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Monday, Oct. 30, 2006 | It’s not often that an audience is involved directly in a theatrical performance. In “Monsieur Chopin,” creator/performer Hershey Felder directly addresses the audience, guides them through the performance and ends with a lively Q&A session with the audience. It makes for an emotional experience.
Hershey Felder astounds. He delighted audiences with his one-man production, “George Gershwin Alone,” with such fervor that when audiences began to request more of Felder’s work, the Old Globe Theatre booked him for an extra week. But this time Felder takes on a new persona; the great composer Frédéric Chopin in “Monsieur Chopin.”
“Chopin” is the second “movement” of Felder’s trilogy, “The Composer Sonata,” with Gershwin the subject of the first and Beethoven of the third.
Just as in “Gershwin,” Felder does not merely present a dry biopic, but rather he invites the audience in to uniquely participate in the production. In “Chopin,” the composer himself addresses the audience as if we are attending a private piano lesson with him in the year 1848 in his Parisian salon.
Formal and reserved as the lesson begins, Chopin begins to give more and more insight into his compositions, his character, and eventually his private life.
Felder performs some of Chopin’s greatest pieces, “Prelude in C Minor,” “Mazurka in A Flat Major” and “Nocturnes” while interweaving explanations of the musical structure of his compositions.
Chopin, born in Poland in 1810, is considered the inventor of the romantic piano movement. He moved to Paris in 1831 and was well-received by high society, playing in the famous salons along contemporaries such as Franz Liszt and the novelist George Sand. But Chopin was also terribly, painfully emotional. At the time it was said he suffered from “melancholia.” Today we call it bipolar disorder.
Felder elegantly presents Chopin as a master craftsman, but also deftly handles the deeply emotional artist without going over the top. Touching lightly on the underlying sadness of the beauty of Chopin’s music, Felder never takes it over the top. Bittersweet, touching and beautiful all at once, the music swells with Chopin’s emotions.
As “Gershwin” Felder conveyed the consummate performer; emotions in check, brilliant songwriter. Felder’s “Chopin” has a loner’s sensitivity; performing in salons but disliking people, falling in love (with novelist George Sands) and being rejected. Felder, through Chopin’s music, gives us a glimpse of the passionate composer.
The glimpse into the composer continues after the lesson in a question and answers session with monsieur. Less astute members of the audience took this to mean questions for Hershey Felder and broke character as Chopin’s students. Felder gracefully parried the questions, thus remaining skillfully in character.
Felder’s shows are not to be missed, the audience was rapt with attention throughout, and somehow Felder seems to embody the very nature of whatever artist he chooses.
A special week-long engagement, “Monsieur Chopin” closes Tuesday night at the Old Globe Theatre.