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Recital Review Print

The Play's the Thing

September 14, 2003 - Raleigh, NC:

On September 14, in UNC's Hyde Hall, soprano Florence Peacock, mezzo-soprano Dorrie Casey, and pianist Deborah Coclanis, together with members of Shakespeare & Originals Theatre Co., presented a program entitled "Shakespeare in September." It offered settings by classical composers of song texts found in the dramatist's plays, placed in their contexts with recitations and dramatizations of parts of the plays they are embedded in, in several cases in the immediate proximity of the song.

It was a well-built production, with a good mixture of settings by the usual suspects, composers from the early 20th-century English art song tradition such as Arthur Sommervell, and Roger Quilter, along with Sir Arthur Sullivan (whose fame was made in another vocal realm), and Franz Schubert (his ubiquitous "Who is Sylvia?"), and Erich Korngold, and several unusual suspects and unexpected parties. These included relative unknowns such as Mary Carmichael and Julius Harrison, living composers like Lee Hoiby, Emma Lou Diemer, Ian Higginson, and Stuart Findlay, as well as Charles Ives and Thomas Arne, whose names do not especially leap into the mind when we think of the song literature.

In two cases in the first half, two different settings of the same text were offered, for "Under the Greenwood Tree" from As You Like It and the Willow Song ("The Poor Soul Sat Sighing") from Othello . There were also songs from The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice , A Midsummer Night 's Dream , and Twelfth Night as well as two sonnets, both of which were recited by Jay O'Berski before they were sung (in settings by Diemer and Hoiby) by Peacock.

The singers alternated with each other and presented several duets scattered throughout the proceedings, the rendering of Frederick Keel's setting of "You Spotted Snakes" being perhaps the most impressive of these latter. Their diction was good and Coclanis provided an excellent collaboration throughout. Some of the recitations and dramatizations were more successful than others, with Lissa Brennan's performance as Titania of a portion of A Midsummer Night's Dream , using an unsuspecting young male member of the audience (marvelously complicitous) as the object of her flirtation, being the most impressive. O'Berski also did a fine turn as Malvolio in a piece from Twelfth Night . Those actors who chose to read rather than commit their lines to memory so that they could concentrate on their delivery proved the futility of this method, alas.

Texts were provided, but notes about the composers would have been a welcome addition to those about the performers that were well drafted. A relatively good-sized audience enjoyed this pleasant and entertaining afternoon in this small, intimate performance space that is something like a parlor in size and shape although much smaller than Smedes. There are plenty more songs awaiting organization into another outing of the same sort.