By Marcina Zaccaria
“Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart” is an insightful play written by Eve Wolf based on letters, diaries, and memoires. The play focuses on the relationship between Piotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky and Nadezhda von Meck, the patron he never met. Von Meck supported Tchaikovsky’s career from his early success in the 1880s until his death from cholera.
In some ways, the story defines heartache. The lead characters bear their soul, but never meet face to face. The play doesn’t suffer from lack of depth or interpretation. Tchaikovsky, a troubled man, is full of contradiction, sometimes deeply confessional, sometimes exuberant.
Both Simon Fortin as Tchaikovsky and Ariel Bock as Nadezhda von Meck are compelling performers. Fortin is reflective and torn between the letters on his desk and the desire to reach out. Von Meck is expressive and understanding, not only an admirer from afar, but a loyal patron and a generous soul.
Director Donald T. Sanders creates plenty of tension and drama, and the staging is smart, as we follow the actors from Moscow to Florence, the city where the lead characters almost meet. The actors in the play glide, crossing at diagonals and whirling around Tchaikovsky. Blake Friedman is skilled as the tenor. Sanders carefully constructs each moment of the operatic drama, and the play doesn’t fail from false grandeur.
Daniel Mantei was particularly striking as the dancer. He creates the image of nobility for the ballet world. A non-speaking role, it is pivotal for the drama. What is Tchaikovsky without “The Nutcracker Suite?” What is Tchaikovsky without the artists and the patrons who shaped his career?
Performing from the middle of the stage, the musicians serve as an anchor for the larger play. Rachel Lee Priday (violin), Adrian Daurov (cello), and Eve Wolf (piano) give life to the work. It was a joy to hear the nuance in Tchaikovsky’s compositions. James Melo, director of theatrical production, also serves as musicologist for the piece. Some of the highlights include “Nocturne,” for cello and piano, “Scherzo” for violin and piano, “None but the Lonely Heart/ Net, tol’ko tot, kto znal,” and “Intermezzo from The Nutcracker”. In the second act, we hear more of the Piano Triao in A minor and finally, “My Angel, My Protector, My Friend/ Moj genij, moj angel, moj drug” At Brooklyn Academy of Music, it is always a joy to see accomplished musicians adding to a piece of live theater. “Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart” is no exception.
Vanessa James was responsible for the set and costumes. The stunning lighting design by Beverly Emmons, includes candelabra in the background. The movement of the light is careful, and warms and cools the space. Thin, draped fabric frames the space and contributes to the strength of the mise en scene.
“Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart,” is a great journey. Though loss and loneliness are at the core of the play, it is really an in-depth look at the music and the people Tchaikovsky brought into his world. The artistic team is careful with details and finds insightful ways of looking at the subject matter. Their fresh perspective contributes to the play’s success. “Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart” played for a limited run at Brooklyn Academy of Music from March 5 -9.
*Photos: Talya Chalef