On Stage: Karla Feverish About “The Winter’s Tale”

Brush up your Shakespeare…or not.

When Quantum Theatre tackles a piece of theater, it always becomes its own entity, ready to lead its audiences on an adventure. That might mean an unusual work or a unique location. Or both. In this instance, ready to launch its 25th season, artistic director Karla Boos is taking on William Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale”…sort of.

Yes, it’s one of the Bard’s more unusual works, sometimes labeled a comedy, sometimes a romance, sometimes a problem.  In brief, King Leontes of Sicilia gradually becomes convinced that his pregnant wife, Hermione, has had an affair with his good friend, King Polixenese of Bohemia. When the baby is born, he throws his wife in jail and sends his daughter to be abandoned in a desolate rural area.

The daughter, Perdita, survives and is raised by a kindly Shepherd. After 16 years, though, she meets Prince Florizel, son of Polixenese. Don’t fret — everyone winds up in Leontes’ court for the proverbial happy ending.

But can it become an opera?

Sort of.

Boos calls it a “pastiche,” inspired by a Metropolitan Opera production last year called “The Enchanted Island.” Could she create an original translation with not-so-original music? She could, with a lot of help. As it turned out, she and maestro Andres Cladera, who have been in cahoots three times previously, had talked about doing a Baroque production.

So they set about making their own decorative excess. Shakespeare may be borderline Baroque, but “Winter’s Tale” is not. Nor are composers like Handel and Vivaldi.

Why not add Pittsburgh’s own Chatham Baroque, also celebrating its 25th as well? And why not add to the core trio of Andrew Fouts, Patricia Halverson and Scott Pauley? Enter Baroque specialists like flutist Stephen Schulz, oboist Geoffrey Burgess and baritone David Newman in the role of Leontes to head a cast of 16 more. A dancerly quartet from Attack Theatre is added to the brew as well.

But what location would add to the ambiance? Boos has had her eye on the Union Trust building on Grant Street for a while, notable for its Baroquish (really Flemish/Gothic) mansard roof with terra cotta trim at the top. The inside reveals even more, including a ten-story atrium with glass dome. The elevator skims to the top, where a circular staircase and skylights await, plus a jewel box of a theater where all the activities will take place.

Yes, activities, in the best over-the-top Baroque fashion as designers Joe Seamans, Susan Tsu, Tony Ferrieri and Todd Brown confine themselves to the theater, but add a few special twists here and there.

It’s taken a full year to select existing arias and write new recitatives (which will tell the story), vetting each detail before the whole group. Should the musical structure be ABA or just AB? When Hermione defends herself in the trial, what aria should we use? (Handel’s “Crude furie,” it seems.)

Despite all the Quantum-isms, Boos firmly asserts that “Shakespeare’s play has been preserved,” still leading her “to unpathed waters, undreamed shores.”

Through Oct. 3, see Listings.






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