Aaron Gervais’ and Colleen Murphy’s Oksana G. finally made it to the stage last night after a most convoluted journey. It’s being produced by Tapestry at the Imperial Oil Theatre with Tom Diamond directing. The wait, I think has been worth it. The story, set in 1997, of a naive country girl from the Ukraine who gets caught up in sex trafficking is dramatic and the it convincingly depicts the sleazy underworld of southern and eastern Europe created by the collapse of the USSR, the civil wars in the Balkans and the pervasive official corruption in countries like Ukraine, Greece and Italy. It’s gritty and, at times, not at all easy to watch.
A couple of days ago I sat down to chat with Natalya Gennadi who will sing the title role in Tapestry’s upcoming premiere of Oksana G by Aaron Gervais and Colleen Murphy. It’s a story about a Ukrainian girl who gets caught up with a sex-trafficking ring; an all too real phenomenon in Eastern and Central Europe as the Soviet system disintegrated. For Natalya it’s a very personal piece. She is Ukrainian and much the same age as Oksana would be. It’s her era and Oksana is, she feels, a similar sort of person from a similar background and there but for…
Thankfully, Natalya’ “career path” has been rather different. She didn’t set out to be a singer. In fact she trained in linguistics before applying to, and being accepted by the Moscow Conservatory though she never studied there. Instead she moved to Ottawa with her husband where she began to study music formsally. With a degree from the University of Ottawa she came to Toronto to study for her masters. Along the way she appeared in a number of student productions and since graduating has been keeping busy with roles mainly with opera companies and orchestras in the Toronto suburbs(*); most recently in the title role of Suor Angelica with Cathedral Bluffs and the countess in Le nozze di Figaro with the Brott Festival. The latter representing something of a vocal shift from Puccini and the like to lighter rep. This is something that she sees as an important (if slightly unusual) career direction. There have also been competitions and the Karina Gauvin scholarship and a “career blueprint” award from the IRCPA.
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.
So finally we have dates and casting for the long awaited Oksana G (music Aaron Gervais, libretto Colleen Murphy) from Tapestry Opera. This one has been years in the making. Back when I saw the second act workshop in 2012 there were all kinds of rumours about who would eventually (co)produce it. Now it looks like Tapestry have come up the resources to do it as a standalone. That’s no mean feat as this is a full blown two acter with orchestra and chorus. It will play May 24th – 30th, 2017, at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre of the Canadian Opera Company, 227 Front St. E. (just around the corner from the Kitten Kondo) and the title role will be played by Operaramblings’ favourite crazy lady Ambur Braid. As she showed recently as Dalinda in the COC’s Ariodante she’s now much more than a series of impressive high notes. She’s become a singing actress of real substance and Oksana is certainly a role a girl could get her teeth into. The rest of the casting is also impressive with the always impressive Krisztina Szabó as Oksana’s mother, Adam Fisher as Father Alexander, and Keith Klassen as the baddy Konstantin. Jordan de Souza conducts and Tom Diamond directs. This is one not to miss!
Tapestry Opera has now announced its upcoming season. There are three shows. The season begins in November with Naomi’s Road; libretto by Ann Hodges based on the novel by Joy Kogawa with music by Ramona Luengen. Set in Vancouver during the Second World War, the opera follows 9-year-old Japanese-Canadian girl Naomi and her brother, whose lives are upturned when they are sent to internment camps in the BC interior and Alberta. It runs November 16th to 20th at St. David’s Anglican Church, the home of the last Japanese-Canadian Anglican parish in Toronto. 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.
Last night saw the first of two workshop performances of Act 2 of The Enslavement and Liberation of Oksana G., a new full scale opera with music by Aaron Gervais and libretto by Colleen Murphy. Act 1 was similarly workshopped last year. It’s being produced by Tapestry New Opera in the Ernest Balmer Studio at The Distillery. The second performance is tonight.
The piece is about sex trafficking. Oksana is a Ukrainian girl tricked, raped and forced into an Italian brothel controlled by Russian organized crime. At the beginning of Act 2 she has escaped and is living at a refugee shelter run by a Canadian priest in Brindisi. The story concerns her relationship with the priest, her desire to return to her family and her pimp’s determination to get his hands on her again. It’s dramatic, emotionally charged and ends badly. It’s neither overly melodramatic nor crushingly intellectual and it works very well as an opera libretto. Somewhat oddly it’s written in four languages; English, Italian, Russian and Ukrainian, apparently for essentially “naturalistic” reasons. I think the logic is off but it didn’t reduce my enjoyment of the piece. Continue reading →