Stories and Dreams at the Schuster Center
By Pat Suarez
Photo: Nancy Cartwright will narrate “The Dot and the Line” during all three performances, March 7-9
In his 1942 opera Capriccio, Richard Strauss explored whether music or words were more important within the context of opera. In its concert series, Stories and Dreams, which runs Friday, March 7, and Saturday, March 8, with a family-friendly show, Fables and Tales on Sunday, March 9, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present an engaging 21st century work that will leave the audience wondering which aspect of the composition – the music or the text – they enjoyed more.
The piece – with music written by Robert Xavier Rodriguez – is called “The Dot and the Line” and is taken from a 1963 book with the expanded title, “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics,” by children’s novelist Norton Juster. Employed as an architect in the Civil Engineer Corps of the U.S. Navy beginning in 1954, Juster endured endless boredom, which he decided to alleviate by writing children’s stories.
Architects are centered in the world of plane and solid geometry: angles, lines, curves and all the other shapes and constructs that make up our physical existence. So, it was not much of a stretch for Juster to come up with a story based on the foundation of his profession.
Juster’s concoction featured a lovesick line – a straight, conventional, not terribly engaging guy – in love with a dot – energetic, unsophisticated and female – who was fascinated by a squiggle – a self-absorbed and superficial guy. The line does anything to get the attention of the dot, finally realizing the only way to win the dot’s heart was to approach her in a more intellectual manner, and expose the squiggle as the shallow fellow he always was.
This was no simple kid’s tale. “The Dot” was a clever exploration of personal relationships in the time leading to the ’60s. One wonders if it also was Juster’s subtle commentary on what was going on in the world of architecture in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
In 2005, composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez, a friend of Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Artistic Director Neal Gittleman, set “The Dot” to music for chamber orchestra and, a year later, the Dayton Philharmonic performed it. Three years ago, Rodriguez rewrote his chamber piece for a full-size symphony orchestra and Gittleman wasted no time in programming the expanded version for Dayton audiences.
For the role of the narrator, Gittleman and the orchestra turned to a Dayton native who has been the voice of perhaps the most recognizable television kid of the past generation: Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, in his 26th season as the child from hell on “The Simpsons.” Cartwright, of course, is more than Bart. She made her film debut as Ethel in the bizarre third segment of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” and has played dozens of motion picture and television roles in her 34-year career.
Also on the program are Charles Maria von Weber’s overture “Der Freischütz,” a lively introduction to what many consider to be Germany’s first serious opera, a somewhat ghoulish affair about love, loss and magic bullets, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 in G minor, subtitled “Winter Dreams.” Tchaikovsky made a career out of minor keys, penning five of his six symphonies in them, proving that you don’t need a major key to excite an audience. When Maestro Gittleman programmed “Winter Dreams,” he had no way of knowing Dayton would be trapped in the fourth snowiest winter on record when it was performed. With luck, the heat he and the DPO will generate will drive our accursed polar vortex to somewhere far away, perhaps to a land of squares, triangles and rhomboids.
Program Note: The performance on March 9 will feature “The Dot and the Line,” but with different companion pieces, including Rossini’s “William Tell” overture.
I spoke with Artistic Director Neal Gittleman about the upcoming performance:
What drew you do “The Dot and The Line,” in terms of the story, the prose and the music?
I’ve known Robert Rodriguez for years. We were both students of Nadia Boulanger in the 1970s. I loved his first Norton Juster’s piece, “A Colorful Symphony,” which we did last fall for PhilharMonster, so that naturally led me to its sequel. We did the chamber ensemble version of the piece in 2006 with Sheila Ramsay narrating, and when Robert made a full-orchestra version, it went right onto my wish list. – Neal Gittleman
This seems like a good fit for Nancy Cartwright. How did she get selected?
We started with Nancy from Day One, asking her to come narrate something. She said, “Yes, yay!” and I sent her a bunch of pieces to check out. She picked “The Dot and the Line,” which made me very happy! – NG
How would you console the squiggle? [just a little fun question…]
There’s a lovely comma out there just waiting for him, mid-sentence somewhere!
I also had a chance to speak with Nancy Cartwright. Here’s what she had to say:
“The Dot and The Line” is very cleverly written, with more than a few puns. What are your thoughts on the text?
[It’s] totally delightful, and with the slide show of the animation from the book accompanying the narration, it will be fun for kids of all ages. I am also excited to hear the music by Robert Xavier Rodriguez. – Nancy Cartwright
How did your upcoming performance with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra come about?
A neighbor of mine, Dick DeLon, from back when I was in junior high school, recommended me to the Board of Directors. Now THAT’S a good neighbor! – NC
What would Bart think about “The Dot and The Line”?
I think Bart is by nature more of a squiggle and certainly not interested in dots, dashes or any other punctuation that might suggest a girl. – NC
The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra presents Stories and Dreams at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 7 and Saturday, March 8. Fables and Tales, the family-friendly accompaniment, will be presented Sunday, March 9 at 3 p.m. All performances take place in the Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. For more information, please call 937.224.3521 or visit daytonperformingarts.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Pat Suarez at PatSuarez@DaytonCityPaper.com