Whose opera is it anyways?! is a comedy-improv-opera show from LooseTEA Theatre’s Alaina Viau. Last night saw the second in what is being projected as a monthly series at the Comedy Bar on Bloor West. So how does it work? The “games” and associated players are decided in advance but each usually requires some kind of audience input such as a place or a mood or even the messages on someone’s phone. The team then act out and sing a sketch on the prescribed lines. Natasha Fransblow provided accompaniment on keyboards, though how much of that was planned and how much improvised I couldn’t tell. In between numbers Jonathan McArthur MC’d accompanied by really obnoxiously loud pop music (not helped by the speaker basically being in my left ear).
Even by the standards of Rossini comedies The Italian Girl in Algiers is a bit daft. Mustafà, bey of Algiers, is tired of his wife and plans to get rid of her by marrying her off to his Italian servant Lindoro. He wants an Italian girl because well squire, nudge nudge. He instructs his sidekick and commander of the galleys Haly to procure one or be impaled (a somewhat pointed joke that runs through the piece). He shows up with Isabella and her sidekick Taddeo. Isabella just happens to be Lindoro’s squeeze. She immediately starts to plot their escape and persuades Mustafà that to succeed with Italian girls he must become a Pappatacci which involves eating enormous amounts of food and not getting upset when his beloved gets off with other men. With Mustafà in a pasta induced near coma the lovers escape and Mustafà reconciles with his wife. Got that?
Last night LooseTEA Theatre presented a work-in-progress version of their reimagined Carmen. Director and librettist Alaina Viau promised a “a radically envisioned” Carmen and she wasn’t kidding. Apart from the fact that Ricardo (Escamilio) and John Anderson (Don José) are rivals for Carmen’s affections and there’s a woman, Michaela, with a prior attachment to John and, of course, that John kills Carmen there’s not a whole lot left of Mérimée’s story. We are in Toronto. John is a vet suffering from PTSD who has left his wife (Michaela) and kids. Carmen manages a bar but is about to open her own place with the help of investment banker Ricardo. She comes across as an everyday working girl rather than someone whose life is a serial process of picking up and discarding men. Episodes that fit the big numbers of the score are quite cleverly crafted together to weave a narrative that works but rather relies on John’s PTSD to explain the two murders. Woven into the opera are videos by Darren Bryant that contain some of the characters’ back stories. Music is a mix of a conventional keyboard reduction played by Natasha Fransblow and live electronics from sound artist SlowPitchSound. The use of electronics brings a grittiness that feels like an essential way of undermining the “prettiness” of the score. Running around 55 minutes all told it feels a bit episodic and I hope (and expect) that the final version will seem more continuous. Certainly there’s already more than just the basis for a very interesting piece of music theatre.
Anna Theodosakis’ production of Britten’s Rape of Lucretia for MYOpera updates the piece from proto-historical Rome to somewhere in the mid 20th century which is fine but doesn’t seem, of itself, to add any layers of meaning to the narrative. There are neat visual touches in a simple but effective set design and the nature of and relationships between the characters are deftly drawn. The rape scene manages to be disturbing without being gratuitously graphic. It’s skilful theatre. But is that enough?
This concert was the culmination of several days of workshops involving Wallis Giunta, Jordan de Souza and eighteen emerging artists; both singers and pianists. It’s a comparatively unusual opportunity to focus on contemporary repertoire for a while and the results were fun. As usual with these multi-participant efforts I’m not going to attempt to be exhaustive but just concentrate on my personal highlights.
Two announcements from MY Opera at their fundraiser yesterday. First, they have rebranded from Metro Youth Opera to MY Opera. I guess everybody is getting a little older! More exciting, their spring 2016 production will be Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia which is a definite departure into much darker territory for this company and a chance to see a work that isn’t performed too often. Dates and casting TBA.
The fundraiser itself was fun with some fine singing from, among others, Stephanie Tritchew, Lyndsay Promane, Asitha Tennekoon and Kelsey Vicary with Natasha Fransblow on keyboards. There was beer and silly hats and a vast quantity of rather good chicken wings. There was also a raffle and a photo booth thingy. And did I remember to mention the chicken wings.
June is still a bit quiet but I have had word of a few more performances around the city. On the 13th Lindsay Promane, Daevyd Pepper and pianist Natasha Fransblow; all seen recently at either Metro Youth Opera or various UoT events, have a recital at Islington United Church. Featured composers include Ravel, Tosti and Saint-Saens. It’s at 7.30pm and it’s Pay What You Can.
On the 17th and 18th at 8pm Array Music are presenting How it Storms. It’s an opera for gamelan ensemble by Allen Cole. The singers will be Salzburg and Zürich bound Claire de Sévigné, Danielle MacMillan (where’s she been this year?), Chris Mayell and Keith O’Brien. This one is at The Array Space, 155 Walnut Ave and admission is $15.00.
Then on the 21st there’s a concert performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at St Simon-The-Apostle Anglican Church. It’s at 7pm and it’s Pay What You Can.
Finally, you can catch the broadcast of the Royal Opera’s recent production of Weill’s Mahagonny at the Bloor Hot Docs on the 28th at noon.