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Rinat Shaham [Photo by Joan Marcus]
14 Jun 2015

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

A review by Alexis Rodda

Above: Rinat Shaham

Photos by Joan Marcus


Writer James Melo adapted Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's novella into a series of monologues (engagingly performed with the perfect balance of youth and gravitas by actor Bobby Seggert) interspersed with songs from Schumann's Dichterliebe, sung by Sidney Outlaw, and then a mix of songs from the German Lieder repertoire, sung by mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham.

The evening was visually stunning, with a soft pink lighting that suggests the pastoral love that will eventually turn to tragedy. Additionally, the lighting team expertly executed each lighting cue. Three projections on each side of the audience offer translations of the texts on the backdrop of various bucolic images. While subtitles are not always an aspect to be remarked upon, these were so astutely designed and well-executed that it would be remiss not to mention them. The production team of The Sorrows of Young Werther managed to cultivate the idyllic backdrop of Goethe's tale using atmospheric lighting, projections, and minimal set pieces. The only main distractor was a large screen on the back of the stage on which gritty, modern scenes of various men and women were projected, which seemed to make very little sense in the overall ambience of the evening. At best, these projections were confusing; at worst, they were completely distracting from what were otherwise moments of real beauty in the show.

SidneyOutlaw_BobbySeggert_byJoanMarcus.pngSidney Outlaw and Bobby Seggert

The two-hour evening flowed comfortably between Werther's monologues and the chosen Lieder. Bobby Seggert fluctuated between casual emoting and full realization of his tragic situation, with a boyish charm that highlighted the naiveté that ultimately leads to Werther's downfall. James Melo's adaptation for the stage never felt tiresome, but instead engaged the audience between moments of tranquil calm and bitter angst. Indeed, the text adaptation held some of the strongest moments of the evening.

Baritone Sidney Outlaw is one of those consummate professionals who is an absolute pleasure to behold onstage. His rendition of Schumann's Dichterliebe, carefully disseminated throughout Melo's adaptation of Goethe's novella, was crisp, thoughtful, and intelligent. He employed a gentle, intimate style of singing, until the final song when he unleashed a rich baritone voice of impressive size and power.

Mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham had a rich, shimmering voice that filled the theater well. However, in contrast with Outlaw's easy confidence, Shaham spent the entire concert attached to a musical score on a stand or in her hands. In the context of a chamber music concert, it normally would not be remarkable, but some seeming insecurity with the music created moments of tension in Shaham's voice. She blossomed on songs with which she seemed to have more confidence, in particular on two Liszt songs.

SidneyOutlaw_3_byJoanMarcus.pngSidney Outlaw with Rinat Shaham in background

Pianists Eve Wolf and Max Barros gave beautiful performances on piano. Barros in particular made the piano drip with beauty and elegance, with an incomparable grace in his legato.

An evening such as this is something that needs to be done more often. The Ensemble for the Romantic Century manages to make a chamber music concert into so much more, adding drama, narrative, and production value that goes beyond the beauty of an art song concert. Using the inherent drama in German Lieder to create an evening of storytelling is a brilliant way in which to transform the landscape of average concert-going. The Ensemble for the Romantic Century not only does this creatively, but with nimble execution.

Alexis Rodda

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