As a part of Shakespeare Lives, a series of cultural activities related to Shakespeare throughout 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death, Mexico’s National Symphonic Orchestra (OSN) will present a production of William Walton’s “Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario” at the Palacio de Bellas Artes on May 6 and 8.
The concert will also feature mezzo-soprano Belem Rodríguez, the Bellas Artes choir and the Schola Cantorum de México choir.
The piece, sometimes categorized as a “narrated symphony” or a “concerto for narrator” is adapted from music written by Walton for the 1944 film of Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” directed by and starring Lawrence Olivier. In 1990, English composer Christopher Palmer arranged music from the score into a suite for orchestra, choir and narrator, which he titled “Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario.” The narrator reads sections of Shakespeare’s play, mostly from the characters of Henry V, the Chorus and the Duke of Burgundy.
Mario Iván Martínez, one of the most accomplished and best-known Shakespeare actors in contemporary Mexico, will narrate the OSN’s production. In an interview with The News, Martínez said that his interest in Shakespeare started at the age of six, when he saw his mother, actress Margarita Isabel, play the fairy queen Tatania in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Later, he studied Shakespeare acting in England at Stratford-upon-Avon and at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA).
Back in Mexico, he has built an impressive résumé of Shakespeare roles, including Iago in “Othello” and Malvolio in “Twelfth Night.” However, since returning from England, he has had few chances to perform Shakespeare in English.
“This production of Henry V is a great opportunity for me to perform Shakespeare’s text in its own language,” said Martínez. “The piece really needs to be performed in English, to preserve the music of Shakespeare’s words.”
Martínez has also had success as a musician, with a special interest in music by contemporaries of Shakespeare and music inspired by Shakespeare. As a tenor in the vocal quartet Armonicus Cuatro, which performs mostly early music and renaissance music. As part of Shakespeare Lives 2016, Armonicus Cuatro performed “El Cisne y el Hidalgo” (“The Swan and the Priest”) in April 2016, a concert of vocal music with texts by Shakespeare and Cervantes, in honor of the 400th anniversary of their deaths.
Martínez previously performed “A Shakespeare Scenario” with the Jalisco Symphonic Orchestra in 2015, but the performances with the OSN will be the first where he has the text completely memorized.
OSN conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto describes himself as “a great lover” of the music of Walton, and he has conducted the OSN in performances of several pieces by the English composer, including his Violin Concerto, his Viola Concerto and his First Symphony. When Martínez proposed a performance of Walton’s “Henry V,” Prieto was enthusiastic about the idea.
“I can’t think of anyone other than Mario Iván Martínez to narrate this production,” said Prieto. “The narrator needs theatrical ability, which Mario Iván has, and very solid musical training, which he also has. And I really can’t think of anyone else in Mexico who has the level of experience with and talent for Shakespeare that Mario Iván has, who has his level of training with Shakespeare in English.”
Sections of the 1944 film will be projected during the production, as will Spanish subtitles of the narration. However, as the Chorus who introduces the play famously asks the audience to let the words of the play excite their imaginations, saying “think, when we talk of horses, that you see them,” Martínez said that he wanted to avoid “over-illustrating” the play.
“The music does speak for itself, and there are descriptive sections in the text that work perfectly on their own as well,” he said. “I don’t think it’s necessary to be illustrating everything on a screen.”
Unlike similar works for orchestra and narrator such as “Peter and the Wolf,” “Henry V” is not aimed at children. However, parents are encouraged to bring their children, and the performance is appropriate for all ages.
“All I can say is that my three kids, who are six, 10 and 12 are coming,” said Prieto. “I’m not sure how much of the performance a six-year-old will be able to understand, but the music of Walton is incredibly accessible, and seeing an actor of this caliber perform in Bellas Artes is something I want my children to do.”
Walton, who has been called “the last great movie composer” shares this weekend’s program with one of the first great film composers: Sergei Prokofiev. The concert will open with a performance of sections of Prokofiev’s score for Sergei Eisenstein’s film “Alexander Nevsky,” with projections from the film.
Like the OSN’s production of “Henry V,” many of the works that make up Shakespeare Lives are works that take inspiration from Shakespeare and experiment with theatrical forms, rather than straightforward stage productions of his plays.
“To commemorate the Shakespeare’s quadricentennial, we celebrate the ways that people have revived and modified his plays for new generations in the 400 years since his death,” said Rocío Bermejo, director of Anglo Arts, which is cosponsoring the production. “Shakespeare lives in 2016!”
“Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario” will be performed on Friday May 6 at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, May 8 at 12:15 p.m. at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Tickets range from 80 to 160 pesos.