Lis­ten Up

James M. Keller re­views the Adobe Rose Theatre’s Cir­cle Mir­ror Trans­for­ma­tion, Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica’s Baroque Ensemble, and a con­cert by Ai­lyn Pérez

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“A group of un­likely strangers are drawn to­gether to at­tend a six-week drama class, set in a com­mu­nity cen­ter in small-town Ver­mont” is how the web­site of Adobe Rose Theatre de­scribes the com­pany’s cur­rent pro­duc­tion, Cir­cle Mir­ror Trans­for­ma­tion, by the Amer­i­can play­wright An­nie Baker. The play earned plau­dits when it ran Off-Broad­way in 2009, and Baker went on to win the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for an en­su­ing play. And yet, one wor­ried that a the­ater piece about an act­ing class might get caught up in navel-gaz­ing. The open­ing scene, in fact, has the five char­ac­ters ly­ing in a cir­cle on­stage call­ing out ascending num­bers; any of them may say the next num­ber at any time, and the ob­ject is for each to sense the group’s en­ergy so that their ut­ter­ances don’t over­lap. This ex­er­cise re­turns sev­eral times in the course of the play’s 31 short scenes, and you wouldn’t imag­ine that it would qual­ify as com­pelling spec­ta­tor sport. But it does, in its unas­sum­ing way, mir­ror­ing the vi­cis­si­tudes of the five par­tic­i­pants and the in­ter­sec­tion of their mar­riages, ro­mances, con­tent­ments, frus­tra­tions, and as­pi­ra­tions.

The ac­tion un­rolls through six of the class’s weekly meet­ings, with il­lu­mi­nated script cap­tions above the bare-bones stage — “Week One,” “Week Two,” and so on — re­mind­ing view­ers of where they are in the chronol­ogy. The ac­tion some­times seems to pro­ceed in rather ar­bi­trary fash­ion, ref lect­ing the ex­tem­po­rized na­ture of the ac­tors’ ex­er­cises, which in­clude quite a few apart from the “count­ing game.” In the early weeks, the teacher and her four charges (two men, two women of dif­fer­ent ages) are get­ting their bear­ings, but by Weeks Four and Five the ex­pe­ri­ence has en­tered the ter­ri­tory of drama-class-as-ther­apy, with var­i­ous rev­e­la­tions (ex­plicit or im­plied) send­ing some of the char­ac­ters into tail­spins. The nar­ra­tive en­ters its weak­est stretches here, par­tic­u­larly in the earnest “shar­ing ex­er­cises” of Week Five and the at­ten­dant rev­e­la­tion of pre­dictable vic­tim­hood. By the end of the class, all the par­tic­i­pants end up in a dif­fer­ent place from where they started, and a clever epi­logue, set ten years in the fu­ture, re­veals that the class had been a use­ful point of de­par­ture for five life jour­neys.

Wendy Chapin di­rects a care­fully molded per­for­mance that ap­pro­pri­ately con­veys a spirit of quin­tes­sence, a sense that noth­ing ex­tra­ne­ous needs to be im­posed on what Baker has al­ready put forth. In a di­rec­tor’s note in the pro­gram, she writes of the spe­cific lengths of si­lences that pep­per the play, a topic Baker has of­ten been asked to ad­dress in in­ter­views. These pre­cisely timed fis­sures may seem more salient on the page than on the stage. In any case, such pauses seemed nei­ther un­com­fort­ably long nor un­rea­son­ably fre­quent in the per­for­mance I saw on March 26.

The five ac­com­plished ac­tors form a nicely at­tuned ensemble: Lynn Good­win as the teacher and, as the stu­dents, Todd An­der­son, Kent Kirk­patrick, Mau­reen Joyce McKenna, and Marika Say­ers. As a group, they emit var­i­ous de­grees of hope, doubt, randi­ness, and ex­haus­tion. Good­win holds up her lead­er­ship po­si­tion with élan, an artis­tic soul to the core, cer­tain in her di­rec­tion un­til sud­denly she isn’t. A par­tic­u­larly en­dear­ing per­for­mance comes from Say­ers, a six­teen-year-old ac­tress who, one as­sumes, has a fine ca­reer ahead of her. Hers is an in­gra­ti­at­ing part, and of the bunch she is the char­ac­ter we wit­ness in the great­est trans­for­ma­tion. The cos­tumes, by Jas­minka Jesic, are per­fectly on tar­get, but in the case of Say­ers they do much to sup­port her gen­tle tran­si­tion from cater­pil­lar to but­ter­fly.

