Concert Theater Review: ‘Nightingale’ sings for Bach Choir ‘Family’
Imaginations soared with song and story for “The Nightingale,” The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and Bach Festival Orchestra annual “Family Concert,” a collaboration with Mock Turtle Marionette Theater.
Bach Choir artistic director and conductor Greg Funfgeld set the tone for the Feb. 26 event with heartwarming stories of past young audience members. One girl had sweetly told him after a “Bach to School” concert that “It sounded so real.” Another shared that she had “practiced sitting still for three days” before attending a classical music concert.
Funfgeld assured the packed Baker Hall, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, audience overflowing with young patrons that they were free to relax and move around if they needed to.
Doug Roysdon, director, Mock Turtle Marionette Theater, encouraged them to participate when prompted by the puppets.
Collaboration was the focus of the afternoon. Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale,” originally set in Asia, was transported to 17th century Germany and enriched with the music of J.S. Bach, Mozart, Couperin and more.
Beautifully-crafted Bunraku-like puppets by Roysdon were brought to life by puppeteers Sabrina DeWeerdt and Sonya Hennet.
Narrator Grace Spruiell Hochella guided the story of “The Nightingale” about the desperate Emperor who demands that the wild Nightingale be captured so his song will ward off the Ghosts which disturb his sleep. The kingdom is enamored with the Nightingale’s heartfelt and inventive songs but when he is replaced with the Music Master’s gaudy mechanical singing bird, the Ghosts return and the Emperor faces Death. Only the pure song of the woods-dwelling Nightingale can save the Emperor from a terrible fate.
Roysdon was humorous and heartbreaking as the worried Emperor. His somewhat childish mannerisms as he demanded that his orders be followed delighted the young audience.
Anna Russell displayed excellent versatility and vocal variety as she alternated between playing a Ghost, the Storyteller, the Music Master and the Nightingale. The scheming Music Master elicited laughter from the audience with his pompous declarations, maniacal cackling and obnoxiously sung phrases. The simple yet profound Nightingale shared many words of wisdom about the value of true artistry and the sharing of one’s talents with others.
Tricia Van Oers provided the singing voice of the Nightingale with several perfectly-selected songs on recorder, including Francois Couperin’s “Le Rossignol en Amour” (“The Nightingale in Love”), Jacob van Eyck’s “Engels Nachtegaltje” (“Angel Nightingale”) and J.S. Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.” Her emotional performances embodied the soaring spirit of the Nightingale and rang beautifully throughout the hall.
Willow Richard-Flynn delighted as a Ghost, the Potato Peeler and Miss Flit.
Jamil Joseph portrayed a Ghost, nervous Sprint and ominous Death.
The classical music deftly complemented the action of the fairy tale.
Alessandro Poglietti’s “Capricietto Sopra Il Cu Cu” (“The Cuckoo”) introduced the stuffy Emperor. The beautifully-blended choral sections wove chasing melodies in Bach’s celebratory “Ehre Sei Dir, Gott” (“Honor Be Sung Unto You, God”), creating an optimistic traveling tune to accompany the arrival of the Nightingale in the Emperor’s court.
When both birds are ordered to sing a duet, the Nightingale cheerfully improvised around the mechanical bird’s squawking performance of Bach’s “Marche.” His subsequent banishment by the Emperor was underscored by Mozart’s mournful “Lacrimosa.”
A great moment of theatricality occurred when the mechanical bird stopped working. The dissonance created by the cawing puppeteers and the faltering orchestra exhibited the shortcomings of automated art.
After the living Nightingale returned, the Emperor arose after a night of sound sleep free from the tormenting Ghosts and sinister Death to Bach’s rousing “Friede Uber Israel” (“Peace Be Over Israel”). The relaxing recorder theme from “Sheep May Safely Graze” intertwined with the powerful piece to bring the concert to a magnificent close.
When offered any reward he wished for his song, the Nightingale said, “I am already rewarded by all I see.” He saw the tears in the eyes of the Emperor and was delighted that his gift had touched another.
The Bach Choir of Bethlehem “Family Concert” certainly touched and inspired both the young and young at heart with evocative music and enchanting puppeteer.