‘Carmen Fantasy,’ ‘Don Quixote’ among local virtual performance

by Michael Caruso
Posted 3/18/21

In collaboration with Brian Sanders’ JUNK, the Philadelphians performed Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Fantasy.” Piffaro proffered “The World of Don Quixote” to enliven the first week of March.

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‘Carmen Fantasy,’ ‘Don Quixote’ among local virtual performance


St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, will celebrate a virtual Choral Evensong Sunday, March 21, at 5 p.m. Parish music director Andrew Kotylo will lead the Church’s staff singers in music by William Smith, Gabriel Jackson and John Sheppard, plus Anglican Chant by Turle and Rimbault. The “Largo” from J.S. Bach’s Organ Sonata No. 5 in C, BWV 529, will open the Evensong, and Gaston Litaize’s “Lied” will bring it to a close.


Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra continued their virtual concert season March 4-11 with one of the most innovative programs of music and dance offered by the ensemble since the outset of the COVID-19 lockdown one year ago this month. In collaboration with Brian Sanders’ JUNK, the Philadelphians performed Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Fantasy” onstage and backstage at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall.

Shchedrin produced a 45-minute minute “Carmen Suite” from the two-hour-plus opera by George Bizet. While devotees of the score might miss a section or two here and there, and many may understandably complain about the total absence of any of the opera’s vocal and choral writing, Shchedrin’s reduction is a masterpiece of concise editing.

The Suite’s scoring for string orchestra and percussion battery bristles with rhythmic and harmonic bite. This is especially so when performed by talented string and percussion players, such as those drawn from the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the inspired direction of a conductor, such as Nezet-Seguin, who is well-versed in the original opera.

Brian Sanders’ choreography for “Carmen Fantasy” is a dazzling and revelatory reduction of the opera’s libretto. By focusing mostly on Carmen, Don Jose and the Picador, all the superfluous padding of the original story of the femme-fatale luring a pure young man to his ruin as she moves on to a charismatic bullfighter is stripped away to lay bare the crux of the matter.

In an odd twist, Sanders’ choreography shifts the bulk of the narrative’s focus to Jose by having him start the telling of the tragedy as an actor/dancer playing himself as he is about to portray Jose onstage. Hiis death by suicide brings “Carmen Fantasy” to its grisly conclusion.

Kelly Trevlyn and Teddy Fatscher were convincing as Carmen and the Picador, Lucas, but it was Joe Rivera’s portrayal of himself and Jose that left the most telling impression. His acting and dancing personified unavoidable destiny, both sinewy and helpless, raising this “Carmen” above its normal level of tawdry soap opera to classic Greek tragedy. This Jose was both pitiful and towering.


Piffaro, Philadelphia Renaissance Band, has managed to continue its virtual performances by balancing safe venues for newly recorded concerts or bringing back previously performed recorded presentations to fill out the roster of musical offerings.

Most recently, Piffaro proffered “The World of Don Quixote” to enliven the first week of March. For those of us who have missed their lively appearances at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, one of their “local homes,” this program from 2016 was a welcome addition to the weekend.

Longtime Piffaro member Grant Herreid was the curator of this evocation of the world of Cervantes’ fictional character Don Quixote in 16th century Spain. Only recently united into a single kingdom, Spain was slowly moving out of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. It was a painful and not altogether successful journey, with many mourning the loss of the simplicities of medieval chivalry.

In Cervantes’ fervent – and, perhaps, fevered – imagination, one such character was Don Quixote, a “Knight of La Mancha,” out to find and defend his true love from the ravages of the modern world. Herreid stitched together a concise yet complete narrative of the Don’s “quixotic” series of adventures through the music that was sung, played and danced in 16th century Spain.

Soprano Nell Snaidas, the male vocal quartet New York Polyphony, choreographer Christopher Williams, stage director Leland Kimball and lighting designer Adam Mack joined the Piffaro stalwarts to evoke Quixote’s world within the open expanses of the Episcopal Cathedral in West Philadelphia. The even flow of playing, singing and dancing – all performed at a compelling level of expertise – caught the throbbing passion of Cervantes’ novel.

You can contact NOTEWORTHY at Michael-caruso@comcast.net.  



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