Against the Grain Theatre’s Orphée+; a burlesque inflected version of Gluck’s Orphée, opened a three show run last night at the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront. There are many, many things I want to say about this show and the challenge is going to be to present them in some kind of orderly sequence. First off there are expectations for an AtG show in Toronto that probably weren’t present when it opened in Columbus (It’s a co-pro with Opera Columbus and the Banff Centre). We have come to associate AtG with various kinds of “doing differently”; transladaptations, site specific stagings, staged art song and so on. In that context this is a rather conservative show. It’s a production of a canonic opera in a conventional theatre. It’s not a traditional production and would likely shock at the Met or the Lyric but would probably raise only half an eyebrow in Berlin or Barcelona. So I’m inclined to treat it as if I had seen it in Europe.
April is a busy month for fully staged opera. Canadian Opera opens two productions and there are shows from Opera Atelier, Against the Grain and Essential Opera. First up is the COC’s revival of Robert Lepage’s production of Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Short Fables. This opens on April 13th and runs to May 13th. In 2009 it sold out so this time there are nine performances. Also at the COC there’s Donizetti’s Anna Bolena completing the Tudor trilogy. It opens on April 28th with nine performances closing May 26th.
There have been quite a few announcements in the last couple of weeks or so. Here’s what’s coming up.
Essential Opera is back after a hiatus. They are doing a single performance of Gianni Schicchi at 3pm on April 22nd at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (the one up near the Arctic Circle). Kevin Mallon conducts the Toronto Orchestra with a really good line up of soloists.
21C is back from May 23rd to 27th with a varied lineup. Perhaps the most interesting concert from a vocal point of view is vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis with violinist and singer Maarja Nuut and electronic music composer Hendrik Kaljujärv in works by Arvo Pärt, David Lang, and Helena Tulve. The concert is presented in partnership with Estonian Music Week and it’s on the 26th at 8pm.
February is going to be really busy so I think I’ll take the previews in chunks. First up though one event in January I haven’t yet had opportunity to mention. This coming Sunday 21st Fawn Chamber Creative have a PWYC fundraiser for their in process opera-ballet project. It’s from 2-6pm at The Smiling Buddha. It will be party, silent auction and some performance. Previous ones have been fun but I’m booked Sunday. Details at: http://www.fawnchambercreative.com/events/upcoming/. Also in January and missed off the radar, on the 28th at 3pm at Mazzoleni Hall,the Amici Ensemble have a Strauss inspired concert featuring the lovely but tiny Sasha Djihanian who is current holder of the loudness to weight record for a soprano.
The first performance of Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound took place at the Jackman Studio at the COC. It’s the first public airing of the piece in piano score, as a workshop, so it’s not the finished product. The performance was followed by a lively discussion about the work’s potential and future avenues to explore.
I think it’s fair to say that Bound ventures into more serious territory than we have yet seen from this company, dealing as it does with the fraught relationship between the state and the individual in an age when the state, egged on by the right wing media, uses fear of terrorism to suppress “dissidents”.
The space where the audience assembles before the show is liberally decorated with propaganda for The State of the “fear anything that looks different” variety. In the performance venue itself the audience is ranked either side of a space that contains the piano and, at intervals around the large empty floor, seven chairs; one for each detainee. The detainees are all being held for things which aren’t actually crimes but bring them under suspicion; wearing a hijab, having a Nazi great-uncle, wanting to emigrate to Sri Lanka, converting to Islam, having a terrorist brother, protesting immigration restrictions, being transgendered. They are posed essentially unanswerable Kafkaesque questions by the State interrogator (Martha Burns) sitting off in one corner with a microphone. The only answer is to express frustration and despair and, occasionally, defiance and hope in arias using Handel’s music and words by either Handel’s librettist or Joel Ivany. Some of the music has been somewhat reshaped by Kevin Lau who also wrote/arranged the final ensemble number.
After the madness of November, December is much quieter. Messiahs aside there are only a handful of events of note. On Saturday at 7.30pm at Runnymede United Church the Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir have a concert of seasonal music which includes Kim André Arnesen’s Magnificat with Adanya Dunn as soloist. On Tuesday 5th the noon recital in the RBA features Simone McIntosh and Stéphane Mayer. The program hasn’t been published yet but I’m told it includes the Berg Seven Early Songs and a number of songs by Frank Bridge. On Thursday evening at 9pm it’s Opera Pub Night at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The theme is Messiah Pariah. You have been warned. The operatic event of the month is Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound. This uses a mash-up of Handel’s music to explore issues related to the current worldwide refugee crisis. It plays December 14th, 15th and 16th at the COC’s Jackman Studio. As of now, it’s sold out except for the final 9pm performance on the 16th. Toronto Consort have a Spanish themed Christmas show Navidad, featuring motets by Victoria and Guerrero plus villancicos and dances from Latin America. This one is on December 8th and 9th at 8pm and 10th at 3.30pm. Trinity St. Paul’s of course. Also this weekend, more performances of Tapestry Briefs: Winter Shorts (see last post).
Signal boosting for the good folks at Against the Grain…
Against the Grain Theatre, Opera Columbus and Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity seeking members for virtual chorus extravaganza
Singers across the globe encouraged to submit videos to be considered for groundbreaking musical experiment
TORONTO — Against the Grain Theatre, along with co-producers Opera Columbus in Columbus, Ohio, and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Banff, Alberta, are developing Christoph Willibald Gluck’s most famous work, Orphée et Eurydice (Berlioz version). Premiering in 1762, the opera was in the vanguard, changing the way that the musical form was experienced. This interpretation of the opera—while staying true to the music and feel of the Baroque original—will place the work firmly in the 21st century with new electronic orchestration, baroque burlesque dancers, sopranos singing from silks, and aerial dancers. Most importantly, the co-producers are seeking singers of all types who are interested in becoming part of the production’s virtual chorus.