I sometimes wonder if a musician feels inhibited by great performers that have gone before. If a cellist, say, is learning Bach’s cello suites for the first time, would they listen to Pierre Fournier or Yo-Yo Ma for inspiration, or would they just try to interpret the music strictly from the notes they read on the page? The same goes for all the countless recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, or, for a conductor, the myriad recordings of symphonies by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert or Dvořák.
I was thinking about this in light of the Everyman Theatre’s current production of Noël Coward’s Private Lives. We know that he wrote it as a vehicle for himself and Gertrude Lawrence, and there are even recordings of their clipped, rapid-fire delivery. When divorcées, Amanda and Elyot, discover that they are honeymooning with their new spouses at the same hotel, and they try to make small talk:
“Amanda: How was China?
“Elyot: Very Big.
“Amanda: And Japan?
“Elyot: Very small.”
Simple enough, but hilarious, given their delivery.
There was the transporting production of Private Lives with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan on Broadway in 2002, where they seemed to make the roles their own with a verve and energy that was sheer delight, and Kim Cattrall is giving it a go in New York even as we speak.
Deborah Hazlett and Bruce Nelson are giving their interpretation at Everyman until December 11th, and, I when I interviewed them, Deb’s response to performing in the shadow of those who have gone before seemed just right: use previous iterations as background and research, and then you have to let them go, because the interpretation that you eventually come up with will be uniquely your own. Bruce and Deborah are doing a good job of that.theater