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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘A French Musical Playground’ charms in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Civic Symphony of Green Bay

Singer Maria Hinnendael and actor Alex Sabin were featured in the Civic Symphony of Green Bay program, “A French Musical Playground.” (Warren Gerds image)

In the end, just before the cheers, conductor Seong-Kyung Graham danced a bit of a can-can on the podium. Along the way, she brought in a matador’s red cape, a doll and a top. By make-believe, she also “wound-up” a human-size doll who sang operatically.

All this was part of a colorful evening Friday for Civic Symphony of Green Bay.

Another featured segment was a performance, in music and words, of an elephant who would be king.

Titled “A French Musical Playground,” the program, indeed, was playful and youthful.

During the day Friday, school groups on field trips filled Meyer Theatre for the orchestra’s annual “Music for Young Listeners” concert.

The program began and ended with high-octane excitement – the matador movement from “Carmen” and a trip to the underworld in “Tales of Hoffman” that closes with the flashy inspiration for the saucy “can-can” dance.

Points of interest:

+ “Babar, the Little Elephant” was composed in France during World War II. (It is among examples of how the war did not stop creativity). The backstory is composer Francis Poulenc so bored his little cousins that they told him to “play” the story of the book about Babar. He did, weaving his music around a narrative. The result shows Poulenc’s great versatility in style, complete with eccentricities that are in keeping with the threads of the story. Poulenc musically envisions Babar’s birth in a jungle, him riding his mother’s back, the death of his mother by hunters, Babar going to a big city, meeting a kind woman, dressing in fine clothes, driving a car, meeting friends from the jungle that include his future wife, going back home after the death of the king by having eaten a poison mushroom, being chosen king, celebrating with a coronation and then a wedding. The listener can “see” everything taking place while a narrator tells the story. Friday, actor Alex Sabin narrated in graceful ways, verbally creating pictures to go along with the musical images. Sabin also was the program’s overall host, introducing selections with background on what to expect musically.

+ “The Doll Song” from “Tales of Hoffman” is another example of imagination of a creator, more than a bit “far out:” While wearing magical eyeglasses, an inventor sees a doll as human. (This is just one of the ways composer Jacques Offenbach veers from the classical tale of Orpheus). Friday, here comes singer Maria Hinnendael stiffly marching on stage as would a jointed doll. She has braided blonde hair, is dressed in doll finery and wears make-up that includes lipstick that forms a pout. Conductor Seong-Kyung Graham arrives wearing magical eyeglasses that she takes off and is disillusioned; she then conducts. The doll sings, pouring out rich, flying and diving notes while moving her arms in “expression,” though with the stiffness of a doll. Just as with Babar, this sequence is hardly ever heard/seen around these parts, especially with such flair. “Petite Suite” on the program also is an area rarity.

+ “Clair de Lune” turned the imagination from stories to the real-life moon. Composer Claude Debussy envisions a mind’s moods from moonlight. In its original form, “Clair de Lune” is a piano piece. Friday, it was the orchestra’s turn, and it created an even more silken aura, especially with the strings. This was part of an overall impression on the evening that the diligent musicians liked what they were playing.

***

Program: “A French Musical Playground”

“Music for Young Listeners” Concert

Conductor and artistic director: Seong-Kyung Graham

Host: Alex Sabin

Part I

+ “Les Toréadors” from “Carmen,” Georges Bizet

+ “The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant, for Narrator and Orchestra,” Francis Poulenc

   Narrator: Alex Sabine

Part II

+ “Petite Suite D’orchestre” from “Jeux D’enfants (Children’s Games), Opus 22,” George Bizet

   “March (Trumpet and Drum)”

   “Berceuse (The Doll)”

   “Impromptu (The Top)”

   “Duo (Little Husband, Little Wife)”

   “Galop (The Dance)”

+ “Clair de Lune (Moonlight)” from “Suite Bergamasque,” Claude Debussy, arranged by Henri Pierre Edouard Mouton

+ “Les Oiseaux dans la charmille (The Doll Song)” from “Tales of Hoffman,” Jacques Offenbach

   Soprano: Maria Hinnendael

+ “Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld,” Jacques Offenbach

***

NEXT: “Festival di Musica Italiana,” Feb. 15.

THE VENUE: Stop and look around the place. Meyer Theatre’s auditorium is an eye full. Located at 117 S. Washington St. in downtown Green Bay, the Meyer is one of the state’s colorful historic theaters. In its current form, the Robert T. Meyer Theatre opened Feb. 27, 2002. It seats approximately 1,000. The building dates back much farther. It opened Feb. 14, 1930, as one of the palatial Fox movie houses. The place is picturesque. The theater’s interior aura was its saving grace toward the end of the 20th century, when the building was faced an uncertain fate. The architectural/decorative style is defined as Spanish Atmospheric. The auditorium is designed in the manner of a Moorish courtyard of old. The eclectic mix of architectural styles and colors carries throughout the lobbies.

THE PEOPLE: Robert Meyer was president and chief executive officer of Tape Inc. of Green Bay. The theater took his name at the behest of his wife, Betty (Janet Elizabeth) Rose Meyer, whose financial contribution at a crucial time helped revitalize the building. The Rose family has a history of deep commitment to and involvement in the well-being of Green Bay. Robert Meyer died in 1984, Betty Rose Meyer in 2008.

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