Posts Tagged ‘The Merchant of Venice’

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The Merchant of Venice Opera @theCentre : A Review

October 11, 2016

30th September 2016

Opera Companies:

Wales National Opera

Co-production of the Bregenzer Festspiele, Austria, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the Polska Music programme & Teatr Wielki, Warsaw.

Supported by the Getty Family as part of British Firsts.

Wales Millennium Centre

Review by Lucy Menon @LucyMenon

Over the years I have attended many an intriguing adaptation of Shakespeare, but never as an opera.  As part of the celebrations of the four hundred years since Shakespeare’s death, The Merchant of Venice forms the final part of a series of operas (also including Macbeth and Kiss Me Kate) which pay homage to the bard.  With a musical score by André Tchaikowsky (1935-1982) and libretto by John O’Brien, it is hard to believe that this opera was only first performed in 2013 at the Bregenz Festival and had a UK debut at the Wales Millennium Centre this September courtesy of the Welsh National Opera.

Shakespeare’s controversial play, often held up for being anti-Semitic, becomes even more intriguing when Tchaikowsky’s own background is considered.  A Jew and a homosexual, Tchaikowsky embodied attributes of both the main characters of Shylock and Antonio.  Having had a traumatic childhood in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, he was smuggled out to be raised by his grandmother and became a musical protégé. It is pertinent that the opening and closing scene has the figure of Antonio laid on a couch in the stereotypical psychoanalyst pose almost embodying the composer’s own need for therapy.  This works well and sets up the exploration of why the character of Antonio is indeed “so sad”.  The trial scene also becomes all the more significant in light of Tchaikowsky’s life, as it could be seen to represent the conflict the composer must have experienced himself.  The homosexual content of the play is sometimes played down by productions, but the opera brings it to the foreground, allowing the exploration for the bonds of love to be demonstrated as well as the monetary bonds which bind the characters to each other.

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(Antonio on the couch) Photo: Johann Persson

Split into three acts, the opera managed to address a different aspect and theme in each section which served to renew an energy and driving pace for the production.  Act 1 dealt with the mercantile aspects of the play; Act 2 transported the audience to the romantic green space of Belmont and Act 3 culminated in the tension of the trial scene.  An epilogue also followed to focus on the multiple pairs of lovers and the resolution of the confusions that had occurred.

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(Trial Scene) Photo: Johan Persson

Antonio, on the night of this review, was played by Feargal Mostyn-Williams (Martin Wölfel had laryngitis). Mosty- Williams did a superb job of conveying a tortured soul and looking particularly pale and petrified whilst facing the potential extraction of a pound of his flesh His interaction with Bassanio (Mark Le Brocq) was entirely believable and heartfelt.  The gesture of the men touching each others’ faces was repeated at several points and created an intimacy that was sometimes accepted and sometimes rejected which served to increase the intensity of emotion.  The night, however, belonged to Lester Lynch who brought out the extremes of feeling in Shylock.  At points contrite, at others vengeful, by the end one cannot help but experience at least the stirrings of sympathy for the Jewish moneylender when he is completely humiliated in court.  Lynch manages to convey a great depth of emotion in the varying cadences of his voice and this is particularly evident in the famous “If you prick us do we not bleed” speech.

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(Lester Lynch as Shylock) Photo Johan Persson

Elements of comedy are fused with the more sombre aspects of this play which allow for light relief in what could otherwise be considered quite a macabre detailing of exacting vengeance.  Act 2 sees the representation of Belmont and an almost film-set quality to proceedings as Portia (Sarah Castle) enters attended by an entourage.  A hedge maze is on stage and also projected onto a screen at the back and serves to put a humorous slant on the task of the suitors in choosing a cask in order to win Portia’s hand in marriage.  The suitors are also outlandish in their behaviour and physical comedy ensues from leaping about to preening in mirrors which creates a more rounded production by linking visual aspects with the vocal talents of the participants.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by Tchaikowsky,       , Music - Andre Tchaikowsky, Libretto - John O'Brien, Director - Keith Warner, Designer - Ashley Martin-Davis, Lighting - Davy Cunningham, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, 2016, Credit: Johan Pers

(Portia and on of her suitors) Photo: Johan Persson

Whilst sometimes it seemed that the music and singing were slightly discordant, the vocal talents of the individuals is not in doubt and there were indeed wonderful orchestral moments: rolling timpani coming to a crescendo with cymbals to emphasise the point at which Shylock was about to collect his pound of flesh from Antonio; deep brass over the moment that Shylock’s body lies centre stage and a more light hearted string accompaniment for the epilogue when the lovers parade under a vast projection of the moon.  What was also impressive were the facial expressions and body language exhibited by each member of the cast which helped to emphasise the emotion of the piece and to reinforce the narrative.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by Tchaikowsky,       , Music - Andre Tchaikowsky, Libretto - John O'Brien, Director - Keith Warner, Designer - Ashley Martin-Davis, Lighting - Davy Cunningham, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, 2016, Credit: Johan Pers

(Lovers under the moon during the Epilogue) Photo: Johan Persson

It is such a shame that Tchaikowsky never got to see his work performed, as the English National Opera initially rejected the piece and he died only three months later.  However, his spirit lingers on as he bequeathed his skull to the RSC so he has now become Yorick, ensuring that for him, in some way, the show would always go on.

