Plummer brings star power and style to opening event

Christopher Plummer
Ottawa Citizen

By Richard Todd

Music and Beyond With Christopher Plummer At Dominion-Chalmers United Church, Thursday

Shakespeare and Music, that was the title of Music and Beyond's opening Gala Thursday evening. You might argue that programs with this or similar titles are relatively common, but rarely are they graced with the star power of someone like Christopher Plummer. Created by Plummer and Julian Armour, the show was bound to draw something close to a capacity audience, as indeed it did.

The production also featured the Jupiter String Quartet, pianist Andrew Tunis and an ensemble calling itself the Music and Beyond Festival Orchestra. And last, but hardly least, Kevin Reeves was the stage and music adviser.

There were close to 40 recitations and musical snippets, nicely chosen and generally well rendered. They began with Healey Willan's overture to Cymbeline, a littleknown overture to a not-sowell known play; and with its last notes, in came Plummer with Hamlet's greeting to the players.

This was followed immediately by part of Mendelssohn's overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, then excerpts from the play, then more Mendelssohn, and so on.

Among the other plays featured were Much Ado About Nothing, with an assist from Korngold, and The Taming of the Shrew, graced by two incidental pieces by Nina Rota. The second of them melted beautifully into Shakespeare's Sonnet 17 which, in turn, gave way to an excerpt from the Vaughan Williams setting of Greensleeves.

Then Plummer announced the intermission with a few cleverly adapted lines from Midsummer Night's Dream.

Grand-manner Shakespeare is not entirely in style these days, and Plummer's version of it would probably wear thin in a production of, let's say, Lear or Othello. But for a confection like this program it works magnificently. He put it aside to some degree for Mercutio's Queen Maab speech from Romeo and Juliet, one of the best of the evening's snippets. The most affecting sequence was Romeo's farewell and suicide, surrounded by portions of the Adagio from Beethoven's Opus 18, no. 1, beautifully played by the Jupiter String Quartet.

Selections from Henry V and William Walton's famous score for the Olivier film were most enjoyable. Those who may have missed the St. Crispin's Day speech were doubtless consoled by the less familiar but equally wonderful monologue of the Duke of Burgundy.

Plummer's rendition of Prospero's final speech from The Tempest was too stentorian. That was a pity since the text was so germane to the almost-concluded program. But never mind, it was a terrific show and a spectacular beginning to the 2011 Music and Beyond.