Hershey Felder’s “Puccini” Review – The Man and his Music

The poster for Puccini

By Barbara Keer and Elaine L. Mura

Hershey Felder’s work is unique and garners many loyal fans.  Two of his fans are Splash Magazine’s Worldwide editor Barbara Keer and Splash journalist Elaine L. Mura.  Both were thrilled to learn that Rubicon Theatre and Hershey Felder Presents were offering Hershey Felder, Pucciniwritten by and starring virtuoso pianist/performer Hershey Felder and featuring international opera stars Nathan GunnGianna CorbisieroCharles Castronovo and Ekaterina Siurina. This world premiere streaming presentation debuted Sunday, March 14 at 5 p.m. PDT / 8 p.m. EDT, and will continue to be available on demand until 11:59 p.m. PDT on March 21. Tickets are $55 per household and are available online.

MORE ABOUT GIACOMO PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Giacomo Puccini was an Italian composer, considered one of the greatest exponents of operatic realism. Born in Lucca, his operas include La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904), and Turandot (left incomplete). His works are some of the most frequently performed in opera history. 

PRODUCTION CREDITS 

Hershey Felder, PUCCINI is directed by Felder and Stefano Decarli, with associate direction by Trevor Hay. Production design is by Hershey Felder. Film production and live editing is by the DeCarli Live film company. Live broadcast and sound design production are by Erik Carstensen. Line producer is Annette NixonMeghan Maiya is the Director of Development and Research. Costumes and Hair are by Camilla Saccardi

Hershey Felder as Puccini – Photo courtesy of Puccini Production

MORE ABOUT HERSHEY FELDER (Writer and Performer): 

Named as the creator of one of Time Magazine’s 2016 Top 10 Plays and Musicals, Hershey Felder has performed over 6,000 performances of his self-created solo productions at some of the world’s most prestigious theatres and has broken box office records consistently. American Theatre Magazine says, “Hershey Felder is in a category all his own.” 

The original piano and music for Turandot – Photo courtesy of Puccini Production

Elaine  and Barbara chose to answer questions about this new and very special production.

IN WHAT WAY DID THE STORY WORK?

Barbara Keer:   Blending Puccini’s life story with the stories of the selected operas allowed for the exploration of the interactions that Puccini had with real women in contrast to the women in his operas.

Elaine Mura: Puccini turned out to be a far more interesting man than I suspected. Weaving his life story into his opera stories was brilliant. The parallels between his real-life experiences and his operatic characters was especially revealing. I particularly enjoyed Puccini’s hunt for beautiful fowl, beautiful libretto, and beautiful women “not necessarily in that order.” It certainly offered fascinating insights into Puccini’s deepest motivations. I can’t fail to mention another bon mot from a very Italian Puccini: Who is more powerful than even God? If you guessed his mother, you’re right on the mark. Felder gently demonstrates the special relationship between the youthful Puccini and his loving mother. Felder nailed Puccini’s innermost thoughts.

WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE STORY?

BK: The arias selected were those that depicted love in various forms, not always beautiful stories but always beautiful music.

EM:  I was especially entranced by how Puccini turned tragedy into vibrant, stirring, and poignant music. I wouldn’t describe myself as an opera buff, but Felder managed to grab my attention and interest. I got the opportunity to see opera from a new perspective, and I was impressed and intrigued. I plan to find out more about this art form. If Felder wanted to entertain and educate, he certainly achieved his aim.

HOW DOES THE VIRTUAL ASPECT OF THE PRODUCTION WORK?

BK:  The Vimeo format works well in terms of sharing the story.  But when it freezes or is interrupted, as with all computer related issues, it is disruptive and disappointing.

EM:   I was pretty lucky with the technology. Only two times for bare seconds did buffering occur – which was an improvement over my last Felder special, where I lost a couple of minutes. Overall, the intimacy of Vimeo allowed for added intimacy with the actors and storytellers.

WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION OF THE ENTIRE PRODUCTION?

BK: I thought the voices were beautiful and the arias were carefully selected.  It might have been smoother.  It was visually beautiful, as well. The psychological compare and contrast was an interesting vehicle.  In this case virtual was a distraction because there were some technical glitches.

EM:  I thought that Felder has outdone himself. Not only was the story intriguing and involving, but also the music and voices were stirring. I think that Felder deserves kudos for the overall production – I was blown away by his artful weaving of the Puccini biography and the fictional operas it produced. 

WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE SETTING FELDER CHOSE FOR THE SHOW? 

BK:  Using Puccini’s home/museum was a master stroke.  It brought Puccini into a human perspective where the viewer could place him growing up.  

EM:   The settings were the cherry on top. Visiting Puccini’s birthplace and the home where he was raised made his story so very personal. Including the theaters he visited just upped the ante. Felder folded a travelog of sorts into this true story of Puccini’s life.


HOW ABOUT HAVING THE CHARACTERS BECOME “REAL” TO PUCCINI – AND THE AUDIENCE? 

BK: This device of having the characters in the opera interact with Felder was brilliant.  This drew the viewer into the scene, making the story and the music more compelling.

EM:  Giving personas to his fictional characters created an immediacy which bridged the worlds of truth and fantasy. As Puccini apparently said, he gave pieces of himself to each of his characters, so in a sense they were real people too. Besides, Felder has Puccini liken each of his fictional figures to actual people and events that Puccini experienced, again giving them a sort of life in our world. 

WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF THE VOICES? THE MUSIC? THE SELECTIONS?

BK: Felder’s selection from the vast array of Puccini operas culled some of the most well known and most beautiful arias in all of the opera repertoire.  The performers were perfect and versatile. The voices were gorgeous.

EM:  As I mentioned above, I have never been terribly drawn to opera. Happily, Felder chose opera selections that I was familiar with – a real plus for a person who has experienced only the highlights of opera. The voices were seamless, and the orchestra did a great job of serenading us with Puccini’s incomparable music.

WHICH AUDIENCE  IS MOST LIKELY TO ENJOY THIS PRODUCTION?

BK: Seasoned opera buffs might find this approach a bit tame but it is so different it might intrigue them.  For novices, I think this is a way of opening the door to opera. This is not directed at very young audiences but I would think older children would find it very interesting as well as adults of all ages.

EM:  I agree that seasoned opera buffs might want more than the typical crowd-pleasers to draw them in. At the same time, how could a true opera lover turn his back on Puccini? This show certainly helped open up the door to opera for me. Congratulations, Mr. Felder, on a job well done.

Photos: Courtesy of Rubicon Theatre and Hershey Felder Presents

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