March 13, 2008
Mitisek and Co. expand boundaries of opera with puppets, poetry and ‘Frankenstein!!’
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"I have a terrible instinct to say 'yes,'" York said, about agreeing to do Gruber's unclassifiable, if not certifiable, piece. "It's got me into a lot of trouble, but also into a lot of pleasure."
But unlike the Gruber work, in which the actor will be required to sing and play one of the toy instruments, "Enoch Arden" has become a York specialty. He's performed it all over the world, including the Royal Palace in Stockholm and in poet Alfred Lord Tennyson's former house on the Isle of Wight. He also successfully recorded it in 2003 on CD, with accompanist John Bell Young.
The story of "Enoch Arden" is as memorable and heartbreaking -- and as old-fashioned ï¿½"as Tom Hanks' tale of plane wreck and return in "Cast Away." That is to say, it's a plot device that still works. Enoch, a fisherman's boy in rural Britain, marries Annie, a village girl. They have three children. He goes to work at sea and is shipwrecked for 10 years. When he returns, he finds Annie remarried to his childhood friend, Philip. During his absence, they had a child together. Enoch, seeing Annie happy, doesn't tell her he's back.
"One doesn't want to shout or strain," York said about performing the piece, "but there are times when this poor man is agonized." York cites the part in Tennyson's poem where Enoch, home from his desert island, looks in and sees his best friend married to Annie. "This is the truly noble, self-sacrificing part of the story," he said, "but he holds off [telling her] and it literally breaks his heart."
In doing all the voices, York says he'll bring "a slight variation of accent, so that the narrator can be heard apart from Enoch and the other voices."
Though he could just read Tennyson's words, York wants to do a lot more.
"I guess it's the actor in me," he said.
York met Mitisek in 2006 after an LBO performance of Wagner's "Ring" Cycle. It was a condensed English version that ran over a weekend -- about 10 hours, instead of the usual 15 or more -- and it thrilled York. "They got it down," York recalls. "I thought, 'Any company that has the balls to do this....'" So when Mitisek approached him, York already had what he calls "a frame of reference."
As for his role as "chansonnier" in "Frankenstein!!," York still seemed slightly at sea at press time in early March but was excited as rehearsals were about to begin for the first show, less than two weeks away.
"I just took a new version of 'Camelot' around America," York said about his singing-speaking role as King Arthur. "So the chansonnier part doesn't seem too far-fetched."
Mitisek thinks the Center Theater in Long Beach will be ideal for York's version of "Enoch Arden."
"It's a very intimate setting," he said, "a half-round stage with every seat a good one. It's great because you can create the atmosphere of the 19th century salons, and having Michael York so close up, it's almost like being in a movie."
Meanwhile, with "Frankenstein!!" Mitisek continues to explore and expand the meaning of the word "opera."
"It just means it's a 'work,'" he said. "That's its root meaning. When people think of opera, lots of times they think of a language they can't understand, people who don't fit the parts.... There's so much out there that is as beautiful and wonderful as 'Boheme' and 'Traviata,' and people have never seen or heard it. We're here to bring that."
"Enoch Arden" and "Frankenstein!!" will be performed March 14-15 at 8 p.m. and March 16 at 4 p.m. at Center Theater in Long Beach.
Rick Schultz writes about music for the Los Angeles Times and other publications.
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