Smile Politely

Round and round

I suspect that, like a lot of people, I was a fan of Arthur Schnitzler long before I knew who he was. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Schnitzler (and you’re forgiven, by the way — I had to glance at my notes to get his name right just now), the Viennese playwright was responsible for one of the theatre world’s most imitated and adapted pieces. The play, entitled Reigen, tells the story of 10 interconnected lovers of varying social strata. Over the course of the play, the characters — including a prostitute, a married couple, a maid, and an aristocrat — appear first with one lover, then with another, until the circle of intimacy has come back to the first. Some of these encounters are clandestine affairs, some business arrangements, some marital, some casual.

Sounding familiar yet?

I didn’t know the play as Reigen at first, but rather by its French title, La Ronde. But, by whichever title you know the piece, its scandalous history is the same. Written by Schnitzler and first printed for private circulation in 1900, the play was given a proper publication in 1903, only to be censored a year later. It did not receive its first official production until a couple of decades later, and the response was immediate and vehement. Schnitzer was decried as a pornographer.

Despite the criticism, threats, and legal battles that surrounded its birth, this tale of disparate characters, their intimate entanglements, and the way that sex transcends social barriers has endured. In fact, “endured” might be too tame a word for this play and its longevity. It might be more accurate to say that it has transcended.

In addition to its film adaptations, Reigen has been used as the basis for—among numerous others—episodes of television (including “The Longjohn Flap” on M*A*S*H), a musical entitled Hello Again (by Michael LaChuisa, 1994), and David Hare’s The Blue Room, which caused a bit of a scandal when it opened in 1998 at London;s Donmar Warehouse, featuring a somewhat naked Nicole Kidman.

All of these iterations of the play, however, are What Was. Let us focus on the Now; because right now, this week, Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen will rise again and be given new life. On April 29 and 30, Krannert Center’s Caldwell Playhouse will host a new opera  entitled Love Games, adapted from Schnitzler’s legendary work by Joseph Turrin.

Composer Joseph Turrin (pictured, right) is someone with whom Central Illinois audiences may well be familiar. His opera The Scarecrow has been performed at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, his soundtrack to the to the film Miss Sadie Thompson was featured at the Virginia Theatre as part of a previous Ebertfest, and his composition “Hemispheres” has been performed by the U of I Wind Ensemble. All of this in addition to his numerous film scores, compositions, and recordings.  

Stephen Fiol, who is directing Love Games, said the following about the show’s inception:

When we did The Game of Love the Summer of 2012, Barbara Hedlund had a conversation with her friend, Joe Turrin, a composer living outside NYC. I had directed an opera of Joe’s (The Scarecrow) in 2007 at Krannert and got to know Joe, a very successful composer. Barbara mentioned that she was playing in a musical (The Game of Love) based on Schnitzler’s Plays of Anatol.  Joe remembered that in the early 1980’s he had written a musical, Love Games, based on Schnitzler’s La Ronde. It was performed by an EQUITY company outside NYC and got a positive review in The Times. He put it in a drawer and forgot about it until summer before last.

After this conversation with Ms. Hedlund, an award-winning local musician, Turrin then called Fiol (pictured, left), asking if he would consider mounting a production of Love Games so that he could have a DVD made (which would assist in getting the work published). Fiol agreed and spoke with the University of Illinois’ Opera Studio. They agreed to produce the work as the Opera Studio’s spring production, and Love Games will be performed in Caldwell Playhouse this April 29th and 30th. Each performance begins at 7:30 p.m., with free admission and general seating.

Love Games has been revised and updated for this production and will include not only new music and dialogue (whcih makes this production a premiere) but also a new cello part added specifically for Barbara Hedlund. Among the talented vocalist featured will be Caitlin Powell, Izis Mollinedo, Christopher Anderson, Kelly Knecht, Margaret Blackburn, David Cataleno, Cristin Colvin, Alexandra Rolfs, Lyle Jackson, Richard Schonberg, Kate Myers & Madeline Whitesell, Ellen Denham, Edward Brennan, and Griffin Candey.

In addition to the performances of Love Games, the following related events will be taking place:

Fascinating Vienna – The Arthur Schnitzler Project (April 29-30, 2014)

Schnitzler’s Scandals: a symposium reconstructing the socio-historical and cultural contexts of Reigen (1897) / Love Games (2013), will be held Tuesday, April 29th, from 1:30-4 p.m. in the UI School of Music building auditorium. Free admission.

Pre-Performance Libretto Sessions with Stage Director Stephen Fiol, Composer Joseph Turrin, Music Director Cara Chowning, & Cellist/Associate Producer Barbara Hedlund, , April 29th & April 30th at 6 p.m. in the Krannert Room. Free admission.

For the April 30th Libretto Session, speakers will be Professors Carl Niekerk & Max Kade Distinguished Visiting Professor Margrit Vogt from the U of I Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures who are experts on Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler.  

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