Last night, at the Ernest Balmer Studio, we got to see somewhat more developed versions of the works presented earlier in the week in the RBA but this time in staged format. I’m not sure my opinions changed much as a result though I think I’m even more convinced that here we have five pieces of substance that deserve to be seen in fully realised form. So, some brief thoughts on each. Note that, except for Book of Faces we only saw extracts from pieces that are still WIP.
The Chair – Maria Atallah/Alice Abracen: The scene presented, about how one responds, in equally formulaic manner, to formulaic condolences while seething inside was effective and powerful. I’m not sure where this goes though. The write up promises a “mysterious” new character and who knows what role they might take?
Singing Only Softly – Cecilia Livingston/Monica Pearce: This sets the redacted parts of Anne Frank’s diary; the parts dealing with her inner state of mind and hr (troubled) relationship with her mother. It’s clever in using two singers to portray Anne’s inner conflicts. But is it an opera? It’s described as a “song opera” and it is a succession of “numbers”. Is there anything to stage or is it really a concert piece wearing operatic clothes?
Book of Faces – Kendra Harder/Michelle Telford: It’s a very skilful parody of a baroque oratorio about social life on the Internet. It’s also a pretty acute critique of the gig economy. It’s funny, clever and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. I can see it as part of an evening of short pieces, which is exactly how Highlands Opera Studio is planning to use it.
Suites d’une Ville Morte – Margareta Jeric/Naima Kristel Phillips: This one interests me a lot. It feels less “finished” than the other works, which is to say perhaps has more potential to grow into something of real substance. It’s the story of a woman who returns to her home town to find it destroyed by war but a piano survives in the rubble. It feels like it needs more than just piano score to allow the “character” of the piano to emerge. The music is bold and more challenging than the other pieces. Dramatically and musically it feels like something one would more likely hear in Berlin or Amsterdam than Toronto. It’s not frightened of its audience or their reaction. FAWN have picked this one up and I really want to see it complete in full score.
L’hiver attends beaucoup de moi – Laurence Jobidon/Pascale St. Onge: This is a very dramatic and musically effective story of a pregnant woman trying to reach a safe house in winter in northern Quebec. It’s a bit of a cliff hanger and very intense. Musically it’s also quite adventurous. I don’t think in our extract we heard where the “end of a road where no-one else goes” is but the excerpt certainly left me both wanting to know and fearing the answer. We can find out next year as Opéra de Montréal have programmed it as part of their 2019/20 season.
I haven’t said much about the performances as I think this project is more about the works but hats off to the performance team of singers Kristen Hoff, Lindsay Connolly and Suzanne Rigden and the amazingly versatile Jennifer Szeto on piano (with a bit of help from Natasha Fransblow). Switching gears, musically and emotionally, as they did all evening was some feat. Staging too was in the hands of an amazing line up of directors; Anna Theodosakis, Alaina Viau, Jessica Derventzis, Amanda Smith and Aria Umezawa.