opera houses?"
Fast forward to his reaction a few minutes into the performance: "Though I had come to my seat an informed theatregoer, I was now an ecstatic adventurer in the complex wilderness of an extreme, ebullient cultural mash up."

And such was the experience of hundreds of us gathered last evening in Emerson's Cutler Majestic Theatre. Expectation, ecstasy, exuberance, elation flowed in both directions from performers to audience and back again.  It was - well - a magical and unforgettable evening.

The story line of Mozart's iconic opera bears striking resemblance to an African folk tale about an enchanted flute.  That should not be so surprising, for many of our most cherished myths are shared by cultures widely divided in time and space, flowing from some primeval and ineffable common stream of universal truth.  So it is not too much of a stretch to conceive of an opera first performed in German in Vienna to be presented in English - with some Zulu throw-away lines - by South Africans in Boston.  And for the audience and performers to feel as if we are all part of the same family.  What a wonderful world we inhabit!

The familiar strains of Mozart's glorious music were played by an orchestra of marimbas, supplemented by African drums and strategically placed trumpet flourishes and a bird whistle.  The orchestra members, who rotate among the instruments and also double as singers and dancers, play without reference to written scores, having memorized the entire opera.  The ensemble of 28 individuals not only perform together around the world, but many of them grew up together and trained together in the Cape Town townships.

The voices are pure and powerful, filling the performance space without electronic assistance.  The solo voices could hold their own on opera stages from The Met to La Scala.  The ensemble singing is sublime.  The African drumming and dancing enhance Mozart's music and the traditional staging and infuse this production with a sense of vibrancy, wonder and pure joy that is infectious.

Mhlekazi Andy Mosiea as Tamino
Isango Ensemble's "Mozart's Magic Flute"
Photo by Keith Pattison

Mark Dornford-May, who directs this gifted ensemble, also adapted the show from the original. Pauline Malefane and Mandisi Dyantyis have arranged the music for the African instruments.   Ms. Malefane also sings the role of Queen of the Night with precision, passion and aplomb.  Mr. Dyantyis is a veritable human dynamo as conductor, marimbist and trumpeter extraordinaire.

Mandisi Dyantyis
Isango Ensemble's "Mozart's Magic Flute"
Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer

For discerning lovers of innovative theater and world class music, it should become a habit to buy tickets to everything that ArtsEmerson books and brings to their Boston stages.  They have already scoured the earth and done the treasure hunting, booking only the shiniest nuggets from artistic gold mines in all of the far flung continents.

"The Magic Flute" will play through this weekend, with the final Boston performance on October 26.  Act now to book your tickets.

ArtsEmerson Website


ERIC ABRAHAM AND ARTSEMERSON
PRESENT AN ISANGO ENSEMBLE

 Mozart’s
The Magic Flute
(Impempe Yomlingo)

ADAPTED AND DIRECTED BY MARK DORNFORD-MAY

MUSIC ARRANGED BY PAULINE MALEFANE and MANDISI DYANTYIS

CHOREOGRAPHY LUNGELO NGAMLANA

COSTUMES LEIGH BISHOP

ORIGINAL LIGHTING MANNIE MANIM

PRODUCTION MANAGER JOHN PAGE

COMPANY MANAGER MARIS SHARP

STAGE MANAGEMENT SANDILE MGUGUNYEKA

STAGE MANAGEMENT VALENCIA MGUGUNYEKA

CAST 

NOLUTHANDO BOQWANA, MANDISI DYANTYIS, THOBILE DYASI, AYANDA ELEKI, 
ZAMILE GANTANA, NONTSUSA LOUW, SIFISO LUPUZI, PAULINE MALEFANE, 
BONGIWE MAPASSA, ZANELE MBATHA, SIYASANGA MBUYAZWE, 
SINETHEMBA MDENA, ZEBULON MMUSI, MHLEKAZI (WHAWHA) MOSIEA, 
ZOLEKA MPOTSHA, SIYANDA NCOBO, CIKIZWA NDAMASE, BUSISIWE NGEJANE, 
ZOLINA NGEJANE, SONWABO NTSHATA, TUKELA PEPETEKA, LUVO RASEMENI, 
MASAKANE SOTAYISI, AYANDA TIKOLO

