Racimo con Brio: Premier and Party at the WRL

April 29th, 2010 by Kim Lenz

The great composer and conductor, Gustave Mahler, is enjoying his150th birthday celebration world-wide this year and the 100th anniversary of his death will be recognized in 2011. Next Sunday, May 9 at 3 p.m. in the Williamsburg Library Theatre, the world premier of a new play called “Alma Mahler” by local resident, writer and personality Sandy Lesberg will help mark these and many other occasions.

Those occasions include Sandy’s 85th birthday, Mother’s Day and part of the Library’s Centennial Celebration made possible by Lee and Betty Ann Griffin. Wow! Candles all round! And this special performance is free of charge and open to the public.

But suddenly I enter the picture. This is the 98th week that I have written in this column about music and theatre and art and this n’ that with “the greatest of ease,” meaning, rarely is it ever a task or “work” for me to do because doing it comes easily. But suddenly I find it hard to write about something I’m doing! You see, I’m directing the play and also Palomino, my company, is co-producing with the Williamsburg Regional Library.

So, where, how do I begin?  

Let’s talk about Alma, the centerpiece of this one-woman play. It’s being presented as a staged reading with music by Mahler. Abigail Schumann portrays the title role including nine other characters in Alma’s life. You probably know Abi from many productions in the area especially as Abigail Adams in the play “Jefferson and Adams” performed annually around July 4th at the Kimball Theatre. She’s a fine actress who also directs and writes and currently is Producer at Colonial Williamsburg Productions.

Alma led an incredibly exciting and influential life. Born Alma Maria Schindler in Vienna, (1879-1964), she was a legend in her own time; wife, muse and lover to some of the 20th century’s most important figures in music, art, architecture and literature. Her married name became Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel, having married in succession composer and conductor Gustave Mahler, Walter Gropius, (leader of the Bauhaus Movement of art and architecture) and Franz Werfel, (writer of “The Song of Bernadette” and “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.”)

She had passionate and stormy love affairs with painters Gustave Klimt, (his picture “The Kiss” was sold three years ago in New York at a hefty price tag of $135 million), and Oskar Kokoschka, famous for his picture “Bride of the Wind.” Each of these giants in the arts loved her, dedicated works to her, and looked to her for their creative strength.

The center of the play is Alma’s indomitable, persevering spirit, her vibrant and controversial personality. Her story celebrates the art of living and loving. Yet, her complex and full life was not without deep sorrow. She enjoyed motherhood four times but tragedy struck three of her children. Only one child, Anna, lived out a full life.

Working on this play has been journeying down a road filled with joyful discovery, a labor of love for me; first, as a birthday gift to my friend Sandy, obeisance to Mahler’s great music,  being back in the Burg working with my friends and colleagues and finally, participating in the 100th birthday of the Williamsburg Regional Library on Mother’s Day.

On another note, a follow-up to the Virginia Arts Festival performance of Bernstein’s Mass last week. I report that it was solid and stirring before a nearly packed house. Standing, honest ovations. But time and space don’t allow me to go into more detail about the story or the music or the fine vocal and musical performances, all there as anticipated.

But I do bring attention to the boy soloist, local area resident Jon Michael Paul, a natural musical talent who gave a commanding and perfect performance, not only for his young years but for any seasoned artist. His character represented the link, the story’s A-B-A, the glue that symbolically pulled everything together. As portrayed, he embodied hope, and revelation.

For me, this character and this performance were like seeing a fresh, blade of grass find a way to push up through cement – that after all is said and done, whoever your god may be, there will always be the power of faith that can heal. Kudos to all.

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