Loose Tea Music Theatre’s Carmen #YesAllWomen has been in the works for three years. It went “live” this week with a production at Heliconian Hall. It’s an intriguing show. Dramatically and musically it’s recognisably based on Bizet’s Carmen but only just. In Alaina Viau and Monica Pearce’s version the principal male character is one John Anderson, an Afghanistan vet with PTSD, his rival for Carmen is a rapper, Maximillian aka Hot God, and Michaela is Anderson’s estranged wife.
Toronto City Opera’s latest show, at the Al Green Theatre, is Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann. It’s a pretty good choice for TCO since, even with cuts, there’s plenty of fun stuff for the chorus to do and Jessica Derventzis’ production keeps a good chunk of them on stage pretty much throughout. The production concept is straightforward. It gets a late 19th century setting and the three acts are framed as presenting Hoffmann’s story to the group of drunken students. It’s unfussy and works.
Last night LooseTEA Theatre presented a work-in-progress version of their reimagined Carmen. Director and librettist Alaina Viau promised a “a radically envisioned” Carmen and she wasn’t kidding. Apart from the fact that Ricardo (Escamilio) and John Anderson (Don José) are rivals for Carmen’s affections and there’s a woman, Michaela, with a prior attachment to John and, of course, that John kills Carmen there’s not a whole lot left of Mérimée’s story. We are in Toronto. John is a vet suffering from PTSD who has left his wife (Michaela) and kids. Carmen manages a bar but is about to open her own place with the help of investment banker Ricardo. She comes across as an everyday working girl rather than someone whose life is a serial process of picking up and discarding men. Episodes that fit the big numbers of the score are quite cleverly crafted together to weave a narrative that works but rather relies on John’s PTSD to explain the two murders. Woven into the opera are videos by Darren Bryant that contain some of the characters’ back stories. Music is a mix of a conventional keyboard reduction played by Natasha Fransblow and live electronics from sound artist SlowPitchSound. The use of electronics brings a grittiness that feels like an essential way of undermining the “prettiness” of the score. Running around 55 minutes all told it feels a bit episodic and I hope (and expect) that the final version will seem more continuous. Certainly there’s already more than just the basis for a very interesting piece of music theatre.
Off Centre Music Salon’s opening concert of the season featured a largely Russian, largely 19th century program. There were plenty of songs by Glinka, Tchaikovsky and the like sung by an interestingly contrasted mix of Ilana Zarankin, Joni Henson and Ryan Harper with Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin accompanying. It was good to hear Joni in this program in the warm acoustic of Trinity St. Paul’s. I think I’ve mostly heard her in the RBA which is notoriously hard on dramatic sopranos. Here the combination of the acoustic and Russian vowel sounds resulted in a very pleasing richness of tone rather than stridency. She also blended well with Harper’s very tenorish tenor and made an interesting contrast with the much lighter, brighter Zarankin. Nice work all round.
It’s a curious thing how some works get over recorded and others are almost entirely neglected. For example, there’s only one video recording of Weill’s Die Dreigroschenoper and that a 1931 film that omits huge chunks of the stage work. It’s inspiration fares little better. There’s only one video recording of The Beggar’s Opera by Johann Pepusch and John Gay. It’s a 1963 BBC TV production of Benjamin Britten’s reworking of the piece for the English Opera Group based on a stage production by Colin Graham. [ETA: There are actually two other versions; a 1953 movie version with Lawrence Olivier and a 1980s version with Roger Daltrey and John Eliot Gardiner].
Various thoughts about the Channel 4 film of Britten’s Owen Wingrave led to me seeking out the original BBC TV version from 1970, now available on DVD. It’s extremely interesting and worthwhile. Britten himself conducts and the cast includes many of the people involved in the first productions of many other Britten operas. They include Peter Pears (General Wingrave/Narrator), John Shirley-Quirk (Coyle), Benjamin Luxon (Owen), Janet Baker (Kate), Heather Harper Mrs.Coyle) and Jennifer Vyvyan (Mrs. Julian). The quality of the music making is superb and I found myself constantly surprised and delighted by details brought out by Britten supported by the excellent English Chamber Orchestra. At the same time, the fluent and idiomatic singing pointed up the excellence of Myfanwy Piper’s libretto. This really is Britten at his best.
There’s another indie opera company in town; Loose Tea Music Theatre. They are going to be putting on a crowd source funded transladaptation of Carmen called La tragédie de Carmen at Buddies in Bad Times on September the 6th, 7th and 8th. Details of the show are here and the crowd source funding page is here. This is no amateur effort. It’s directed by Alaina Viau who has worked at the ROH. The title role will be sung by Cassandra Warner, last seen in Opera Atelier’s Magic Flute, and the Don José is Ryan Harper, previously a Rodolfo for Against the Grain’s Tranzac La Bohème.