There’s an interesting new project on Youtube from Natalya Gennadi and Catherine Carew. It’s called HBD! Project and the idea is to produce a short themed video each month featuring composers whose birthdays fall in that month. The February pilot is online and it’s a bit different from other “shows” in similar vein that I’ve come across. This one features a song by Alban Berg sung by Natalya with a fluffy puppy, music for cello and piano by Jean Coulthard played by Alice Kim and Hye Won Cecilia Lee and Rodney Sharman’s Tobacco Road sung by Catherine. So what’s new you ask (apart from the puppy)? It’s the graphics with Mozart in a party hat, animated Emily Carr paintings and a look for the Sharman that could double as the witches’ scene in Macbeth. Yes it’s a bit weird but oddly compelling.
There was a really interesting announcement from the COC earlier today. To cut a long story short it announced that the four principals of Amplified Opera; Teiya Kasahara, Marion Newman, Asitha Tennekoon and Aria Umezawa, would become “Disruptors in Residence”. I think this is a very positive move. Many of us have been following the various conversations about evolving opera beyond being the preserve of (almost) dead white people to being an art form that more fully reflects the diversity of our communities. I have to admit to being somewhat sceptical about how much of the energy and goodwill that has been generated will survive the return to some sort of post-covid normality. It.’s surprisingly hard to make change in large, hierarchical organisations go viral.
The sixth iteration of Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah unsurprisingly morphed from a live show in the intimate setting of the Drake Underground to a streamed video recorded on location in various places in Toronto. There is much that was the same as previously and some interesting differences. The selection of arias and choruses is very similar to previous years starting with “Comfort Ye”; arranged for all four singers and finishing up with “Hallelujah”.
Amplified Opera was created by Teiya Kasahara and Aria Umezawa to promote the values of equity, diversity and inclusion in and through opera. They have produced shows like The Way I See It, showcasing blind soprano Laurie Rubin and visually impaired pianist Liz Upchurch in a show about visual impairment and its challenges in the opera world (and anyone who nows me will realise how near the bone that cut). They’ve also produced Teiya’s The Queen in Me (which I missed but which was based on the earlier show Queer of the Night); both shows exploring the pressures placed on a gay diva by the opera world.
Theatre Gargantua’s production of Michael Gordon Spence’s The Wager, which opened last night at Theatre Passe Muraille takes as its starting point Alfred Russell Wallace’s (the other natural selection guy) bet with a Flat Earther to prove that the Earth is round. He does do, of course. Or at least to the satisfaction of any reasonable person but merely succeeds in provoking a storm of personal abuse and insults from the Flat Earther. All of which tends to prove the old adage that arguing with a crackpot is like wrestling with a pig. You get covered in s**t and the pig enjoys it.
The dynamic duo of Teija Kasahara and Aria Umezawa have a new project; Amplified Opera. They are kicking off with a series of three concerts called Amplify! and it takes place Ocober 10th to 12th at the Ernest Balmer Studio. The theme is diversity and equity.
October 10th, 2019: The Way I See It – American mezzo-soprano and author Laurie Rubin (Do You Dream in Color: Insights from a Girl Without Sight), and pianist Liz Upchurch will speak to their unique experiences as individuals with blindness and vision loss navigating the world of opera, and how this element of their identity has informed their creative process. The concert will be directed by Aria Umezawa. As you can imagine this particularly resonates with me.
October 11th, 2019: The Queen in Me – An exploration of the ways in which the classical music world tries to control and limit queerness, gender expressions, and identities. This one-person show features soprano Teiya Kasahara as the Queen of the Night who, after 228 years, has finally decided to reclaim their narrative and challenge the patriarchy. The show is accompanied by Trevor Chartrand, and directed by Andrea Donaldson.
October 12th, 2019: What’s Known to Me is Endless – A look at the African diaspora, and how experiences of Black identity differ in Canada and the United States. African American baritone Kenneth Overton is joined by Canadian pianist Rich Coburn to speak to how their understanding of Black identity was challenged while working on both sides of the Canadian-US border. Canadian American, Michael Mohammed, will direct the show.
Tickets are $25 for each show at the door or from the website.
Last night Pomegranate; music by Kye Marshall, words by Amanda Hale, opened at Buddies in Bad Times. Inspired by the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii, it tells the story of two lesbian lovers. Cass has broken up with Suzy in 1980s Toronto. She visits Pompeii as a tourist and is carried back in time to meet her lover in a previous incarnation in the Temple of Isis. There’s a whole act dealing with the Mysteries, Cassia and Suli’s burgeoning relationship and the attempt by the Roman state to suppress the religion. Then Vesuvius erupts. Fast forward to Act 2 in a lesbian bar in Toronto. Suzy, an immigrant from some unspecified war zone is pressured by her family to break up with Cass. There’s a slightly surreal byt dramatically satisfying epilogue where modern Cass reunites with Roman Sulli in the ruins of Pompeii.
We went to see the opening performance of FAWN Chamber Creative’s new show Pandora at Geary Lane last night. There’s a lot to like but it’s a dense and in some ways confusing show so I’d suggest that if you plan to go you do your homework. So, don’t expect anything closely related to any of the many versions of the Greek legend. That’s just a jumping off point to explain how both evil/malice and hope came into the world. A very brief prologue in which a character discovers Pandora’s box (or jar or whatever) after centuries and releases Hope into the world sets up three scenes which each, in their own way, reflect the duality of Good/Evil, Despair/Hope or however you want to characterise it. I strongly suggest reading the Director’s Notes and the Libretto before the show to understand what the three scenes are and where the transitions are. There are no surtitles (money!) and not many of us can read a printed libretto in the dark. Also, cast members change character sometimes without change of costume. It’s helpful to know when that’s happening! While there’s only one librettist, David James Brock, there are three composers but stylistic differences between them aren’t so obvious that one realises there has been a transition.
There’s been a lot of new opera in Toronto at the moment and a lot of it has had either an Indigenous or a Queer angle; likely reflecting funding bodies trying to encourage diversity of various types. The latest one to come my way is Pomegranate which will play at Buddies in Bad Times from June 5th to 9th. It’s a lesbian chamber opera from librettist Amanda Hale and composer Kye Marshall and it’s a first opera for both of them.