And now for something completely different. Streaming live from Florence, Italy, on March 14, Puccini is the latest in a series of musical portraits by the pianist-playwright-actor Hershey Felder. Over two decades and counting, Felder has stepped out as Ludwig van Beethoven, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Sergey Rachmaninoff, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Leonard Bernstein, not to mention Sholem Aleichem (Before Fiddler). Many of his piano-accompanied impersonations have made their way to video in a style that evokes costume-heavy early seasons of “Masterpiece Theatre.”
Some well-placed critics have looked down their noses at these efforts. “Mr. Felder’s acting,” Jesse Green reported in a review of the Irving Berlin homage, “is broad as a silent-movie villain’s, except that he’s talking. And talking. Or, too often, singing.” Ouch!
Yet there’s no denying the man has carved out a niche. According to his publicity, his live streams since the start of the pandemic (priced at a hefty $55 per household) have brought in $2 million in sales, 80 percent of which has been donated to hard-hit international artists, arts organizations, and schools. The Puccini show promises “the story of a boy who gets to meet his musical hero,” with visuals from Lucca, the composer’s scenic birthplace, and vocals by Gianna Corbisero, Charles Castronovo, and Nathan Gunn, camera-ready singers with gilt-edged opera-house credentials.
Premiering March 14, Puccini streams on demand through March 21
Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii