Mark Morris Directs Milhaud’s Operas-Minutes at Tanglewood
Berkshire audiences are long-accustomed to seeing Mark Morris Dance Group at both Jacob’s Pillow (since 1982) and at Tanglewood (since 2003). This year—MMDG’s 30th anniversary—the company bookends the season, with its pre-BSO-arrival Tanglewood performances last week and its season-closing appearance at Jacob’s Pillow August 24 - 28.
In addition to his prominence as a choreographer, Morris has also directed operas for the past 20 years. This Sunday, July 10, he directs the Tanglewood Music Center Vocal and Instrumental Fellows in a fully staged production of Darius Milhaud’s 3 Operas-Minutes.
You can be forgiven if you’re unfamiliar with this work, or with the French/Jewish composer Milhaud, who was a member of Le Groupe des Six before he migrated to America upon the outbreak of World War II, where he was most famous for being Dave Brubeck’s music teacher.
Morris’ relationship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra began by way of his collaborations with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. When asked how he began performing at Tanglewood, Morris replied, “We were asked by Ellen Highstein to work at Tanglewood, and we only go where we’re invited.”
Cultural correspondent Bess J.M. Hochstein asked Highstein, director of the Tanglewoood Music Center (TMC) to give us the details.
Bess Hochstein: What inspired you to invite Mark Morris to perform at Tanglewood?
Ellen Highstein: Mark is an exceptional musician, who happens to work in choreography, stage direction, and other areas. Having seen his dance work, I felt that the TMC fellows would get an enormous amount from working with him and his company and discovering his musical ideas.
This isn’t his Tanglewood directing debut—he had already directed our performance, without dancers, just our singers, of Stravinsky’s Renard in 2009 at Tanglewood on Parade.
BH: The Milhaud Operas-Minutes seem somewhat obscure; it’s difficult to find a recording of them. What is it about this material that you thought would be appropriate for Mark Morris to direct?
EH: The Milhaud operas had been done at the TMC in its early years—in the ’50s, I think. They seemed like a perfect fit for us: a small orchestra, interesting and charming music, lots of roles for the singers, and consistent with TMC’s early years of opera—that is, doing lesser-known works that deserve a hearing. Mark is a great fan of Milhaud’s music—we commissioned his dance to La Creation du Monde (called Cargo, debuted in 2005; Susana Millman photo) for that reason—and I knew that he’d be perfect for this collaboration.
BH: Will this program be fully or semi-staged?
EH: Fully staged. The production is being designed (set and costumes) by a multi-talented member of his dance company, Maile Okamura (in photo, courtesy MMDG).
BH: The Milhaud works are pretty short. What else is on the program, and why? Is Mark Morris also directing the other material?
EH: The operas are indeed tiny. Between each will be duets by Monteverdi and Carissimi, and an aria by Handel—baroque works that also have classical themes, as do the operas, and will serve as entr’actes and provide musical contrasts. Mark is directing the whole evening, which will be performed without intermission.
BH: Please tell me a bit about the interaction between Mark Morris and the TMC fellows. Do they enjoy working together? Do sparks fly?
EH: They love working together. Only positive sparks fly—that is, the fellows are inspired by Mark’s work, and they find him enormously engaging; he finds them open and interested and incredibly able.
It’s interesting as well that many of the musicians he’s worked with at the TMC have become members of the MMDG family, and appear in their regular home and touring season shows. Three of the four singers from this year’s Renard, for example, will be singing the work at Mostly Mozart at Lincoln Center later in August—the fourth wasn’t available, so MMDG is hiring the TMC singer who did that part in 2009—and five TMC fellows will be performing the Schumann Piano Quintet (his dance work V, photo by Sharon Bradford) at Jacob’s Pillow at the end of August.
The Tanglewood Music Center Vocal and Instrumental Fellows perform in a one-night-only program directed by Mark Morris
At the Tanglewood Theatre, July 10 @ 8 p.m.