With the Fourth of July behind us, the most intense portion of the summer arts and entertainment calendar lies ahead in the next six or so weeks.
Tops this week is Maine State Music Theatre’s current production of “Evita,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice Broadway epic. Operatic in its concept and intensity, “Evita” recounts the real-life story of an impoverished Argentinean peasant girl who rises to power and virtual sainthood in her country in the late 1940s and 1950s.
The Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival is the centerpiece of every summer season at Deertrees Theatre in Harrison. The 44th season opens July 12 with a new artistic director at the helm.
PORTopera’s big production for 2016 is Georges Bizet’s “Carmen,” but most summers the company also mounts a smaller show. This year it’s Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Medium,” which has three upcoming performances in various venues in southern Maine.
“A cross between a fantasy of the bedroom and a saint.”
That’s one character’s description of the central figure in “Evita,” the 1976 Broadway blockbuster musical that’s based on the real-life saga of Eva Peron, mistress and wife of the dictator of Argentina in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
“Evita” (the title comes from the affectionate nickname that Eva Peron was known by) was written in a sung-through rock opera style. The libretto recounts the story of an impoverished peasant girl, whose driving ambition and sexual promiscuity led her to the bedrooms of a succession of ever more powerful and prominent men, culminating in Argentinean army colonel Juan Peron.
When Peron becomes president (later dictator) in an election riddled with fraud, Evita becomes his second wife, then embarks on a political career of her own, running a trade union federation and a multi-billion peso charity that’s an avenue of personal enrichment. But she’s adored by the poor people of Argentina, who venerate her as a saint in life – and even more so in death.
With the book by Tim Rice and score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Rice, “Evita” garnered 13 Tony Award nominations and won six. The winners included the three most coveted statuettes: Best Book, Best Score and Best Musical.
I loved Maine State Music Theatre’s production, which was helmed by Marc Robin, assisted by Ed Reichert as music director. In the title role, Kate Fahrner is stunning and electrifying, capturing her character’s ferocious ambition and total devotion to serving herself no matter what the cost to the nation. Fahrner also boasts the fine voice needed for the show’s signature song, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”
Matt Farcher provides a brilliant foil and critical commentary in the role of Che Guevara. (Although the notorious revolutionary was born in Argentina and lived there for some time during the Peron era, his presence in this story is Rice’s dramatic invention.) Nat Chandler convincingly handles the comparatively minor part of Juan Peron, and Robin gets fine performances by Ben Michael and Salena Qureshi in important smaller roles.
Despite the small number of principals, this production of “Evita” has a very large cast of both adults and children.
For the past 43 summers, the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival has been a mainstay of our state’s cultural life, bringing five weeks of classical chamber music performed by internationally renowned artists to the Lakes Region.
For most of that time, performances have been held in the rustic edifice of historic Deertrees Theatre, known for its sylvan setting and unique architecture. And for most of those years the artistic director has been Laurie Kennedy, also known as the longtime principal violist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
I’ve been a regular at SLLMF for a couple of decades, and it’s one of my favorite summertime happenings.
Deertrees remains SLLMF’s venue for the 44th season, and Kennedy will return as performer, but she’s turned over the duties of artistic director to Mihae Lee, one of the festival’s longtime pianists.
Born in South Korea, Lee came to the U.S. to study at New York’s famed Juilliard School and has lived here ever since. She also earned a certificate from the New England Conservatory in Boston, where she now lives.
Lee is best known for her work in small ensembles, performing since 1987 with the Boston Chamber Music Society (which frequently visits Maine) and, of course, for her annual SLLMF appearances. She is married to hornist William Purvis, another longtime SLLMF artist.
Lee’s inaugural program is titled “Gypsy Flair,” and comprises three pieces performed by six musicians. The concert will open with Franz Joseph Haydn’s popular “Gypsy Trio.” It continues with Bela Bartok’s “Contrasts,” a masterful work for the unique combination of clarinet, violin and piano using gypsy rhythms.
“Contrasts” was originally written for Benny Goodman and has since become a favorite of chamber music programs. The concert will end with Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet, a monumental work that’s noted for its “Gypsy Rondo” movement that ends the piece with an exhilarating headlong rush.
Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival concerts are scheduled for Tuesday evenings July 12-Aug. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Deertrees Theatre, 156 Deertrees Road in Harrison. Call 583-6747 or visit Deertrees-Theatre.org.
July is the month for PORTopera, and the season traditionally opens in mid-month with a small-scale production by the Young Artists company in various venues in southern Maine.
This year’s choice is “The Medium,” a short (hour-long) opera in English by Italian-American composer-lyricist Gian Carlo Menotti. Menotti is best known for “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” but he composed two dozen other operas.
The plot of “The Medium” revolves around a psychic reader who offers communications with the dead, for a fee. When one of her seances goes terribly amok, the audience is left wondering about what’s real and what’s not.
“The Medium” will be sung by six young artists, each of whom holds a conservatory degree in opera studies. They all have smaller roles in PORTopera’s main-stage production of “Carmen” later this month, but they’re front and center in these Young Artists programs.
Richard Gammon will serve as stage director and Timothy Steele will play piano. Three performances are slated: July 13 at Deertrees Theatre in Harrison, July 15 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland and July 17 at The Temple in Ocean Park. Visit PORTopera.org.
“Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” is the iconic song and scene from “Evita,” currently running at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.