Ian Cusson and Colleen Murphy’s Fantasma opened at the Canadian Opera Company Theatre last night. It’s billed as an opera for younger audiences though I think there were more composers than kids in the theatre last night! It’s a ghost story. Two fifteen year old girls and their mother are visiting an old fashioned carnival which is struggling financially. There’s a “ghost” who is employed to scare patrons and generate social media coverage. Then the girls find a real, rather sad, little ghost and things happen. Or maybe they don’t. And the opera ends. Or maybe it doesn’t. It’s surprisingly complex for a 45 minute piece for kids and raises issues about what we see and what we think we see; why adults do and don’t believe kids and so on. When the (virtual) curtain came down rather abruptly I didn’t think I’d be thinking so much about it the next morning. But I am.
Musically it’s fairly straightforward. It’s through sung (except when speech breaks out) and there are no showy numbers. Instrumental accompaniment is two pianos; one on stage, one off. I think it would have been nice to have a small chamber ensemble for more colour but there were constraints. It’s also very singable and pretty much all the text was clearly audible without surtitles (it’s a bit ironic that the home of the COC; inventor of surtitles, doesn’t do surtitles). I don’t think it’s Ian Cusson’s most compelling score but it’s enjoyable and appropriate to the context of the work.
Staging by Julie McIsaac is effective for a space that’s pretty basic when it comes to things like scenery handling. The performances are good. It’s really nice to hear Owen McCausland back in fine voice in Toronto as the carnie barker and Simone Genga does a rather effective, vaguely eastern European, elderly owner. Jamie Groote and Midori Marsh do an extremely good job of convincing us that they are fifteen. The body language of the former is actually very funny and Midori’s sheer exuberance once more carries the day. Charlotte Siegel is effective as the harassed single mom and Jonah Spungin, Alex Halliday and Vartan Gabrielian camp it up effectively as assorted clowns, ghosts and zombies. Young Austin Buckley is a very affecting sad ghost. Francis Thielmann offstage and Vladimir Soloviev in costume accompany effectively on the pianos.
I suspect that this is not the last we shall see of this piece. It’s intriguing as it is but it feels like there’s a second act lurking somewhere in the wings. We’ll see.
And finally, let’s note that live opera returned to Toronto just three days short of two years after Mansfield Park closed prematurely. Huzzah!
Photo credits: Gaetz Photography