The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) recently launched its first Virtual Beethoven Festival, a two-week-long series of online performances, marking Beethoven’s 250th birthday (the first premiered on August 14 via the festival’s website.) As part of the celebration, the Saratoga Shakespeare Company has teamed up with the arts center to premiere a brand-new audio play, entitled Testament.
The play, which was written by Damian Lanigan and is being directed by the company’s own artistic director, Marcus Dean Fuller, is a portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven at a moment of deep personal crisis, as he struggles with the loss of his hearing and ultimately goes on to produce his much-lauded Eroica Symphony. The all-audio production features recordings from The Philadelphia Orchestra and performances by professional actors, a number of whom are students or alumni of Skidmore College. This marks the second collaboration between the Saratoga Shakespeare Company and SPAC, which had previously teamed up for a successful run of The Tempest, also directed by Fuller.
Testament was originally slated to premiere to a live audience as part of Saratoga Shakespeare Company’s summer season, but COVID-19 restrictions forced the company to get creative, reinventing the project as what Fuller calls a “musically driven audiobook.” Says its author Lanigan: “Audio allows you to get right inside the minds of the characters, and at the same time speak quite deeply to an audience—not least because the medium allows access to the characters’ inner lives in ways that wouldn’t work on stage. The music becomes a more prominent part of the whole thing. If there was ever a subject suitable to an audio production, it’s this one.”
The play’s audio was recorded in Saratoga Springs by Grammy Award-winning producer John Wager, who owns Galileo Media Arts, which has outposts in the Spa City, as well as Albany and Boston. It heavily features recordings of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as instrumentation created by John’s son, Lucas, to mimic the sound of the fortepiano, a period instrument that Beethoven himself would have played.
“Being able to present a world premiere theatrical event based on a profoundly critical moment in Beethoven’s personal and artistic life was going to be one of the true highlights of our SPAC Summer season—and Beethoven 2020,” says SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol. “We are incredibly grateful to Marcus Fuller and Saratoga Shakespeare Company for their collaboration—and for their reimagination of the event as an audio play.”
Testament will be available to stream for free on both the Beethoven Festival and Saratoga Shakespeare Company websites from August 22 at 8pm to August 23 at 11:59pm.