The annual Student Composer Collective opera at UoT is, as far as I know, unique. A libretto is written. The work is divided up and student composers write music for their assigned section(s). The finished work is presented fully staged with orchestra. In recent years the libretto and direction has come from Michael Patrick Albano, as was the case with this year’s effort presented in the MacMillan Theatre yesterday afternoon. Who Killed Adriana riffs off Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Adriana Amaro, a very divaish diva, is making her Covent Garden debut as Adriana. In the first half of the show, set backstage between Acts 2 and 3, we see her waspishly putting down all the other characters before making her grand entrance. This time though the poisoned violets of the final scene are just that and the second part is a whodunnit search for the murderer. Along the way no stock opera joke is left unused. Tenors are neurotic, understudies insecure, managers harassed, fans obsessive, there are fake Italians and so on. But in typical Albano style it works and provides a coherent, and at times very funny, plot line for the composers to work with. And some of the jokes were new. Adriana’s chauffeur, Umlaut, is revealed as the answer to every Austrian’s prayer; the inventor of musical strudel.
Given that five different composers (Tristan Zaba, Michal Maevskiy, Kevin Zi-Xiao He, Kevin Mulligan and Daniel Romberger) were involved it sounded remarkably musically coherent too. Musically funny in places too; from the faux “tuning” in the prelude through bits of pastiche at various points. There were also some decent “arias”. The tenor, sung by Joshua Clemenger, gets a rather effective revenge aria and Matthew Cairns, as Umlaut, gets an affecting piece describing how he ended up as a chauffeur and father of Adriana’s mother/daughter. There are other notable cameos. Adriana herself, of course, sung by Tatiana Stanisch has a fair bit to do including an off-stage rendering of part of Casta diva. Midori Marsh gets to be a rather OTT harassed secretary. Saige Carlson is cute as the downtrodden understudy explaining that she can’t be hanged for the murder as that would make her the star of the show. Jamie Groote is rather good as the ridiculously obsessive fan. Probably the longest and most involved, if not the showiest, role goes to Alex Halliday as the house detective charged with unravelling the mystery. He’s a good actor and handles a lot of music very competently. But he has to yield place to Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector McLean played by, well you can guess, (RHIP) who uses audience applause to pick the killer. Clever really, as six slightly different endings must have been prepared. Here, the long suffering manager (River Guard), who turns out (this time at least) to be the killer finally gets to cut loose a bit and does so effectively.
The small student orchestra managed the score very competently with Sandra Horst at the podium. It’s a remarkable thing to be able to do something like this at all. That it’s actually a really fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon is a tribute to all the students involved and their coaches/mentors.