Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra presents a fun ode to Shakespeare

review by Janet I. Martineau
Never thought I’d see the day...the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, actors from Pit and Balcony Community Theatre, a women’s contingent from the Saginaw Choral Society...performing Shakespeare...on the stage of the historic Temple Theatre.
Such was the delight Saturday night when the SBSO presented “Shakespearean Dreams” -- an all-Shakespeare evening that presented three compositions inspired by the Bard’s words; one of them also featuring an abridged semi-staged version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Tessa Poag all but stole the show as the impish Puck in Shakespeare’s poetic comedy taking place in a fairy-filled woodland. She moved with the grace and agility of a cheeta; spoke her lines clearly, crisply and with dramatic flare; was about as into a role as a character can get.
Also a standout was Christian Schwager as Bottom, the character who literally makes an ass of himself. Long and lanky, he too sold his character -- first under the headpiece of the ass, with body English that depicted a shy living, breathing character; then later in a bit of upstaging duel with maestro Brett Mitchell and the orchestra.
Linda Bush Rebney, who both acts and directs at P&B, directed the abridged “Midsummer” featuring  Mendelssohn’s score. And while some of the other seven actors needed a little more diction and total comfort speaking Shakespeare, it was obvious they had been well rehearsed with the score; knowing when to speak at precisely the right moment in amidst the 12 movements.
They moved with a good flow on and off the stage as well -- as did the 27-member Saginaw Choral Society women’s chorus, floating on like the fairies they were depicting.  Soprano Nina Lasceski’s solo segments were operaticlly outstanding.
Nice job, too, adapting a play into an abridged version that mostly held its own. There was a bit of blunder when the two couples were put under a spell but we never got to see them come awake and react to the spell. Instead they just got up and walked off. But it was a minor flaw.
Bravo to the costuming, in particular the elegant gown of Titania (Brooke Pieschke), and to the fairyland setting -- drapery front and back, with the orchestra sandwiched in a bunch over at the left. Very pleasing to the eye; understated and creating the needed atmosphere.
And it probably goes without saying now, in his short career here now, that Mitchell conducted Mendelssohn’s wonderful score flawlessly.
The first half of the program was shared by William Bolcom’s Commedia for (Almost) 18th Century Orchestra, with Catherine McMichael on the rude and errant piano, and Gerald Finzi’s “Let Us Garlands Bring,” featuring bass-baritone Timothy Jones in its five songs.
Bolcom, retired from the University of Michigan faculty, displays a whimsical sense of humor in his piece -- pretty, lush orchestral tunes giving way to rude interruptions by the piano and other instruments; an ode here and there to various classical composers of yore; fleeting images evoking the stock commedia dell’arte characters.
Unfortunately, the Finzi piece, sandwiched in between the weird Bolcom and the Saginaw-flavored Mendelssohn/Shakespeare, kinda got lost in the evening.
Loved Jones’ performance, his voice, but the piece about love and death sorta paled between the other two. But “Come Away, Come Away, Death,” the first piece of the five, did conclude with a lovely melding of the singer and concertmaster Sonia Lee.


  1. Yes Janet, I was so thrilled to see SSBO, P&B, and the SCS together at last.
    Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate and let the magic or the arts revitalize us all.

  2. The Temple tech people are to be commended too, for the relatively swift scene change - bringing in the trees and the gigantic representation of leaves, setting the smoke machine, and moving the orchestra. A great evening in many respects.