I am Way, I am Act

This spring’s main opera production from UoT Opera is Britten’s Paul Bunyan.  It is a really peculiar work.  The libretto is by WH Auden and is, well, weird.  It mixes up the (apparently) profound with the absurd and the downright silly.  There’s a Swedish lumberjack fish slapping dance, talking cats and dogs, trees that aspire to be product and a philosophical accountant (*).  There are also countless pronouncements from the off stage voice of Bunyan along the lines of the closing:

Where the night becomes the day, Where the dream becomes the fact, I am the Eternal guest, I am Way, I am Act

Walt Whitman meets Dr. Seuss meets a lot of drugs?  One of those 1970s English public schoolboy prog rock bands?

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The Machine Stops

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.

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The Telephone and The Medium

UoT Opera’s fall production opened last night at the MacMillan theatre.  It’s a double bill of Menotti works; The Telephone and The Medium.  The former was cleverly updated by Michael Patrick Albano to reflect the age of the smartphone.  It actually seems more relevant than ever and, slight as it is – an extended joke about a girl who won’t get off the phone long enough for her fiancé to propose – it was wryly amusing. The Medium I’m not so sure about.  It’s a contrived piece written in the 1940’s but set a few years earlier about a fake medium and her deluded clients.  It seems dated, not so much in the sense that seance attendance is pretty unusual today, but in the extent to which the characters are clichéd, cardboard cut outs even.  The medium herself is bad enough but her sidekicks are her rather dippy, if kind, daughter and a boy who is mute (k’ching), Gypsy (k’ching) and “found wandering the streets” (k’ching, k’ching) “of Budapest” (k’ching, k’ching, k’ching).  The first act in which the fake seancery goes on isn’t bad but then the medium gets a shock; a real or imagined cold hand on her throat (probably imagined as she is a raging alcoholic) and decides to go straight.  The second act is pure bathos.  I can see why it was a Broadway hit in the 1940s but I think tastes have moved on.  And who the heck calls their daughter “Doodly”?

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The Fatal Gaze

The Fatal Gaze is, in a way, a follow up to last year’s UoT Opera show Last Days in that it consists of a staged performance of pieces of vocal music to a theme.  This time the theme is the dangers of seeing or being seen and there’s quite a lot to unpack.  The music all lies on an arc from Monteverdi to Gluck and the stories are all taken from classical mythology or thee Bible with some commentary from more modern figures.

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Postcard from Morocco

Dominick Argento’s 1971 work Postcard from Morocco is unusual.  It’s opera meets Ionesco meets acid rock.  It’s a weird and wonderful kaleidoscope of scenes and music “about” a group of characters who seem to have nothing in common except that they have showed up at a railway station in Morocco c. 1914.  Michael Cavanagh’s production for UoT Opera plays it straight veering to OTT which seems about right.  This piece doesn’t need directorial “interpretation” but it does need careful organisation and lots of energy.  Cavanagh’s approach provided plenty of both.

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Brush Up Your Shakespeare

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Charles Sy

Today’s free concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre was given by the University of Toronto’s Opera Program.  It was a semi staged assortment of songs and excerpts from operas, operettas and musicals based on the works of Shakespeare with a distinct leaning to the operetta/musical theatre side of things.  That’s understandable enough with young singers but it does make the game we all play (at least I do) of trying to guess who the next Jonas Kaufmann or Anna Netrebko is that much harder.  Not that I’m very good at it.  I’m far more able to predict what a newly bottled Bordeaux will taste like in ten years time than whether the young soprano I’m listening to might go on to sing Siegfried or Turandot at the Met!

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