After attending the first part of Intergalactic Nemesis, I felt my time could be better spent doing something other than seeing part two of that unimaginative production. Almost anything else.
So I ducked in to hear the amazing sounds of Brazilian guitar and clarinet duo Alessandro Penezzi and Alexandre Ribeiro. The two friendly looking guys just burned up their instruments with fleet fingers performing original work as well as pieces by some of Brazil’s many well-known composers.
I can’t say I’m all that familiar with this sort of music, but the duo is both technically accomplished and bring real personality to the music.
Every once in a while Penezzi would pick up a microphone and announce the names of the pieces and say a little about them, but his English is very limited and he struggled to make himself clear. But that just added to the charm of the concert.
Something I really should have already had on my calendar was the final appearance at the festival of one of its leading lights, Joseph Flummerfelt, director of choral activities since the festival was founded and with the Italian Festival before that. He gave himself a fitting sendoff with Verdi’s Messa Da Requiem, conducting the festival orchestra, the Westminster Choir, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and four soloist in a huge, moving performance as the storm raged outside. The TD Arena became a very sacred space for this massive, monumental work.
The concert attracted many people from around the globe who had studied with Flummerfelt. At a party for him afterward, still going strong around midnight, the place was packed with alumni from many decades and he led them in a song. Lots of tears.
I probably should have gone to the Requiem after going to the one-man (plus an uncomfortable volunteer) show Bullet Catch. Because midway through this show of so-so magic tricks, sketchy history of the infamous trick, and distractions, I wanted them to just bring out the gun and shoot me.
This morning (Thursday, June 6) was chamber music concert number nine for me. In my week in review, I noted that my ears had maybe become a little calloused from so much music.
The Friday concert refreshed my ears. The performance of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 44 No. 2 by the St. Lawrence Quartet brought back the excitement and joy I’d had hearing the Schubert String Quartet at the first concert and the Piano Trio by Chausson at the third. I go to a lot of concerts outside Spoleto by some very good players, but it’s been a while since I’ve felt this level of connection and joy at a concert.
The Mendelssohn was supposed to close the concert, but host Geoff Nuttall said he was afraid it would sent folks out for lunch angry and depressed.
“It will leave you devastated,” he warned.
The piece left me elated.
OK, enough blubbering. And right now a recording of the Schubert from last week is on the radio, so I may start up again.
The quartet was sandwiched between two bright and upbeat pieces written about 300 years apart starting with one of Francois Couperin’s Concerts Royal for flute, oboe, bassoon violin, viola, and finishing with a Sextet (oboe, clarinet, viola, violin, bass, and piano) by the young composer Guillaume Connesson. (The Connesson reminded me very much of Philip Glass but with a sense of humor, although Connesson also cites James Brown — as in the Godfather of Soul — but I didn’t hear it.
“I’d never heard of Connesson,” Nuttall said, “but asked the group if they were up for doing a totally unknown, really hard piece — and of course they were.”
Definitely one of Spoleto's weirder offerings this season, The Intergalactic Nemesis is described as a live-action graphic novel inspired by Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and pulp serials of the 1930s. Our review didn't love it (you can read his review here), but you don't have to take our word for it. Check out Sam Spence's video from the dress rehearsal.
I saw part one of the Intergalactic Nemesis Wednesday night. Immediately after, I asked my editor if I could skip part two.
Intergalactic Nemesis promises a pulp fiction-inspired story about an alien invasion, with three actors playing a dozen parts, a foley artist creating all the sounds on stage, live music, and giant projections of comic book images. It delivers all of them, but none of the parts are very good and the sum of the parts no better.
The production tries to be a little tongue-in-cheek, a pulp fiction parody, but it only does that from time to time. Most of its jokes are told straight — this isn’t a re-imagining of lowbrow science fiction — it’s just lowbrow science fiction. While this is a comic book of sorts, most comic books develop interesting characters; this has little other than stock characters. There's Molly, the dame reporter; Timmy, her innocent sidekick; and a bald villain with an evil laugh. In the original stories like this, a gal like Molly would take charge and break the feminine rules (it’s set in 1933, but there’s a lot of time and interplanetary travel going on). There's nothing ironic about her passivity. Time-traveling hero Ben Wilcott does all the punching out of aliens, but frequently gets hysterical and gives up. None of these stereotypes are parodies of stereotypes, which is what one would hope for.
The actors succeed to varying degrees in switching from character to character. The sound effects are limited; there are a lot of footsteps and what seems like random tossing of things around during fights, and the foley artist isn't much to watch either. The actors' voices, the sound effects, and piano and keyboard music often compete with one another. The comic book images are are pretty standard and not even that well drawn. The script is boring, filled with leaden dialogue, and it isn't funny.
So we'll be spending Thursday night at something else.
This has not been a good year for theater at Spoleto. We're grateful for Mayday, Mayday and hold out hope for Bullet Catch.
It was deja vu all over again at Oedipus for me.
At my very first festival, in 1990, the Gate Theatre of Dublin mounted a production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, done with highly stylized, mannered, and often slow-motion movements. The actors were spread across the stage in a tableau behind a long table (think Last Supper).
When the stage lights came up for Oedipus, there was a long table with actors lined up behind it their arms and heads held in odd positions. The action stated with slow and exaggerated movements.
That Salome was directed by Steven Berkoff, who is making his return to the festival for the first time since 1990 as director of Oedipus. I’m not sure how often a director should be permitted to take such a similar approach, but I suppose that twice in 20 years is OK. I didn’t appreciate Salome very much at the time, but decided a couple of years later that I had seen something remarkable and just wasn’t smart or experienced enough to know it.
I don’t think that’s quite the case with Oedipus. I loved what was going on with the chorus and as far as I’m concerned they were the real stars of Berkoff’s adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy. Considering that many people already know the horrible story of Oedipus and the big secret is more or less revealed 30 minutes into the play, this production was able to maintain suspense and tension to the very end.
But for me, it was just not big and scary enough.