MICHAEL YORK in "STRAUSS MEETS FRANKENSTEIN"
- a multimedia presentation
Scenes from Long Beach Opera's double bill production of "ENOCH ARDEN" and "FRANKENSTEIN!!"





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INTERVIEW:
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STRAUSS meets FRANKENSTEIN:
A PREVIEW

SCENES

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From Melodrama to Pandemonium!!

MICHAEL YORK, THE classical stage actor, was very much in evidence in "ENOCH ARDEN", a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson set to music by Richard Strauss (as a personal favor for his friend and benefactor,
the actor Ernst von Possart who was both a popular and powerful figure at the time). York, aptly clad in black, was a most riveting narrator whose reading, script in hand—on a stage bare except for the piano and a high stool—vividly brought to life a shipwrecked sailor's tragic story of unintended abandoment of beloved wife and family. Complemented by Lisa Sylvester's able accompaniment that traced the brushstrokes of Strauss' evocative, sometimes cinematic music, and by occasional illustrative, contextual projections above the stage, Michael York's delivery evoked genuine pathos that brought many an audience member to the brink of tears. Listen to the excerpt in the above presentation (taken from Michael York's 2003 recording with the pianist John Bell Young), and you'll instantly know why. The recitation of poetry with piano accompaniment, otherwise known as MELODRAMA, a genre popular among the great 19th-century composers though mostly dismissed by music critics, is today a neglected art form. But perhaps not for long - Michael York, consummate master of the spoken word AND passionate music lover, with brimming enthusiasm for the art might just be the one to bring it back in fashion.

It took only a 20-minute intermission for Michael York drop his residual British reserve, slip out of Enoch's drably dark shirt into a freaky outfit of wild and loud colors, and morph from a broken-hearted sailor to a Goldfingered, nose-picking speaking/singing narrator/chansonnier who recites or chants the most grotesque of children's rhymes to the suprisingly accessible avant-gard music coming from a chamber-sized orchestra that shares the stage, playing a score that called for popping air-filled brown paper bags and an assortment of toy musical instruments. Clearly, a rogue production made doubly roguish by the the ROGUE ARTISTS ENSEMBLE of performance artists who added an insanely delightful dimension to this now classic 1970-era speech-song cycle that is usually performed only in concert. Transmogrified into rat, monster, Dracula or some other meanie, the Rogue Artists dart and dancing across the stage while Rogue Puppeteers manipulate shadow puppet incarnations of John Wayne and Superman and Batman and Robin into doing their weird thing. In the end "Frankenstein!!" rises from a heap of paper scraps, an 8-ft tall assembly of a monster who soon strides offstage and leaves the hall looking for girls.

It was hard to make sense of what FRANKENSTEIN!! and his quirky cohorts were up to. And it seemed impossible to find the political (under)statement the avant-garde Viennese poet HC Artmann is said to have hidden under his children's rhymes. Not in the midst of all this pan-demonium!  But wait, maybe therein lies the message: that all POLITICS is nothing but one scary, nonsensical PAN-DEMONIUM!!??  How profound!  But what fun! Michael York and Andreas Mitisek, Long Beach Opera's adventuresome General Director, promised—and the audience got—one heck of a wild ride. And we went home surprisingly humming, no! speak-singing the music, convinced that HK Gruber's jaunty, avant-garde music brought coherence to the pandemonium wrought by FRANKENSTEIN!!
-©GC/FanFaire 2008


                          An Interview with Michael York:  on Opera    on Melodrama, Music and the Spoken Word

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