Singing Only Softly

Last night was the last performance at Heliconian Hall of Loose Tea Music Theatre’s double bill of Anne Frank operas.  The first half of the show centred on Grigori Frid’s monodrama for soprano and chamber ensemble (given here in piano score) The Diary of Anne Frank.   It’s a work in 21 scenes of which 15 were performed last night.  For a Soviet work of the 1970s it’s surprisingly modern in style with some interesting music for the piano.  The vocal part though is pretty unsympathetic and although Gillian Grossman managed it pretty well a lot of it lies too high for comfort or even comprehension.

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It was staged (direction by Alaina Viau).  There was a wooden staircase/tower thing that served as the Frank hiding place and a desk and a few props.  It made decent use of the limited space.  The Frid piece was flanked by two songs sung by Sara Schabas; Mark Warshawsky’s children’s song Oyfn Pripetshik and the simple but haunting Ich wandre durch Theresienstadt by Ilse Weber.

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The main event was a new piece, Singing Only Softly, based on the unredacted version of the Anne Frank diaries, which deals openly with issues of sexuality and her relationship with her mother.  The libretto is by Monica Pearce with music by Cecilia Livingston with Alaina Viau again directing.  I found this piece much stronger as drama.  It’s got a refreshing vitality and avoids sentimentality.  It also sounds like a piece that was written by someone who knows how to write for voice.  So, while the idiom is distinctly modern it mostly sits in a place where the singer can actually communicate the words to the audience without squawking.

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The text is divided between two Annes to create a kind of inner dialogue.  Sara Schabas took the lead as Anne 1 with support from Gillian Grossman as Anne 2.  The same set was used as for the Frid work but supplemented effectively with projections of aspects of the “secret annexe”.  There was some fine singing and acting plus excellent work at the piano from Cheryl Duvall.  It’s a really good work and I’m glad I managed to catch it.

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Photos: Dahlia Katz

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