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.
Tongue in Cheek’s latest show, Democracy in Action, took place at the Lula Lounge last night. The concept was pretty straightforward. There were eight (almost) singers and a pianist. Each singer offered up five numbers ranging from opera through art song to musical theatre and pop. Advanced on-line polling had selected one song per singer. Polling of the audience in the house produced the other two. The in house polling was supported by really rather well done videos in which the “composers” tried to persuade the audience to vote for their stuff.
The concluding concert of this year’s International Centre for Performing Artists Singing Stars program for this year took place last night at 96.3FM. For the eleven singers it was the culmination of a day working with Adrianne Pieczonka and a lot of practice and I think that came through on the night. In the various interviews during the show (it was being broadcast live), many of the singers remarked on Adrianne’s advice to be an artist, not just a singer (or something to that effect). Certainly I felt there was less strictly correct singing and more effort to get inside the music and words than one often hears in competitions.
The current Tapestry Briefs is one of the most satisfying I have attended. Briefs is the performance edition of the LibLab; an intense where composers collaborate with librettists to create new opera scenes. Some of these disappear and some go on to be the starting point for new operas. The current crop is strong. There were eleven scenes in the show; sung by various combinations of Teiya Kasahara, Stephanie Tritchew, Keith Klassen and Peter McGillivray with Jennifer Tung at the piano and other keyboards. As a bonus, at intervals Keith appeared to sing a parody of a famous aria describing the tasty little tapas which were offered around.
It’s September and the long, slow awakening after the annual aestivation begins. There’s not a lot on yet but what there is is interesting. The middle of the month sees Native Earth’s production of I Call myself Princess at the Aki Studio; previews from 9th to 12th September with official opening on the 13th and then shows until the end of the month. My interview with playwright Jani Lauzon is here. Also opening on the 13th is Tapestry Briefs at the Ernest Balmer Studio. Hear the product of the LibLab, hear Stephanie Tritchew, Teiya Kasahara, Peter McGillivray and Keith Klassen and eat tapas. It runs until the 16th.
So you have sung the Queen of the Night exactly 2,327 times; high Fs and all, and you are sick to death of it and the Misogyny it rode in on. What do you do? Well, obvs you create a one woman show that teeters between mocking opera stereotypes of women and something much darker. At least that’s what Teiya Kasahara did as part of Tapestry Opera’s Tap This: A Queerated Opera Series presented in conjunction with Pride.
So our favourite inked butch dyke coloratura comes on in a foofy dress complete with Dollarama coronet and wand and starts to sing the heck out of that aria – you know, the one they sing at weddings. But then it rapidly morphs into a diatribe; first in German, then in heavily accented English, about the role, how women are portrayed in opera, occasionally veering into how women; sopranos in particular, are seen/treated in the opera world(*) before switching up into dress pants and a wing collared shirt with studs (despite pianist David Eliakis’ increasingly frantic pleas of “no pants”). Along the way there are jokes, some killer singing and some very sharp reminders of what it’s like to be a strong, athletic, queer woman in a world that expects its sopranos to behave as if they are romantically dying of TB on-stage and off. It’s a very moving and rather disturbing 45 minutes that I really can’t do full justice to. It’s a very brave show and I hope Teiya puts it on again. More people need to see it.
(*)It’s odd that it should come just after I first encountered Kiri Te Kanawa live for surely few sopranos have been as sexually objectified. I don’t know how many people remember Bernard Levin’s Times column written after her ROH debut in 1971 but it’s probably the only time the Thunderer was printed using drool.
Tapestry Opera is collaborating with Toronto Pride Week to put on a “queerated opera series” called Pride Toronto, Tap This. There are three shows:
Cocktales with Maria showcases Drag Chanteuse / Contralto Profundo Maria Toilette (Joel Klein) and her small motley crew (the Gutter Opera Collective). They will present Isaiah Bell’s settings of Cocktales: rapacious and tender 1st person retellings of early sexual experiences. June 8th and 9th at 9pm.
Queer of the Night features Soprano Teiya Kasahara subverting the tropes of women in opera with her trademark butch couture and powerful coloratura in cooperation with collaborative pianist, David Eliakis. June 7th at 9pm and June 9th at 4pm.
Tap This: Queers Crash the Opera is a selection of queer-themed opera curated by David Eliakis. It features selections from the classics as well as Tapestry original works. June 7th and 8th at 8pm.
All shows are at the Ernest Balmer Studio. More info and tickets here.
Friday night I went to see Teiya Kasahara and Stephanie Yelovich’s recital at First Unitarian. Unusually for a voice and piano (Mark-Anthony Del Brocco) recital it was essentially all bel canto; a mix of Bellini and Verdi songs with some Donizetti opera excerpts (plus a duet from Norma as an encore). It would be unusual programming for almost anyone and I was frankly a bit surprised because I don’t think of either singer as a bel canto specialist and, Teiya’s Lucia aside, a bel canto singer at all really.
I know that the event was a fundraiser to help pay for their summer in Italy studying mainly this rep and I guess, wherever one is headed as a singer, being able to sing bel canto well is an asset. So maybe, to use a rugby analogy, it wasn’t so surprising that this felt a bit more like the training field than a competitive game; especially when the duets were both mezzo/soprano pieces being sung by two sopranos.
Both these young ladies have big voices. Teiya in particular has real power, as well as coloratura chops, so perhaps she’s on the way to being that rare voice that can sing Norma and the Tudor queens. Who knows? Stephanie’s future probably lies north of the Alps though and it’s potentially a bright one. I’ve seen these two ladies separately and together in contemporary works and they were really, really good. Bel canto‘s not my sweet spot so maybe that’s part of the problem but I’m really not convinced it’s theirs either.
Teiya Kasahara and Stephanie Yelovich have a couple of recitals this week. The show is billed as Majesty, Madness and Murder and will feature Italian opera and art song. Mark-Anthony Del Brocco will accompany. It’s a fund raiser for the girls to study in Italy this summer and it’s pay-by-donation.
You can catch them tomorrow night at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church, 320 Charlton Ave W, Hamilton or on Friday at First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, 175 St. Clair Ave W, Toronto. Both shows start at 7.30pm.
If you aren’t already committed to the opening night of Tapestry Briefs or Adrian Kramer and Lucia Cesaroni’s show at the Extension Room, there’s now another option for Thursday night. Aprile Millo is presenting a concert of operatic excerpts performed by members of Mary-Lou Vetere’s studio including Teiya Kasahara. It’s being billed as a “gala”; whatever that means. It’s at Trinity St. Paul’s at 7pm. Ms. Millo is also performing at Trinity St. Paul’s on Saturday at 7.30pm.