Watching The Queen in Me at the Canadian Opera Company Theatre last night I thought to myself that this was probably the first time I’d heard Teiya Kasahara singing classic opera arias with an orchestra. Given how many times I’ve seen Teiya on stage that seemed really weird. And that, I suppose, is one major aspect of what this show is all about; how casting is so rigidly stereotyped that it demands that people become something other than themselves to get cast. A tall, muscular, tattooed Queen of the Night isn’t that much of a stretch but a tall, muscular tattooed Cio Cio San or Mimi is a bridge too far.
So what’s the show all about. It’s a monologue by The Queen; a character Teiya has now developed through several iterations. She’s German and she’s angry. She starts off with a rant in German which they apologise for because maybe we didn’t understand though I’m sure they understand perfectly well that most of us do! From then on it’s a dissection of sexism and stereotyping in the opera industry interspersed with all those arias I haven’t heard them sing before. You know that Puccini stuff you’ve seen and heard too many times and which the COC (or your local mainstream opera company) is going to inflict on you again (and again). It’s very funny, very pointed and the singing is really good. As I said I haven’t heard Teiya much in this kind of rep and they are ace at it. This time the musical side was greatly enhanced by having a small orchestra (very well conducted by Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser) rather than just David Eliakis (though I missed the banter between the two of them). There were also some stunning projections by Laura Warren. When at the end of the show we get, inevitably, “Der Hölle rache” it’s an accompaniment to Teiya stripping off their Queen costume leaving therm topless in a pair of pants until they don a man’s shirt and bowtie. It brought the house down.
Anything I didn’t like? Not really, though I guess it’s all a bit of an in joke. I don’t know whether it would work as well if one didn’t get all the references but that hardly mattered because it was an audience that would get them. Maybe that’s the biggest problem. Every time someone tries to “corrupt” the opera mainstream it’s the same faithful band of troublemakers who show up. I don’t think we, or Teiya, are going to let that stop us though.