Six years ago a bunch of unknowns calling themselves “Against the Grain Theatre” put on Joel Ivany’s English language, updated version of Puccini’s La Bohème in the back room of the Tranzac club. I was there. I reviewed it on my LiveJournal because it would be another six months before I started this blog. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. The Tranzac has been tarted up quite a bit since La Bohème 1.0, though even by 2011 it had become a lot smarter than when the Nomads hung out there and the wall featured a photo of Sorbie with the McCormick cup. Lets face it anywhere would be more sedate without Neil (RIP mate). Oh yeah, and the original AtG crowd have become quite respectable, even famous perhaps. The singers are all Equity members and get paid properly. There are sets and props that weren’t borrowed from Topher’s mum. Topher and Joel have done the conducting and directing thing for major companies in real opera houses. And I’ve been writing this stuff most every day for six years.
There was a sort of mini Schoenberg Fest at the TIFF Lightbox yesterday. First up we got Topher Mokrzewski and Adanya Dunn with Claude Vivier’s Hymnen an die Nacht and five pieces from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. The Vivier was a very apt choice; a piece of CanCon in the spirit of the Schoenberg. Topher may not like Schoenberg but he certain;y knows how to play it and Adanya, in my opinion, is at her considerable best in music of this type. Good start.
Here’s a round up of upcoming performances of interest over the next week or so. Sunday at 3.15pm TIFF are showing Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s films Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” and Moses and Aaron. The films will be preceded by a live performance of a Schoenberg piece by Adanya Dunn and Topher Mokrzewski. More details here.
I’ve seen opera in a lot of venues in Toronto, including several pubs, but last night was my first time at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club; the occasion being the first pub night hosted by Against the Grain Theatre. There was a pretty decent crowd and, somewhat to my surprise, a couple of decent beers on tap. There was also singing with Topher Mokrzewski at the keyboard of a piano almost as grotty as the one he made his AtG debut on. Perhaps unsurprisingly the line up was pretty impressive; Clarence Frazer, Stephanie Tritchew, Aaron Durand, Cait Wood and John Brancy plus a bonus drop in by no less than Krisztina Szabó. Rossini, Puccini, Donizetti, Bernstein and others all got a look in. It was loud, it was fun and the audience, not all of whom I suspect knew what they were in for, stayed. Further sessions are planned for the first Thursdays in November and December at the same venue.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival continued last night with a one off performance of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at The Winter Gardens, the upstairs part of the Elgin Theatre that I had never before been in. The production originated in a Banff Centre/Against the Grain/COC joint project directed by Paul Curran but was recreated here in semi-staged form by Anna Theodosakis. It was on the “quite close to staged” end of the spectrum so, although the band was on stage behind the action and there was no scenery or curtain it came off as much more than a concert in costume.
So the cat’s out of the bag. The long awaited where, when and who of Against the Grain’s Toronto run of A Little Too Cozy have been revealed. A Little Too Cozyis the third and final instalment in a trilogy of Mozart “transladaptations” developed by AtG,which place the works in appropriate, non traditional opera, venues and which use English language librettos by Joel Ivany bringing the stories into a contemporary context. The first two instalments; Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn, sold out their Toronto runs.
Against the Grain’s Death/Desire opened last night at the Neubacher Shor Contemporary Gallery. It’s structured around Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin cycle with the songs of Messiaen’s Harawi: Chants d’amour et de mort interpolated, though not in the usual order. Thus there are two characters; The Man, singing the Schubert; who is very much the conventional questing lover of 19th century poetry, and The Woman, singing the Messiaen (mostly) who is something very different from the young girl of Wilhelm Müller’s texts. The piece is staged with both characters on stage most of the time and interacting in ways that reflect the music and don’t.