Fidelio performs ‘French Fantasy’

Allison Corneau

Artists-in-Residence Fidelio welcomed renowned voice-over artist John McDonough to Quinnipiac as part of their latest concert, “A Beautiful Deception: A French Fantasy.” This performance was held last Friday in the Clarice L. Buckman Theater.

Written by Fidelio’s Artistic Director Harry Clark, the concert illustrated the life of French composer Erik Satie. Clark told the audience that he had this “crazy idea, and had a crazy friend, John McDonough,” who would be perfect for the role, which was structured around writings that Satie sent to other composers of the period, including Debussy and Ravel. Clark was hopeful of the evening, saying “With the world as it is today, let’s have fun. This program is fun.”

The program began with “Gymnopedie No. 1 for Piano,” featuring John Van Buskirk with piano accompaniment. Van Buskirk, a noted pianist who currently performs with the New York Chamber Symphony, was a great addition to the performance. His piano playing was impeccable, especially during “Petite Suite for Piano Four Hands,” during which he teamed with Fidelio’s resident pianist Sanda Schuldmann.

McDonough entertained the crowd of mostly elderly community members with his articulate and engaging portrayal of composer Satie, with McDonough staying in character even during the question and answer period after the show. His verbalization of the French language was beautifully enunciated, and he kept the crowd laughing with a few jokes and humorous anecdotes added into his script.

In one anecdote, McDonough as Satie, described a musician’s day, revealing that “I rise at 7:18 a.m. I am inspired. I lunch at 12:11 and leave the table at 12:14 p.m. (I have) another bout of inspiration from 3:27 to 4:27.” This type of odd humor added to the uniqueness of “French Fantasy.”

McDonough’s portrayal of Satie allowed for a complete immersion of the audience into the Surrealist culture of the French, complete with letters that Satie wrote during his composing of the music included in the presentation, performed on the piano by Van Buskirk. This unique presentation was a switch for Fidelio fans at Quinnipiac, as it involved much more than the traditional jazz or classical performance pieces.

The show ended with the showing of a short film, “Entr’acte,” directed by Rene Clair and featuring the music of Satie. The silent film kept the crowd entertained, as they laughed at the slapstick comedy of the 1920’s. Van Buskirk’s remarkable piano skills were especially evident during this film, which required him to rearrange parts of the score to get the most emphasis out of certain parts of the movie.

“French Fantasy” capped off Fidelio’s ninth season as Quinnipiac’s Artists-in-Residence, but the group continues to be active in Chamber Music PLUS’s program, “Music Speaks to Me,” educating youth about the benefits of classical music.