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The Song of the Lark

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The Song of the Lark
updated 1.31.2002

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I enjoyed The Song of the Lark, but while there was a hint of romance between Archie and Thea, it came off as really creepy until the end when he stepped up to help her. Was this intended? Tony Goldwyn was excellent in this production, and his rich speaking voice makes opera singing plausible to watchers. I like Allison Elliot -- she looked young, like the character should look -- but maybe another actress could have portrayed Thea better.

Rachel Howard
Birmingham, AL

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Cather's plain stories are difficult to adapt to film because they are so evocative of place, time, and emotion, and so lacking in specific dramatic events. The Song of the Lark was nevertheless stunning as far as costuming, lighting, and scenery were concerned. The acting was also tremendously moving, particularly that of Schell. It was a tremendous disappointment that the lead actress, Allison Elliott, while looking the part, was such a cold, expressionless fish -- a totally unappealing person who couldn't have evoked such attachment and giving in anyone around her. She did a horrible job of pretending to sing. This just shows the difficulty that filming Cather places on anyone playing her characters. It's too bad that Elliott was so overshadowed by the great people around her.

Carol Traut
Vermillion, SD

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I'm sure many viewers will be somewhat dismayed with the choice of Arliss Howard to play Howard Archie: Cather often referred to the doctor's classical handsomeness and huge shoulders! But I found that the portrayal of this character and the chemistry between him and Thea in the film was, well, extraordinary! Cather is difficult to bring to the screen; some adaptations of her works have just plain got it wrong. This production managed, I think, to interpret the book in a way which was true to its spirit. And, frankly, I think the Archie-Thea relationship came off better in the film than in many parts of the book. (It reminds me of a production of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca I saw once where the evil cousin was portrayed as a male version of Rebecca herself -- much more appropriate than the bloated red-haired man Du Maurier described in the novel!) It was fascinating, and I rarely say that about any film adaptation of a novel.

Penny Culliton
Temple, NH

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Since The Forsyte Saga some 30 years ago, which I was inspired to read in its entirety, Masterpiece Theatre has provided an outlet for fine and often superb television. The Song of the Lark is a special jewel. It could have been more by being much, much longer, as I felt a sadness upon its ending. Its true merit lies in its ability to inspire young and old, but especially the adolescent who is fed on television a steady diet of tripe such as Boston Public, Dawson's Creek, etc. This is why, through countless fund-drives and forty-something boring concerts, I continue to support PBS. Without it, why own a television?

Wm. La Belle
Holyoke, MA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Willa Cather's novels are so purely written and lyrical, they defy -ism interpretations. For years, I've taught My Antonia and O, Pioneers! But my personal favorites are Death Comes for the Archbishop and The Song of the Lark.

The PBS production remained true to the text and texture of Cather without sentimentalizing the story. It captures the purity of line so important to Cather's story-telling. Thea's role as the artist who is not loved for herself, and who arouses envy, is Cather's own story. Beautifully presented by PBS.

One complaint: the credits ran by so fast, I couldn't read the name of the actual singer or the pianist who performed; nor where it was filmed. When did this habit of racing through credits begin? Precious air time, I suppose -- but it's very irritating.

Barbara Adams
Newburgh, NY

While at our Web site, be sure to visit a program's "Cast + Credits" link. You can read through the credits at your leisure online.

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I even stayed up so that I would not miss the conclusion. You could, if you looked closely enough, tell that Thea was not actually singing. The real voice came from someone I am not familiar with. I thought it was Sarah Brightman; at least I was hoping it was her. It was great entertainment, and I hope that something of this manner will be made in the near future. The voiceover was not a distraction.

Russ Chipman
Stockton, CA

The singing voice of Thea Kronborg was provided by Lori Stinson.

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I happened to be channel surfing when I caught The Song of the Lark. What a terrific show! I could not take my eyes off it. My kids were supposed to be in bed, and even they could not stop watching it. The actors were superb and well-cast. Is there a part two? If not, then there should be.

Colette Eigner
Honolulu, HI

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I enjoyed The Song of the Lark tremendously. I watch Masterpiece Theatre regularly -- one of the many shows that I watch on PBS. It is the only station that shows excellent programs.

June McLaughlin
Millersville, PA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
The Song of the Lark was an excellent production, with a great cast. I think it's comparable to the British productions on Masterpiece Theatre, and worth purchasing the video.

William Gordon
Durham, NC

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I do not remember there being an intense love affair between Thea Kronborg and Fred Ottenburg in The Song of the Lark. My recollection of Willa Cather's novel was of a more or less businesslike relationship, i.e. of benefactor and beneficiary. Do I remember incorrectly, or was this bit added as "Hollywood" romance? I think this idea that there must always be a romantic angle detracts from our sense of the artist's (and Cather's) dedication.

