There are umpteen operas based more or less closely on the legends surrounding Medea, Jason, the Golden Fleece and the events afterwards in Corinth. Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s 1693 version to a libretto by Corneille deals with the events in Corinth subsequent to Jason and Medea’s return with the fleece. The plot, in essentials, is simplicity itself. Jason is scheming to secure his future, and that of his children, by ditching Médée and marrying the king’s daughter Créuse. Médée is not having this and wreaks revenge on just about everybody else in the piece. Somehow Charpentier and Corneille string this out over five acts and the obligatory prologue glorifying Louis XIV, wisely omitted by director Marshall Pynkowski.
There are a few things I didn’t mention in my back half of April post. Century Song opened a couple of nights ago at Crow’s Theatre. It’s a live performance hybrid, inspired in part by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Soprano Neema Bickersteth melds classical song (music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Oliver Messiaen, John Cage, Georges Aperghis and Reza Jacobs) and movement to inhabit a century of women whose identities are contained within a single performer. Details here.
So here is the promised review of last night at the Four Seasons Centre. I have to phrase it that way because it was more than Somers’ opera Louis Riel though that of course was the major event. The evening kicked off with a performance in the RBA by the Git Hayetsk Dance Group. This is a west coast group and I’m not going to try and get into the complexities of nation, lineage and clan involved but it was a moving performance of traditional songs and dance with a brilliantly witty piece involving the trickster raven and a lot of stolen handbags. This was also the beginning of the public conversation about the use of the Nsga’a mourning song in Louis Riel. That conversation continued when the same group made a brief appearance on the main stage immediately before the opera performance. I understand that the intent is for the leader of the dancers to report back to the matriarch of the clan that owns the song on what happened and for the conversation to continue from there.
Harry Somers’ Louis Riel is iconic. It was the first Canadian opera to be performed by the COC (in 1967) and with its uncompromising musical modernism it stands out quite distinctly from the general corpus of Canadian operas. Even after 50 years it retains an “edgy” quality musically. It’s also iconic in that it uses the story of the Métis rebellions of 1870 and 1885 to explore the nature of Canadian identity. It’s also hugely problematic in that the libretto, quite naturally, sees that issue in 1960s terms; i.e French vs English with a side of Ottawa versus the West. There’s little room for Métis or First Nations sensibilities and the original production, recorded by the CBC in 1969, exacerbated that with a hyper-realistic treatment that made unfortunate use of a number of derogatory stereotypes of Aboriginal people. This was compounded by the use of a sacred Nisga’a mourning song with new words as a lullabye; the most famous part of the opera – the Kuyas – without acknowledgement or permission.
Bicycle Opera Project and Toronto Masque Theatre have announced plans for their upcoming seasons. BOP will be touring Juliet Palmer and Anna Chatterton’s Sweat across Ontario in July and August (details in May). It’s a work about sweatshop labour in the garment industry and is scored for nine voices and no instruments. Sweatwill be directed by Banuta Rubess, conducted by Geoffrey Sirett and designed by Sonja Rainey. The cast includes: Catherine Daniel, Caitlin Wood, Stephanie Tritchew, Christopher Enns, Larissa Koniuk, Justine Owens, Emma Char, Alexandra Beley and Cindy Won. For more information, visit bicycleopera.com
All families, they say, have secrets. Few perhaps are as lurid as what came to light at 27 Kintyre Avenue, Toronto (about 2km from here) in the summer of 2007 when a contractor renovating the house discovered the mummified body of an infant wrapped in a 1925 newspaper. Incredibly, the CBC was able to track down the last surviving member of the household from that era, a 92 year old woman living in a retirement home in up-state New York. Her recollections, which formed the subject of a short two part radio documentary, provided a lot of context and background but few hard facts. Who the baby was and how it came to be under the floorboards remains very much a mystery.
Danika Lorèn and co. aka Collectìf were back today with a lunctime show in the RBA. Like their previous shows this was a themed, more or less staged, series of art songs. This program was inspired by Verlaine’s Fêtes galantes and featured all French texts set by a range of composers. Most of it was pretty typical chansons of the fin de siècle; material I find pleasant enough but not especially compelling. The surprise, and a very welcome one, was four pieces by Reynaldo Hahn setting texts by Charles, duc d’Orléans and Faullin de Banville. Here Hahn turned his flair for vocal and pianistic colour to great effect producing pieces strangely evocative of the Renaissance. Fancifully perhaps, I could imagine these being sung at the court of Philip the Good (assuming of course that he had a piano…)