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Monday, May 19, 2008 | Last year, The Old Globe Theater was all about audience participation.
First, Hershey Felder presented his fantastic one-man show, “George Gershwin Alone,” and urged theater-goers to join in on a sing-along of Gershwin hits. It was like drawing flies to honey; the enthusiastic Felder inspired gleeful audience members young and old to sing their hearts out. It was a sight (and sound) to behold.
Then came Felder’s portrayal of the emotionally intense Fr&eagrave;déric Chopin which gave audiences a peek into the cultural sophistication of the 19th century Parisian salon.
Now, the Old Globe presents the final installation (and world premiere) of Hershey Felder’s “Composer Sonata” trilogy of one-man performances based on famous composers’ lives with “Beethoven, As I Knew Him.”
In “Beethoven” Felder portrays both Ludwig van Beethoven and Gerhard von Breuning, an acquaintance of Beethoven’s. Felder uses recollections from von Breuning’s original text, “Aus dem Schwarzspanierhaus,” together with Beethoven’s music to paint a portrait of the artist considered one of the greatest composers in history.
A natural and engrossing storyteller, Felder was at his best during “Beethoven” at the piano bench. Using discourse and music, Felder took the audience through pieces like Beethoven’s Fifth symphony, expounding on the famous fate-at-the-door theme. The “Moonlight” sonata rendering was exquisite. Throughout the night, Felder used anecdotes and visuals (conducting to the night sky of stars!) to enhance the overall musical performance.
Though starker and narrated at a more measured pace than both “Gershwin” and “Chopin,” “Beethoven, As I Knew Him” offers a poignant introspection into the austere composer’s beloved music.
The emotional blow from his impending deafness was torture for Beethoven. Felder was able to convey that to the audience in spades
Françe;ois-Pierre Couture’s understated, elegant set works nicely. A sketchbook-style backdrop screen flashes projections of abstract, black-and-white drawings, like fingertip drawings made on frosted glass, which elicits Beethoven’s memories and inspirations.
Erik Carstensen’s sound design implements recorded orchestral pieces to occasionally accompany Felder on piano to elegantly illustrate the scope of Beethoven’s work.
“Beethoven, As I Knew Him,” most importantly, leaves the audience with thoughtful sentiment for the life struggle of the man already respected and admired as one of the greatest composers ever.