Opera 5 opened a run of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville at the Factory Theatre last night. It’s arguably the most conventional thing Opera 5 have done. It’s a (very) mainstream piece. There was no accompanying themed food or drink (a glass of Rotsina?). There was no audience participation. There weren’t even Aria Umezawa’s characteristically minimalist touches. What there was a carefully constructed Barber for reduced forces directed by new Artistic Director Jessica Derventzis and conducted by Evan Mitchell.
So you have sung the Queen of the Night exactly 2,327 times; high Fs and all, and you are sick to death of it and the Misogyny it rode in on. What do you do? Well, obvs you create a one woman show that teeters between mocking opera stereotypes of women and something much darker. At least that’s what Teiya Kasahara did as part of Tapestry Opera’s Tap This: A Quueerated Opera Series presented in conjunction with Pride.
So our favourite inked butch dyke coloratura comes on in a foofy dress complete with Dollarama coronet and wand and starts to sing the heck out of that aria – you know, the one they sing at weddings. But then it rapidly morphs into a diatribe; first in German, then in heavily accented English, about the role, how women are portrayed in opera, occasionally veering into how women; sopranos in particular, are seen/treated in the opera world(*) before switching up into dress pants and a wing collared shirt with studs (despite pianist David Eliakis’ increasingly frantic pleas of “no pants”). Along the way there are jokes, some killer singing and some very sharp reminders of what it’s like to be a strong, athletic, queer woman in a world that expects its sopranos to behave as if they are romantically dying of TB on-stage and off. It’s a very moving and rather disturbing 45 minutes that I really can’t do full justice to. It’s a very brave show and I hope Teiya puts it on again. More people need to see it.
(*)It’s odd that it should come just after I first encountered Kiri Te Kanawa live for surely few sopranos have been as sexually objectified. I don’t know how many people remember Bernard Levin’s Times column written after her ROH debut in 1971 but it’s probably the only time the Thunderer was printed using drool.
This year’s Canadian Children’s Opera Company main stage performance is The Monkiest King. It’s from the team of Marjorie Chan and Alice Ping Yee Ho who collaborated most successfully to create another highly successful Western/Chinese fusion piece; The Lesson Of Da Jee. The inspiration for this one is the antics of Sun Wukong, the mischievous and arrogant Monkey King in the Chinese classic Journey to the West.
Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony were in town last night for a one night stand at Roy Thomson Hall. My reason for going was primarily to see Marion Newman sing Ancestral Voices; a work composed for her by Tovey. It’s the composer’s contribution to the sesqui and it deals with the Dominion of Canada’s troubled relationship with the original peoples of this land. The four movements trace an arc from an imagined pre colonial “Arkady” cleverly using a Keats text that deals with a clearly not Canadian imagined state of nature through to Charles Mair’s The Last Bison; a very early warning of what happens when Man and Nature get out of balance. Then comes the most chilling part; an excerpt from a letter in the government archives about residential schools”…separate, isolate, educate; dominate, assimilate; Sow the seeds and forcibly, effectively; Kill the Indian in the child.” It concludes with fragments of letters from Harper and Trudeau cut with parts of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.
David Fallis’ last show after 28 years as Artistic Director of the Toronto Consort is, perhaps appropriately, the earliest opera in the repertoire; Monteverdi’s Orfeo. The first performance of three was last night at Trinity St. Paul’s. It’s a concert performance with surtitles and some interesting orchestration. The expected strings and woodwinds are supplemented here by the sackbuts and cornettos of Montreal based La Rose des Vents as well as triple harp and an assortment of keyboards including, I think, two different organs. Continue reading →
I’m not sure that I had ever heard anything by Heinrich Schütz before this afternoon but I’m glad that I have now. His St. John Passion formed the first half of the closing concert of the Toronto Bach Festival at St. Barnabas on the Danforth this afternoon. Written in 1666, towards the end of his life ,it’s steeped in the Lutheran tradition. There’s no orchestra. The main burden of the Gospel is taken by the Evangelist as narrator in a style not very far from the Anglican traditional style of singing metrical psalms. The emphasis is on the text; indeed on The Word. Members of the chorus contribute in similar style as Jesus, Pilate and so on. The narrative is interspersed with polyphonic choruses with sparse organ accompaniment perhaps hinting at an even older tradition where the meaning of the words mattered less.
Hockey Noir; music by André Ristic, words by graphic novelist Cecil Castellucci, is a piece presented by Montreal based ECM+ and brought to Toronto in collaboration with Continuum and The Toronto Comic Arts Festival. It’s described as a “graphic opera” which I suppose is OK as far as it goes. I saw it as a theatre piece incorporating, and sometimes parodying, opera, musical theatre, film noir, the graphic novel and animation. It’s set in the 1950s and riffs off the old tropes of Montreal/Toronto hockey rivalry and the entanglement of local government and organised crime in Montreal.