Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Night of the Secretary-General, A Music Drama for Tenor and Small Orchestra, Selections from Dag Hammarskjold's Markings set to music by Paul H.Kirby, Adapted for the stage by William G. Marx, Directed by Lissa Moira, starring James Parks ...

 is Pretty Beautiful, and intimate, in considering the solitude of the man prior to his fateful airplane journey; but come to think of it, that was a discovery because we don't know the history of this secretary general for whom a UN plaza is named.

The UN itself is somewhat peripheral to our Nation of United States, in that it is independent, yet finds itself placed in the middle of a city like the Vatican in Rome.  Do you need a passport to get into the independent Nation of the Vatican?  I'll go off on any number of tangents, but Paul Kirby has defined the musical sound of Secretary-General Hammarksjold (Dag)'s Markings.  I remember my parents having the book   My highlight from the performance text was about the personality, the assembly of random parts that become I.  (The quote is "This accidental meeting of possibilities calls itself I. I ask: what am I doing here? And, at once, this I becomes unreal.")

The palette of the musical spectrum is wide, yet it is all of a single composer and it builds to a spectacular cacophony as we arrive at the realization that the setting of the piece, this dream of a united Congo, will suffer an interruption.

The brilliant setting for text (Adapted by William Marx), and then the intimate details of finding comfort in a foreign room (as directed by Lissa Moira), help lend context to the segments of the book that make up the entirety of the script, with a narrator (David Zen Mansley) guiding us through.
There are two acts, consisting of the two parts of the night, PM and AM, and there is complete darkness to separate the two acts for Dag to have a short sleep in his borrowed room.

The room itself is well used.  There (at the Lutheran Church that hosted the performance) is a background of organ pipes lit by various colors, including florescence.  The front of the stage represents borrowed accommodations.  We're in 1961, the evening of September 17 into the 18th.  The place where Dag is spending the night is the office of the Officer in Charge of the United Operations in Congo, located in Leopoldville (currently Kinshasa.  His name is Sture Linner.

Dag has had a stressful flight to get to the Congo, to be followed by another flight in the early morning to get to a meeting scheduled with Moise Tshombe, the leader of the Congo revolution,.  Mr. Tshombe is seeking Katango province independence, and may not even attend. 

This is Dag Hammarskjold's last act as Secretary General.

The historical context of this piece was unknown to me.  I'm aware that King Leopold made the Congo a personal real estate investment, independent of his rule of Belgium, and that private ownership granted him great freedom from oversight. 

As for Dag as UN Secretary General, he was preceded by Trygve Lie.  The current Secretary General, its 9th, is António Guterres, from Lisbon.

The memorably named Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was from Egypt.  I had a roommate from France/Morocco who worked for him.

I'm also realizing that the instructor for the Music Theater Writers Workshop where Paul Kirby and I met (Richard Simson) also worked for the United Nations. 

Other audience members in attendance... Leonard Lehrman was there with Helene Williams, so were Ilsa Gilbert and Robert, also from the workshop.

We heard beautiful orchestral sounds, and songs that were remarkably delivered by a great young singer actor (James Parks), who simply transformed into the older man.  He sang low and high; his full register is remarkable and his tenor intensity cut through the sometimes loud accompaniment.  He has a challenge because there are rock moments in the score, in addition to a tango.  There was a lot of great music.  I want to hear it again.

"If you find them worth publishing, you have my permission to do so."  The writings referred to in the prior sentence, discovered in Dag Hammarskjold's New York apartment after his passing, became the book, Markings.  Using that book as the basis of this remarkable new composition, Paul Kirby draws worthy attention to its subject. 

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