FAWN Chamber Creative and its artistic director Amanda Smith see themselves as pioneers. They champion inter-disciplinary works that don’t fit easily into any taxonomy of music, theatre or dance styles. Their latest venture; Pandora, an “opera/ballet” on a classical theme, might seem straight from the court of Louis XIV but Lully likely wouldn’t have scored it for drums, a piano, an electric guitar, a cello, a bassoon and electronics. The Sun King would likely also be somewhat taken aback by Jenn Nichol’s choreography; her long association with Opera Atelier notwithstanding.
The header is a line from Yvette Nolan’s libretto for Shanawdithit; the work she is creating with composer Dean Burry for Tapestry Opera and Opera on the Avalon, which tells the story of the last survivor of the Beothuk people. I sat down with them on Friday to talk about how the work has progressed since I saw an incomplete version in workshop last October. The line really does get to the heart of the creative process that addresses the issues I raised in my review of the workshop (i.e. how we remember and tell stories) and this line, and it’s accompanying music, have become a kind of leitmotiv for the emerging work.
I’m always a bit intrigued when someone comes up with a new technology solution for an old problem. If that solution is riding a particular technology trend I’m even more intrigued so when I saw PR material that a start up was creating a “platform” for linking agents, singers and casting personnel in the classical music business I wanted to find out more. Yesterday I spent some time with Danish tenor and entrepreneur Sune Hjerrild to find out what truelinked.com was all about.
I sat down yesterday with Danielle MacMillan who will sing Agni in Against the Grain’s upcoming production of Claude Vivier’s Kopernikus. Kopernikus is subtitled A Ritual Opera for the Dead and concerns the experience of transitioning from life to death as experienced by Agni. I had many questions:
- What was the music like? After all Vivier is not your “typical” composer.
- What’s the nature of the production?
- What does it feel like to play a dead person?
And a few more things that bubbled up as we talked. So here’s a summary.
I sat down a couple of days ago with Joel Ivany to discuss his upcoming production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Conservatory. Here are some of the things we talked about.
What’s Die Zauberflöte “about”?
This opera has had whole books written about it but no-one seems to agree on what’s at the core of it. Is it a simple fairy tale? Is it an allegory of Reason versus The Church? Is it a Coming of Age story? Unsurprisingly we didn’t come to firm conclusions here but it’s clear that Joel wants to particularly explore some of the aspects of gender raised by the piece; especially the apparent misogyny of the piece. There’s potentially more to Pamina than being the bait to trap Tamino or, alternatively, his completion. What is her roles in the Trials? What happens to either of them if they fail? If Tamino needs to be “completed” what are we to make of the unpartnered Sarastro? But, if Pamina has strength what kind of agency does she have? The other female character are equally problematic. How does one humanize the Queen of the Night? Who, or what, is Papagena? Neither of us think there are easy answers here and I’m looking forward to seeing how Joel’s take pans out. What we could agree on is that even if the simple equation of male = good/rational and female = irrational/disposable worked in 1791 (if, indeed, it did), it won’t work in 2019.
I met yesterday with Ryan McDonald and Camille Rogers to discuss their new project, OperaQ, and its upcoming show Dido and Belinda. The driving idea is that opera needs a space for “queer people to tell queer stories to queer people”. Now I’m sure many peopl’s initial reaction would be close to mine along the lines of “surely there’s no shortage of gay people in the opera world?”; which is ,of course, true but not really the point. Gender presentation in opera is highly conventional, both on and off the stage. There are strong stereotypes about “masculine” heroes. Can an overtly gay man get cast as Otello (or even Hadrian)? There are equally strong stereotypes about how female singers should present. Everybody is supposed to be glamorous à la Maria Callas, an attitude that was brilliantly taken apart in Teiya Kasahara’s Queer of the Night. Transgender issues add another layer onto this where, paradoxically perhaps, operas traditions of cross dressing confine rather than create space for transgender expression. So, opera, lots of queers but not much queerness?
There are lots of ways of presenting opera short of a fully staged/costumed performance with an orchestra. In Toronto I’d say “concert” or “semi-staged” performances are probably at least as common as the full Monty; partly for reasons of cost and partly because there aren’t that many venues with a pit and a fly loft. It’s generally pretty clear what “concert” performance means; concert wear and music stands, but what does the average punter expect when they see the words “semi-staged”? I really don’t know what to expect. Surtitles? Costumes? Props? Blocking? Orchestra, piano or something in between? I’ve probably seen all possible combinations of the above described as “semi-staged” and I don’t think I detect any pattern in what works and what doesn’t. Anyway Domoney Artists have a semi-staged version of Rossini’s Le comte Ory coming up on Saturday so I took the opportunity to ask director François Racine about his approach, which turned out to be not quite like any approach I’d come across before.