It’s good to see a company like Opera by Request doing contemporary Canadian work. Better still when it’s a comedy. So I was very eager to see what they would do with John Metcalfe and Larry Tremblay’s A Chair in Love, presented last night at The Array Space. The work itself is, shall we say, “unusual”. An avant-garde film director falls in love with a chair and, despite the warnings of his jealous dog that the world isn’t ready for human/furniture relationships, makes a film about it. He is duly condemned by critical and popular opinion and despairs. The doctor prescribes her experimental Lovekiller pills. He, apparently kills his dog and is sentenced to the electric chair (what else?). Fortunately this whole episode turns out to be a hallucination brought on by the untested medication. Meanwhile the chair has run off with the film critic who condemned such things and man and dog are reconciled. Got that?
This being Opera by Request we got a semi-staged version with piano accompaniment (William Shookhoff). The semi-staging, backed up by witty projections from William Hofstetter, worked quite well but I’m sure that the music, originally written for wind quintet, suffered quite a lot. It’s basically tonal, a bit jazzy and quite, deliberately, repetitive (the libretto has a similar structure). I think it really needed the colours that only wind instruments could have provided.
The singing too was a bit mixed. The part of Truman (the film director) is quite high for a baritone as is the soprano part of the Chair. The Array Space is very small and quite acoustically lively and, to my mind, both Michael Robert-Broder and Abigail Freeman sang much too loud much of the time. When they throttled back a bit they were fine but at times it just seemed unrelentingly, buzzily, loud (and I’ve heard Franz-Josef Selig at ten paces!). Greg Finney, as the Dog, no small voice, managed the acoustic better. Obviously this is a role that was made for him as perhaps the doggiest baritone in the city. Anyway he deserves a pat on the head or something. Some nice ironic acting and singing from mezzo Kim Sartor as the somewhere between weird and sinister Doctor/Dogtor.
So a bit of a mixed bag but a brave effort. Who knows what might have been achieved with more resources, more rehearsal time and more time to tune to the space.