The first performance of Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound took place at the Jackman Studio at the COC. It’s the first public airing of the piece in piano score, as a workshop, so it’s not the finished product. The performance was followed by a lively discussion about the work’s potential and future avenues to explore.
I think it’s fair to say that Bound ventures into more serious territory than we have yet seen from this company, dealing as it does with the fraught relationship between the state and the individual in an age when the state, egged on by the right wing media, uses fear of terrorism to suppress “dissidents”.
The space where the audience assembles before the show is liberally decorated with propaganda for The State of the “fear anything that looks different” variety. In the performance venue itself the audience is ranked either side of a space that contains the piano and, at intervals around the large empty floor, seven chairs; one for each detainee. The detainees are all being held for things which aren’t actually crimes but bring them under suspicion; wearing a hijab, having a Nazi great-uncle, wanting to emigrate to Sri Lanka, converting to Islam, having a terrorist brother, protesting immigration restrictions, being transgendered. They are posed essentially unanswerable Kafkaesque questions by the State interrogator (Martha Burns) sitting off in one corner with a microphone. The only answer is to express frustration and despair and, occasionally, defiance and hope in arias using Handel’s music and words by either Handel’s librettist or Joel Ivany. Some of the music has been somewhat reshaped by Kevin Lau who also wrote/arranged the final ensemble number.
Against the Grain Theatre have announced the line up for their 2017/18 season. First up is a workshop of a Handel mash up called BOUND. It’s a collaboration with composer Kevin Lau and will explore aspects of the refugee crisis through Handel’s music as well as contemporary real life stories. It’s the beginning of a three year concept to production cycle. The workshop cast will include soprano Danika Lorèn, tenor Asitha Tennekoon, counter-tenor David Trudgen, baritone Justin Welsh, bass Michael Uloth, mezzo-soprano Victoria Marshall and soprano Miriam Khalil. It will play at the COC’s Jackman Studio on December 14, 15, and 16, 2017.
Yesterday we got the second recital by the song fellows of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. In the week since the first concert they have been working with mentor Soile Isokoski and it showed in the programming. There was quite a bit of Strauss and more Finnish and Swedish music than I have ever heard in such a recital. Among other things this highlighted just how difficult Strauss songs are to sing well. They are exceedingly tricky yet have to sound absolutely effortless. Three of the four sopranos on show tried. None of them succeeded completely(*). So it goes. And so to the details.
Toronto Summer Music Festival has two “apprenticeship” programmes; one for chamber musicians and one for singers and collaborative pianists. The latter is directed by Martin Katz and Steven Philcox. On Saturday afternoon in Walter Hall we got our first chance to see this year’s young artists. Eight singers and four pianists were on show. The singers were a mix of those who are well known to anyone who follows student opera in Toronto and newcomers. The pianists were all new to me.
It’s been four years since the initial Canadian Art Song Project concert in the RBA. Since then they’ve commissioned a number of works and started a recital series that has included innovative presentations such as the performance of Brian Harman’s Sewing the Earthwormgiven in November. A work premiered that night; Erik Ross’ The Living Spectacle formed the conclusion to yesterday’s concert but first came a series of works performed by students from the University of Toronto.
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 year’s UoT Opera student composed opera sets a libretto by Michael Patrick Albano based on a 1909 story by EM Forster. It’s a dystopian sci-fi story and OK as these things go though one suspects it felt a whole lot more original in 1909. Basically, humanity is living underground in pods with limited face to face interaction. Life is mediated by “The Machine” which increasingly has become an object of veneration as well as utility. The principal characters are Vashti, a believer, and her rebellious son Kuno who is prone to make illegal excursions to the planet surface where, he realises, there are still people living. It’s a bit like Logan’s Run but not as sexy. The Relationship between the two breaks down over their belief systems until The Machine goes belly up at which point there is a reconciliation before everyone dies. Along the way there’s a fair bit of heavy handed philosophising by the narrator and chorus.