Tomorrow (Sunday) is a busy day. There’s a matinée of Götterdämmerung at the COC with a few tickets still available. UoT Opera is doing their annual student composer piece. This year it’s called Prima Zombie and it’s based on the premise that a cabal of disgruntled music critics, disenchanted with the current state of opera, unearth and electrify the corpse of the celebrated 19th century diva Nellie Melba. Mayhem ensues. This one is in the MacMillan Theatre at 2.30 pm and it’s free.
This time last year I attended a workshop performance of a work in progress; Aaron Gervais’ The Harvester. That time it was in piano score but semi staged. Last night it was presented, at Gallery 345, in concert format but with chamber orchestra. I’m not going to recap the plot etc because it’s all in last time’s review. Let’s start by saying it’s coming along and I really look forward to seeing a fully staged version.
So, back to last night. The concept is of a double bill of Schoenberg’s Erwartung in a chamber reduction followed by The Harvester so last night we started with half the Schoenberg (up to the discovery of her lover’s body). The chamber reduction (by Aaron Gervais) for piano, three woodwinds, strings, horn and percussion works remarkably well. The effect is similar (ironically) to Schoenberg’s chamber versions of Mahler’s songs. Textures are clearer, if less lush, and the singer is less pushed for sheer volume which allows for a bit more subtlety. It’s different but it works. On this scale it’s a good fit for Stacie Dunlop; one of those singers who is an excellent musician and interpreter but is not a huge voice.
Coleman, Lemieux et Compagnie’s Against Nature presented last night at The Citadel, is another show combining vocal music and dance. It combines two baritones; Geoff Sirett and Alexander Dobson with a dancer, Laurence Lemieux, playing a female servant. Funny how things tend to coevolve in the arts world. Combining vocal music with dance, once not so common, is now almost ubiquitous with productions from the likes of CASP, Against the Grain and FAWN among others.
Observers of the Toronto opera scene will have noted the creeping influence of facial hair in the industry locally. Perhaps it didn’t start with COC General Director Alexander Neef’s intellectually Germanic goatee but who could deny that it had a profound impact. Earlier this week the four tenors of the Ensemble Studio appeared together sporting face rugs in varying stages of development and the scene is replete with other notable beardies. Geoff Sirett, Robert Gleadow, Greg Finney and Alexander Dobson come to mind. It’s almost compulsory, it seems, for baritones. Continue reading →
FAWN Chamber Creative’s latest project is an opera called The Harvester. The libretto is adapted by Paul van Dyck from his own play of the same name and the music is by Aaron Gervais. The genesis (and we’ll come back to that) of the piece lies in the mind of soprano Stacie Dunlop who wanted a reduced orchestration version of Schoenberg’s Erwartung and a one acter that could be performed with the same band to form a double bill with it. Van Dyck’s play seemed to have the right stuff and Aaron was up for both parts of the project. Co-opting Kevin Mallon and his Aradia Ensemble and Amanda Smith to direct rounded out the project.
Adam Scime’s L’Homme et le Ciel opened last night at The Music Gallery in a production created by FAWN Chamber Creative. The story of a 2nd century BCE slave’s struggle between his spiritual aspirations and his less spiritual attraction to his beautiful owner might seem a bit obscure for a modern audience but it does provide a framework for exploring human emotions free of the need to rush on with a linear narrative. So, perhaps rather like Pyramus and Thisbe at the COC this is a piece that explores and questions human motivations and emotions rather than focussing on telling a story.
I met with Adam Scime and Amanda Smith of FAWN Chamber Creative today to talk about chamber opera in general and their upcoming show L’Homme et le Ciel in particular. There are several questions that are exercising the minds of many people in the opera community as they try to create in and for the space that lies between the COC and an out of tune piano in a pub and that has value beyond providing performance opportunities for the participants.
There’s probably a rough consensus that the answer lies in “chamber opera” but less unanimity on what that means either in terms of forces employed or repertoire. Equally, there are differing views on where the potential audience is to be found. So where does FAWN sit on these issues?