Rilke! Roulette!

Posted on Dec 8th, 2013 by Jeanne Golan

This morning watching NY1’s On Stage, I was delighted to see my friend and neighbor David Garrison singled out for his fun, funny, poignant portrayal of Fagan in Papermill Playhouse’s production of Oliver!  To think that for his next role, David will be joining me in January at Roulette as the Speaker in Ullmann’s one and only monodrama.  (info here!)

The text is Rainer Maria Rilke’s epic poem, The Ballad of the Love and Death of Standard Bearer Christoph Rilke, inspired by a letter Rilke found among family documents concerning an ancestor caught up in some long-forgotten Austro-Turkish battle in 1663.  It’s no wonder that Ullmann, imprisoned in Terezin in 1944, was drawn to set it to music with its depiction of men morphing into cogs of war as viewed by the innocent child who deep down yearns for food, warmth and comfort.  The parallels to what Ullmann must have endured while writing it are undeniable, with both ultimately meeting the same fate.

There’s an immediacy to Rilke’s language that David and I wanted to maintain, so our first collaborative task was to fashion a version in English just as immediate. Made me appreciate all the more how connected David is to the spoken word, and excited for when we will bring the words to the music next month!  For these early winter days though, I’m cozying up to the piano part.  Lushly expressionistic, alternately song cycle and film score, I’m struck by how much of its soundworld anticipates today’s aesthetic.  So it’s especially fabulous that Roulette is hosting this program – for this first outing to take place at this amazing venue dedicated to new music would’ve made Ullmann, with his own dedication to mentoring contemporary composers, very happy…


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