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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 8, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 14
SMC takes on the Holocaust in bold performance
Arts & Entertainment
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SMC takes on the Holocaust in bold performance

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Seattle Men's Chorus'
Falling in Love Again
April 2-3
McCaw Hall


Probably the boldest-ever compilation of material by Seattle Men's Chorus was Falling in Love Again, heard April 2 and 3 at McCaw Hall. Not only was the production a risk artistically, it was a risk organizationally to sell enough seats for a concert about a subject many want to avoid: the Holocaust.

Falling in Love Again left the audience wildly praising the groundbreaking experience, which mixed a first act of fun and frivolity with a second-act opera which told the love story of two young men torn apart by the Nazi death camps.

The evening was introduced by Mina Miller of Seattle's Music of Remembrance. The organization originally commissioned a new composition based on the little-known persecution of Gay men during and after WWII in Germany, through application of a very old German law known as Paragraph 175. Miller spoke of the original commission and finding Jake Heggie to compose it. She explained how the work had been expanded to include the Chorus and what we would soon experience.

The first act, focused on pre-WWII German freedoms, opened with the incandescent Nick Garrison reprising his role as master of ceremonies from the recent production of Cabaret at the 5th Avenue Theatre - yet Garrison did much more than that. He seamlessly linked together the entire act, handling improvisational banter with the audience and encouraging applause with graciousness and an impish spirit. Members of Spectrum Dance Theater also made the evening more special with excellent dancers.

Beginning with 'Wilkommen,' the first song in Cabaret, the act included Yiddish song, 'Bei Mir Bist du Schoen,' a silly but well-arranged choral version of 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,' and ended with 'Cabaret' ('Life is a cabaret, old chum') just before intermission, somewhat ominously leading us to inevitably contemplate how life was not a cabaret just after that period.

The first act included 'Lavender Song,' an early 20th-century anthem for Gay rights, which says, 'We're going to win our rights to lavender days and nights.' The inclusion makes it clear that the struggle for freedom still goes on in many countries around the globe.

The second act was unlike anything the Men's Chorus has ever done. It was clearly a stage performance, with artistic director and conductor Dennis Coleman and his musicians in the pit. David Pichette, one of Seattle's treasured actors, portrayed Gad Beck, an old man who is dreaming of his lost love, Manfred. At the age of 19, Manfred and his family were taken to the death camps. Both Gad and Manfred were also Jewish, in addition to being Gay.

Gad Beck survived the Holocaust to write an autobiography, which included descriptions of how homosexuals were mistreated and marginalized after WWII was over, when homosexuality was still illegal under Paragraph 175. Even those who survived the death camps were subject to re-arrest after the war, rather than paid restitution as many were. They were forced to stay silent.

Morgan Smith, a baritone of wonderful purity of tone, portrayed Manfred, and appears in Gad's dream to demand that Gad remember him. Gad has buried his pain so deeply that he is almost unable to access his memories of Manfred.

Yet Gad finally starts to remember - first the good times, and then the taking of Manfred and his family, when Gad courageously dressed in a Nazi Youth uniform to save Manfred, who refused to leave without his family.

Gad asks Manfred to tell him about his horrible experiences. Thus begins the most harrowing portion of the evening, where the Men's Chorus, dressed in prison camp garb, appears behind a scrim to sing about those who disappeared one at a time, were taken to camps, and made to wear the pink triangle. Dancer Michael Bagne takes the spotlight to dance to a story of one young man's persecution, where he is forced to wear a bucket on his head and becomes a naked target for vicious dogs to attack.

The Chorus also sang about The Singing Forest, the wooded area outside Buchenwald full of tortured men, who were hung from their wrists pulled from behind them and left in the trees. A single hook lowered from the ceiling and pulled one man from the chorus below - an eerie and unforgettable moment. Morgan Smith as Manfred sang about the incomprehensibleness of it all, which perfectly encapsulated the truly unfathomable nature of the actions of the Nazis.

The Chorus members were at their most professional - even the ebullient Coleman, who usually takes the stage to welcome the audience, stayed respectfully seated.

Every aspect of the Seattle Men's Chorus' presentation was subservient to the gravity of the production, and Falling in Love Again left a lasting impression that will not soon be erased.

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