Tall tales

A real symphonic puppet show!

AS A WHITMAN'S Sampler of Russian musical confectionery, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade ranks up there with The Nutcracker. If its orchestral colors are not quite as brilliant, then its tunes are as fetching and its rhythms as seductive. Yet Rimsky-Korsakov conceived this fairy-tale tone poem for the concert hall, not the stage. The Thistle Theater has turned it into a lively pantomime, which is receiving two weekend performances with live musical accompaniment by the Seattle Philharmonic under Marsha Mabrey.

Seattle Philharmonic

Lindbergh High School, Renton, November 14

Among the whimsical cutout set pieces—arches, palm trees, a fountain—two humans played the story's main characters: Tricia Thiel as the learned Sultana Scheherazade, and Paul Yarnold as the sultan with an unpleasant habit of marrying and murdering a wife a day. To keep her head, Scheherazade spins fantastic tales, stopping at a cliffhanger point each night in that hopes that the Sultan's curiosity will overpower his misogyny. The characters in her four stories, matching the ones Rimsky-Korsakov depicted in his four movements, were played by the Thistle Theater's puppets—marionette-size princes, princesses, and heroes, as well as and the larger, eye-popping mythical beasts: a beautiful but vicious dragonfish; a man-eating Cyclops, all marshmallowy and pale green; and shimmering, kitelike birds that floated overhead. Though the images were lovely, the actual happenings were tricky to follow; bone up on the program notes ahead of time, and if you take a child, be ready for whispered questions. Much of the dialogue, too, fell victim to a less-than-ideal sound system in Lindbergh High's auditorium.

The Seattle Philharmonic played alone for the concert's first half. They opened with Shostakovich's Festive Overture, the sort of well-crafted pops piece he could dash off before breakfast (since he got this commission at the last minute, this was close to true). Anna Velzo, the SPO's youngest member at 16, displayed a rich tone as soloist in Domenico Cimarosa's Oboe Concerto. Also impressive was her delivery of the Siciliana third movement; she phrased these very aria-like melodies with just the sort of affecting simplicity a great soprano might bring to them.

The Seattle Philharmonic and the Thistle Theater will repeat this concert in UW's Meany Hall, November 21 at 3.

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