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Music and drama returns to QU
On Thursday, Feb. 28 Fidelio, Quinnipiac’s artists-in-residence performed “Sister Mendelssohn: A biographical portrait of Fanny Mendelssohn” with Jenny Sterlin as Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. Founded by Harry Clark and Sanda Schuldmann, Fidelio returned to Quinnipiac for their 14th season.
Fidelio performs a series of biographical dramas, set to classical music performed live by cellist Harry Clark and pianist Sandra Schuldmann. Clark is the Artistic Director of Fidelio, and wrote the biographical play “Sister Mendelssohn.”
“Sister Mendelssohn” tells the story of Fanny Mendelssohn and the influences music has had on her life. She and her brother Felix were known for their piano and composition, when their father decided that music could never be a career for Fanny. Yet despite her family, she continued to compose and perform just about 400 works in the comfort of her own home.
Clark based the dialogue for the show on gathered letters, diaries and recollections of friends of the Mendelssohn family, to give the performance an authentic feel. Furthermore, all the music throughout the show, though performed by Harry Clark and Sanda Schuldmann, was created by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn.
For the “Sister Mendelssohn” performance, Jenny Sterlin stars in the title role. Sterlin has performed in various Broadway productions like “Heartbreak House,” “Design for Living” and “Major Barbara,” and on television in “Law & Order,” the sitcom “Hope & Faith” and the soap opera “Guiding Light.” She is also the artistic director of The Rubicon Theatre Company in New York and a founding member of Appletree Theatre in England.
Before the show starts, patrons of the arts started to shuffle in from the cold outside, anticipating the latest Fidelio performance at Quinnipiac. The lights are dimmed and the audience was transported to Berlin, Germany in 1847.
Three artists stepped onto the stage and took their respective places. The pianist sat at her stool, the cellist organized his music at the music stand, and once everyone was ready, Sterlin began one of her many monologues. The audience sat in awe as the first words were spoken with no hint of the British training Sterlin received at the Birmingham Theatre School in England, but instead a perfect German accent. As the main character, Fanny, she talks about her relationship to her brothers and sister. Sterlin’s earrings sparkled as the light hits them, but nothing compared to the sparkle in her eyes as she acted out a conversation between Felix and Fanny as though she were there so many years ago.
As the show went on the audience was transported back and forth between different years throughout the 1800s by the different songs performed. Each new song represented not only a new scene, but a new year or important time in Fanny’s life. The cry of the cello filled the theater telling the emotional tale between a family’s connections to music, while the sweet notes of the piano sang in harmony.
Though the theater wasn’t filled to capacity, those who attended were obviously Fidelio fans. One man in the audience closed his eyes, not in sleep, but as his smile suggested, he was imagining the scene as though he were watching a movie. One by one the performers left the stage, first Sterlin, then Clark, leaving Schuldmann to play a piano solo, until the notes faded out with the lights.
Fidelio has received the 2002 Connecticut Governor’s Arts Award for distinguished artistic excellence. They were also described as “an exuberant pair who exhibit an artistic rapport and expressive unity with a quality of ardent commitment that shines through their work” from The New York Times. They will make their next performance, Confidentially, Chaikovski, on Thursday, April 3.