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Backstage: Arena Stage's 2011-12 season; Michael Kahn directs opera in Dallas
l "Mary T. & Lizzie K." (June 1-July 22, 2012) by Tazewell Thompson, who'll also direct, is the second world premiere of the season, and will be showcased in the Kogod Cradle. The play is part of a new Arena tradition that Smith has dubbed the American Presidents Project. Since Washington is where American presidents live, she says, "we want to do a play a year about one of our presidents." Thompson's piece explores the relationship between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress Elizabeth Keckley, a freed slave. Abraham Lincoln is also a character in the play.
l "Trouble in Mind" (June 8-July 22, 2012), a play by author and dramatist Alice Childress ("A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich"), was first performed off-Broadway in 1955. In it, a newly integrated acting company is rehearsing an anti-lynching melodrama, with a clueless white director at the helm, and African American actors who have learned how to play stereotypes in order to survive.
Oh, operatic Romeo
Michael Kahn is glad his mother made him study piano. The Shakespeare Theatre Company's artistic director admits that he hated practicing, but says that understanding musical phrasing has stood him in good stead as an occasional opera director.
Kahn has just staged Charles Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet" at the Dallas Opera. He was there during the snow and ice event that nearly paralyzed the city, but he and his singers, despite losing a few rehearsals, made the opening on Feb. 11 to Kahn's great satisfaction. The opera has four more performances - Wednesday and Saturday, and Feb. 25 and 27.
"It's got gorgeous music, the opera, but . . . the story's a little bit simplified," as in many operatic adaptations, Kahn says. He explains that he's restored missing characters from the play and filled in underdeveloped ones with subtext and stage business. "I've given Juliet a mother, Lady Capulet, and I've identified Romeo's parents. . . . I've given the Nurse moments where she actually knows that Romeo and Juliet have met and that Juliet loves him. . . . [The Nurse] overhears a lot of stuff. . . . I've had a good time sort of layering stuff [from] the play that may not be in the opera," says Kahn.
"For me, the libretto is the plot, but the . . . music and the orchestration actually can say to you, somebody should move now; something has to happen now on this crescendo; something has to happen physically on this series of chords. . . . When there's a change of key, that means something's happening."
"I go moment-to-moment in Shakespeare, and I do that in music," Kahn says. "In Shakespeare, the big soliloquies, many things happen in there. There's a rhythm with them. . . . [It's] the same thing with arias for me."
Horwitz is a freelance writer.