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I found this note in a stack of papers in an old file folder recently. I don't know the why, when, or where of this quote from Michelle Obama, but it's been sitting on my typing stand and I think it's time to share it.
"The Arts are not just a nice thing to have or do if there is free time or if one can afford it. Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation." Michelle Obama
Although I've always thought that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was my favorite composer, I never realized that he had sister, much less that she was as much the progeny that he was. I was nothing less than transported in to her world by Sara Florence Fellini as she sensitively and beautifully performed the monodrama.
Maria Anna Mozart, known as Nannerl, was almost five, and longing to play music, when her brother Wolfgang Amadeus was born. At age 7, she was finally taught the harpsichord by their father.
Wolfgang's insane musical brilliance and young death is simply a part of our culture, but the story that unfolds about his sister is one that is profoundly sad although enlightening. As she tells her own story we see her mature but resign herself to her fate as a product of the 18th century. It's maddening to realize the waste of her own brilliant musical talent merely because it was not proper in juxtaposition to the expectations that she fulfill the duties of wife, housekeeper and mother.
As a child, Nannerl traveled with her father and brother sometimes performing on her own and then as sort of the opening act for Wolfgang at royal courts all over Europe. Through her recounting, lines taken from her actual letters to her family, we are taken into the 18th century and into the age of the Enlightenment as we see it through her excited eyes and words. Sadly, as she matured, it was decided for her by her father that she should return to a rather lonely existence in Salzburg to prepare for marriage and children. She was allowed to continue practicing and even wrote her own compositions, although they were never published or possibly heard by the public. Her life was confined in poverty and circumstances until she finally was eventually married to a rather cruel widower, at age 33, and had her own children, all of it portrayed as rather prison like in the play, as her freedom of music was stripped away into a rural, cold life that was completely opposite of the life she had known as a child traveling and performing in the royal courts of Europe.
Maria Anna Mozart's legacy may be that she preserved all of correspondence and manuscripts of her brother, ensuring that Wolfgang was not lost to us.
THE OTHER MOZART is by Sylvia Milo, who shares the performance schedule with Sara Florence Fellini when she steps into the role every other Saturday. The production of THE OTHER MOZART is stunning. Performed in the 50 seat black box of Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre on the 3rd floor at the Players, the experience is immersive in light, by Joshua Rose and design by Anna Sroka.
The set is a 18-foot dress, designed by Magdalena Dabrowska from the National Theater of Poland, that almost takes on a life of its own. The actress is dressed in pretty period undergarments with corset and the donning of the dress, i.e., set is an culmination of the evening. Even the hair design, by Courtney Bednarowski, lends to the feel of the period. The choreographer is Janice Orlandi who has designed the movement on and within that dress, sometimes manic, sometimes childlike, sometimes defeated, finally accepting.
The sound, which is rather magical, is provided by Nathan Davis and Phyllis Chen (of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival and the International Contemporary Ensemble) using clavichords, music boxes, bells, teacups, and fans. All under the direction of Isaac Byrne, the light, sound, and even scent, combined with the emotional fervor and performance by Sara, transport into Nanerl's world and life.
Sara Florence Fellini very believably takes us through Nannerl's life from childhood to late in life with a lithe, witty and sometimes manic performance. She's ethereal at times and never anything less than breathtaking.
THE OTHER MOZART is a thrilling and sensual evening of theatre. My senses were completely on edge by the final moments; I wanted it to end yet I wanted, almost needed, to see it all over again. I feel almost overwhelmed to know about his sister now and I need to know more.
THE OTHER MOZART runs until April 25th at the Player's Theatre at 115 MacDougal Street. Tickets are available online via Ovationtix or call 866-811-4111. When you go, use the one glass door that is marked 115 on the doorframe. It's rather inconspicuous and there isn't really a box office (I've seen many productions in this space and theatre goers are always ridiculously confused at this location). Take the stairs up to the third floor. Tickets are available at the door, including reduced priced student tickets, however, all seats on Saturday night appeared to be filled.
Everything about this is awesome and full of girl power - mezzos and sopranos Ruby Hughes, Clara Mouriz, Charlotte Trepess, Elizabeth Watts and Kitty Whately, with the ladies of the BBC Philharmonic and The Halle conducted by Sian Edwards, and with special guests -- violinist Tasmin Little and pianist Kathryn Stott. The entire orchestra is female!
