Under artistic director Ryan Turner, Emmanuel Music’s renowned soloists and orchestra will present Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in concert at Boston Conservatory Theater, January 18 at 8 pm and January 19 at 3 pm.
“Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant work is a cynical, sentimental, scabrous sex comedy in which couples fall noisily apart and reconfigure themselves, possibly for the better,” explains Turner. “The lovers’ struggles provoke plenty of witty commentary from the characters who are too young, old, or wise to participate in the madness.”
In its 43 years, Emmanuel Music has become a preeminent Boston institution, presenting weekly Bach cantatas in liturgical setting and performing concert repertoire from Baroque to contemporary. Programming one of the great 20th-century operettas may therefore take some by surprise, but Turner doesn’t see it that way. “Our founder and longtime artistic director Craig Smith possessed, in addition to an affinity for Mozart and Bach, an intriguing penchant for the waltzes and operettas of Johann Strauss. In fact, veteran Emmanuel Music supporters might recall a 1994 concert performance of Die Fledermaus conducted by Smith. Sondheim’s score boasts a coherent triplum musical structure that is firmly rooted in Viennese operetta.”
BMInt had a few questions for Ryan Turner.
BMInt: Why A Little Night Music?
Ryan Turner: That is a question I’ve heard frequently the past year. First off, I would compare the overall experience of seeing this A Little Night Music with that of watching a Mozart opera or a Shakespeare play: it is a beautiful, profound, and sometimes painful commentary on the human condition. It is both enormously funny and saturated with wisdom. Here are deliciously flawed and human characters, perplexed by love and desire, and trying, as the actress Desiree Armfeldt puts it at one point, “to seek a coherent life” to take the place of the “muddle” that confuses and torments them. Second, due to shrinking budgets, the recent deplorable trend on Broadway is to reduce the size of the orchestra: the most recent revival of A Little Night Music, in 2010, used only seven players! The richness and brilliance of Sondheim’s songs, coupled with Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestration heard today, provide the expansive color palette needed to tell this evocative story. Sondheim’s score, always set in some form of triple meter, employs dance forms we often encounter in Bach cantatas—a sarabande, gigue, polonaise. In addition to the reasons above, the classical origins lend themselves to a more legitimate vocal approach than usually found in theater music, while still maintaining the integrity and dramatic thrust of the lyric. Also, I have always felt that, similar to Mozart, music and staging are almost an indivisible unit in much of Sondheim’s work. Essentially, any cues a singer needs for intent, motivation, and character are all in the music.
What experience do you have with Broadway?
While a grad student at the Boston Conservatory, I was involved as both a singer and conductor in numerous musical theater productions. From 1996 to 2000, I was music director of the Papermill Theatre in Lincoln NH, where I music-directed and conducted over 10 musicals. Additionally, I have conducted shows at Boston College, Holy Cross, Plymouth State University, and St. Anselm College.
You refer to A Little Night Music as an operetta — is that different from a musical?
I see it as a singspiel, another Mozartean connection, and musically there are strains of the operettas of Strauss and Lehar.
Tell us about some of the standout members of the cast
Well, in the Emmanuel tradition, this is truly an ensemble cast, so I find it difficult to point out individuals. However, we have the fortunate need to venture outside of our usual stock, leading us to the eminent Bobbie Steinbach. This beloved Boston theater veteran brings to our company an elevated level of experience, stagecraft, nuance and life.
There’s no pit at the BoCo Theater—how will the forces be arrayed?
The 25-piece orchestra, from the original scoring, will be on the stage with the action of the story happening on platforms embedded in the orchestra.
Are you using any amplification? The venue is rather dry.
Recalling the spirit of the early days of Broadway, e.g. Showboat and the like, there will be no amplification—just hearty expressive singing!
A Little Night Music
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Saturday, January 18 – 8:00pm
Sunday, January 19 – 3:00pm
Boston Conservatory Theater, 31 Hemenway Street, Boston
NOTE: These concerts are reserved seating.
Désirée Armfedt Lynn Torgove, mezzo-soprano
Madame Armfeldt Bobbie Steinbach
Fredrik Egerman David Kravitz, baritone
Charlotte Krista River, mezzo-soprano
Carl Magnus Dana Whiteside, bass
Henrck Jonas Budris, tenor
Anne Kristen Watson, soprano
Fredrika Grayson Mills
Petra Kellie McKay
Erid Sam Filson Parkinson
Liebeslieder Quintet: Sonja Tengblad, soprano
Liebeslieder Quintet: Jayne West, soprano
Liebeslieder Quintet: Majie Zeller, mezzo-soprano
Liebeslieder Quintet: Matthew Anderson, tenor
Liebeslieder Quintet: Sumner Thompson, baritone