Beecham House is keyed up. The rumor circling the halls is that the home for retired musicians is soon to play host to a new resident. Word is, it’s a star.

For Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins) this sort of talk is par for the course at the gossipy home. But they’re in for a special shock when the new arrival turns out to be none other than their former singing partner, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith).

Her subsequent career as a star soloist, and the ego that accompanied it, split up their long friendship and ended her marriage to Reggie, who takes the news of her arrival particularly hard.

Can the passage of time heal old wounds? And will the famous quartet be able to patch up their differences in time for the annual concert? The event funds the upkeep of Beecham House.

It’s a career change for actor Dustin Hoffman who steps behind the camera as a first time director. With a career spanning more than five decades in front of the camera, Hoffman is recognized as an accomplished and highly regarded actor.

At 72 and in his ‘last act of life’ Dustin mirrors the characters in Quartet. He calls it a perfect ‘actors’ piece’ which really resonates and a perfect fit for him. Though long harboring a desire to direct – and having done so on stage – it was not until he read Ronald Harwood’s script for Quartet (adapted from the playwright’s London and Broadway stage play) that Hoffman achieved his film debut as a director.

Hoffman says he responded to the project’s broader themes and its optimism about old age. “Someone once said, ‘old age ain’t no fun’,” he remembers. “As your body gets older, you become more vulnerable, but I’ve always believed that your soul can expand. I’m nearly 75, and I think three things can happen if you’re lucky enough to survive this long: you grow, you regress or you stay the same, which I think is the same as regressing. But it is possible to grow.”

Quartet is about people in their “third act” who still have so much to give. Maggie Smith concurs: “Because they’re all musicians, they’ve got this great desire to continue, and indeed they do. They’re still struggling to do what they did years and years ago.”

For Billy Connolly, acting your age is overrated. “I’m not young by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve got life,” he insists. “I refuse to accept the number and I don’t act my age. I’ve always felt that acting your age is as sensible as acting your street number; there’s no sense in it at all.”

It’s an embodiment of the philosophy at the heart of Quartet; for the residents of Beecham House, age is an inconvenience, but with determination it’s no disability.

Says Pauline Collins: “Underneath their grey hair and the staggering old feet and boring conversation, there’s a young heart somewhere.”

Quartet is a fairy tale for the geriatric set but not beyond the respectful comprehension of the smart phone generation. Actor/ director Hoffman gracefully orchestrates the story’s emotional arc.

There’s joy watching these British actors craft characters facing the infirmities of later life with vulnerable dignity. Their status as international stars is earned, a marked contrast to this generation’s screen idols who are marketed as celebrities who are famous for being famous.

Wisely, some filmmakers still regard the upper-age group as a valuable resource. They are celebrated in Quartet.

REYNOLDS CURTAIN CALL

Consider chomping popcorn at the local multiplex movie house watching a live opera performance. Who would have ever thunk it? Peter Gelb, the enterprising general manager of New York’s Metropolitan Opera did, launching his bold plan a few seasons back.

The risky endeavor has succeeded for a number of reasons. The stadium seating in theatres allows patrons unobstructed views of performances transmitted in high definition resolution as well as digital audio with crystal clarity enhances the human voice so essential to the art form. All this for around twenty loonies, and you’re seeing it live! Audiences at Lincoln Centre pay upwards of three-hundred and thirty dollars to see the same show without the advantage of multi-camera angles and close-ups.

The darkness in the theatre reverberates with sympathy to Rigoletto as he carries his dead daughter at the final curtain. Emotional heartbreak is experienced for the lovers Aida and Radames sealed together in a tomb for all time. As well audiences respond with hearty laughter at the comic antics of Figaro, the Barber of Seville.

A daring new production of “Rigoletto” highlights this season of Met operas on screen. Verdi’s towering tragedy of depravity and innocence is updated from 17th century Venice to the Frank Sinatra Rat Pack atmosphere of 1960’s Las Vegas. The modernization of traditional classics isn’t always well received, but the unsavory circumstances haunting the hunchback jester, links with the grotty underbelly of sin city. The melodious arias are intact, but the subtitled translations are in Rat Pack speak giving the tragic plot a timeless reality.

It used to be that opera was strictly for the elite. Not anymore, the singing fat lady has been replaced by talents like Anna Netrebko and Renee Fleming, women of beauty with matching voices.

Encore performances are scheduled at select Cineplex theatres April 6, 8, and 24.

 

ALEX REYNOLDS

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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