This year’s Canadian Children’s Opera Company main stage performance is The Monkiest King. It’s from the team of Marjorie Chan and Alice Ping Yee Ho who collaborated most successfully to create another highly successful Western/Chinese fusion piece; The Lesson Of Da Jee. The inspiration for this one is the antics of Sun Wukong, the mischievous and arrogant Monkey King in the Chinese classic Journey to the West.
I’m usually a bit leery of watching older recordings of 19th century Italian opera. The aesthetic is rarely my thing. But, when I came across a recording of Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco directed by Werner Herzog I had to take a look. It was a pretty weird experience. It would hardly have been odder if Klaus Kinski had sung the title role. It’s a production from the Teatro Communale di Bologna and it was recorded in 1990.
Wednesday evening saw the last Whose Opera is it Anyway? of the year in the new digs at Bad Dog Comedy Club. Last month’s line up of singers; Rachel Krehm, Michael York, Gillian Grossman and Amanda Kogan, were joined by Adanya Dunn and an elf. Natasha Fransblow was at the keyboard again. Greg Finney; the thinking man’s Don Cherry, MC’d. The format was as ever; a line up of improv games with audience input. Highlights included the Three Minute Messiah, Adanya giving her mum a dildo and the deep, dark depths of Keith Lam’s Instagram account. And beer. And Greg’s suit.
The news is that LooseTEA now has a regular slot for WOIIA. In the new year you will be able to catch them at Bad Dog on the third Sunday of the month at 9.30pm. It’s a better venue than the old place and it’s a fun way to spend an hour and a half or so.
Soundstreams Electric Messiah 3 opened last night at the Drake Underground. Some things have changed from last year. There’s no chorus, the soloists are new, the instrumentation has changed. There’s now a harpsichord (Christopher Bagan) and an electric organ (Jeff McLeod) for instance. Some things are the same. There’s still extensive use of electric guitar (John Gzowski). Dancer Lybido and DJ SlowPitchSound are still there, as is Adam Scime as music director and electro-acoustical wizard. There’s still a mobile phone schtick. It feels both familiar and quite different.
The four new soloists each bring something of themselves to the piece. A kilted Jonathan MacArthur (getting ready for Yaksmas perhaps?) sings partly, and very beautifully, in Scots Gaelic. Adanya Dunn brings a fresh sound and Bulgarian. Elizabeth Shepherd brings jazz, French and a really effective “lounge jazz” He was despised accompanying herself on organ. Justin Welsh adds some Afro-Canadian touches. Most of the numbers are shared between the singers; moving and singing from different parts of the small space. This is exemplified by the opening Comfort ye, begun by Jonathan in Gaelic with singer and language and location constantly shifting. With no chorus, there’s much more space (and it’s easier to see). The visual and aural textures seem cleaner. The unconventional combination of instruments and electronics works really well. There’s enough Handel there but also much else to think about and enjoy.
Whose opera is it anyways?! is a comedy-improv-opera show from LooseTEA Theatre’s Alaina Viau. Last night saw the second in what is being projected as a monthly series at the Comedy Bar on Bloor West. So how does it work? The “games” and associated players are decided in advance but each usually requires some kind of audience input such as a place or a mood or even the messages on someone’s phone. The team then act out and sing a sketch on the prescribed lines. Natasha Fransblow provided accompaniment on keyboards, though how much of that was planned and how much improvised I couldn’t tell. In between numbers Jonathan McArthur MC’d accompanied by really obnoxiously loud pop music (not helped by the speaker basically being in my left ear).
I didn’t actually see anything much in the Luminato line up that got my juices flowing but my attention has now been drawn to CHARLOTTE: A Tri-Coloured Play with Music. It’s a Singspiel about a young female Jewish artist struggling with her identity and art during the early 1940s. She ends up in Auschwitz. You get the picture. The title role is being played by Adanya Dunn and the musical director is Peter Tiefenbach which, frankly, are reasons enough to go see it. It plays June 16th to 18th at the Theatre Centre on Queen Street West. More details here.
On a completely different tack, Jane Cooper is trying to raise funds to publish her biography of Bertha Crawford, a Canadian soprano who enjoyed a very successful operatic career in Poland and Russia in the early 20th century but who has been largely forgotten. You can find out more at Jane’s Kickstarter page.
Six years ago a bunch of unknowns calling themselves “Against the Grain Theatre” put on Joel Ivany’s English language, updated version of Puccini’s La Bohème in the back room of the Tranzac club. I was there. I reviewed it on my LiveJournal because it would be another six months before I started this blog. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. The Tranzac has been tarted up quite a bit since La Bohème 1.0, though even by 2011 it had become a lot smarter than when the Nomads hung out there and the wall featured a photo of Sorbie with the McCormick cup. Lets face it anywhere would be more sedate without Neil (RIP mate). Oh yeah, and the original AtG crowd have become quite respectable, even famous perhaps. The singers are all Equity members and get paid properly. There are sets and props that weren’t borrowed from Topher’s mum. Topher and Joel have done the conducting and directing thing for major companies in real opera houses. And I’ve been writing this stuff most every day for six years.
The third concert in the Heliconian Hall series from Adanya Dunn, Brad Cherwin and Alice Hwang was titled Intersections and was designed to explore “the sphinx like mind of Robert Schumann” through his own music and music inspired by him. First up was Kurtàg’s Hommage à Robert Schumann featuring Alice and Brad and guest violist Laila Zakzook. This is a complex and difficult piece. Some sections consist of short fragments of “conversation” between the instruments. At other times there is a more obvious line and it varies in mood from extremely violent to almost lyrical. It’s an interesting exploration of Schumann’s various musical personalities through a completely different sound world.
There are a few things I didn’t mention in my back half of April post. Century Song opened a couple of nights ago at Crow’s Theatre. It’s a live performance hybrid, inspired in part by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Soprano Neema Bickersteth melds classical song (music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Oliver Messiaen, John Cage, Georges Aperghis and Reza Jacobs) and movement to inhabit a century of women whose identities are contained within a single performer. Details here.
There was a sort of mini Schoenberg Fest at the TIFF Lightbox yesterday. First up we got Topher Mokrzewski and Adanya Dunn with Claude Vivier’s Hymnen an die Nacht and five pieces from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. The Vivier was a very apt choice; a piece of CanCon in the spirit of the Schoenberg. Topher may not like Schoenberg but he certain;y knows how to play it and Adanya, in my opinion, is at her considerable best in music of this type. Good start.