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.
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 Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music opened a two performance run of Viardot’s Cendrillon last night at Mazzoleni Hall. The conceit was that we and the performers were all guests in Mme, Viardot’s salon and to this end we were all given a slip of paper with our character name on it but I promptly lost mine and it wasn’t actually needed for anything, Cute idea though. It also allowed for a production that fitted with the acutely limited staging resources of Mazzoleni. The piece is heavy on dialogue and it was presented in English, in an updated translation that had its moments. I doubt the Viardot household had ever heard of “organic, non GMO, fair trade” coffee.
A bunch of announcements today; most of them from Against the Grain Theatre. The big one I suppose is the announcement of a formal arrangement with the COC which sees a two year “company in residence” arrangement whereby AtG will be based at the COC’s Front Street offices and where COC execs will mentor their AtG equivalents. The relationship has been going on for a while so it’s not terribly surprising that they have decided to shack up together.
The Toronto production of Against the Grain’s A Little Too Cozy opened last night at Studio 42 at the CBC Centre. It’s the third and final instalment in the series of Ivany/Mokzrewski adaptations of the Mozart/da Ponte operas, following on from Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn. Like the earlier pieces it’s updated, site specific and makes a lot of references to social media. The schtick here is that it’s a reality TV dating show. Dora and Felicity are yet to meet Elmo and Fernando in the flesh though they have become engaged via social media and through the prior episodes of the show. Tonight is the season finale and there is one big test left. Can they be tempted by two strange men? Show host Donald L. Fonzo and girl handler Despina will make sure they are maximally tempted. The rest you can work out.
I caught the second performance of the current run of Carmen at the COC this afternoon. It’s a revival of the production previously seen in 2010 but with, we are told, debuting director Joel Ivany being given some freedom to change things up a bit. Obviously he was mostly constrained to use the existing sets and costumes which, for reasons that escape me, transplants the piece to 1940s Cuba which was, as far as I know, markedly short of both gypsies and bull fights but there you go. Actually it matters scarcely at all because both sets and costumes are generic scruffy Hispanic and could be anywhere from Leon to Lima. For the first two acts too the blocking and Personenregie is pretty standard too. It’s all really down to the chemistry between the singers and the quality of the acting and neither is anything to write home about. It says a lot when Frasquita is scene stealing. Fortunately it livens up a lot after the interval. The third act is atmospheric and Micaëla’s aria is deeply touching and for the first time I felt genuine emotion. It gets even better after that with a really effective use of the whole auditorium for the parade which had much of the audience clapping along and a clever stage set up for the crowd during the final confrontation scene. I don’t think it’s a production for the ages but it’s better than merely serviceable and I’ve seen much worse Carmens. And, frankly, it’s simply not realistic to expect one of the season’s cash cows to push the envelope very far.
So the cat’s out of the bag. The long awaited where, when and who of Against the Grain’s Toronto run of A Little Too Cozy have been revealed. A Little Too Cozyis the third and final instalment in a trilogy of Mozart “transladaptations” developed by AtG,which place the works in appropriate, non traditional opera, venues and which use English language librettos by Joel Ivany bringing the stories into a contemporary context. The first two instalments; Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn, sold out their Toronto runs.
Joel Ivany’s much anticipated “semi-staged” version of Mozart’s Requiem K. 626 finally saw the light yesterday evening at Roy Thomson Hall. There were some interesting ideas but, ultimately, I didn’t think I came away with any new insight into the piece or life or death or anything really(*). I’ll go into the reasons but first I should describe how it was performed. The mass is prefaced by the slow movement from the Clarinet Quintet. The lights go down. The five players enter via the aisles in the audience lower level and take their seats (sadly to applause which we had been asked to refrain from). As the quintet is played (and it was very beautiful) the players are joined by the rest of the orchestra, the choirs, conductor and soloists enter through the audience and from the wings and deposited slips of paper (I think) on two benches at front of stage left and right. Names of the dead? Probably and that’s a nice touch though scarcely original. The quintet concludes. More unwanted applause. At this point the orchestra are seated , more or less conventionally, around the conductor with the choirs around them. There are lots of fancy chairs. The soloists are more or less in conventional position in front of the audience. Everyone, except the mezzo and the soprano, are in black. The very crowded stage is quite dimly lit in bluish tones. As the mass progresses, the soloists interact in various ways. The choirs gesture in rather obvious ways; the text says “king” so we pump our fists, the text talks of “writing” so we make scribbly gestures. At some point the soloists start to rearrange the pieces of paper with the names of the dead in a sort of game of Dearly Departed Patience. The soloists exit through the orchestra. The lights go down. The End.