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.
I Call myself Princess is a new “play with opera music” written by Métis playwright and actor Jani Lauzon which will première at the Aki Studio in Toronto in September in a production directed by Marjorie Chan. I heard about this project a while ago from Marion Newman who will headline the new production and was intrigued. I knew it was going to be about American composer Charles Wakefield Cadman and his Creek/Cherokee collaborator Tsianina Redfeather. I knew they did a touring show including Cadman’s song cycle From Wigwam to Tepee and that’s about it. It sounded like the worst kind of late Victorian cultural appropriation and “Redsploitation” so why would serious and intelligent Indigenous artists like Lauzon and Newman be interested? Today I spoke with Jani in an attempt to find out.
Marion Newman as Tsianina Redfeather.
Photo by Dahlia Katz. Design by Mariah Meawasige
Geoff Sirett will sing the main role of Akakiy in the upcoming Tapestry/CanStage premiere of James Rolfe and Morris Panych’s The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring based on the absurdist short story by Gogol. I put some questions to Geoff about him, the piece and his role in it.
Here’s the Q & A.
Tapestry’s upcoming show TapEx: Forbidden features music by Iranian-born composer Afarin Mansouri with a libretto by Afro-Caribbean hip hop artist Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. Four vocalists are featured; Neema Bickersteth, soprano; Shirin Eskandani, mezzo-soprano; Alexander Hajek, baritone; and Saye Sky, Farsi rapper and spoken-word artist. I have a long standing interest in blending western classical music with other cultures and genres, partly at least because I get to hear a lot of North Indian music, and I’ve been intrigued by other “fusion”projects such as Alice Ping Yee Ho’s The Lesson of Da Ji and some of the cross-cultural experimentations in dance such as Esmerelda Enrique and Joanna Das’ collaborations. All of this is a long intro to saying that before Christmas I got the chance to put some questions to Afarin Mansouri about the upcoming show. Her responses are enlightening and intriguing. So here’s the exchange:
As previously noted the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists is once again running its program for young professional singers in Toronto. The program is in two parts. There was an “Encounter” (career workshop) with Brett Polegato on October 20th and there will be a concert at 7pm on November 6th at the Zoomerplex which will be broadcast by Classical 96.3. Yesterday I spent some time talking with Brett about the program, its rewards and challenges and, inevitably, we drifted off into some broader issues about careers in the opera world.