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Shakespeare and Theory: Special Issue II (Published in English Studies)

November 13, 2013

Shakespeare and Theory: Special Issue II

Guest Editors: François-Xavier Gleyzon and Johann Gregory

The latest issue of English Studies is a special issue on Shakespeare and Theory.

The first issue (94.3, 2013)

The second issue (94.7, 2013)

Contents of the Second Issue

Listening to the Body …: Transitioning to Shakespeare and Theory (Special Issue II)

François-Xavier Gleyzon (University of Central Florida) and

Johann Gregory (Cardiff University)

Performing Disability and Theorizing Deformity

Katherine Schaap Williams (Rutgers University)

Ship of Fools: Foucault and the Shakespeareans

Richard Wilson (Kingston University)

“Untimely Ripp’d”: On Natality, Sovereignty and Unbearable Life

Arthur Bradley (Lancaster University)

Syllogisms and Tears in Timon of Athens

Drew Daniel (Johns Hopkins University)

Opening the Sacred Body or the Profaned Host in The Merchant of Venice

François-Xavier Gleyzon (University of Central Florida)

Download Shakespeare & Theory Special Issue II Poster pdf

 

For more information about the first issue, click here.

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Hospitality as Intralingual Translation in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

June 26, 2013

Panel 3a: Literature in Translation, Translation in Literature

Sophie Battell (Cardiff University) will be speaking this Friday on

“Hospitality as Intralingual Translation in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (1597)”

Her paper is part of the conference Translations: Exchange of Ideas – 2013.

Find out  more here.

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‘[Theatre], thy name is woman’: Theatrical Value and Power in Shakespeare

April 24, 2013

Johann Gregory (Cardiff University) will be giving a paper entitled “‘[Theatre], thy name is woman’: Theatrical Value and Power in Shakespeare” at the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft Annual Conference, Munich, 26 – 28 April 2013.

Find out more about the conference here.

“The Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft (German Shakespeare Society) was founded in 1864. It is one of the oldest literary associations in Europe, if not the world, and has about 2,000 members. It promotes the investigation with William Shakespeare’s works, particularly in the German-speaking countires. In doing so, it co-operates closely with scholars, teachers and artists.”

Paper Abstract

Freud suggested that in The Merchant of Venice the caskets are “symbols of the essential of femininity, hence of woman herself”. Quoting this passage, Bourdieu noticed how in Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education a silver casket is transferred between three women: in the novel, he argues, the significance of the casket “involves a homologous social scheme as well, to wit, the opposition between art and money”. According to Bourdieu, the three women come to be associated with different literary fields. Thus, Mme Arnoux might represent high art, while “mercenary art, […] represented by bourgeois theatre [is] associated with the figure of Mme Dambreuse, and minor mercenary art, represented by vaudeville, cabaret or the serial novel, [is] evoked by Rosanette”. Flaubert’s novel invites its readers to reflect on artistic fields. Shakespeare’s work can also be seen in a similar light, and a comparable technique seems to be noticeable when women are associated with performance in the plays.

The character of the Fool is often read as a symbol of the theatre, but this paper briefly explores the theatrical symbolism of Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Cressida in Troilus and Cressida and Cordelia in King Lear. It argues that Shakespeare’s characterisation of these three women can be seen to foreground issues of theatrical value and currency: Portia’s characterisation invites the audience to reflect on the power of a (financed) theatre; the characterisation of Cressida negotiates the theme of the theatre as prostitution; and, in Cordelia, King Lear seems to bewail the apparent failure of theatre to communicate its value. The paper thus responds to critical thinking on the making of theatrical value (Paul Yachnin), fictions of cultural production (Patrick Cheney), and the question of Shakespeare’s autonomy (Stephen Greenblatt / Richard Wilson).

Portia in Film 1992

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The Merchant of Venice in Cardiff: A Quick Review

February 13, 2012

I was lucky enough to catch The Merchant of Venice at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff last Saturday. Here’s a quick review.

The Programme Note begins poignantly:

“This is a funny old play – though perhaps more funny peculiar than funny ha ha. The history of anti-Semitism, culminating in the Nazi atrocities, means that we view the play from an angle Shakespeare could not have anticipated or intended.”

