More Between Heaven and Earth, a "play-with-music" about Thomas Jefferson, Maria Cosway, the French Revolution and the doctrine of Separation of Church and State, was performed for an enthusiastic and sold-out house at the AbiGail Adams Smith Auditorium on Saturday, December 17th. Thomas Jefferson met and fell in love with the married, Italian-born painter/composer/musician Maria Cosway during his post as Minister Plenipotentiary to France, and their passionate and intimate correspondence continued for almost 40 years. Part of a larger endeavor to "Reclaim the Founding Fathers From the Tea Party" and staged site-specifically by director Erica Gould in a performance space that is part of a complex built in 1799, the performance--starring Matthew Modine, Melissa Errico, and Kathleen Chalfant and featuring performances by The Clarion Society Orchestra with soprano Jessica Gould and tenor Karim Sulayman--enveloped the audience in the world of 18th century Paris, London, and America. And the actors, musicians, and director brought to vivid and exciting life the passionate, moving, and ultimately star-crossed relationship of Jefferson and Cosway, the violence of the French Revolution, and Jefferson's views, daring for the time (and perhaps even more so now) about the role of religion in American society.
The script, constructed by Erica Gould from Jefferson and Cosway's actual letters and writings, inventively intercut the letters to create the sense of active dialogue between the characters, and interwove the dramatic action with live performances of the actual music (researched by Jessica Gould) that Jefferson and Cosway heard together, shared with each other, and that Cosway wrote for him. When Jefferson (Matthew Modine) receives music Maria has written for him, Maria (Melissa Errico) sings it to him, in a moving realization of this complex and heartbreaking relationship. When Jefferson and Maria write to each other about an opera they have seen, the orchestra and opera singers (Jessica Gould, soprano, and Karim Suleyman, tenor) perform excerpts from it, while the characters watch. These included selections from an opera Jefferson and Cosway saw together in Paris on the night of Wednesday, October 4th, 1786, Dardanus by Sacchini. Never before performed in the US, the music for the performance was prepared from the original 1784 score that is housed in the Columbia University Music Library.
Modine's Jefferson came to life as a complex, compelling, and unexpectedly funny and vulnerable, as well as visionary, man. Melissa Errico's Maria Cosway was a charming, brilliant, and conflicted heroine, who sang exquisitely when finding it easier to convey her complex feelings through music than through words. Kathleen Chalfant's narrator was commanding, warm, and funny as she guided the audience through the story. And the music of the French Revolution was expertly rendered by the exceptional playing of the Clarion Society Orchestra, and the heartfelt, thrilling performances of soprano Jessica Gould and tenor Karim Sulayman.
A portion of the proceeds from the performance will be donated to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
See photos from the rehearsal and backstage below!