Comic and tragic love pair in performances

Published 11:08 pm Thursday, May 8, 2008

NATCHEZ — Performers in love and on stage together can have the right chemistry to take their roles to new heights. The Natchez Festival of Music’s Jennifer Greene and Andrew Cummings in “The Telephone” are no exception.

Soon to be married, Greene and Cummings met last year while performing together in New York. “We know each other’s strengths on stage and enjoy the complementary environment of working together,” Greene said.

In “The Telephone,” characters Lucy and Ben are in love but are unable to communicate because of too many telephone calls. Although “The Telephone” was written in 1947, this one-act comedy is even more appropriate today because of the prevalence of cell phones.

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Gian Carlo Menotti, winner of two Pulitzer prizes, wrote this opera and the best-loved “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” He was also a founder of the famed Spoleto Festival of Charleston, S.C., and Spoleto, Italy.

“The telephone is actually a third character in the story and different musical styles parody the development of communication,” Cunningham said. For example, Gilbert and Sullivan type pattern transforms into a beautiful Italianesque duet.

In the end of the story and in real life for Jennifer and Andrew, love and beautiful music triumph.

“Bluebeard’s Castle,” the first one-act opera of the evening is much more complicated.Jessica Medoff Bunchman, soprano, stars as Judith, Duke Bluebeard’s fourth wife. Alan Dunbar, a bass-baritone, stars as Bluebeard.

“The story is a bit psychological and manipulative. Judith’s love for the Duke is young and lustful,” Bunchman said.

Based loosely on a European folk tale, “Bluebeard’s Castle” by Bartk, tells the story of Bluebeard’s wealth, power and loneliness. When he brings home his new wife, she insists on opening the seven locked doors in his home. Her increasingly terrible discoveries provide dramatic and exciting music as she tries to escape the fate of his former wives.

Richard Nechamkin, a New York based director and accompanist, returns for the seventh year to the Natchez Festival of Music. “There are many interpretations of the Bluebeard story. Performers vie for these roles because they are so challenging,” Nechamkin said.

Jewels and crowns adorning Bluebeard’s wives are graciously on loan from the private collection of Ginger Hyland, owner of The Towers. Dramatic visual contrast between bijoux and a stark background are a hallmark of the set design and lighting.

According to Ms. Bunchman, even though this opera was written in the early 1900s, it could be performed in a contemporary setting. “It’s about a different type of love and it allows me show a different side of artistry,” she said.

The performance begins at 8 p.m. at the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center, 64 Homochitto St. Both operas are sung in English. Tickets are $25. Advance tickets are available by calling 601-445-6103. Tickets are also available at the door.

Also featured this weekend is the Night of Stars, at 8 p.m. today, showcasing eight outstanding artists at the First Presbyterian Church, 405 State St. Artists include returning favorites Tynan Davis, Will Earl Spanheimer, Corey Trahan, and Bill Lewis on piano. Jessica Medoff Bunchman, Stanley Wilson, Christine Heath, Emily Newton and Diane Fox complete the impressive roster.

Baton Rouge native, Corey Trahan, returns to the Natchez Festival of Music for his second season. Trahan also performs Will Parker, in “Oklahoma!” on May 16 and 17. “A busload of people are coming from Baton Rouge,” Trahan said, expecting family, friends and former colleagues from the LSU School of Music.

For the entire month of May, more than 27 public musical events are presented in main stage productions, plantation performances, special recitals, and concerts to provide an unsurpassed combination of musical variety. For detailed information and advance ticket purchase for upcoming performances, go to