Isango Ensemble special thanks to
South African Airways – Africa’s Most Awarded Airline
Tour Direction: Columbia Artists Management LLC – Tim Fox / Alison Ahart Williams
5 Columbus Circle @ 1790 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
www.cami.com

Major support for the 2014/15 ArtsEmerson Season has been generously provided by
Ted and Mary Wendell and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wheelock Family Theatre Opens Its 34th Season With "Alice" - A Children's Delight



Wheelock Family Theatre has kicked off its 34th season with a new musical, "Alice," adapted from Lewis Carroll's books about the eponymous adventuresome young girl.  The show, an original piece created by local artists Andrew Barbato and Lesley DeSantis, was workshopped at Stoneham Theatre and now experiences a fully staged version.  Based on the reaction of audiences on Opening Night, I would say that this is a show to which you should plan to bring your young children.  The book could use some work and not all of the songs are memorable, but I am quibbling here, because the families in attendance on Friday evening seemed to be having a wonderful time.

There are many things to praise about this production:

  • Matthew T. Lazure's complex set gives plenty of room and opportunity for Alice and her friends and tormentors to race around and have a wide variety of adventures - on land and sea.
  • Musical Director Robert L. Rucinski conducts an orchestra that presents the music of Mr. Barbato and Ms. DeSantis is just the right light, supporting the strong singing of a talented cast.
  • The lighting design of Scott Clyve and sound design of Roger J. Moore help to create a magical and mystical world.
  • The inventive costumes designed by Lisa Simpson are a strong part of this lush production.
  • Mr. Barbato directs his cast with a steady hand, choreographing and blocking the movements of individuals and groups to show them to the audience to their best advantage.
  • The young actors who portray the Flower Buds are clearly having a wonderful time on stage - and sometimes under the stage!
Leigh Barrett as The Red Queen
Noah Virgile as Tweedle Dum
Maritza Bostic as Alice
Stephen Benson as The White Rabbit
William Gardiner as Mouse
CWheelock Family Theatre
Presents
"Alice"

Photo by Gary Ng
  • Many of the principal actors shine in their roles.  Among those who stood out for me were:
    • Leigh Barrett as Mother/Queen of Hearts - she does an excellent job of portraying the perfectionist mother and "off with their heads" mad queen with great gusto, showing her lustrous voice to good effect in the moving duet with Alice, "Paint The Roses Red."
    • Stephen Benson is a non-stop frenetic presence as the White Rabbit - always late.
    • Martitza Bostic as Alice is obviously the centerpiece of this show.  Ms. Bostic came to the attention of Boston area critics in her recent portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood in the Lyric Stage Company production of "Into The Woods."  As Alice, she brings a believable sense of innocence mixed with frustration at never knowing exactly what size she may be at any moment as she searches for the special Queen's garden that caught her eye.
    • Dashiell Evett as Tweedle Dee and NoahVirgile as Tweedle Dum have a fun battle scene, and sing well together.
    • William Gardiner is terrific as Mouse, guiding Alice gently wherever she wants to go on his sailboat.  He and Alice sing a nice duet, "Sea As Our Guide."
    • Russell Garrett is magnificent as The Mad Hatter presiding over the crazy tea party with madcap aplomb.
    • Aubin Wise as the White Queen is a powerful vocal presence.
  • The rest of the cast members fill in very ably.  They all seem to have ingested the ethos of the piece and are clearly enjoying being part of this fantasy and Adventure in Wonderland.
This production will run through November 16.  For tickets, click below.


Enjoy!

Al