The world of classical music is deep, vast and varied enough to consume a music-lover's whole lifetime. We speak of the great works of Western classical music in much the same way as we speak of the Western canon in literature -- with reverence and a sort of awe. Music has its J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Puccini; Western literature has Beowulf, Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Dickens, Tolstoy, Goethe and Cervantes.
But -- they're all from the other side of the world. Isn't there any room for an American or two?
You betcha! The Berkeley Repertory Theatre as well as the San Francisco Opera are about to prove it this coming month.
Berkeley Rep, as it is affectionately known, will open a one-man show called "Maestro," during which Hershey Felder will portray our great American musical icon, Leonard Bernstein, in shows from June 5 through 22 in Berkeley's Rep's Thrust Stage. And, just across the Bay, the San Francisco Opera will present one of the most deeply American shows ever produced: Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's "Showboat" on the War Memorial Opera House stage from June 1 to July 2.
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was America's ultimate Renaissance man of music. He was at the top of the heap as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator and television personality.
Felder, the man who will portray him, says Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, is not only "a great musical talent," he is also a "consummate master of bringing musical geniuses to life," as he did in his powerful performances of "George Gershwin Alone" at the Rep last summer. He uses his skills as a virtuoso pianist, as well as his talents as a master entertainer to thoroughly win over his audiences. In doing so, he combines first-person narrative with the music of Bernstein and the artists who inspired him, to present an engrossing journey that traces the composer's musical and personal influences, struggles and triumphs.
Felder notes that what fascinates him about Bernstein is that he was drawn to both classical and popular work, just as he is.
And indeed, Bernstein composed some of the 20th century's biggest Broadway hits: "On the Town," "West Side Story," "Candide," and more. He had one foot firmly planted in the great European classical traditions of Beethoven and Mozart, while the other foot moved in step with American jazz traditions. His "Maria" from "West Side Story" is an aria to rival one by Puccini, while his overture to "Candide" can stand alongside a Rossini overture.
As a conductor, his Beethoven Symphony performances measure right up with the best of the world's conductors, and his Romantic period repertoire interpretations can mesmerize the most discerning listeners. And thanks, in part, to Berkeley Rep and Feldman, Bernstein's musical immortality will endure through the ages.
Details: June 5-22 at Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., $34-$87; 510-647-2900, www. berkeleyrep.org.
Contact Cheryl North at firstname.lastname@example.org.