On Wings of Song
Sembrich Season Pairs Music and Poetry
The Sembrich’s banner for this summer’s line-up of concerts, programs and exhibits features a detail from Marc Chagall’s “Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise” and the words, “On Wings Of Song” inscribed across it.
If you’ve seen the banner hanging at the entrance to the studio, next door to Chic’s and the Algonquin, you may be wondering what it all signifies.
“ ‘Wings of Song” has become a metaphor for words and music together, in flight. That’s what we’re exploring this summer: the marriage of music and poetry,” said Richard Wargo, The Sembrich’s artistic director.
“Given Marcella Sembrich’s role in developing the modern art song recital, and our mission of illustrating her place in the history of American music, we frequently pair words and music, but we’ve never devoted a season to it until now,” said Wargo.
As part of that season, some of the very best contemporary interpreters of the art song tradition will appear at The Sembrich,Wargo said.
The Sembrich will present the Brooklyn Art Song Society twice in August, once to perform poems of Goethe set to music by Schubert and Wolf and again in a collaboration with the Adirondack Shakespeare Company, when songs and scenes from the plays will be performed.
The acclaimed pianist Simon Mulligan will be joined by actor Paul Hecht in July for a performance of Richard Strauss’ Enoch Arden, a musical version of Tennyson’s poem. A Saturday, July 18 concert by Mulligan will feature Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of Song,” set to a poem by Heinrich Heine, the piece which lent this season’s program its title.
“Creating a season-long program of concerts is like creating an opera or any musical composition,” said Wargo, an opera composer. “You need both unity and contrasts. So we’re not only presenting the standard, art song repertoire, we’re exploring the pairing of music and words in a myriad of combinations.”
For instance, said Wargo, “We’re excited to present our first full length opera, the Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre’s concert version of ‘Rigoletto;’ as it happens, Marcella Sembrich sang the role of Gilda in the Metropolitan Opera’s production in 1903.”
As part of the World Music Wednesday series, Dan Newton’s Café Accordion Orchestra will perform on July 15.
“I first heard the band on Prairie Home Companion and I thought it was delightful. When I first contacted the members, they said they never traveled. But after they learned about The Sembrich, they said it was too beautiful to resist,” said Wargo.
The Sembrich will also present two works in progress: “Open Season,” a musical based on a play by Bill Cain which the Lake George Theater Lab is helping to develop, and “Sharon’s Grave,” Wargo’s latest opera, based on a play by the Irish writer John B. Keane.
Both will be staged by casts of singers and will be followed by discussions with the artists.
Other features of this year’s season include an exhibition of Marcella Sembrich’s costume from the Metropolitan Opera’s 1900 staging of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” in which she played the Queen of the Night.
“It’s our most priceless costume, and it hasn’t been displayed in ten years,” said Wargo. “It’s significance is such that when the Metropolitan Opera celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1983, it borrowed the costume to display in Lincoln Center.”
Coincidentally, Wargo said, the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown is also displaying costumes from a Metropolitan Opera production of ‘Magic Flute,’ this one from 1967 and the costumes, again coincidentally, are by Marc Chagall.
“It is an interesting coincidence, but Chagall has always been associated with music and the performing arts. I think of his work as the visual equivalent of music, which is why we chose a painting of his that I especially like as the emblem for our season. You’ll notice that it portrays a paradise, which, with its blue and green colors and even a pine tree, reminds me of Lake George. And, of course, we all think Lake George is paradise,” said Wargo.