Last Days is a staging of songs and texts from and about WW1. It’s directed by Tim Albery with music direction by David Fallis and it’s performed by students from the University of Toronto Opera Program. It’s staged “in the round” in the Hart House Music Room which can accommodate maybe 70 ranged around the walls. We are taken on a journey from the gaiety of pre-war Europe; Geitz’ The World is Waiting for the Sunrise, Schoenberg’s Galathea and Berg’s Veuf to readings from Barbusse about the apocalyptic impact of the war’s outbreak. Then we get the juxtaposition of Ives’ (hopefully ironic) setting of arch Jingoist John McRae’s He is There! (arguably the most revolting song in the entire art song canon) with Butterworth’s setting of The Lads in their Hundreds. From here on we explore the impact the war had on the men and women caught up in it and especially the impact on them of the incomprehension of those at home. There is music by Gurney, Poulenc, Elgar, Ravel and more with texts from Helen Zenna Smith, Barbellion, Sassoon and Ford Madox Ford among others. It’s beautifully staged and packs a real emotional punch. One highlight is the staging of Butterworth’s Loveliest of Trees sung by a dying soldier on a stretcher. See this show and you’ll never hear it quite the same way again.
With many of the songs arranged for multiple singers it’s very much an ensemble piece and I think all nine singers; Christina Bell, Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor, Karine White, Alessia Naccarato, Ryan Downey, William Ford, Charles Sy, Dann Mitton and Max van Wyck did a terrific job. As did Hyejin Kwon on piano and Dylan Maddox on trumpet.
There are two more performances at 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow and it’s free. Well worth seeing if you can.