Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Life with Mozart (Media Preview Night) – 17 Sep 2013

As the play begins, a middle-age man in modern clothes walks onstage and opens his lines with “Dear Mozart”. One wonders exactly which milieu are we in: contemporary times or in Mozart’s? Is the Figaro production being described by the unnamed protagonist the premiere production, or just a revival taking place in his neighbourhood opera house?

Things became clearer as the play went on: we are in modern times, and the 'Mozart' that the protagonist was referring to is an abstraction, as one would call out “Dear God”, only that this deity responds through music. The entire play reveals itself to be a series of one-sided conversations by the protagonist to the dead composer.

On stage right, a piano quintet (that’s a piano and string quartet for you, in this case the Take 5 Quintet) play arrangements of arias accompanying singers from New Opera Singapore, in addition to performing the appropriate quintet and quartet repertoire whenever the script brings up the piece. Excerpts performed include arias from The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute among others.

And so we see how a man of 45 has come to realise the meaning of life through Mozart’s music. From encountering a rehearsal of Figaro as a 15 year-old awkward teenager with suicidal tendencies (wondering if anyone would find his penis attractive), to chancing upon a choral performance while cynically Christmas shopping as a young adult, through difficult times supporting friends and family dying of AIDS among other bittersweet stages of life, Mozart's music has provided much solace and deepened his understanding and appreciation of life.

Based on the French novel by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt and closely adapted for stage, Ma vie avec Mozart (My Life with Mozart) is a narrative for a single actor, interspersed with live and recorded musical performances. More play-with-music than concert-with-storyline, it goes beyond a loosely put together outreach programme, has a proper dramatic arc and is a showcase for an experienced actor. Much like a European movie without Hollywood razzle-dazzle, it starts off slowly but evolves into a subtly philosophical script, as one is made to ponder the meaning of life. “People mistake your (Mozart’s) optimism for naivety, but they don’t realize your genius in choosing to stubbornly remain optimistic during times of pain (my paraphrase).” One wonders if the real Mozart is really the all-knowing genius as sanctified by the protagonist, but we are swept up by the character’s spiritual journey all the same.

It takes a great actor to bring the two hour French play to life, and Quentin Bernard does just that, adding subtle depth and layers to what is essentially a series of really long monologues. A lesser actor would be relieved to just have memorized the script! Nonetheless I wish I could have built a better rapport with him and be less reliant on the projected English translation.

As for the music, oy… since its preview night I hope things get better for the rest of the run. It would be nice if repertory staples such as the Rondo-Allegro from Eine Kleine Nacht Musik and (to a lesser extent) the trio from Cosi fan tutte could be performed in tune. Coordination between the players and singers could also be better. And while the singers (dressed in low-key black outfits and sight-singing from scores) are officially part of the ensemble, I do wish for more characterisation through the voice, not to mention better musicianship beyond counting beats. Having said that, I really enjoyed Lim Yan’s musically expressive performance of the Andante from Piano Concerto no.21, Jeong Ae-Ree and Shaun Lee's singing of Bei Mannern (The Magic Flute) and Teng Xiang-Ting's Et incarnates est (from Mass in C Minor).

Much like Mozart’s subtle yet beautiful pieces, this is not a production that seeks to overwhelm through razzle-dazzle effects or OTT acting, but a rather thought-provoking piece on how the music can touch the individual, bring him through times of difficulty and help make the world a better place. One also comes to appreciate Mozart's music better, going beneath its apparent simplicity to understand its depth as described in the play.

Ma vie avec Mozart (My Life with Mozart) runs till 22 September at the Alliance Francaise.

Read more about the production here:

Find out how to get tickets at the Events Page!

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