What especially made me want to make this trip to Tanglewood was the announcement that the Morris company would be doing a dance that I hadn't seen before to music I really like that doesn't get performed very often: William Walton's Façade — the British composer's setting of witty and playfully sinister poems by Edith Sitwell (there's a great old recording by Sitwell herself and tenor Peter Pears reciting the poems). The reciters at Tanglewood were going to be Phyllis Curtin, who just turned 90, and Mark Morris himself. They seemed an irresistible combination.
But it didn't work out that way. Curtin was recuperating from thyroid surgery and didn't feel ready to do the recitation. She was replaced by another distinguished singer and coach, Lucy Shelton. But neither she nor Morris were on top of the poems, some of which are tortuous tongue-twisters. Shelton didn't quite convey the surreal mixture of comedy and mystery, and Morris had trouble articulating the faster-paced poems. In the original 2002 performances of this piece, called Something Lies Beyond the Scene, the speakers were Morris and a group of the dancers themselves. That might have been preferable, because the expectations for skilled articulation of the poems might have been lower. And though the student orchestra played well, they were consistently too loud and made the words even harder to hear.
The dance itself was a delicious combination of Mickey Mouse–ing (in the poem about the elephant, the dancers banded together to become a lumbering elephant) and something more mysteriously dancelike undermining the impulse merely to enact the poems' quirky narratives.
, Mark Morris, classical, tanglewood, More