Rasheeda Speaking. It stars Tonya Pinkins, Dianne Wiest, Patricia Connolly and Darren Goldstein. Joel Drake Johnson's new play is under the direction of Cynthia Nixon, making her directorial debut.
Wow! What an afternoon. Aside from it conjuring all sorts of office PTSD for me, I found the play to be uncomfortable and quite terrifying, although quite hilarious. It's the best and worst kind of comedy - the one that punches you in the stomach and makes you think about it's message for maybe ever...and hopefully it reached out and changed a few minds. The story is set in a doctor's office. The main characters are two administrative assistants who seem to be friends and amiable co-workers until their boss stirs things up by promoting the older white one in order to get less experienced black one. Nobody will say what they really mean and it's a itchy dance around racism and prejudices, both perceived and very real.
I felt so challenged as a white person in the midst of some very diverse audience demographics. I was sitting beside an older white woman and the two of us were sandwiched between black women. The audience was a pretty mixed racially, although I was among the few younger seat fillers. All of the black women in our row were ready for Tonya Pinkins to take them to church, as it were. They were having a great time! Meanwhile, I felt nervous on a number of levels. There are office politics, scary co-workers and manipulation flying around the room. The whole kettle threatening to boil over at any minute and it has everybody on edge. Each of the characters (and probably every last audience member) had some prejudice whether they admitted it, much less realized it.
The play was superbly acted, which should not surprise anybody considering the pedigree of its actor and director (Tonys, Emmys, Oscar, etc galore). As usual, I had a hard time keeping my eyes off Tonya Pinkins. She's a magnet, cool and gorgeous and so very, very real in every movement. Dianne Wiest is sheer perfection at playing meek and unsure of herself and falls apart in front of the audience's eyes. Darren Goldstein smarmy and disgusting and quite perfect as the manipulative, upper middle class white doctor (ugh, my bosses were not doctors, but lawyers and I could see his type coming a mile away). Patricia Connolly is wonderfully oblivious as the little old lady patient - she has no idea that she's saying anything wrong at all and quite outrageously threatens to steal the whole show.
Rasheeda Speaking is on until March 22nd produced by The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center in the The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street. I used Broadwaybox for discounted tickets.
Last week Debbie Voigt presented the new York City premier of her one woman show "Voigt Lessons" at the 92nd Street Y last Thursday night. And girl, there were lessons to be learned.
Aside from loving her singing, Debbie is a personal heroine of mine: she has shared her journey of conquering her compulsive overeating and addiction, weight issues, and other personal hurdles. She published her memoirs, Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-To-Earth Diva, in January.
Voigt Lessons, a lovely evening of song and story, is a beautiful companion to her published memoirs. The piece was created by Deborah Voigt, Terrence McNally (Tony award winning playwright and book writer) and opera and theatre director Francesca Zambello. Richard Jay-Alexander staged the evening. Debbie was accompanied on piano by her music direct, Kevin Stites.
Debbie talked of learning to sing in the choir as a little girl in church to her time in high school musical theatre to learning to sing opera on the largest stages in the world. She punctuated her very personal history by sharing some of her favorite songs from The Carpenters, musical theatre, old hymns and even Strauss and Brahms lieder. She teased us with the opening bars to the second act of Tannhäuser. She especially wowed us with her rendention of the tenor aria Nessun Dorma. She even thru in a 'Ho-jo-to-ho'! She closed the evening with the old gospel, His Eye is on the Sparrow.
She is warm, funny and beautiful. She worked from a script for the evening, but at times spontaneously and to our great delight, went off book from time to time bring even greater joy to the evening. Debbie did say shes still has some of the great roles in her, for which I cheered as loud as I could: Kostelnička (Jenufa), Ortrud (Lohengrin), Dolly (Hello Dolly!) and Mame (Hell Yes!). This was an evening of range - range of music and emotion - and I have no doubt she's up to any and all of these roles.
I found the evening to be quite cathartic. I found myself in tears from the honest emotion and stories she shared. I'm very grateful that she has been brave enough to own up and tell us all about all of this. It's not easy. As a woman who has struggled with compulsive overeating for as long as I can remember, I identify with her story and I know it's the hardest thing to work on much less talk about. Everything and anything is easy compared to this, at least for me. After the concert, I waited in line to have her sign my copy of her book and I'm so glad I did. I felt a boost to continue working on my goals just being able to tell her thanks for being so brave. Thanks very much indeed, Debbie.
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