William Fankboner
La Quinta, CA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
The Song of the Lark, one of my favorite novels/stories, did not, in my opinion, make the transition to the silver screen. There was insufficient focus on the early years, and too much focus on the dubious love affair. The young actress failed to mature into an adult opera star, and not once during the scenes of singing did she visually convey the feelings and emotions of the aria.

Don Slagel
Waldoboro, ME

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
The PBS production of The Song of the Lark was wonderful. The script, acting, set design, and music were all superb. It was a movie that brought tears (of the best kind) to my eyes several times. Thank you for this splendid film.

Benjamin Hufbauer
Louisville, KY

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
The Song of the Lark was one of the best shows that I have seen on television in many, many years. I truly did not plan to watch it, was planning to turn off the TV, when I caught the very beginning. I kept thinking, they will do something to mess this up, like some type of "modern TV baloney," but it never happened. The quality and faithfulness to a very high standard was nearly stunning.

I have seen how even the British television shows PBS offers have begun to slip, but The Song of the Lark maintained astonishing quality from the beginning to the very end. I hope this show receives some awards. Everyone involved in this production should receive major congratulations.

John Bond
Honolulu, HI

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I wait impatiently for a new Masterpiece Theatre production, as they usually are some of the best that television has to offer, but I was totally disappointed in The Song of the Lark. The script was mediocre, at best -- long, drawn out, and totally boring. The acting wasn't much better. What ever happened to dialect coaching? The accents were horrible! I'm still a fan of Masterpiece Theatre, as I have watched so many great productions. I sincerely hope that The Song of the Lark was just that -- a lark!

B. Buchanan
Phoenix, AZ

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Last night I watched most of The Song of the Lark (I missed the first few minutes). I was profoundly moved by this beautiful adaptation of Willa Cather's wonderful novel. It is a gorgeous production, and the music! the music! Willa Cather's great understanding of what's important came through in the dialogue. Bravo!

Naomi Lazard
East Hampton, NY

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Alison Elliot's acting and Lori Stinson's voice puts the viewer in the mind and soul of Thea!

Tippy Garner
Jackson, MS

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I very much enjoyed The Song of the Lark. The classical music woven in with the story was wonderful, but I cannot seem to find listings for the various compositions by Brahms, Beethoven, etc, nor the names of the musicians and singers. What's up with this? I can't remember the name of the Brahms piano piece, and it's driving me crazy. Is there anyway can you post the credits for the music? This seems like a missed opportunity to encourage interest in our classical music heritage. Otherwise a great production.

John Potter
Madison, WI

Musical selections for The Song of the Lark included Etude by Czerny; Etude, Der Holle Rache Kocht In Meinem Herzen and Ach, Ich Fuhl's from Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) by Mozart; Che Faro Senza Euridice by Gluck; Etude and Nocturne by Chopin; Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major ("Waldstein") by Beetoven; Intermezzo D Minor Opus 118/2 by Brahms; Let the Bright Seraphim (From Sampson) by Handel; Gretchen am Spinnrade by Schubert, Addio del passato from La Traviata by Verdi; and Rusalka by Dvorak.

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
A fair story, albeit typical of Willa Cather -- a trifle implausible, and contrived around the edges. The show was well enough acted with a couple of exceptions, one being Max Schell who overacted, somewhat.

The greatest flaw, in my opinion, further heightening the implausibility aspect, was the singing voice of Thea (dubbed, of course, and not very well synchronized, by the way). While the voice was pleasant enough, it was hardly rich and exhilarating, and not nearly as wonderful as would have made the story more credible.

The sad aspect of these flaws (with the exception of the story line itself), is that they could easily have been prevented by a little more thought and planning by the creators of this piece. They could have dubbed a really great voice, and they could have told Schell to lighten up a little. As it stands, the flaws don't necessarily negate the worth of the thing, but they are a distraction.

Nevertheless, and as always over the years, I applaud the Masterpiece Theatre. I sometimes miss Alistair Cooke, but Russell Baker is quite good.

Paul Blaine
Beatrice, NE

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I had to tell you how absolutely wonderful Willa Cather's The Song of the Lark was to watch. In fact, I was sorry it ended. It was a glorious piece of acting, and it brought American literature to life. Thank you, PBS! Song was a memorable treat and matches the BBC productions in every way. It was simply wonderful. I loved the writing, the acting and setting and pace and music. Encore!

Richard Koch
Newington, CT

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