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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Don Juan Seduces Through Song

Author: Abbie Beane

It was a time to draw out the crimson emotions within the soul, and commit the mind to what the heart has been committed to from its incipience.

April 17 opened these gates when a festival of the stimulus of life, unabashed love, emotion and pronounced sexual passion commenced. Enshrouding all was a cryptic veil of the darkness called seduction.

Roundtable discussions pertaining to the seducer and the seductress, screenings, introductory lectures articulated in seven different languages and the opening event, a musical gala held on Thursday night in Le Chateau's Grand Salon, introduced "singing seducers" to Middlebury College's first Don Juan Cross Cultural Symposium.

The show drew a small crowd (those unafraid of succumbing to Don Juan's subtle powers), which was disappointing given the high caliber of the performance.

It was a dramatic event, including pieces sung in French, German, Italian and Spanish by six different performers, and complemented by the seasoning of soft piano notes.

In rich colors, the players stood, using full voices and alluring gestures to captivate the audience. Among them were four College undergraduates, all voice students in the Music Department, and visiting guests, Matthew Curran and Lynne Vardaman.

Curran, a native of Princeton, N.J., has performed twice before on campus His repertoire covers a wide range of roles and genres, including operatic and musical theater roles.

Vardaman's musical career has also been full and far-reaching. She has performed in everything from lighthearted operetta to world premiere productions. She currently chairs the Voice Department of the Manhattan School of the Music Preparatory Division, while she continues to focus her career on "the music of our time."

The pianists played an equally vital role. They included Bettina Matthias, assistant professor of German, and the woman behind the gala's organization, composer Jorge Martin, who has received numerous awards for composition and playing.

The audience was helpless before such a talented cast whose current of voices, ebbing and flowing, slowly pulled the listeners in.

With suggestive, sweeping hand gestures and revealing facial expressions, it was hardly necessary for one to understand a word of foreign dialect to gather the implications of the songs. The music behind the words effectively captured the essence of the represented emotions.

Large sounds, bold and round, light and melancholy, and sometimes deep and enchanting, seemed to defy the walls.

Especially effective performances included Curran's portrayal of Don Giovanni, where his tongue, like a sheet of music, seemed to roll Vardaman up in musical notes and promises of affection and joy, and the final piece, "La Petenera," sung by Vardaman, which elicited several exclamations from the audience after the final note.

According to Matthias, this performance was "absolutely unique," making the College the first to witness the birth of this unprecedented symposium.

Though well worth the outcome, the collaboration of the events was extremely arduous. After receiving a grant from the Starr Foundation, and the help of Michael Geisner, associate dean of faculty and professor of German, who helped administer the funds for the entire Symposium, the topic of Don Juan was chosen. Matthias pointed out that it offered "an interdisciplinary way to shed light on the character from many different perspectives."

Matthias basically organized the entire Symposium. In the words of Kamakshi Murti, chair of the German department, "without [Matthias] indefatigable energy and enthusiasm as well as extreme hard work, the event would not have taken place."

When asked if she was partial to any one song, Matthias admitted, "I don't really have a favorite — we did a lot of beautiful songs and arias that all have their own attractive sides." She also admitted to loving the challenge of the music, especially the Schubert songs, which everyone knows and has a specific idea about how they should sound. "To live up to that ideal is what keeps musical pieces fresh and interesting."

Matthias also calls the pianist's task of accompanying opera arias "a double-edged sword," which is "fun and challenging," as one must "engage in a more 'multimedia' presentation, and have the task to replace the entire orchestra."

Kate Bushman '04, who performed "Habenera" from "Carmen," said that she started practicing a few months before the performance. She added "it was pretty intimidating, since each of [the students] were mixed with these amazing professional singers."

At the same time, Bushman admits that singing in a foreign language challenges one to relearn a lot of pronunciation. "I think we could do a lot more with languages here," she said, "we have great programs, so we might as well make use of them."

Murti also agrees, saying, "Programs such as these need to be encouraged. They provide a forum for both students and teachers to get together and share the different cultures that languages represent."

The symposium appeared to be a learning experience for everyone, through language, and through the fascinating character of Don Juan himself. Matthias calls him, "an important character in the literatures we teach here."

One lesson learned was that trite seductive techniques are not necessary when you possess a voice powerful enough to take the bubbles out of your champagne, and the petals off of your roses.