Hear This: ‘Beethoven’ Mixes Music And Theater At The Mount
Photo: Jacqueline Chambord
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
Though we may tend to think of it nowadays in terms of visuals, theater is an art form that’s always been very concerned with listening. In Shakespeare’s day, audiences went to “hear” a play, not see one. There’s a reason theater artists refer to sub-units of a scene as “beats.”
So, the pairing of music with onstage drama is a natural fit. But in the hands of the Ensemble for the Romantic Century, the live music does more than enhance the emotional rhythms onstage. It is both a form of storytelling, and the subject of the story.
“Beethoven Love Elegies” is the troupe’s latest blend of history, music and biography, all in service of a story that means to enhance our understanding of a great artist from the past, and the context of that artist’s work. It depicts a young Beethoven making the scene in Vienna, teaching music lessons and looking for a wife as he grew increasingly deafer. Recorded music is integrated into the action, though four onstage musicians also play fare like the “Moonlight” sonata (dedicated to a young music student with whom Beethoven fell in love), his “Ghost” piano trio, and assorted lieder on the topic of romance.
Eve Wolf: writer, pianist, company founder
“When I play music, I already time travel. I feel I’m in another era with that person,” says ECR founder, pianist, and frequent playwright Eve Wolf. “Because I also like music history, I reconstruct in my mind the whole milieu. And I want to give that to other people.”
Though the troupe frequently plays in New York, it made its Berkshires debut last summer at Shakespeare & Company. (Longtime S&Co. members Jonny Epstein and Ariel Block have performed with ECR.) The premiere of “Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart” in Lenox was a hit here, and the show went on to play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this year. The theatrical/musical alchemists return to the region again this year, playing 12 performances of “Beethoven Love Elegies” at The Mount’s Stables Theatre.
Wolf, who attended the Red Fox summer camp in New Marborough as a child, went on to be a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, and kept a house in Stockbridge for 20 years, says this combination of music and theater is just right for audiences in the Berkshires.
The cast is led by Australian actor Kire Tosevski, a newcomer to Berkshire stages, but includes several familiar faces — including the actress and singer Deborah Grausman, who’s been seen onstage at S&Co. in “Master Class” and a staged reading of an adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility,” among various other projects; Doria Bramante, a veteran of S&Co.’s actor training program; Johnny Segalla, who appeared in youth productions at S&Co., Berkshire Theatre Group and Barrington Stage Company while growing up in Berkshire County; and the ever-dapper Colin Gold, who temporarily left the area last year to study at the prestigious London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art.
Don Sanders, the Ensemble’s resident director, is familiar with the 413 area code through his summer house in Belchertown. He says the story of Beethoven’s 20s and 30s is generally unfamiliar to audiences. “Here was this guy, almost like a young rock star,” Sanders says, “coming to the center of his kind of music — Vienna — and making it, both musically and romantically.”
But some of Beethoven’s personality, as depicted in screen stories of his life, will seem familiar. “His difficult personality, which is also very comic,” Sanders says, “is already on display. So is his attitude toward the aristocracy that he spends his time with.”
Wolf intends for this fresh look at Beethoven to be enlightening, with respect to both his personal story and the context of his music.
“I think it’s a side of Beethoven that people don’t know. They always think of him older and completely eccentric, with the wild hair. But this is Beethoven at 30, good looking, with lots of love interests. He’s searching for a wife and not finding one, but also writing his only opera, ‘Fidelio,’ in which he creates the perfect wife as a character.”
The whole piece is based on documentary evidence from Beethoven’s life — letters, diary entries, contemporary accounts. Wolf, who wrote it, says there’s no need to dress the story up with fictional devices.
“You don’t need fiction for Beethoven. The real stuff is already very interesting.”
Ensemble for the Romantic Center presents “Beethoven Love Elegies”
Through Aug. 3
The Stables Theatre at The Mount