There is always a fear that when translating a prestigious work of literature to any other medium, the essence of the text may be lost along the way. However, this is certainly not the case for Chamber Opera Chicago’s musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s final novel Persuasion.
For Austen novices, Persuasion tells the story of plain-Jane heroine Anne Elliot who was convinced to break-off her love match with Fredrick Wentworth to marry someone richer and of a higher class. Eight years later, Anne is still single and Wentworth has climbed the ranks of his naval career to become a captain and has fortune to boot.
When he returns, they are awkwardly thrown into similar social circles and proximity of his family’s rented accommodation Kellynch (owned by Anne’s father Sir Walter Elliot) to her younger sister Mary’s home at Uppercross cottage, where Anne stays when she is reluctant to relocate to Bath with her father and elder sister.
Multi-talented Barbara Landis not only stars as Anne Elliott and Jane Austen herself (a parallel in which the story is told by Aunty Jane and performed as her niece and nephew picture it) but has been the Creative Director of COC for the past 11 years, configured text to lyrics by composing songs with words taken from manuscripts and Austen’s letters, as well as taking on the musical arrangement.
The arrangement features accompaniment from popular music during Austen’s era of the 17th-18th century such as Beethoven, Hayden and Handel as well as a dash of Scottish and Irish folk music tunes with some unexpected but impressive Irish dancing thrown in; which is performed by Irish Dancing World Championship competitors Daniel Fain and Ian Schwartz.
This is the third international tour of Persuasion between 2013-2016 and the group performed at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2015. This Summer they made their debut in Stirling at the Macrobert and wrapped the tour at the very apt Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis at the end of July.
Even if the music was removed from the show, the play would be equally powerful through visual humour such as the comedic preening of Sir Walter’s vanity and air of self-importance in the first scene to Landis’ portrayal of Anne’s timid resilience through her family’s cruel remarks over her aging appearance and shy demur.
Without the music, Chamber Opera Chicago’s theatrical adaptation of Persuasion could be viewed as a beginner’s guide to Austen’s novel.
The songs increase the pace of Persuasion and faithful followers of the story were able to appreciate contextual superiority when literary text was transfigured into song.
For those who were not as familiar with the story, there was an in-depth programme available which was full of song cues, plot-line, historical background and character descriptions which meant I didn’t have to consult Spark Notes to catch up with the story.
Persuasion the musical was a rare treat for any devoted Austen fan.
by Hayley Bannon