None But the Lonely Heart: The Strange Story of Tchaikovsky and Madame von Meck
Also see Fred's review of Extremities
Eve Wolf, who plays the grand piano with precision, has scripted the evening which draws from letters, diaries and memoirs. Donald T. Sanders (recognizable to western Massachusetts art followers for his singular leadership of Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts) directs and facilitates Lonely Heart while Vanessa James furnishes wardrobe and set pieces most appropriate to the latter portion of the nineteenth century.
Von Meck (Ariel Bock) was a music patron who adored Tchaikovsky's music and thought to fund him (actor Jonathan Epstein ever holds the audience's attention as the composer) so that he could continue to write. The time is 1876 and thereafter. The two became close friends for 13 years but never met one another. She had listened to his compositions at a concert and took it upon herself to communicate with him. He was, at first, reluctant but came to accept the financial patronage.
The first hour of Lonely Heart is comprised of absolutely delightful and oftentimes romantic performance by pianist Wolf, cellist Adrian Daurov, Susie Park on violin, the vocal tenor Edwin Vega, and exquisite ballet performer Daniel Mantei. Actors Bock (stage left) and Epstein (stage right) speak but only upon occasion. Really, however, the musicians' brilliance enhances opening act heartfelt moments. Eventually, we learn about each. She has 11 children. Tchaikovsky's homosexuality is an issue for him. Soon enough, through evolving correspondence between von Meck and the famous composer, they become close confidants.
The first scene after intermission finds Bock, as von Meck, walking past the villa in Florence where Tchaikovsky resides. He is quite aware yet the two never come together face-to-face. The text now allows for greater actor movement and this lends further dimension to the performance; one begins to realize the depth of the relationship between the two individuals. Previously, the strange intimacy was sensed and now it is confirmed.
The long and quite expressive Piano Trio in A minor at, perhaps close to 15 minutes, is sustaining. As it evolves, one might imagine that Tanglewood, just a couple of miles around several bends in Lenox, is making a visit to the Bernstein theater. Or, this could be a theatergoer moment to imagine a sparkling stream or flowing waterfall. Those who have wondered and/or wished for a confluence of performance genres will be most gratified.
Eve Wolf, who is ERC Founder and Executive Artistic Director, is central to the success of the production since she has written it and coordinates the musical renderings. Sanders's role, commendably fulfilled, requires proper inclusion of dialogue so that one understands nature of the close yet atypical friendship Tchaikovsky and von Meck experienced.
Epstein, currently appearing in Heroes at other times on this very stage, once again establishes himself through his persona, resonance and presence. Bock, married to Epstein and also (as is he) a longtime S&Co actor, presents von Meck as someone who is determined, caring, but not overly emotive. Her face does not imply strong feeling for Tchaikovsky but her words carry forth the hope that he, through her support, will continue to prolifically compose.
In all, this is a welcome and, for this company, different evening as it blends classical music with the written word. None but the Lonely Heart: The Strange Story of Tchaikovsky and Madame von Meck continues through August 3rd at the Bernstein Theatre on the grounds of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. For tickets, visit Shakespeare.org or call (413) 637-3353.
- Fred Sokol