Peer Gynt in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater
The Norwegian Company Peer Gynt
From Gudbrandsdalen, Norway
A Dramatized Concert Version Based on Peer Gynt
Lake Gålå Production
Play by Henrik Ibsen and Music by Edvard Grieg
(Ibsen Bio) (Grieg Bio)
American Symphony Orchestra
Program Director: Svein Sturla Hungnes
Conductor: Timothy Myers
Film Director: Arne Rostad
Production Manager: C. Townsend Olcott II
Stage Manager: Hans Voigt
Light Design: Jeff Nellis
Sound Design: Dave Meschter
Costumes: Ingrid Nylander/Svein Sturla Hungnes
Makeup: Greta Bremseth
Choir Director: Nina Furulund Moen
Atle Halstensen: Composer/Organizer/Synthesizer Soloist
Starring: Svein Sturla Hungnes as Peer Gynt,
Kari Simonsen as Mother Aase, Linda Øvrebø as Solveig,
Mari Maurstad as Ingrid/The Greenclad Woman
Rune Reksten as The Farmer at Haegstad/The Mountain King/Strange Passenger/Begriffenfeldt, Stein Grønli as The Button Molder/Bøygen/The Blacksmith/Captain
With: Karoline Krüger and Camilla Granlien
Press: Origlio/Miramontez Co.
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 6, 2006
Peer Gynt, the multi-media extravaganza, produced by the Lake Gålå Norwegian Company, in a synopsized English version of the Norwegian annual event, was staged in chilly night temperatures on an October eve in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. I could barely take notes, as my hands were clutched under a blanket (thanks to a better prepared publicist). My “sturdy New Englander” background was suddenly put to use, although I should have known to bring sweaters and gloves for this two-hour-plus, park adventure. I had once seen a staged production of Ibsen’s play that had left me muddled, but this presentation was quintessentially challenging. I am also familiar with Grieg’s sumptuous music, based on the play, and I eagerly awaited Solveig’s song, worth the chill.
Also worth the chill was the media film, above the stage, of colorful fjords and fields, snow-capped mountains, rocky shores, and glistening lakes. Included in the film, in fragmented fashion, were passages of the Norwegian production, some too bawdy for Delacorte, and some obviously inherent to the natural lake surroundings. The Central Park trees were alight, and the Grieg production, in orchestral showcase and vocal accompaniment, was magnificently performed by the American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Timothy Myers. Some of the lead actors sang and some spoke in English rhyme, but I would have preferred to hear the play in Norwegian, with super-titles on the media screen, like the opera. The program guide, with a forward by the Norwegian Ambassador to the United States, is organized as part production outline and part sightseeing journal, with photos of museums and exhibitions. Yes, I would now love to see Norway. But, I would also love to see this play in its native language, perhaps in operatic genre.
When the music stopped and Peer (played by Svein Sturla Hungnes, also the Director) appeared with horse-cart (the main prop), he was charismatic and dynamic, but the enormity of the setting seemed to dwarf his persona, except when the hundred-plus chorus and extras appeared, as terrifying trolls and cloaked creatures. Peer’s lovelorn Solveig, Linda Øvrebø, was all innocence and effervescence, and her signature song pierced the crispy night air. Kari Simonsen, as Peer’s mother Aase, was poignantly projected, even as death overcame her in that same horse cart. Peer Gynt is looking for himself, in many incarnations, with many women, some of whom refuse his overtures, and some of whom wait forever. His encounters with the surreal Mountain King (Rune Reksten), the Greenclad Woman ((Mari Maurstad, a.k.a. the King’s daughter, another surreal soul), and the Button Molder (Stein Grønli), were the source of mental muddle, although the clearest scenario was the Button Molder’s soliloquy, with long ladled-prop, gathering new, dead souls.
The surprise of the night occurred just after intermission, as rap music and red lighting brought Peer and three pop singers onstage for more surreal guesswork, or perhaps, a quirky twist, with the original Peer Gynt switched to Atle Halstensen’s creative take. The choir, led by Nina Furulund Moen, sang beautifully, but often behind stage structures, causing an acoustical challenge. But, as this was a multi-media event, there was plenty to watch and plenty on which to focus; for example, the film, with bucolic clouds reflected in a shimmering lake, or with excerpts of the larger scale production, e.g., dozens of black cloaked creatures, just as the staged cloaked creatures slowly march in. There was much to appreciate and much to enjoy, and no first venture is perfect. Again, I would love to see the play, Peer Gynt, produced in operatic form, with super-titles, with Grieg’s consistent score and those incredible Norwegian landscapes. The theme of Peer Gynt has mystery and philosophy, the stuff of opera and ballet. In fact, what a ballet it would be. As a play, it needs simplicity and structure, a smaller stage and intimate setting. Or, the long, large, lake version for all those lucky Norwegian audiences, who grew up on this fantastical tale.
Kudos to Ibsen, and kudos to Grieg.
Svein Sturla Hungnes in a scene from PEER GYNT.
Photo courtesy of Lars Erik Skrefsrud
The Greenclad Woman in a scene from PEER GYNT.
Photo courtesy of Lars Erik Skrefsrud