Loose Tea Music Theatre’s Carmen #YesAllWomen has been in the works for three years. It went “live” this week with a production at Heliconian Hall. It’s an intriguing show. Dramatically and musically it’s recognisably based on Bizet’s Carmen but only just. In Alaina Viau and Monica Pearce’s version the principal male character is one John Anderson, an Afghanistan vet with PTSD, his rival for Carmen is a rapper, Maximillian aka Hot God, and Michaela is Anderson’s estranged wife.
The story plays out in a couple of Toronto bars. There’s Carmen’s; a dive bar where various seedy characters including Anderson hang out, and Lilly Preston’s; a somewhat more upscale joint where Maximillian’s band is performing. The story is basically a very compressed Carmen. Anderson is obsessed with her though she shows little interest in him. Michaela tries desperately to get him to get help for his various issues and come back to her and the kids. Maximillian is pretty full of himself. Anderson and Maximillian fight. Anderson (probably) kills Carmen. I say “probably” because this happens off stage right at the end leaving the audience in the dark (figuratively and literally).
This sounds too straightforward but the details are really intriguing and effective. Right at the start the opening chorus is given as a solo to one of the bar flies, Zander (Keenan Viau). Keith Klassen puts on a tour de force as Anderson. He’s compellingly deranged and obviously dangerous (and why no-one has tried harder to get him off the streets and into the hospital is an interesting question).
Bradley Christensen has a great time as Maximillian. He’s surprisingly good as a rapper and quite incredibly full of himself. The funniest moment in the piece is when Max and Carmen discover they were both at the RCM and sing their big duet (almost) entirely straight standing on a table. Beth Hagerman’s intense Michaela injects a disturbing whiff of the “normal” world into this rather squalid world of bar hoppers. Erica Iris’ Carmen centres all of this with a strongly sung but rather curiously characterised Carmen. She would, one feels, be an almost ideal conventional Carmen with just the right kind of sultry mezzo. Her Carmen here is independent and capricious but rather than being some kind of Siren she seems curiously indifferent to the men who surround her and is much closer to her sidekicks Mercedes (Zoe Clark) and Franky (Erin Stone) and her fellow barkeep Lilly Preston (Ramona Carmelly). I was left wondering “who is this Carmen?”
There’s intriguing use of video too. There are two live videographers (Ryan Harper and Stephen Bell) filming the action with their respective contributions being projected on opposite walls behind the audience. This means everybody has at least two views of the action; the real and at least one projection, giving a sort of multi viewpoint augmented reality. I found this very effective.
The music, arranged/composed/recomposed by cellist Samuel Bisson, is now scored for two cellos (Amahl Arulanandam the other) plus electronics/turntable by SloPitchSound. It’s really effective. There are some really memorable moments. Carmen and Max’s big duet gets Bizet on the cellos with an electronic backbeat. It’s very cool. There are lots of other similarly intriguing moments.
This really is a genre defying show. It’s created and performed by “opera people” but it strays a long way from conventional opera, even conventional contemporary opera. In it’s (somewhat incongruous) blending of pop idioms with classical music it somewhat resembles (perhaps) something like Peter Maxwell Davies’ Resurrection but the use of live video is completely new. Definitely worth a look. There’s one more show in the run tonight at 7.30pm at Heliconian Hall.
Photos by Dahlia Katz.