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.
Naomi’s Road; music by Ramona Luengen, lbretto by Anne Hodges,has been around as an opera for ten years or so and it got its Toronto premier last night at St. David’s Anglican Church in a production directed by Michael Mori for Tapestry Opera. It’s based on Joy Kogawa’s novel for children of the same name which tells the story of Naomi and her brother Stephen; Japanese-Canadian children torn from a comfortable middle class Vancouver home by the WW2 era Canadian government’s policy of interning Canadians of Japanese descent as “enemy aliens”. It’s a shameful story and one that Canadians need to know about in an era when fear of the “other” is being stoked on all sides. Perhaps we like to look down our noses at the antics of our neighbours to the south but our own history has its dark side and we need to remember.
Rocking Horse Winner; music by Gareth Williams and libretto by Anna Chatterton, opened last night at the Berkeley Street Theatre. It’s based on the short story by DH Lawrence and is a co-commission of Tapestry Opera and Scottish Opera. There are some changes from the original story. Here Paul is a developmentally challenged adult (on the autism spectrum) rather than a child. The gardener is replaced by his personal care worker who moonlights as a caller at the local racetrack. This has a couple of advantages. It provides something of a rationale for Paul hearing the “voice” of the house and for his apparently inexplicable intuition about race winners and it also means that Paul can be cast as a tenor rather than having to make an awkward choice between a boy soprano or a pants role. As Paul is one of, perhaps the main, character, this simplifies casting considerably. The work is also gently updated. So gently in fact that it’s barely perceptible.