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.
Last night ten singers who had taken part in an intensive class/coaching with Sondra Radvanovsky showed us what they could do. The program was organised and presented by the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists at the Alliance Française. It says quite a lot about the current state of supply and demand in the opera world that nine of the ten singers were female and seven were sopranos. We were given one aria per singer and a lot, inevitably I suppose, of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini with one aria apiece for Verdi and Puccini.
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.
Great idea. Create a sort of spooky, short opera program in a funky location and use it as a fundraiser for your next major project. That was Darknet at Mây last night. Jennifer Krabbe, singing Berlioz, rounded us up in the bar and ushered us downstairs into an installation created by Alessia Naccarato and Noah Grove. It was dark. It was eerie. We were offered masks. Cairan Ryan sang The Cold Song from Purcell’s King Arthur while writhing on the floor. Jonathan MacArthur sort of emerged from some sort of primeval goo singing Aria by John Cage and Beth Hagerman gave us one of Lulu’s arias. Then we were rounded up and ejected into the light again. Loved it.
Gounod’s Faust is very French, stuffed with a specifically Catholic religiosity and has all the elements, welcome or not, of 19th century French opera; it’s long, it has ballet, there are interpolated drinking songs etc. Alaina Viau and Markus Kopp’s adaptation Dissociative Me, presented by LooseTEA Music Theatre, is none of these things (OK there’s an interpolated drinking song, Stan Rogers even, but at least it happens in a bar) and it’s all the better for that.
I met with Alaina Viau, Artistic Director of Loose TEA Theatre, earlier today to discuss her upcoming show Dissociative Me; a transladaptation™(*) of Gounod’s Faust. We started by exploring the reasons why one might choose transladaptation rather than either a “straight” production or simply a radical restaging à la Herheim or Tcherniakov. The starting point for Alaina, one that I completely share, is that certain works are so problematic that they can’t realistically be presented “straight” and still do the things that “art” is supposed to do; stimulate, challenge etc. If a work contains elements that have so radically changed meaning since the original composition that one must treat it as a museum piece or intellectually disengage to make a piece tolerable then, we both believe, something has to be done. I realise that there are those who can enjoy, for instance, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly; a squalid tale of paedophilia and sex tourism, at a superficial level but count me out there.
Korngold’s Silent Serenade is, to put it mildly, odd. The plot could have been taken from Dario Fo and the only possible excuse for the schmaltzy music is that Korngold initiated many of the saccharine clichés he relies on. Last night the students of the Glenn Gould School under the direction of Joel Ivany and the musical leadership of Pieter Tiefenbach bravely tried to rescue it from well deserved obscurity.
The plot concerns a dressmaker who is accused of breaking into the bedroom of, and trying to abduct, one of his clients; an actress who happens to be engaged to the Prime Minister. In Naples this is a hanging offence. Meanwhile someone has made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the unpopular Prime Minister with a bomb. The king is dying and, we learn from his confessor, wishes to make a great act of mercy before he finally snuffs it. He wishes to pardon the bomber. Unfortunately the police don’t have a suspect. The solution is obvious. The dressmaker must confess to both crimes so that he can be pardoned and hanged for neither. Unfortunately the king dies before signing the pardon and so the dressmaker must hang. Following this so far? Fortunately for him the unpopular Prime Minister is killed in a popular uprising and he is installed in his stead much to the annoyance of the anarchist who did plant the bomb. They agree that the dressmaker will return to his salon and the actress, who has now fallen in love with him and is, conveniently, no longer engaged. There’s also a subplot concerning a newspaper reporter and an aspiring actress.