Feb. 25, 2003 – Chances are, someone who loves Shakespeare also loves classical music, and vice versa. For those who do — and as cultural outreach to those who don't — The Forum is presenting "Shakespeare in Song!" on Saturday night at the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas Resort.
The program consists of "the words of the world's greatest dramatist put to music by some of the greatest composers," publicity states, along with new works by Joseph Summer, a contemporary classical composer who lived on St. Thomas in the 1990s and still visits for a part of each year.
Summer is the composer of seven operas and "The Oxford Songs," about 50 pieces based on Shakespearean plays and sonnets that he began working on in 1991. He is the moving force behind the recital, which will include music for solo piano by Beethoven ("The Tempest"), Chopin, and Liszt; and songs set to the words of Shakespeare by Verdi ("Otello") and Summer ("Hamlet"). The performing artists are soprano Maria Ferrante, tenor Alan Schneider and pianist Miroslav Sekera.
Saturday's program is an abbreviated version of "The Shakespeare Concerts," an international series that premiered Friday night at Anna Maria College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Summer is based, and had its second performance Sunday night at a Boston synagogue. Those presentations featured mezzo-soprano Ja-Nae Duane, music director and pianist John McGinn, French hornist Barbara Shepherd and baritone Elem Eley in addition to Ferrante, Schneider and Sekera.
Last summer, the composer, Ferrante and Sekera collaborated on a project to record a collection of Summer's Oxford pieces with the Prague Symphony in Prague. The result, Summer says, proved disappointing, not because of the soloists and musicians, who were excellent, but because of the Czech singers, "who have such a heavy Prague accent that you can't understand the words." The words being key to critical acceptance of the album, Summer has refused to have it released.
"I'm hoping we'll be able to salvage part of it, or do it over again," he says.
Meanwhile, he plans to go into the studio again in June, this time in the States, to record the music of the current concert tour.
Summer, the son of St. Thomas artist and retired social work therapist Eunice Summer, says he "wrote a lot of the Shakespeare songs while on St. Thomas." He and his wife, Lisa, and their daughter, Eve, lived on the island for two and a half years. During that time, with funding from the V.I. Council on the Arts, he composed a work titled "Gallop Apace," using the words from Juliet's Act III, Scene 2 soliloquy in "Romeo and Juliet" — "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds…"
His daughter attended Sibilly and Antilles Schools and the V.I. Institute of Performing Arts. "She was Clara in a production of 'The Nutcracker' at the Reichhold Center," Summer relates, "and she's a professional ballerina now in Los Angeles."
The family moved back to the mainland so that Eve could pursue dance studies — departing two days before Hurricane Luis struck the islands in early September of 1995 — 10 days before Marilyn would follow. But Summer and his wife, a music therapist, have continued to spend as much as two to three months a year on St. Thomas.
Saturday's performance will be the first of his work on island. The concert came about because he was approached by a board member of The Forum, a not-for-profit organization that represents a continuation of the purpose of the former Birch Forum — to bring outstanding talent to the island to perform.
Summer has been a full-time composer since 1977, except for two years when he "ran an opera company for a couple of years in Philadelphia. But that was a dreadful experience — basically fund raising, not artistic work." Other than that, he says, "My last day job was when I was 20 years old, teaching music theory at Carnegie Mellon University."
One of his patrons is Gerhard Hofmann, part-owner of Hotel 1829 and Blackbeard's Castle. "He wanted to help," Summer says. "He said, 'You do another CD,' mostly of my 'Hamlet' pieces." The plan is to record with the seven artists who performed last weekend.
Those two performances pleased Summer greatly. "I was delighted," he says. "For the first one, I was backstage, watching everything work smoothly. Yesterday [Sunday], I was able to sit in the audience. For the first time, I was smiling in the middle of my performances."
Summer's projects are sponsored by the Boston-based Foundation for Modern Opera, which promotes them citing "the plays and poetry of Edward De Vere, also known as William Shakespeare." The reference is to the view represented by The Shakespeare Fellowship, a foundation committed to "bringing the Shakespeare authorship debate to a world-wide audience via the Internet and stimulating a wide-ranging dialogue on the relevance of Shakespeare to the 21st century" with emphasis on "the theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1606) was the true author of the works attributed to Shakespeare."
The Mattina R. Proctor Foundation based in the Boston area has supported several of his projects.
For an interview with Summer and a preview of the premiere last Friday of "The Shakespeare Concerts," see Joseph Summer presents "The Oxford Songs".
The musical artists
Soprano Maria Ferrante, a native of Worcester, was a winner of the Mario Lanza voice competition. Her opera credits include Cio-Cio-San in "Madama Butterfly," Violetta in "La Traviata," Desdemona in Verdi's "Otello," Liù in "Turandot," Mimi in "La Bohème," Rosalinda in "Die Fledermaus," Despina in "Così Fan Tutte," Gretel in "Hänsel und Gretel," Oscar in "Un Ballo in Maschera" and Barbarina in "Le Nozze di Figaro."
Her oratorio performances of note include the world premiere of Daniel Pelzig's "Bachianai" with the Boston Ballet, Villa-Lobos' "Bacchianas Brasileiras No. 5" at Symphony Space in New York and "Carmina Burana" with the Charleston Symphony. Her most recent CD, "Sea Tides and Time," is devoted to the theme of water and the importance of its preservation.
Tenor Alan Schneider, a native of western Massachusetts, majored in music and theater at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and has a master's degree in music from Boston University. He was the 2002 recipient of Boston Lyric Opera's Stephen Shrestinian Award for Excellence and was a participant in the Glimmerglass Opera Young American Artists Program in 2001. His performances in 2000 and 2001 with Boston's Bel Canto Opera won him plaudits from The Boston Globe for a "robust" and "bright-toned tenor." He sang with the Chautauqua Opera in Upstate New York last summer and received its Shoshanna Foundation Richard F. Gold Career Grant.
On March 8 (at a church) and 9 (at a synagogue), he will be featured in a performance by The Providence (Rhode Island) Singers of Handel's oratorio "Israel in Egypt," subtitled "an Oratorio of Deliverance for chorus and orchestra."
Pianist Miroslav Sekera won first prize in the 2002 Brahms International Piano Competition in Vienna, the Chopin Competition, the National Competition of Czech Conservatories, the Baden Competition for Best Performance of a work by Leos Janacek, and a 1999 Academy of Music Arts competition sponsored by Yamaha pianos. He also took prizes in the 2000 Gaillard International Piano Competition in France and the Nadezda-Sazinova Piano Competition.
At the age of 6 he played the role of Moz
art as a boy in the 1984 Academy Award-winning film "Amadeus."
Tickets and reservations
Saturday's program begins at 8 p.m. in the Great Bay Ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton. Tickets are $20. They're available at the Reichhold Center For the Arts box office, Modern Music/Nisky Center, Parrot Fish Music, Dockside Bookshop, Interiors, Krystal & Gifts Galore and Home Again on St. Thomas; and at Connections on St. John. They also may be purchased using a charge card by calling the Reichhold box office at 693-1559.
Note: Seating is limited to 250 persons.
The Ritz-Carlton Café and main Dining Room will be available for dinner before the performance, and the resort's Living Room will be open afterward. Reservations to dine should be made with the hotel by calling 775-3333.
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