Ensemble Parallèle's 4 Saints in 3 Acts
August 20, 2011
* Notes *
Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts (Maya Srinivasan, Eugene Brancoveanu, and Brooke Muñoz pictured right, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) opened in a new production from Ensemble Parallèle last night in San Francisco. The performances are a collaboration between Ensemble Parallèle and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in association with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Maestra Nicole Paiement had her small orchestra, which included an accordion, under control. It seemed like it would be easy to lose one's place in the music, and the musicians held together well. Director Brian Staufenbiel put his own narrative atop Gertrude Stein's charming libretto. Staufenbiel certainly does not lack ambition or ideas, and in the end the structure probably helped keep some audience members awake and engaged. The scene changes were seamless, all the props were either on wires or wheels. Because the furniture could be spun around, this was done several times. This worked best when the saints enter for Act III on their chairs, a veritable chair ballet. The colors used for the costumes gave the production cohesion, lots of white, with pops of red, yellow, and to a lesser extent, blue. The choreography, from Michael Mohammed, was pleasing and often quite funny.
There was much beautiful singing. Commère Wendy Hillhouse and Compère John Bischoff had a good dynamic with each other. Hillhouse has exceptional diction, and Bischoff has a wonderful timbre. The saints all sang prettily. The duet between Maya Kherani (Saint Settlement) and J. Raymond Meyers (Saint Stephen) was oddly poignant. The parts with Saint Teresa I and Saint Teresa II were lovely, soprano Heidi Moss has a brilliant clarity and mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi a smooth warmth. Eugene Brancoveanu sang St. Ignatius with a full richness.
The evening began with a new piece by Luciano Chessa entitled A Heavenly Act. The piece uses words from Stein's libretto for Four Saints in Three Acts, as the version we were to hear later was cut significantly by Thomson. Chessa's work has interesting textures and the dance segment was jaunty. Some of the shrill pitches were challenging. The production featured Kalup Linzy, who sang with a microphone and created video projections involving angels and clouds.
* Tattling *
The person in Row A Seat 104, only a few feet from the conductor, spoke freely during the first piece, and occasionally in the second. She spent a lot of time pointing and talked without regard to either playing or singing.
For some reason, ushers often assume I am in the wrong seat or the wrong section. Just before the performance one of the YBCA ushers tried to confront me about where I was, despite the fact that there was no one behind me, and that where the person she was seating was supposed to be.