Los Angeles Music & Theater Preview: NIGHT AND DREAMS: A SCHUBERT AND BECKETT RECITAL (Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on March 10, 2017

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Franz Schubert, the quintessential Romantic composer of the 19th century, was loved by Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, poet and director Samuel Beckett above all others. Writing to his cousin John Beckett on May 11, 1975 about the experience of listening to records of Schubert’s song-cycle Winterreise, Beckett described himself as “shivering through the grim journey again.”

In 1982, Beckett wrote and directed his last television play, Nacht und Träume (Night and Dreams). It was written in English (mid-1982) for the German channel Süddeutscher Rundfunk. The play was published by Faber in Collected Shorter Plays in 1984, but there is no dialogue. There is, however, a song.  The only sound in the recorded TV show is that of a male voice humming, then singing, from the last seven bars of Schubert’s lied Nacht und Träume, which had lyrics by Matthäus Casimir von Collin: “Holde Träume, kehret wieder!” (“Sweet dreams, come back!”). Schubert was not only much loved by Beckett, he was, according to the book Samuel Beckett and Music, “the composer who spoke most to him … whom he considered a friend in suffering.” And this lied was one of the author’s favorites.

Now, LA Phil is presenting a truly unparalleled theatrical event directed by The Industry’s Yuval Sharon, who recently began working as artist-collaborator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The one-time only event on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, weaves Schubert’s songs together with short plays by Beckett to show how powerfully and economically both artists evoke haunting images, revealing their common ground, and unleashing the music’s drama and the drama’s music.

“Placing their works into the same context–especially Beckett’s short plays and Schubert’s lieder–reveals how powerfully both evoke haunting, existential images with such great economy,” Sharon wrote. “This evening-length performance explores the common ground between these two creators in a theatrical evening structured like a recital presentation. The aim is to unleash the music’s drama and the drama’s music, and to explore how the austere theatricality of a single Schubert song can illuminate the sonorous beauty of Beckett’s taut prose.”

Sharon’s successes with avant-garde opera in Los Angeles (Invisible CitiesCrescent City: A Hyperopera, Hopscotch) means that he has the power to assemble some of the most extraordinary Beckett interpreters and musical artists, among them actors Alan Mandell, Barry McGovern, Miles Anderson, Bella Merlin and Priscilla Pointer; pianists Richard Valitutto (far and away one of the most exciting pianists on the scene) and Wenwen Du; and singers bass-baritone Ryan McKinny and soprano Julia Bullock.

To prepare yourself for Beckett’s style of writing, see my primer called Existentialism 101.

photos courtesy LA Phil

Night and Dreams: A Schubert and Beckett Recital
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Yuval Sharon, director
John Iacovelli, scenic designer
Christopher Kuhl, lighting designer
Judith Dolan, costume designer
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 8
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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