Relishing tale of regret Star Trek rogue John de Lancie leans in to narrator role for Peer Gynt with WSO
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Few can snap their fingers so audibly, and so famously, as John de Lancie.
It’s a handy skill for an actor who plays an omnipotent alien that can change the universe with the snap of his fingers while making life miserable for Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the starship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation and other series in the franchise that explore “Space, the final frontier.”
Grieg’s Peer Gynt
With John de Lancie
● Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
● Centennial Concert Hall
● Tickets: $33 and $43 at wso.ca
Q, de Lancie’s roguish character that returned to the small screen last year in the Star Trek offshoot Picard, has become the actor’s calling card in the science-fiction realm.
“It’s definitely the tomato that’s stuck to the wall,” he says of the Q character that’s made him one of the Star Trek universe’s most recognizable guest stars. “I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for it. In that respect, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
De Lancie, 74, enters a different artistic universe Saturday night at the Centennial Concert Hall, when he is the narrator in an unusual performance of Peer Gynt alongside the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt in 1876, and fellow Norwegian Edvard Grieg composed music for the drama, parts of which, including In the Hall of the Mountain King, have become commonplace in movies, TV shows, commercials, video games and have been performed by rock acts such as the Who and the Electric Light Orchestra.
The play follows the life of Peer Gynt, who like Q is an impulsive scoundrel. He crashes a wedding and falls for Solveig, only to be rebuffed. He then kidnaps the bride, Ingrid, only to abandon her to travel the world for adventure.
“He’s a lovable rogue, but the problem is that he’s not that lovable,” de Lancie says. “You live in the world of the regrets of your life. Peer Gynt is haunted by his regrets in his old age, as we all are.”
He has performed a similar rendition of Peer Gynt with German conductor Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic, and he’s also presented it in Australia with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, scenes of which can be viewed on YouTube.
De Lancie says Ibsen loved Grieg’s music but felt it didn’t fit Peer Gynt. To prepare for tonight’s show, de Lancie has spent months of Zoom calls with WSO musicians and librarians to re-assemble Grieg’s music to fit it around Ibsen’s “cautionary tale” of Peer Gynt, who in his later years realizes he’s squandered his life.
“What I’ve done, and there’s a subtlety attached to it. I have said to myself, ‘Why did Ibsen think it was pretty music but it wasn’t his show,’ ” de Lancie says. “Because he’s telling a cautionary story about a guy who is an a——. I want to tell that story as well. I want to make sure we’re clear this guy’s kind of an a——, but he learns something in the process. The music is there to be able to do that.
“In this case, I was very fortunate, which is why I’m doing this again. JF [WSO director of artistic planning JF Phaneuf] runs the show here, and Daniel [WSO artistic director Daniel Raiskin] allowed me to dig into the music… Solveig, the love of [Gynt’s] life, the guiding light, the reason he comes back, in the score of 23 movements, you don’t see her until No. 20.”
“He’s a lovable rogue, but the problem is that he’s not that lovable… You live in the world of the regrets of your life. Peer Gynt is haunted by his regrets in his old age, as we all are.”–John de Lancie
Many in music would frown upon changing the order of Grieg’s music, akin to shuffling the books of the Bible, but de Lancie says he’s received no such difficulties from the WSO.
“These things aren’t quite as sacrosanct as they’re sometimes made out to be. With that in mind, we meet Peer Gynt and Solveig right off that bat,” de Lancie says.
Sheer coincidence helped the Peer Gynt collaboration get off the ground, and it was de Lancie’s notoriety from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Picard that brought the actor and the WSO together.
De Lancie came to Winnipeg in September 2021 as one of the guests for Winnipeg Comiccon, and after the day’s work of meeting fans, signing autographs and posing for selfies ended, he made his way to the concert hall for what proved to be a delightful, and fruitful evening with the WSO.
”I remember it very well,” he says. “They played the Prokofiev classical symphony, and we’ve all heard that a bazillion times but it really sounded good. It was thrilling, it’s a really good orchestra.”
He met with WSO musicians and staff after the show and talks began for the collaboration that takes place tonight.
Tonight’s presentation includes sopranos Andrea Lett and Julie Lumsden, a vocal trio of Chloé Thiessen, Claire Wright and Alice Macgregor and the University of Manitoba Singers, directed by Elroy Friesen. Raiskin conducts the show from the podium but there will be someone offstage directing lighting and other theatrical aspects of the concert.
“This is new territory for them, and we’re doing it with very little theatrical time, so they are being very adventurous about all this, which is wonderful,” de Lancie says.
De Lancie’s narration won’t be a simple reading of Ibsen’s words though. Vocal flourishes from 60 years of acting in movies, television shows, Shakespeare and other stage works and dozens of voiceovers for animated series and video games will likely steal parts of Saturday’s show just as he has done on Star Trek: The Next Generation, as troubled air-traffic controller Eugene Margolis on Breaking Bad and as Eugene Bradford on the soap opera Days of Our Lives.
“At 14 years old I said I wanted to be an actor… I’m 74 and I’m still an actor.”–John de Lancie
De Lancie appeared on the inaugural episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, let him in on his future during the first days of filming, long before the series became a hit.
“‘You will find out,’ and I have been finding out for 35 years,” he remembers meeting with Roddenberry about the instant recognition he would soon receive.
“This was yesterday, ‘Would you and your wife like to come on a solar-eclipse cruise?’ They’re not doing that because I did Peer Gynt.”
He splits his time between Los Angeles and Quebec City, and has taken months away from show business in the past to pursue his passions, whether it’s performing with orchestras or sailing the south Pacific in his own boat, but he keeps coming back.
“At 14 years old I said I wanted to be an actor,” he says. “I’m 74 and I’m still an actor.”
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.