The basic format for Songbook is now well established. Tapestry hire an experienced singer and pianist (Natalya Gennadi and Topher Mokrzewski) who work for a week with a larger group of young singers and pianists to create a show of a dozen or so scenes from Tapestry’s 38 year history. There’s a distinct leaning toward more recent works; the oldest last night was created in 2003, probably because the LIBLAB is such a rich source of suitable material. Last night’s selection was also decidedly dark, with lots of death and angst, only a couple or three lighter pieces and nothing flat out comic.
It did start on a somewhat comic note though with Hotel Lobby (Williams/Ardal); an encounter between a former couple in a hotel lobby with two endings; the expected mild discomfort or a rush for the nearest bedroom. Top acting here from Ryan Downey and Maeve Palmer with Markéta Ornova at the piano.
Guitar (Greene/Yeung) deals with a young woman’s desire to “make it” in the city over the objections of her small town boyfriend. This didn’t quite work for me. Maybe the music just doesn’t really catch the mood despite sincere efforts by Alex Mathews and Anne-Marie Ramos with Deborah Hui at the piano.
I’ve now seen The Blind Woman (Rolfe/Yee) many times and it’s highly effective. It’s a clever conceit and the piano part is really good. Gina Hanzlik and Vanessa Oude-Reimerinck with Matthew Whitfield at the piano got the necessary wistfulness out of the piece without undue sentimentality.
Rosa (Rolfe/Chai) is a really searing piece about a woman who loses her child, leaves her husband and turns to prostitution. It got the intensity it needed from Ryan Downey and Anne-Marie Ramos though I’m not sure the latter’s rather dramatic soprano is particularly well served by a tiny space like Ernest Balmer. Terrific acting from both though and some really lyrical singing from Ryan. Markéta Ornova at the keyboard.
And so to a bit more light relief in (What Rhymes with) Azimuth (Barbotin/Balkan). A blocked writer (Alex Hetherington) and a nerdy astronomer (Dominic Veilleux) find romance in a coffee shop in an entirely weird way. Good acting again and I rather like Hetherington’s voice. Matthew Whitfield at the piano.
Concluding the first half was Golden Boy (Russo/Roy). This one about a boy whose father had left him is just too sentimental for my taste despite decent singing from Maeve Palmer and Megan Miceli with Deborah Hui at the piano.
After the break we got The Attendant (Livingston/Panych). This is another piece I’ve seen a few times. It’s a sort of railing against fate by Death (basically “God, why did you give me this lousy job”), sung here by Camille Rogers, as the dying old woman (Natalya Gennadi) peers into the next world. It’s got a really good piano part too played here by Topher Mokrzewski. I always get a bit of a kick out of watching him play as he sort of hunches vulture-like over the keys. Very appropriate here.
Rossum’s Universal Robots (Lizée/Billon) deals with the nightmare of the “Robot Revolt” to a really effective electronic track. Dominic Veilleux made a very good fist of the desperate inventor with Alex Hetherington as his disgusted and resigned companion.
One of my favourites of the evening came next; Beauty Mark from Dark Star Requiem (Staniland/Battson). This is the number where the AIDS virus sings of her insidious charms to a an accompaniment of extended piano technique. This is one of the few pieces where the singer gets to show off as singer as well as actor and Vanessa Oude-Reimerinck made the most of it with some glittering singing and slinky bodywork. Markéta Ornova did very well with the involved piano part though not so well with putting the piano back together! If you haven’t heard Dark Star Requiem you should. There’s an excellent CD recording.
I suppose Cinnamon Limbs from She sees her lover in the light of morning (Galbraith/Brodie) was also lighter fair. It’s a story about two lesbians; one young and naive, the other less so. It was nicely done by Rebecca Gray and Camille Rogers but somehow didn’t really engage me. Deborah Hui at the piano.
Finally Natalya and Topher gave us an unexpected excerpt from Ivan Barbotin’s Oubliette (Oksana G was on the card but pulled at the last minute). It’s the bit where the main character has just emerged from three years imprisoned in a basement. Some of the best singing of the night to finish.
So, what do I think of the show as a whole? It rather reinforces my belief that a lot of contemporary opera is drama focussed with interesting instrumental lines but vocal lines that don’t do the singers many favours. The exact opposite, in fact of the COC’s current Anna Bolena. It also confirmed my view that James Rolfe is a very fine composer. He gives singers music that can move without ever descending into trivial sentimentality and he seems skilled (or lucky – I prefer to think the former) in his choice of librettists. Also Dark Star Requiem; truly a somewhat neglected Canadian masterpiece despite the Junos and so on.
There are three more shows at the Ernest Balmer Studio; tonight at 8pm and tomoroow at 4pm and 8pm.