At Walt Disney Concert Hall, the TchaikovskyFest received some starry theatrical enhancement Wednesday under the direction of actress Kate Burton.
Each piece in the bill -- which consisted of Tchaikovsky’s “Hamlet, Op. 67,” “The Tempest, Op. 18” and “Romeo and Juliet,” with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela -- was prefaced by a brief performance from the play inspiring the composition.
Tony winner Robert Sean Leonard got the evening started by offering a rendition of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, which is a little like starting a Wimbledon final without a warmup. There was no time for the actor to ease into the pitched interior battle of his character, and he flung himself into the psychological melee with ostentatious daring.
Leonard’s approach, though performed in modern dress, evoked the grand actor-manager style of the late 19th century when Tchaikovsky wrote this work. Rhetorical and gesticulatory effects were writ large. Individual words were stressed in a manner that made a histrionic point if not always a poetic one.
Leonard is a supple stage actor capable of great naturalness, so one must assume that Burton and he intentionally opted away from realism toward a more thunderous manner in keeping with the storm and stress of Tchaikovsky’s interpretation. The melodramatic underpinnings of “Hamlet” were lifted, providing a glimpse into a flashier theatrical epoch.
Joe Morton, of the hit TV series “Scandal,” delivered Prospero’s speech renouncing his “rough magic” with the relaxed command of a protagonist who has been successfully stage-managing the wild action for four acts already. The language, alternating between turbulence and calm, vengeance and forgiveness, “midnight mushrooms” and “airy charm,” provided just the right introduction to Tchaikovsky’s by turns tempestuous and heavenly response to this greatest of Shakespearean romances.
Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, reprising their recent Broadway duet in “Romeo and Juliet,” were allotted more significant stage time. The two enacted the balcony scene, in which the headlong, headstrong lovers profess undying love, no matter that they only just met.
Bloom bounded around Disney Hall with athletic boldness, scampering on ledges amid an agog audience, scaling platforms above the orchestra, and at one point whisking by Dudamel and giving him a friendly, conspiratorial nudge.
Bloom's crisp handling of the verse was even more impressive than his physical vigor. Rashad’s less assured rhetorical manner wasn’t an ideal match, but there was a sweet delicacy to her presence and her comic instincts brought sneaky truth to the romantic craziness.
The music wasn’t directly engaging any of these stage moments. Tchaikovsky’s compositions translate the dominant dramatic rhythms of the plays into symphonic music that was beautifully realized by Dudamel and the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.
The Russian composer, in effect, offers his impressions of each play's variegated gestalt. In saluting Tchaikovsky and his dramatic sources, this L.A. Phil presentation served to mellifluously remind music and theater lovers alike just how incalculably widespread Shakespeare's impact has been.