PETER AND THE WOLF IN CENTRAL PARK

 the Cast of Peter and the Wolf

Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 symphonic fairy tale Peter and the Wolf was our very own introduction to classical music and led to a lifelong appreciation. To this day we cannot hear a bassoon without thinking of Peter’s grandfather. The iterations of the piece are multiple and we once spent an inordinate amount of time searching for a copy of a jazz/rock version on the Deutsche Grammophon label. We failed.

But we always come to hear Isaac Mizrahi‘s version at the Guggenheim museum, part of their Works and Process series. The multi-talented Mr. Mizrahi conceived and directed the show, performed the engaging and droll narration, and designed the apposite costumes for the performers.

String players are placed stage right, percussion is stage left, and the wind instruments representing the various characters share the stage with some very fine dancers performing choreography by John Heginbotham. Maestro Michael P. Atkinson conducted the ensemble. The music is tuneful and accessible, not to mention enchanting.

The role of Peter was performed by Kara Chan wearing a propeller beanie.  Peter’s antics were represented by five string players (string quartet plus bass from Ensemble Connect). Paige Barnett Kulbeth made a finely feathered bird, dancing on point with true avian disregard for gravity. Her flightiness was represented by the richly ornamented flute melody played by Anjali Shinde. Marjorie Folkman lurched around on large flipper feet as Sonya the Duck, represented by the mournful oboe of Joseph Jordan, whilst Zach Gonder exhibited feline friskiness as the Cat, whose nimble motion was echoed by Bixby Kennedy‘s clarinet. 

There was plenty of humor in Grandfather’s untimely appearance which was gently remonstrated by Mr. Mizrachi. The role was performed by Norton Owen whose elderly plodding was seconded by the bassoon of Marty Tung.

But oh, that wolf! Daniel Pettrow was sitting on a park bench, hiding in plain sight behind an open newspaper, waiting for his cue. Never has the French Horn (Ryan Dresen) sounded so menacing! This lupine creature was kind of adorable, even as he terrorized the bird and the cat. He managed to swallow the duck whole but never fear for the tender feelings of your rugrats. She somehow survives and the wolf is taken to the local zoo.

Making an appearance toward the end is the Hunter, in this case, since we are in Central Park, a chubby and somewhat foolish park ranger, played by Derrick Arthur, supported by the booming percussion of Brandon Ilaw. Knitting the music together was the piano of David Bernat.

Judging by the rapt attention of the children in the audience, this modernized version of a Russian folktale made sense. It is rather sanitized and avoids the unconscious significance of the dangers of the forest which 
Bruno Bettelheim described as being useful in the psychological development of children in his book The Uses of Enchantment.

Nonetheless, it remains a fine means of introducing children to classical music. Unfortunately, we attended the final performance of this year but do keep it in mind for next December, as we are sure Works and Process at the Guggenheim will present it again.

© meche kroop