The production brought a new verve and brittle dynamism to one of Shakespeare’s often performed plays. It was unashamedly modern. Happy to take what it wanted from the text and play with it, the performance occasionally intercepted the letter but kept to the spirit of the play. This bore fruit in the confidence of the dialogue and staging. Nearly everyone wore business suits, reminding the audience that finance was not just a social concern for those on the Rialto four hundred years ago.

The twelve-strong cast used the stage of the Richard Burton Theatre with great assurance. Adam Skeats nearly stole the show with a charming and ridiculous Launcelot Gobbo, pandering to the audience whenever he could. However, Shakepeare’s “comedy” is rarely just about laughs. James Peake balanced his portrayal of Shylock on a knife-edge: part stop-at-nothing revenger and part isolated scapegoat. Bassanio (Eric Kofi Abrefa), with his sack of of cash during the court case, belonged in the world of Plan B – Gratiano (Dafydd Llyr Thomas) might have been Ben Drew. Gillian Saker’s Portia, with her side-kick Jessica Hayles as a fun-loving Nerissa, confidently arranged proceedings, becoming a cruel puppet master over Shylock after her endearing behaviour earlier on in the play.

Rain fell over the stage sporadically in a strip from the heavens promising disappointments and perhaps a sinister cleansing. Besides this, the play’s staging incorporated a number of innovations that worked to make the audience part of the play’s action. After the interval, the Duke, with his assistants, presided over the law court, judging from high up in the upper circle of the theatre. Strip-lights and microphones descended for Shylock and an introverted unflinching Antonio (Edward Killingback) centre stage, while Shylock himself entered with clinical tools on a hospital trolley for his surgical procedure. This staging included the audience terribly, making them potential witnesses to a murder, and awkwardly complicit in the bullying of Shylock.

Jamie Garven’s direction of The Merchant of Venice brought intelligence and vigour to a profoundly disturbing play. The performance managed to be “funny peculiar” and, at times, “funny ha ha”, but its final moments brought the play to an unexpected finale. After the corny celebrations in Belmont, Shylock’s daughter Jessica (the petite Non Haf) was left caught in the rain in her little yellow Mac. Not singing, but dumbfounded. She stood silently alone onstage, looking at the letter which had told Belmont of her father’s financial and human collapse.

Robert Smith’s single muted trumpet played with a Miles Davies world-weariness, providing the soundtrack to the play – memorably an uncannily appropriate “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. Like the music, the play was stylish and often moody, but it begged the audience to reflect on who and what belongs in “our” society.

Johann Gregory (Cardiff University)

http://cardiff.academia.edu/JohannGregory

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The Merchant of Venice played from Feb 7th until Feb 11th, 2012.

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama:

http://www.rwcmd.ac.uk/profiles/acting/2012.aspx

Images from:

http://blog.rwcmd.ac.uk/2012/02/07/merchant-of-venice-opening-tonight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=merchant-of-venice-opening-tonight

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The Merchant of Venice: Opening Night in Cardiff

February 7, 2012

 

Richard Burton Company presents
The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jamie Garven

Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 February 7.15pm
Matinee Wed 8 February 2.30pm

To win Portia’s hand Bassanio must prove his worth, but his lavish Venetian lifestyle has left him deeply in debt. He turns to his friend Antonio for help. Shylock offers Antonio a loan but demands a pound of flesh in return if it is not repaid in time. So the fairytale becomes a nightmare.

What price Mercy in a world obsessed by profit and poisoned with hatred?

Venue: Richard Burton Theatre

Tickets: £10, £8 concessions

Please note that we recommend that this production is suitable for audiences aged 14+ as it may contain strong language, violent scenes and scenes of a sexual nature. 

Find out more here:

http://www.rwcmd.ac.uk/whats_on/events/the_merchant_of_venice.aspx

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Fabler Shakespeare Readers in Cardiff

September 7, 2011

Fabler Shakespeare Readers is a community arts engagement project devised and facilitated by Adam Timms.

In 2007, a small group of individuals commenced reading the complete works of Shakespeare above a cafe in Canton, Cardiff. In 2008 the group moved to Chapter arts centre, its current home, and the popularity of the group grew enormously. We regularly involved groups of around 20-30 individuals from the local community – theatre-goers, Shakespeare fans, academics, newcomers, actors, directors, writers – all are welcome! In December 2010 we will complete the first cycle of Shakespeare’s sole-authored works, with out reading of The Tempest. 2011 will see the launch of Fabler Theatre Company and our next phase of readings!”

Next Reading: The Merchant of Venice

Sunday, Sept 11th, 2011, 6.30pm, Media Point, Chapter, Cardiff.

(Cost: £3 on the door)

The Jew of Malta  by Marlowe will follow on Oct 9th.

Chapter Arts Centre, Market Road, Canton, Cardiff
www.chapter.org

For more information about Fabler projects click here.

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