Monday, August 16, 2004

Fringe Day 9, Part 1 - August 14, 2004, 1:00pm

From The Diary of Virginia Woolf
Nautilus Music-Theater
Hennepin (Hey City) Stages, upstairs

Thanks to Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, which later became an Oscar-winning movie, "The Hours," Virginia Woolf is seeing something of a renaissance. It's what got me hooked. So when I saw this song cycle on the list of upcoming Fringe events, I thought it was worth a look.

The fact that Nautilus Music-Theater was involved made it even more worth a listen. Nautilus consistently brings new and unusual forms of music performance to the Twin Cities - whether it be their monthly Rough Cuts series or the annual Composer-Librettist's Forum. They also work with some of the very best singing talent our town has to offer. So Nautilus and the Fringe seemed like a perfect partnership to me. (And apparently to Nautilus as well, since they're also aiding two other Fringe slots - John and Jen: Part One and Part Two - more on them later).

I saw the last performance of this and was very glad I did. Jill Anna Ponasik has a truly lovely voice so it was a pleasure to spend time listening to her and watching her take on the character of the great author Virginia Woolf.

The staging was simple but effective. A long writing table was strewn with small, colored pieces of paper that were one by one glued into the journal book as Virginia constructed her various entries, chronocling her days. At one point her frustration reaches a boiling point and handfuls of the paper are gathered and tossed into the air, creating a vibrant, disintegrating rainbow all around her on stage. These choices turned what might have been a drab, undramatic picture of a woman sitting and writing in a plain book, into something quite theatrical.

The music isn't for all tastes as it is often quite dissonant (on purpose, of course. Minnesota composer Dominick Argento won the Pulitzer for this operatic song cycle, so he knows what he's doing).

Also, I probably would have been better off if I'd noticed and picked up a flyer which contained the text of all the diary entries used in the piece, and read them beforehand. Not being a regular opera-goer or listener, my ears were not attuned to the sorts of enunciation that those with operatic training normally use, so I spent much of my time trying to make sure I was understanding what was being sung. Again, not the fault of the performer or the piece, it's my own shortcomings as an audience member.

This was another window into one of the great, if troubled, literary minds of the 20th century. I'm happy I added it to my tour of Woolf's legacy, and to my schedule at the Fringe.

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