REVIEW: 'OPUS' sings at the Everyman Theatre
I have to admit I was really looking forward to seeing this Baltimore premiere which focuses on the backstage and onstage workings of a string quartet. My reason is personal. My mother was part of a string trio, the Kniznik Trio in Waltham, MA, with my mother, Pauline Shubow on the piano, her sister Edith Goldberg on the cello, and Shirley Miller on the violin. I never got the opportunity to hear them perform. Could only imagine what this must have been like.
The configuration of the Everyman Theatre put the stage in the middle with seating surrounding the stage. The set (James Kronzer) was comprised mainly of four music stands on a beautiful parquet floor with wonderful lighting (Jay Herzog) from underneath each stand giving the performers an eerie glow on their faces.
Only a musician could have written this play. Violist turned playwright Michael Hollinger captures the richness and power of great music while he explores each member of the quarter's contribution to the collaborative process.
The fictional Lazara Quartet is comprised of two violins, a viola, and a cello. They are preparing for a concert at the White House and just one week before performing Beethoven's epic Opus 131, they are auditioning for a violinist.
The entire cast is extraordinary: Stephen Patrick Martin, Kyle Prue, Peter Wray and Karl Kippola are the original members of the quartet. When there is an opening for a violinist, they hire a young female who is incredibly talented but is hoping to soon audition for the Pittsburgh Symphony, unsure of whether she wants to join a quartet. McKenzie Bowling plays this character with incredible sensitivity.
The actors do not play the music. It would be a challenge to hire four actors who could play serious classical music (but the new production of "Sweeney Todd" on Broadway demonstrates that it is possible). And the music sounds terrific thanks to Sound Designer Chas Marsh. (The music in the production is credited to the Vertigo String Quartet and recorded by Jorge Cousineau for the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia).
Like the Olney Theatre Center's production of "In the Mood", this production deals with bipolar disorder and its ramifications on one of the musicians and the treatment of this malady is done with an understanding touch.
Will you enjoy this play if you are not a fan of classical music? Absolutely. And you may decide to do what I did and purchase Opus 131 performed by the Julliard Quartet. It is Beethoven's favorite piece of music and it was a wise choice by playwright Hollinger to focus on this wonderful and challenging work.
It is always fascinating to watch the process of work being developed. You will feel like you are intruding on an actual rehearsal and you can now imagine what the process of making music is like.
I wish the Everyman had included the play list of what music is heard. Thanks to the Everyman's Michelle Baylin and Iain Campbell, here is what you will hear: Beethoven String Quartet #13 in , Bartok String Quartet #3, Bach Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, Pachelbel Canon in D Major, the Opus 131 of Beethoven, Bach Prelude to Cello, Suite No. 1, Beach Boys "God Only Knows", Richard Strauss' Dor Juan, Back Solo Violin Partita #3, Beethoven String Quartet No. 7 and 9.
"Opus" plays until October 15. So treat yourself to a great play with some incredible music. What a combination! There will be Post-Show Discussion after the Thursday night Oct. 12 performance.
Call 410-752-2208 for tickets.
And if you want to hear a REAL professional string quartet, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Musicians Series begins Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. at the beautiful new University of Baltimore Student Center Performing Arts Theater, 21 W. Mt. Royal Ave. You will hear the BSO String Quartet perform Schubert's String Quartet in C major and Brahms' Piano Quartet in F minor. Contact jweber @ubalt.edu or call 410-837-5420.