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At Bristol Riverside Theatre: A Play About Opera Singers Makes A Joyful Sound

Paola Nogueras
Left to right: Keith Baker, Joy Franz, Laural Merlington, and Nick Ullett in Bristol Riverside Theatre's production of Quartet by Ron Harwood, running now through November 19th

What’s life like for opera singers no longer on the stage? WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston looks at Quartet, a play at Bristol Riverside Theatre in Bucks County through November 19th, that portrays universal truths about the triumph and turmoil of advancing age.

“Art is meaningless if it doesn’t make you feel,” says Wilfred Bond, one of four aging singers in Quartet. Bond is played by BRT Artistic Director and actor Keith Baker. Each of the four brings a different perspective to their shared living situation. But it’s a plan to share their art and their musical gifts that infuses the present with meaning.  

Radio Script:

Meridee Duddleston: In the play Quartet four retired opera singers at a home for aging musicians ponder their careers, lost loves and the nature of inspiration as they prepare to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday. The play is by award-winning screenwriter and playwright Ronald Harwood. Director Susan Atkinson put it on the stage at Bristol Riverside Theater.  

Susan Atkinson: Actually, I chose the play because there are so many things I wished I had asked my mother—about aging.   

MD: It’s not that there’s a lack of curiosity, says Atkinson. It’s just that in our youth-oriented culture the focus is on the other end of the spectrum.

SA: And so we don’t really talk about it and I thought…well if this just helps a couple people talk to each other about it. Nobody knows how to grow older.

MD: And what’s it like for opera singers, who like athletes or dancers, can be stopped short by injury and reach the pinnacle of their powers with many years remaining?  An itch for meaning in the here and now has them pulling costumes from a dusty trunk to reprise the quartet in Act 3 of Verdi’s Rigoletto. There’s sly humor, cattiness, concern for each other, and more.

Keith Baker: Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

MD: Actor Keith Baker is one of the quartet.

KB: It’s about trying to find a space in which you can let go of those things that are best forgotten; how to hold onto to those things that make you feel alive again. And it’s about a courageous effort to affirm our existence.  

MD: Bristol Riverside Theatre’s production of Quartet runs through November 19th.