Whose opera is it anyways?! is a comedy-improv-opera show from LooseTEA Theatre’s Alaina Viau. Last night saw the second in what is being projected as a monthly series at the Comedy Bar on Bloor West. So how does it work? The “games” and associated players are decided in advance but each usually requires some kind of audience input such as a place or a mood or even the messages on someone’s phone. The team then act out and sing a sketch on the prescribed lines. Natasha Fransblow provided accompaniment on keyboards, though how much of that was planned and how much improvised I couldn’t tell. In between numbers Jonathan McArthur MC’d accompanied by really obnoxiously loud pop music (not helped by the speaker basically being in my left ear).
Hausmusik is Tafelmusik’s less formal concert series. It’s not exactly a concert; more an “event”. Last night director Alaina Viau mixed music (woodwind trio, harpsichord, soprano (Ellen McAteer) and electronics from SlowPitchSound) with film projections by Darren Bryant and dance by Libydo to create quite a varied series of effects but all, musically, (just about) within the range one would expect from Tafelmusik.
There are a few things I didn’t mention in my back half of April post. Century Song opened a couple of nights ago at Crow’s Theatre. It’s a live performance hybrid, inspired in part by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Soprano Neema Bickersteth melds classical song (music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Oliver Messiaen, John Cage, Georges Aperghis and Reza Jacobs) and movement to inhabit a century of women whose identities are contained within a single performer. Details here.
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.
There are a couple of opera openings next week. Pyramus and Thisbe; the Barbara Monk Feldman, Monteverdi, Chris Alden creation, opens at the COC on Tuesday 20th for a run of seven shows and Opera Atelier are opening a run of six shows of Lully’s Armide at the Elgin starting on Thursday evening. Both shows are very much a case of Canadian talent on display with no big international names. La Traviata continues at the COC in tandem with Pyramus and Thisbe.
There’s one interesting new announcement for the following week. Amanda Smith and Alaina Viau are collaborating on a show called Toronto Darknet Market. It’s inspired by those parts of the internet that even I don’t know about and will run as a sequence of three performances on the 29th starting at 8pm. It’s at 8-11 which is at 233 Spadina (south of Dundas). It’s a PWYC fundraiser for a chamber production of Médée by Marc-Antoine Charpentier next year. Toronto needs more staged baroque opera that’s not Opera Atelier so this initiative deserves support. There will be good young singers on display with music by Purcell, Berg and Cage among others.
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.