Ensemble for the Romantic Century

Photo from RomanticCentury posted on OpeningNight.Online
Courtesy RomanticCentury.org

Tonight’s virtual event host Tiffany Parnes opened up the program with welcomes and an introduction of Donald T. Sanders, Director of Theatrical Production for the Ensemble for the Romantic Century (ERC). Sanders is our emcee for this evening’s soiree.

The term “soiree” immediately connotes references to the famous gatherings hosted in Paris by Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), where she entertained the likes of Pablo Picasso, George Braque, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Behind the Scenes

Sanders explained that in tonight’s virtual space, we shall experience a “behind-and-in-the-scenes” showing of work of the past year and previews of what is to come in the development of ERC’s Radio Drama Series. He drew attention to ERC productions, including one themed on the life of Frederick Douglas, Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon, and Tchaikovsky: None but the Lonely Heart. He emphasized the critical role of music in these dramatic productions as part of the aural composition of voice, character, drama, and prose.

The Music

Music is carefully selected to support the import of the audio dramas. We see this in the Jules Verne piece, where the music of composers Ernest Chausson, Stephen Foster, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and Cécile Chaminade are featured.

Tchaikovsky ca. 1915-20, Bain News Service
Tchaikovsky ca. 1915-20, Bain News Service

We listened to a selection from the audio drama Tchaikovsky: None but the Lonely Heart starring Steven Fry with Vanessa Redgrave. Fry and Redgrave and the music, of course, are sublime. This production focuses on Tchaikovsky and his relationship with his eccentric patron Baroness Nadezhda von Meck. The drama is developed from letters between Tchaikovsky and von Meck and lends insights into Tchaikovsky’s struggles as a composer. We discover that with von Meck’s financial support, Tchaikovsky could resign from his professorship at the Moscow Conservatory to immerse himself full-time in music composition. We may not discover why Tchaikovsky and von Meck chose never to meet, but it’s certainly clear why the composer dedicated his fourth symphony to her.

To gain a sense of the pathos and power of Tchaikovsky’s artistic spirit, listen to his profoundly beautiful and sad “None but the Lonely Heart” from the last of his six songs for voice and piano, Op. 6 (1869). Tchaikovsky dedicated the piece to Alina Khvostova and Russian mezzo-soprano Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya performed its 1970 premiere.  Here is a link to a marvelous performance by Olga Boradina accompanied by Larissa Gergieva.

Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon

Next was a sizzle piece from the Jules Verne production. Nellie Bly (Meghan Picerno) of the Herald Tribute was to transverse the world in 80 days as a stunt. Bly set aside three hours from her trip to meet in Paris with the Vernes who had inspired her passage.

Actors Thibault Montalembert and Hélène Babu appeared online from Paris to speak of their part in the Jules Verne production as Jules and Honorine Verne. They spoke of their experience of recording the audio drama, free from the demands of visual drama and able to focus on the voice and sound. They recorded the work in a studio in the Paris San Germain district, where many jazz artists have recorded. St. Germain is the apposite artistic destination, a place filled with the spirits of Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoirall, Samuel Beckett, and Alberto Giacometti.

Meghan Picerno spoke of her experience in the Jules Verne audio drama from the perspective of playing the role of Nelly Bly. Picerno described her affinity with Bly and their common thirst for adventure. Picerno enjoyed collaborating with the European actors on this project as she opined on the romance and excitement of traveling to new places and meeting new people.

JulesVerne, portrait by Jules Calaretie 1883
Jules Verne (1883) portrait by Jules Calaretie

Audio producer Sue Zizza reemphasized how the dramas contain music to support a virtual world in which the characters live and thrive.


The audience experienced a segment of “The Slave” from The Fifth of July set from a major speech by Frederick Douglas. The preview included a recording of orchestral and choral music from “I Don’t Have a Gun, Stop Shooting” from Seven Songs of the Unarmed. The Fifth of July is planned for release in November 2022.

The upcoming productions’ themes are exciting and include foci on poet Emily Dickinson, conductor Arturo Toscanini, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s music and relationship with his nephew Karl. Each topic and characters present opportunities for artistically and intellectually rich, engaging, entertaining, thought-provoking, and diverse audience experiences.

An exciting upcoming audio drama season is planned for both live audiences and live streaming productions. The RomanticCenter.Org also offers a free seminar series.

Ensemble for the Romantic Century




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