Postcard from Morocco

Dominick Argento’s 1971 work Postcard from Morocco is unusual.  It’s opera meets Ionesco meets acid rock.  It’s a weird and wonderful kaleidoscope of scenes and music “about” a group of characters who seem to have nothing in common except that they have showed up at a railway station in Morocco c. 1914.  Michael Cavanagh’s production for UoT Opera plays it straight veering to OTT which seems about right.  This piece doesn’t need directorial “interpretation” but it does need careful organisation and lots of energy.  Cavanagh’s approach provided plenty of both.

ScanSo, everything unfolds on a single, colourful set with a vaguely Moorish feel.  props are wheeled on and off as necessary by costumed supers without interrupting the action.  The nine piece band and conductor Les Dala, are placed stage right n costumes that suggest a Moroccan Palm Court nonet.  There’s some very effective lighting and good use too of the auditorium space.

Musically it’s truly weird.  It can be lyrical, it can be atonal, it includes weirdly distorted Wagner quotations and jazz.  And there’s a drum solo of the floridly pretentious and over long type favoured on prog rock albums in my youth.  One really does wonder what pharmaceutical assistance was involved in the composition.  All of this was brilliantly realized by Dala and his band.

There was some pretty good singing and acting too.  It’s a biggish cast (ideal for a student production) with perhaps the most demanding role; A Man with a Paint Box, being sung by up and coming tenor Charles Sy.  He didn’t disappoint.  He’s shown he has the chops on standard rep and here he was rock solid in more outré material.  He has a lot to do, probably carrying more solo scenes than anybody especially the lyrical ones late in the piece.  He was lovely to listen too and a fine actor.  There were fine performances too from Danika Lorèn as the perky coloratura Lady with a Hand Mirror and Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor as the deeply weird Lady with a Cake Box.  Her scene with Charles Sy and her “husband” was perhaps the most weirdly disturbing moment in the whole piece.  Alessia Naccarato was an impressively dark toned Spanish Singer and Lady with a Hat Box with just a slight tendency to disappear in the ensembles.  Marcel d’Entremont (Man with Old Luggage) and Max van Wyck (Man with a Shoe Case) were energetic and solid and probably contributed the comic highlight of the night in the brilliantly staged puppet scene.  Bradley Christensen sang Man with a Cornet Case and was truly sinister as A Puppet Maker.

Postcard from Morocco is playing at the McMillan Theatre at the Faculty of Music until the Sunday.  In usual UoT Opera fashion there are two casts.  The one I saw performs again on Saturday.  The other lot can be seen tonight and Sunday afternoon.  Definitely worth catching one or other!

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