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Susanna Mälkki conducts the New York Philharmonic with Pierre-Laurent Aimard performing Ligeti Piano Concert. Photo by Chris Lee
At Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall, on the evening of Saturday, November 4th, I had the exhilarating pleasure of attending a marvelous concert featuring the New York Philharmonic under the exceptionally impressive direction of the Finnish conductor, Susanna Mälkki.
The first half of the program was devoted to music by Hungarian composers, opening with a charming diversion—a performance of the immensely famous Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 of Franz Liszt, transcribed here for the cimbalom by the admirable soloist, Jenő Lisztes. Encountering this work played on this somewhat exotic instrument foregrounded its affinities with Central and Eastern European folk music but it would have been more enchanting in an orchestral version or even in its original form for the piano. Nonetheless, the audience was apparently delighted, responding with an enthusiastic ovation.
More remarkable was the ensemble’s superb account of Béla Bartók’s splendid Romanian Folk Dances, BB 76, which vary across a range of moods and styles—plaintive, ebullient, lyrical, and so forth—although, surprisingly, these exquisite pieces are maybe equally haunting when presented on the piano. The renowned virtuoso—surely one of the greatest of our time—Pierre-Laurent Aimard, then entered the stage to perform the perplexing Concerto for Piano and Orchestra by the celebrated avant-gardist, György Ligeti, whose centennial is being celebrated this year. I am not really competent to evaluate the merits of this intractable score but the initial movement, marked Vivace molto ritmico e preciso, is vigorous and arresting while the ensuing Lento is enigmatic, meditative, and eccentric, becoming highly dramatic. The scherzo that follows—with a tempo of Vivace cantabile—is not especially playful in tone despite its genre. The penultimate movement—Allegro risoluto, molto ritmico—is forbidding in its inaccessibility while thePresto luminousfinale is ludic if also inscrutable.
The summit of the evening, however, was achieved in the event’s second half—a stunning realization of Maurice Ravel’s brilliant orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky magnificent Pictures at an Exhibition. The “Gnomus” episode—the first of the “pictures”—is uncanny and arresting and the succeeding “Il Vecchio Castelo” is elegiac and mysterious. The “Tuileries” section is brief but effervescent and the “Bydlo” movement—“Polish Ox-Cart”—is strangely ominous. It precedes the jocular “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks” and the solemn “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle.” Next is the lively “The Marketplace at Limoges” and the lugubrious, portentous “Catacombs: Roman Burial Place.” Eerie but serene was “With the Dead in a Dead Language” while “The Hut on Chicken Feet: Baba-Yaga” was exciting, sinister and dynamic. The panoply concludes thrillingly with the majestic and triumphant “The Great Gate of Kiev.” The artists deservedly received abundant applause, closing a memorable concert.
What: Dracula, A Comedy of TerrorsWriters: by Gordon Greenberg, Steve RosenDirector: Gordon Greenberg Cast: Jordan Boatman, Arnie Burton, James Daly, Ellen Harvey, Andrew Keenan-Bolger Where: New World Stages — Stage 5 340 West 50th StreetRun: Through January 7th, 2024
One thing you can count on every Halloween is an appearance of Dracula or, at least, some form of a vampire added to the mix. That could mean a re-run of the many classic films with the undead count such as Universal’s original version of “Dracula” (with Bela Lugosi) or Hammer’s “The Horror of Dracula” (with Christopher Lee). But this scary season doesn't necessarily require an appearance of the original bloodsucker himself. It could include some resurrection of his character in a movie, play or live visual presentation in some Haunted House.
In 1897, when Irish author Bram Stoker published his long-wrought novel “Dracula” for just six shillings, he didn’t realize that he’d created one of the most iconic figures of all time. Though this story of an aristocratic, undead mastermind was popular in its day, little did Stoker know that his blood-drinking, soulless monster of the night would become the source of countless permutations, reinterpretations, and re-examinations of this creature and its implications. There’s even aBram Stoker Festival in Dublin whichcelebrates the Gothic, the supernatural, the after-dark and Victorian as well as the Count himself.
Of course, along with Stoker’s horror classic, the inevitable humorous satires, parodies, and various send ups cropped up. From a tale of the ageless Count needing to leave his ancient homeland to resettle in England to tap fresh blood, the original gothic narrative has often been revised with sometimes hilarious results.
Now, through “Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors,” this battle with the master of the undead receives an outlandish rethink. Enabled by a compact, five-person cast — Jordan Boatman, Arnie Burton, James Daly, Ellen Harvey, and Andrew Keenan-Bolger — this rapid-fire comedic reimagining of this archetypal tale garners guffaws and lots of snickering.
Taking off from the original’s classic characters, they’re transformed into these versions: sweet Lucy Westfeldt, vampire hunter Jean Van Helsing, insect consumer Percy Renfield, and behavioral psychiatrist Wallace Westfeldt among others. Here they find themselves in a faux British country estate which doubles as a free-range mental asylum. With its cast of slapstick, quick change comics who switch roles with the aplomb of fast handed pickpockets, this “Dracula” not only makes you scream, it does it with laughter. The show also exposes a fundamental ridiculousness that illustrates just how resilient the original concept is: it can take jabs even at its core of terror and still retain a certain majestic-ness.
Through its compact 90-minute show, elements of goth, camp, and variant sexuality are thrown into a gender-bending, quick-change romp. With all the wacky characters, a pansexual Gen-Z Count Dracula tops the list of existentially challenged characters.
As a buddy of iconic gay Victorian author Oscar Wilde, the actual Stoker was believed to be a closeted gay man in a repressive England, so his novel was rife with suggestive sexuality and gender reversals. Director/co-writers Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen’s send-up of this novel is meant to be viewed through a very contemporary lens.
Just as the book transcended other Gothic horror of its day, this comedy rises above being simple holiday fare. Make your way to the Westside’s New World Stages for a comedic jab at the jugular.
For more information, visit www.DraculaComedy.com
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