Review: Music Inspired by Shakespeare (BlackCreek Music Festival)

On Wednesday June 29th I attended the Music Inspired by Shakespeare concert featuring the Castleton Festival Orchestra, Dame Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons. The concert took place at the Rexall Centre in Toronto on a warm summer evening.

The first orchestral piece conducted by Lorin Maazel was excerpts of Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. The music was full of tension and uncertainty, since the excerpts were taken from the following scenes: Montagues and Capulets, Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb, and The Death of Tybalt.

The night took an ethereal, more romantic turn with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture. This second set was the highlight of my night because it was one of the more famous works.

Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream was performed after the intermission, interspersed with recited verses from Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons. Mirren wore a white gown and shawl onstage while Irons donned a black tuxedo.

When it was time to finally speak, a large airplane flew overhead. Irons watched the airplane in the sky as the audience laughed. Irons, who played Scar in The Lion King, then bellowed in his dark, enigmatic voice into the open-air stadium – usually reserved for tennis matches.

Mirren sounded sultry and dramatic when it was her turn to speak. They both read from booklets on their stand. Mirren stumbled on her lines a little bit. Irons enjoyed looking at the orchestra play when he did not have to talk. Both actors took turns reading excerpts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream with playfulness and lighthearted humour. One of the last songs performed was the Wedding March.

I enjoyed seeing the two Oscar winners in real life. I loved the concept of an under-the-stars concert. The venue has wonderful acoustics for an orchestra, although airplanes sometimes buzzed over my head causing a distraction. If you are going to see a concert here, however, the sound quality beats the Air Canada Centre any day of the week.

The concert was sophisticated but relaxed, and the audience loved being in the company of two movie stars. In addition to the orchestra and the actors, the Castleton women’s chorus also sang during the last piece. I liked how they mixed up acting, singing and orchestral music into one magical, midsummer work of art.

I took great issue with one thing that night – getting there. Rexall Centre is situated in York University. The parking for this event was $20 and was extremely far away from the venue (perhaps a 20-minute walk).

Shuttle buses were provided to move people to and from the venue and parking lots, but by the time I parked there did not seem to be any more buses providing shuttle service. This is quite unfortunate and I hope that parking for the festival will be less expensive in the future – or at least, that attendees are warned ahead of time that parking is expensive and time-consuming. My theatre companion had trouble accessing the venue by public transit as well.

The Black Creek Music Festival is in its first season and is providing an eclectic choice of performances this summer. While this was more a musical concert than live theatre, I enjoyed the theatricality Mirren and Irons brought to the event. The stadium seems well suited for outdoor summer performances, and I’m glad to know that the Centre’s gorgeous acoustics are not only for tennis playing grunts. And I have an even bigger crush on Jeremy Irons now.

See my live blog coverage of this concert here.

Photo credit: iSport – Anil Mungal