The N.C. Symphony had a novel idea to cap its 2009-10 season: It would perform works by Wolfgang Mozart to accompany a compact version of the play “Amadeus,” performed by actors from PlayMakers Repertory Company.
The pairing was such a success that Grant Llewellyn, the symphony’s music director, and Joseph Haj, PlayMakers’ artistic director, began planning a follow-up. After a series of challenges delayed that second joint presentation, a concert abridgment of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will play three performances in the Triangle this week.
The obvious orchestral choice was Felix Mendelssohn’s 1842 incidental music for the play, including the popular overture and well-known wedding march. To further illustrate the text, music by other composers has been added.
One last challenge came when Haj was selected this spring to head the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, precluding his participation in the “Midsummer” staging. Carl Forsman, dean of drama at the UNC School of the Arts, was tapped for the task.
Llewellyn and Forsman spoke in separate conversations about creating this presentation. Here are excerpts:
Q: How did you select the music and who are some of the composers?
A: (Llewellyn) Mendelssohn’s music was a no-brainer but we felt there was room for other music in the spirit of the play. We found Michael Gandolfi’s score for a 2001 production that captures the play’s delicacy and humor. That led us to Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale,” which will also highlight humorous moments.
Q: Will music be used as underscoring for dialog?
A: (Llewellyn) We chose some pieces to be backing or mood music for dialog scenes, such as Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question” and John Adams’ “Shaker Loops.”
(Forsman) I’ve just begun working with the actors using the Adams piece, which is played during the big miscommunication scene involving the two sets of lovers. It’s so brilliant, so illuminating, adding a kind of gravity to the humor.
Q: It sounds like there’s a lot of music in the production.
A: (Llewellyn) We don’t necessarily play all of the pieces in their entirety. The Gandolfi has little signature phrases to characterize Oberon, for instance, or when Bottom brays as the donkey. We use little snippets of some pieces to color the stage action, little musical signposts.
Q: When did the transition to a new director happen?
A: (Forsman) I was brought on board around the first week of April. I was given the very clever cutting of the script, which had already been worked out, including where the music fits in. Right now the program’s length seems to be about two hours with intermission.
Q: How many actors are in the cast?
A: (Forsman) There are 16 actors. Twelve are members of my rising senior class at the school, plus two from my faculty. Ray Dooley from PlayMakers will reprise his role as Puck from its production last fall. One of my best friends, New York actor Paul Niebanck, will play Oberon.
Q: What about the physical elements of the production?
A: (Forsman) Costumes and props are coming from our stock at the school and the lighting and sound designers are from the symphony. We’ll try to use as much of the space as we can. Besides the front of the stage, there’s a space behind the orchestra to play on and we’ll probably use the aisles. There also will likely be some improvised moments once we get on stage.
Q: How much time will you have to rehearse in auditoriums?
A: (Llewellyn) The rehearsal time is short, although a little more than for a regular subscription concert. But it’s the logistics, really. There will be production rehearsals without the orchestra and vice versa.
Q: Are these programs appealing to other symphony orchestras?
A: (Llewellyn) The “Amadeus” project has had a good deal of interest from orchestras such as Boston, St. Louis and the BBC. This new program has already attracted some interest from the U.K.
What: Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” presented by the N.C. Symphony, the UNC School of the Arts and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Choir
Where and when: Memorial Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill, 7:30 p.m. Thursday; Meymandi Hall, Raleigh, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Info: 919-733-2750 or ncsymphony.org