PRODUCTION CONCEPT and DESIGN
When eighth blackbird’s new, fully-staged production of Schoenberg’s expressionist masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire premiered in 2009, critics were united in their praise. “The intense interaction of the players and [soprano Lucy] Shelton turned this performance into a genuinely new way of looking at a 20th-century musical icon,” wrote Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times, while Musical America admired the way director “Mark DeChiazza revitalized Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire in an intriguing new staging,… successfully returning the prickly speech-song cycle to its expressionist musical theater roots.” The Chicago premiere was equally successful, inspiring headlines like “blackbirds light up the night with their intriguing new take on Pierrot Lunaire” (Chicago Tribune) and “eighth blackbird flies high; century-old piece gets the treatment it deserves” (Chicago Sun-Times). Playing entirely from memory, the musicians are able to engage fully with the drama and interact with the other performers – soprano Lucy Shelton, contemporary dancer Elyssa Dole, and the group’s own percussionist Matthew Duvall in the title role, which he mimes “with perfect detachment, giving the old Frenchman a Mr. Bean-like demeanor” (Chicago Sun-Times). As Schoenberg’s narrator, Shelton – “the definitive Pierrot reciter of our generation” (Chicago Tribune) – delivers the poems in Sprechstimme, or “speech-voice” style, allowing each pitch to rise or fall in the manner of spoken words. After the Chicago performance this past winter, veteran music critic John von Rhein agreed, proclaiming the group’s interpretation “an incisive account,” and praising “Mark DeChiazza’s fluid staging… [which] added its own layer of surreal ambiguity” (Chicago Tribune).The work has toured extensively, including to the Kennedy Center in the capitol, where it received praise from The Washington Post's Anne Midgette.
The short video below offers a glimpse into renowned ensemble eighth blackbird's theatrical production of Schoenberg's iconic song cycle: