It has been 400 years since William Shakespeare "shuffled off this mortal coil" ("Hamlet"). We don't know if he had "immortal longings" ("Antony and Cleopatra") as he departed, but the world was quick to grant him everlasting fame.
The quadricentennial of Shakespeare's death — April 23, 1616, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England — is a good occasion for a fresh salute to the man and his genius. Several local music and theater organizations offer performances of his works, or works inspired by him, and a celebrated Baltimore-based author has refashioned a Shakespeare play.
Here's a sampling of some Shakespearean pursuits:
Annapolis Shakespeare Company
"Romeo and Juliet," the ultimate tragedy of star-crossed lovers and one of the Bard's most indelibly poetic creations, gets a new production from Annapolis Shakespeare Company from April 29 to May 29 in ASC Studio 111, 111 Chinquapin Round Road.
For something a wee bit less traditional, the company also tackles "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)," a zany parody/improv/audience participation concoction by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. This production runs May 17 to Sept. 27 in the outdoor courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, 7 Church Circle.
Famed opera composer and lifelong Shakespeare fan Giuseppi Verdi never realized his dream of setting "King Lear" to music, but he did create three other Bard-based masterworks. The last, written when he was 79, was the perfect career-topper: "Falstaff," based on "The Merry Wives of Windsor," along with material from both parts of "Henry IV."
Baltimore Concert Opera presents the sparkling "Falstaff" with a cast from Opera Delaware on April 22 and 24 at the Engineers Club, 11 W. Mount Vernon Place.
Note that Opera Delaware's Shakespeare Festival offers a fully staged production of "Falstaff," as well as a fascinating rarity from 1865, Franco Faccio's "Amleto" ("Hamlet"), which received its first-ever U.S. performance last season. The fest runs May 14 to 22 at the Grand Opera House, 818 N. Market St., Wilmington, Del.
A cool product turned out by the energetic Baltimore Shakespeare Factory last season was a production of "The Merchant of Venice" performed in OP — Original Pronunciation. Hearing a Shakespeare play spoken the way audiences heard it in the Bard's day can be a revelatory experience, and it's easy to adjust to the distinctive sound.
The company takes the OP route again in its current offering, "The Winter's Tale," that tragedy-comedy-romance with the famous stage direction: "Exit, pursued by a bear." The production runs through April 24 at St. Mary's Outreach Center, 3900 Roland Ave.
Theater folks consider "Macbeth" such a bad-luck generator that they refer to this tragedy of witches, power-thirst and bloody murder as "the Scottish Play." That doesn't always stop the curse. A rash of accidents (all minor) cropped up among cast and crew during rehearsals for Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's current production of "Mac-" — whoops, the Scottish Play — but the troupe was undeterred.
The production runs through May 15 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 S. Calvert St.
The company's annual outdoor summer season includes "Romeo and Juliet" in a version guaranteed to move you. As the play unfolds, the audience will follow the actors all over the atmospheric ruins during performances, June 10 to 19, at PFI Historic Park, 3691 Sarah's Lane, Ellicott City.
Given its picturesque setting, tale of young love and terribly tragic ending, "Romeo and Juliet" has operatic possibilities all over it. Charles Gounod's version, "Romeo et Juliette" from 1867, is exquisitely melodic and mostly faithful to the original Shakespeare (one big change: the lovers get to live long enough to sing one last duet together).
Lyric Opera Baltimore closes its season with a "Romeo et Juliette" featuring up-and-coming tenor Jonathan Boyd and soprano Sara Joy Miller (she won plaudits singing an ever-so-different heroine in Mark-Anthony Turnage's opera "Anna Nicole"). Performances, led by the impressive young conductor Adam Turner, are May 13 and 15 at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.
Peabody Renaissance Ensemble-Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
Music figures significantly in Shakespeare's plays. Song-filled scenes from several will be performed in "If Music Be the Food of Love," a concert featuring the Peabody Renaissance Ensemble directed by Mark Cudek and actors from the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.
Also participating will be the Baltimore Baroque Band, which performs music that Henry Purcell wrote in the 1690s for "The Tempest" and "The Fairy Queen" (an adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"). Performances are April 28 and 29 at Peabody Institute's Griswold Hall, 1 E. Mount Vernon Place.
Crown Publishing's Hogarth Shakespeare project involves several of today's best-selling authors retelling the plays of the Bard. Coming soon is the contribution by Baltimore's Anne Tyler, "Vinegar Girl," based on "The Taming of the Shrew."
Like the character of the obstinate Kate in Shakespeare's comedy, Tyler's Kate, a preschool teacher in Charles Village, has a mind of her own. She uses it when her scientist father devises a plot to keep a valuable research assistant from being deported — a hasty marriage would do the trick.