The Utah Symphony is getting a little wordy with its next presentation in Ogden and Salt Lake City. But what exquisite words they are. They come courtesy of none other than the Bard. Selected scenes from William Shakespeare's dialogue from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" are set to a score Mendelssohn wrote in the 1800s for the play.
Under the direction of conductor Nicholas McGegan, Fred Adams, who founded the Utah Shakespeare Festival, will narrate the fanciful tale of young love and ancient magic. Adams is joined by actors Brian Vaughn, David Ivers and Kymberly Mellen. They appear in Ogden on Thursday, and in Salt Lake City on Feb. 25 and 26.
"This is going to be great fun," said Adams, calling from home in Cedar City. "I did something similar to this with Keith Lockhart a few years ago. And it was so much fun, I am delighted to be doing this again.
"We four, we valiant four, are going to do moments, as readers. What we do is, we will be setting up, with Shakespeare's poetry, the next movement of the musical work."
50 years of Will
One of the reasons that Adams and the symphony partnered for this project is that this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. To celebrate its golden anniversary, Adams, executive producer emeritus of the festival, will direct "A Midsummer Night's Dream" there.
"The Utah Symphony will help kick off our celebration with this concert," said Adams. "It is such a nice thing for two major arts organizations to join forces like this."
Adams founded the festival in 1961, when he was teaching at the then community college in Cedar City, and his fiancee at the public schools. They were not only looking for a way to stay in town during the summer to raise a family, but also a way to support their hometown through difficult times.
The area's major industry, its iron mines, had closed that year due to overseas competition in steel manufacturing.
"Seven hundred families left Cedar City in less than eight weeks," said Adams. "And then, Gov. (George Dewey) Clyde announced I-15 would be built, and it was originally supposed to bypass Cedar City by 17 or 18 miles to the west. That meant deep doo-doo for us in Cedar City. We'd lost out infrastructure, and then, being bypassed would mean the last for the tourism, too."
Adams had a friend in Angus Bowmer, who had founded a Shakespeare Festival in 1935 in Ashland, Ore. Adams ran the idea of starting his own festival in Utah by his friend. There were parallels between the two cities: similar populations, local skiing available, community colleges. Plus, both towns were located a good distance from the nearest big cities -- Portland and San Francisco for Ashland, and Las Vegas and Salt Lake City for Cedar City.
Said Adams: "Angus said, 'You would be a fool not to do this.' So we went and put a festival together. Now, the city was not quite prepared for this. I jokingly say my idea went over with the city council like a pregnant pole vaulter!
"But we did it. We got support from the local Lions Club to get us started. And every year since then, we've only spent the money we earned last year -- we owe no debt and have never taken out a loan."
The festival has become world-renowned. The BBC chose Cedar City's outdoor venue to film a series of Shakespeare's plays in 1981, which attracted worldwide attention and praise. And 20 years after that series was filmed, the festival was recognized by the Tony Awards as the outstanding regional theater in America.
Part of Adams' delight at doing the narration for the Utah Symphony production of "Midsummer," and also sitting in the director's chair for this summer's production in Cedar City, is that the play holds a unique place in his heart.
"Honestly, it is my very favorite of his (Shakespeare's) 37 plays. People ask every year which one I love best, and I think they expect me to say something like 'Richard III' or 'Hamlet.' But this is the one -- the magic in it, the poetry in it, the mixing up of the plots --it is just irresistible. Everyone of every age loves it. Children adore it."
As for his view of the biggest challenge to doing the narration for the Mendelssohn score with the Utah Symphony, Adams said, "Well, you have all those supremely talented, highly paid musicians sitting right behind you -- screw up and you are dead meat!"
He laughed then added, "Seriously, it is really such a wonderful thing to do. The moments we read were put together by the conductor, Nicholas McGegan, and I am over the moon about it. It has some really beautiful poetic moments in there ...
"And I must tell you that the two young men and this glorious actress I have working with me are worth the price of admission. And as for me? Why, I get to stand up there with them and look my age!"