I went into last night’s Glenn Gould School performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Koerner Hall with all kinds of questions buzzing around in my head; partly because of an earlier conversation with director Joel Ivany and partly, well, Magic Flute – that most enigmatic of operas. If only one could go back (more than forty years) to seeing it for the first time!
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.
The second of three projected iterations of Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound opened last night at The Great Hall. Version one was staged but in piano score. Last night’s version was sung off music stands but with a chamber ensemble and major changes to the music. It’s going to be interesting to see how the production version, due this time next year shapes up.
Andrew Haji, Miriam Khalil, Topher Mokrzewski, Justin Welsh, David Trudgen
Against the Grain Theatre’s Orphée+; a burlesque inflected version of Gluck’s Orphée, opened a three show run last night at the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront. There are many, many things I want to say about this show and the challenge is going to be to present them in some kind of orderly sequence. First off there are expectations for an AtG show in Toronto that probably weren’t present when it opened in Columbus (It’s a co-pro with Opera Columbus and the Banff Centre). We have come to associate AtG with various kinds of “doing differently”; transladaptations, site specific stagings, staged art song and so on. In that context this is a rather conservative show. It’s a production of a canonic opera in a conventional theatre. It’s not a traditional production and would likely shock at the Met or the Lyric but would probably raise only half an eyebrow in Berlin or Barcelona. So I’m inclined to treat it as if I had seen it in Europe.
Die Fledermaus offers a lot scope for reinterpretation. Like so many works involving spoken dialogue there is a tradition of reworking that dialogue to work in contemporary humour and geographic relevance to the point where there is no canonical version though there’s probably a set of general expectations. Joel Ivany’s production for the Glenn Gould School, which opened last night at Koerner Hall, goes further than most to create a “play within a play” dynamic riffing to some extent on the difficulty of staging an opera in a concert hall. He also makes the decision to use English dialogue but have the sung text in the original German (except for the finale).
The first performance of Against the Grain Theatre’s Bound took place at the Jackman Studio at the COC. It’s the first public airing of the piece in piano score, as a workshop, so it’s not the finished product. The performance was followed by a lively discussion about the work’s potential and future avenues to explore.
I think it’s fair to say that Bound ventures into more serious territory than we have yet seen from this company, dealing as it does with the fraught relationship between the state and the individual in an age when the state, egged on by the right wing media, uses fear of terrorism to suppress “dissidents”.
The space where the audience assembles before the show is liberally decorated with propaganda for The State of the “fear anything that looks different” variety. In the performance venue itself the audience is ranked either side of a space that contains the piano and, at intervals around the large empty floor, seven chairs; one for each detainee. The detainees are all being held for things which aren’t actually crimes but bring them under suspicion; wearing a hijab, having a Nazi great-uncle, wanting to emigrate to Sri Lanka, converting to Islam, having a terrorist brother, protesting immigration restrictions, being transgendered. They are posed essentially unanswerable Kafkaesque questions by the State interrogator (Martha Burns) sitting off in one corner with a microphone. The only answer is to express frustration and despair and, occasionally, defiance and hope in arias using Handel’s music and words by either Handel’s librettist or Joel Ivany. Some of the music has been somewhat reshaped by Kevin Lau who also wrote/arranged the final ensemble number.
Against the Grain Theatre have announced the line up for their 2017/18 season. First up is a workshop of a Handel mash up called BOUND. It’s a collaboration with composer Kevin Lau and will explore aspects of the refugee crisis through Handel’s music as well as contemporary real life stories. It’s the beginning of a three year concept to production cycle. The workshop cast will include soprano Danika Lorèn, tenor Asitha Tennekoon, counter-tenor David Trudgen, baritone Justin Welsh, bass Michael Uloth, mezzo-soprano Victoria Marshall and soprano Miriam Khalil. It will play at the COC’s Jackman Studio on December 14, 15, and 16, 2017.