Over the years, the an­nual Holy Week con­certs of the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Baroque Ensemble have ze­roed in on a for­mula that doesn’t rat­tle

The five ac­com­plished ac­tors form a nicely at­tuned ensemble. As a group, they emit var­i­ous de­grees of hope, doubt, randi­ness, and ex­haus­tion.

any cages. The most im­pos­ing piece in this year’s in­stall­ment was the open­ing item, Bach’s “Orchestral Suite” No. 2 in B mi­nor, with f lutist Carol Red­man ex­tract­ing a warm tone from her 18th-cen­tury-style in­stru­ment and play­ing with the solid mu­si­cal logic au­di­ences have grown to ex­pect from her. It was a rather solemn in­ter­pre­ta­tion on the whole, with even the con­clud­ing Badinerie on the slow side, and tem­pos pulled apart a bit in the Sara­bande and Bour­rées at the March 25 con­cert at Loretto Chapel. The re­main­der of the ensemble— vi­o­lin­ists Stephen Red­field and Karen Clarke, vi­o­list Gail Robert­son, cel­list Sally Guenther, and or­gan­ist David Solem — sailed through rough wa­ters when it came to in­to­na­tion, mat­ters be­ing ex­ac­er­bated by the facts that the cello and or­gan dou­ble the bass line (which leaves no room for in­ac­cu­racy) and that the vi­o­lins of­ten es­chewed vi­brato (which might oth­er­wise veil trans­gres­sions). A trio sonata by the Vene­tian To­maso Al­bi­noni traded in pre­dictable phrases; but it was cast in a style we are more likely to as­so­ci­ate with the Ro­man com­poser Ar­can­gelo Corelli, which meant Al­bi­noni’s piece was still a bit of a sur­prise. I don’t know what went on dur­ing in­ter­mis­sion, but when the play­ers re­turned for the sec­ond half, their tun­ing had fallen into place and they sounded un­der­stand­ably hap­pier in their mu­sic mak­ing.

Among the most im­me­di­ately lov­able pieces of the late Baroque are ob­bli­gato arias, a hy­brid of vo­cal aria and in­stru­men­tal trio sonata in which a solo singer is part­nered by a fea­tured in­stru­men­tal soloist. Kathryn Mueller lent her sweet, cheer­ful so­prano to an aria from Bach’s Can­tata No. 171, with vi­o­lin­ist Red­field as her pre­cise co- soloist. The two were also spot­lighted in a win­ning per­for­mance of “Meine Seele hört im Se­hen,” one of Han­del’s “Nine Ger­man Arias”; Red­field brought sharply sculpted ar­tic­u­la­tion to the task as Mueller added her un­fussy, nat­u­ral- sound­ing voice, which was beau­ti­fully suited to the Ge­or­gian sen­ti­ments of the text. Mezzo- so­prano Deb­o­rah Do­man­ski was the soloist in Han­del’s aria “Vacillò, per ter­ror del primo er­rore,” from one of his Ital­ian can­tatas, her ac­cu­rate fio­ratura mak­ing a firm case even for a piece that must be ac­knowl­edged as sec­ond-tier Han­del. The two singers blended el­e­gantly in three Han­del duets — fine pieces all — and the in­stru­men­tal­ists gave a rous­ing ren­di­tion of the familiar “Pas­toral Sym­phony” from Mes­siah and a cha­conne from his opera Il pas­tor fido.

The con­cert Ai­lyn Pérez gave at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on March 29 was an­other that waited un­til its sec­ond half to fully find its bear­ings. The so­prano ap­peared un­com­fort­able be­fore in­ter­mis­sion, and one imag­ined that she was af­fected by the poor qual­ity of the city’s air on a day when winds whipped up some­thing close to a dust storm at the height of the pollen sea­son. Her open­ing set, com­pris­ing five songs by Schu­bert, was dis­tin­guished prin­ci­pally by lovely play­ing from Gary Matthew­man, the evening’s pi­anist. His bal­anced touch brought el­e­gant shad­ing to the mur­mur­ing 16th-notes of “Gretchen am Spin­nrade” and his in­ci­sive at­tacks added drama to “Die junge Nonne” — but not enough to ob­scure how dis­tant Schu­bert lay from the sen­si­bil­i­ties of the so­prano, who scooped into pitches, lunged brusquely at high notes, and never har­nessed the power of Ger­man con­so­nants. Fauré’s three-song set Poème d’un jour fared not much bet­ter, with a dis­rup­tion in Pérez’s vo­cal align­ment threat­en­ing the very ex­is­tence of the last note of one of the songs. A group of seven en­core-level songs by Fernando Obradors ben­e­fited from ex­pres­sive Span­ish dic­tion, com­plete with charm­ing “Castil­ian whis­tles” on the let­ter “s,” but even a ten­der chestnut like “Del ca­bello más su­til” was not re­ally ca­ressed in this per­for­mance.

