Arabian nights in Madison - Scheherazade Beyond the Score
January 14th and 15th, audiences are transported from the cold, grey storms of Wisconsin to a land where music dances through the hot air like vibrant silks. Madison Symphony Orchestra’s “Beyond the Score” rendition of Scheherazade is a beautiful piece, albeit not to its’ full potential in some areas.
The music of Scheherazade is loved and appreciated by many, and has been since it was published in 1888. Because of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s travels, the music shows influences of English, Russian, Middle and Far East music styles. The result is a timeless piece that reminds listeners of the 1001 Arabian Nights, while bearing an element of magic and mystery. During the second movement, conductor John DeMain brings out the fighting rhythms of the woodwinds and the harp, bringing out a timelessness that can only be described as enchanting.
James DeVita, as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, breathes life into the composer and provides insight into the themes and influences in the four movement suite, Scheherazade. His passionate delivery of a periodically dry script carries the “Beyond the Score” portion of the night. His counterpart, Brenda DeVita (as The Storyteller), falls flat. Her performance highlights the pitfalls of the script, being vocally monotonous and borderline disinterested.
Photo by Greg Anderson
MSO’s concertmaster Naha Greenholtz plays the sweeping violin solos that link each movement together. Every featured moment seems more challenging than the last, and yet they all maintain the eerie beauty of Scheherazade. Greenholtz’s expressivity as a musician proved for dynamic storytelling.
A large projection screen follows the travels of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov with shadow puppetry, cultural art, and photographs. The transitions between slides are seamless and mystic, incorporating shades of blues and greens reminiscent of the Caribbean seas which he sailed. However, the shadow puppets were, at times, clunky, and many of the photographs representing the Middle Eastern section of Rimsky Korsakov’s travels didn’t reflect the same generation and mood as described by James DeVita.
While some of the “Beyond the Score” elements of Scheherazade did not reach their full potential, the flawless musicianship of the Madison Symphony Orchestra brought the colorful, swelling tale of the 1001 Arabian Nights to life.