Saturday, August 1, 2009

review - Julia Migenes

Opera diva Julia Migenes performs Franz Schubert: His Letters and Music @ The Odyssey Theatre 2 through August 23.
When I heard that Julia Migenes was performing a new theatre piece Franz Schubert: His Letters and Music, it thrilled me, even though the only music of Schubert's that I am thoroughly familiar with is "Ave Maria". Miss Migenes singing live is an event not to be missed. Her unique show Diva on the Verge, laced with delicious humor, captivated SRO crowds at the Odyssey almost a decade ago. Her exquisite soprano voice is not alone in this Schubert piece, moreover, as she is accompanied by fine actor Jeff Marlow, who essays the composer, and by virtuoso pianist Victoria Kirsch. And with film director Peter Medak on board, the staging is brilliantly fluid throughout the 80 minute piece.
Conceived by Migenes and Phillipe Calvario, what Migenes envisioned was not a play about Schubert but a representation of Schubert himself. The ingenious musician (1797-1828) died at age 31 of complications from syphilis and spent much of his all too brief life in sickness and despair. But through his letters to friends and to his beloved brother, we see - via Marlow's vibrant interpretation - a living, breathing soul whose limitless imagination and carefree enthusiasm made him one of the most prolific composers of his time. Mentored by Salieri and enamored of Beethoven ("Who can do anything after Bethoven?") he was oft dismissing of much of his work and was ecstatic when praised for it by his brother. Estranged from his father and homeland Austria, Schubert mourned most of his life for his mother, who died of typhus when he was 15, and lived a solitary existence reading James Fenimore Cooper and composing.
Marlow reads a letter and Migenes sings an aria that, if not composed chronologically with the letter, at least exudes a similar emotion. Such is the structure of Franz Schubert. Much of it is slow and very melancholy - as was Schubert's existence - but it is Medak's circular staging and Marlow's and Migenes' supreme artistry that fascinate. At one point both are on the floor, she singing in a seductive reclining pose and he reading: the result is quite orgasmic. When his brother acclaims him for a mass he has written, Migenes, as his muse, surrounds him ever so playfully and gleefully, letting the score drape over his chest and she flutters it like a fan: a very exciting moment-one of the few examples of real happiness for Schubert. In another moment she stands above him like an angel and lovingly envelops his limp body in the folds of her white satin gown. As the muse, Migenes is above him, at his side, caressing his hair, cradling him like a mother, never ever too far away - she becomes his very soul, and the chemistry between them is palpable. Such was the passion of Schubert for his music. "Love to sorrow and sorrow to love." He once declared "Art made its triumph over our decline", which shows once again the extent of one's suffering for art's sake.
Interesting to note as well was Schubert's bad luck in getting hired most of the time. At one point he applied for Cappel Meister to the Court in 1826 and was ceremoniously turned away. Migenes feigns a lovely mime in this scene as a court jester.
Taken from the letters of Franz Schubert and empowered by the music that he was inspired to write, Franz Schubert: His Letters and Music is a kind of slice-of-life glimpse into the artistic heart and soul of Schubert's creative process, right up to the moment of his death in 1828.
As he was moving farther and farther away from this world in his private hell, thankfully for us, his musical legacy was simultaneously emerging.
A great tour-de-force for three artists: Migenes, Marlow and Kirsch!

5 out of 5 stars


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