The voice set­tled in more hap­pily for the sec­ond half, glow­ing lux­u­ri­ously and even with a mea­sure of sweet­ness when not at high vol­ume. Even here, I found that the oc­ca­sional com­bi­na­tion of loud dy­nam­ics and high pitches — say, F and above — could yield an un­pleas­ant ef­fect in what is a rather in­ti­mate the­ater. Not al­ways, though; at the end of the song “Cantares” in Joaquín Tu­rina’s Poema en forma

de can­ciones, for ex­am­ple, she spun out a high A that was nicely cov­ered and neatly mo­du­lated even at full throt­tle. Gen­er­ally un­der­rep­re­sented in the recital scene, Tu­rina’s set is a fas­ci­nat­ing find at the edge of the reper­toire. It be­gins with an ex­tended pi­ano pre­lude, a good three min­utes long, which Matthew­man ren­dered with re­fined ex­oti­cism. Pérez, whose par­ents came to the United States from Mex­ico, de­liv­ered this set with gusto, as she did Falla’s ever-pop­u­lar

Si­ete can­ciones pop­u­lares es­paño­las, per­form­ing these elu­sive Span­ish songs with more as­sur­ance than many Amer­i­can singers do. An­other high­light of the con­cert was a group of songs by Reynaldo Hahn, a Venezue­lan whose fam­ily em­i­grated to France when he was a child. Singing in French works well for Pérez, its some­what closed nasal­ity help­ing keep in check a ten­dency to slip into an overly bright tim­bre. Some of the evening’s best singing ar­rived in her sec­ond en­core, the one-time pop clas­sic “Bésame mu­cho” by the Mex­i­can song­writer Con­suelo Velázquez. One usu­ally thinks of it as an off­hand bolero, but Pérez’s sul­try in­ter­pre­ta­tion un­der­scored its artis­tic pos­si­bil­i­ties.

The con­cert, which was pre­sented by Santa Fe Desert Cho­rale, ob­vi­ously pleased the mod­estly sized au­di­ence, which clapped vig­or­ously af­ter ev­ery num­ber in the first half (and even in the mid­dle of some pieces), flout­ing the re­quest to the con­trary that was printed in the pro­gram. Af­ter in­ter­mis­sion, Pérez begged lis­ten­ers to hold their ap­plause un­til the end of each set, which they mostly did. I should clar­ify that my own tem­pered en­thu­si­asm re­lates less to Pérez’s voice than to her achieve­ment as a lieder singer. The art of the song — and of the song recital — is dis­tinct from the art of opera, de­mand­ing con­stant rein­ven­tion of vo­cal per­son­al­ity within a short span as op­posed to the more ex­tended ef­fect on which opera soars. At its best, it in­volves an ex­cep­tional in­te­gra­tion of singer and pi­anist, of po­etry and mu­sic, a col­lab­o­ra­tion that ex­ca­vates the fu­sion of mu­si­cal and lit­er­ary el­e­ments and con­veys it with f lashes of mo­men­tary in­sight through de­tailed vo­cal in­flec­tion. In both the char­ac­ter of her voice and the na­ture of her singing, Pérez would seem to be more re­mark­able as an opera singer than as a lieder singer. I am look­ing for­ward to hear­ing her this sum­mer in Gounod’s

Roméo et Juli­ette at Santa Fe Opera, where I imag­ine her am­ple in­stru­ment and pow­er­ful pro­jec­tion will show to greater ad­van­tage than they did in a recital of minia­tures at the Len­sic.

Ai­lyn Pérez’s voice set­tled in more hap­pily for the sec­ond half, glow­ing lux­u­ri­ously and even with a mea­sure of sweet­ness when not at high vol­ume.

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Cir­cle Mir­ror Trans­for­ma­tion: clock­wise from left, Kent Kirk­patrick, Mau­reen Joyce McKenna, Todd An­der­son, Marika Say­ers, and Lynn Good­win

Carol Red­man

Ai­lyn Pérez

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