Sarasota seems to be abounding with innovation and the pushing of boundaries lately. In addition to the new life being generated at our favorite museum through Ringling Underground, so has the Sarasota Orchestra brought new life to classical music through a fusion of story and song in Once Upon a Time. With their ¨Innovations¨ performance, the Sarasota Orchestra created a multi-media performance that was captivating, charming, and fun, however, unfortunately, for those who missed the October 6 event, it was a once in a lifetime experience.
Opening gently with a selection from Humperdink's Hansel and Gretel, the audience was transported into the realm of fairy tale as the beyond-stage-wide lighting created an ambiance of enchantment. To add to the story building between the notes, actors playing the soon-to-be witch slayers meander through the forest of musicians, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs later followed by the witch, and even later by their woodsman father. As the music changed in tone and tenor, the lighting lent itself to the nuance, and the music came alive. After the young duo victoriously crossed the stage with their father, the witch simmering backstage, the piece came to its happy conclusion and conductor Dirk Meyer shared more on the magic of storytelling before proceeding to the next tale of magic through music.
Sleeping Beauty awoke with dramatic flare, incorporating slides to tell the story through both picture and word. The exquisite musicianship of the players lulled the audience further into fantasy as the story unfolded into the well known celebration of true love. However, these were not the Disney versions, but the tales by the Brothers Grimm, in all of their twisted glory, made for a much grander experience in storytelling.
The third selection, from Ravil's Mother Goose Suite started as soft as down, the amber shading of leaves along the wall coupled with a soft violin created the illusion that we were in the Enchanted Garden as the gosling godmother stretched her wings, preparing to take us into another day. Drawing the audience into the new day, the composer told the story of the Berceuse behind Stravinsky's The Firebird Suite. The story unfolded much like the production, incorporating new media into old tales, making them fresh and new. The haunting images by Sarasota photographer Brian Braun seemed to blend into one another as if the audience was watching more of a time lapse session than a series of photographs. Coupled with a growing vibrancy in the music, the abstract images transported both the audience and the orchestra to another realm.
As the firebird took flight, it was apparent that the selection was not chosen without purpose. For as the firebird took wing, and the Sarasota Orchestra opened itself to this type of collaborative effort, it revealed itself as the Phoenix in the story it was telling, rising from the ashes of the way things have been traditionally done, and being reborn as something entirely new. For not only did the performance include collaborations onstage, but was magnified through the realm of social media as bloggers and tweeters shared their experience of the show with those unable to be in attendance.
To close the show, the narration of Cinderella by former neighbor Robert Turoff of the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre could not have been better cast. In addition to his rising from his own ashes after the recent drama surrounding the Sarasota landmark theatre to deliver such an eloquent performance, the way that the music caressed the edges of his narrative felt like the glass slipper was a perfect fit. Seated in a highback chair with grandfatherly stature, Mr. Turoff´s rendition of the tale was climactic in more ways than one. It seems that this new beginning for the Sarasota Orchestra is a rebirth of caring and collaboration that we can only hope will reverberate through the rest of our community.
Through all of the sights and sounds, through this multi-media collaboration, there was a consistency in the subtlety of the entire performance. Though the colors, actors, and images lent themselves to a greater appreciation of the music, it was never overblown or distracting. Beyond all of the added nuance, the audience was still able to amply enjoy the unabashed brilliance of the Sarasota Orchestra players for their own sake. For music lovers, the hour long performance was nothing short of mesmerizing and may stand to be one of the most enjoyable shows of the year.
Photo by Christine Alexander