In 2012 it was Hesperus providing the live music track to the 1922 movie Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks. Indianapolis Early Music brought them back again Sunday, this time for the showing of the 1920 feature The Mark of Zorro, with Fairbanks again starring. Hesperus' founding member and veteran performer Tina Chancy, playing the viola da gamba, Renaissance violin and recorder is the brains behind preparing and playing live early music to accompany famous silent-movie showings.
Joining Chancy for this presentation was Brian Kay (who appeared two days earlier in the Peabody Consort) playing the lute and Baroque guitar; John Tyson playing recorders, pipe and tabor, and crumhorns; and renowned soprano Nell Snaidas, who also strummed a small Renaissance guitar. The four players sat facing the audience and a TV monitor showing them what we were seeing projected on a screen in back of them.
The movie, shown mostly in a red tint, but occasionally colorless, deals with protagonists Señor Zorro, his foppish alter-ego Don Diego Vega and his love interest Lolita Pulido. Captain Ramon and Pedro Gonzales are their chief antagonists. But in reality, the masked Zorro is the hero and champion of the Mexican settlers in early 19th-century California against their oppressive Spanish Governor and his henchmen. This basic plot setup has been repeated countless times since that 1920 effort in Zorro movies and TV series through the decades.
Though surely not intended at the time, some of that era's film making comes across as campy in today's culture. For example, Zorro was a smoker--the only smoker so shown in the film. When he first appeared (as Zorro) in front of Gonzales he exhibited a fiendish smile, breaking up our audience. His many swordfights never resulted in anyone's death--just their humiliation. He scaled walls, balconies, climbing plants, and ramparts just as easily as Robin Hood had done two years ago. Fewer comedic effects from excessive film speed were in evidence here than there were in Robin Hood.
The Mark of Zorro lasted an hour and forty-five minutes. Within that period Hesperus melded 28 selections together, so listed in the program booklet. The music they played came mostly from the 15th and 16th centuries, perfectly duplicating the mood and action of each successive scene, with all four right on cue throughout. I regretted not hearing more of Snaidas' singing--but she will be appearing in two IEM concerts next year--something to look forward to. July 13; Indiana History Center