It’s the fifth year that Soundstreams has put on Electric Messiah which I guess means it’s pretty much becoming a holiday tradition. This iteration may just be the best yet. This version seemed quite stripped down compared to some years and all the better for it. It’s centred around rearranged (and shortened) excerpts from the Handel work supplemented with some personal touches for the cast. This time the “band” was Wesley Shen on harpsichord, Joel Visentin on keyboards and electric organ, Joel Schwartz on assorted acoustic and electric guitars and Adam Scime directing from the (laptop) keyboard which controlled lots of effective electronics. SlowPitchSound was there on turntables with Lybido dancing.
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.
FAWN Chamber Creative and its artistic director Amanda Smith see themselves as pioneers. They champion inter-disciplinary works that don’t fit easily into any taxonomy of music, theatre or dance styles. Their latest venture; Pandora, an “opera/ballet” on a classical theme, might seem straight from the court of Louis XIV but Lully likely wouldn’t have scored it for drums, a piano, an electric guitar, a cello, a bassoon and electronics. The Sun King would likely also be somewhat taken aback by Jenn Nichol’s choreography; her long association with Opera Atelier notwithstanding.
Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah is back for a fourth outing, again under the musical direction of Adam Scime. The formula is basically the same as previous years.
Take excerpts from Handel’s Messiah
Add some new music
Arrange for small chamber ensemble, electronics and turntables (Sarah Svendsen, analog and electric harpsichord; Joel Schwartz, electric guitar; Jeff McLeod, electric organl; SlowPitchSound, turntablist)
Take a quartet of singers from different vocal traditions (Jonathan MacArthur, Katherine Hill, Aviva Chernick and Alex Samaras)
Throw in a dancer (Lybido)
Have some of the text sung in a language relevant to the singer (Gaelic, Hebrew, Swedish this time)
Stage it at Drake Underground
This year in addition there was some interpolated music not directly derived from Messiah; to whit, a gospel piece for Samaras called “Personal Jesus” and a harpsichord solo.
FAWN Chamber Creative have just announced their latest project, Belladonna. It’s a queer chamber work blending techno and opera. The libretto and dramaturgy are by UK LGBT specialist Gareth Mattey. Music composition, arrangement and performance will feature modular synth artist Acote, mezzo-soprano Camille Rogers, tenor Jonathan MacArthur, pianist Darren Creech and composer/double-bassist Adam Scime. Contemporary dancer Mary-Dora Bloch-Hansen also features. Stage direction, musical dramaturgy and set design will be provided by Amanda Smith.
There’s one performance on March 22nd at 8:30pm at Kensington Hall, 56 Kensington Ave. It’s a 19+ venue. More details, tickets etc here.
Soundstreams Electric Messiah 3 opened last night at the Drake Underground. Some things have changed from last year. There’s no chorus, the soloists are new, the instrumentation has changed. There’s now a harpsichord (Christopher Bagan) and an electric organ (Jeff McLeod) for instance. Some things are the same. There’s still extensive use of electric guitar (John Gzowski). Dancer Lybido and DJ SlowPitchSound are still there, as is Adam Scime as music director and electro-acoustical wizard. There’s still a mobile phone schtick. It feels both familiar and quite different.
The four new soloists each bring something of themselves to the piece. A kilted Jonathan MacArthur (getting ready for Yaksmas perhaps?) sings partly, and very beautifully, in Scots Gaelic. Adanya Dunn brings a fresh sound and Bulgarian. Elizabeth Shepherd brings jazz, French and a really effective “lounge jazz” He was despised accompanying herself on organ. Justin Welsh adds some Afro-Canadian touches. Most of the numbers are shared between the singers; moving and singing from different parts of the small space. This is exemplified by the opening Comfort ye, begun by Jonathan in Gaelic with singer and language and location constantly shifting. With no chorus, there’s much more space (and it’s easier to see). The visual and aural textures seem cleaner. The unconventional combination of instruments and electronics works really well. There’s enough Handel there but also much else to think about and enjoy.
Opera 5’s double bill of Ethel Smyth one acters, Suffragette, opened last night at Theatre Passe Muraille in productions by Jessica Derventzis. The second piece, The Boatswain’s Mate, was in every way the more successful of the two. It’s a straightforward enough story. Mrs. Waters is a widow and landlord of The Outlaw (renamed in deference to the production’s beer sponsor). She is being very unsuccessfully courted by retired boatswain Harry Benn. Mrs. Waters doesn’t want or need a husband but Benn decides that by enlisting a casual acquaintance, the former soldier Ned Travers, as a fake burglar from whom he can “rescue” the hapless landlady, he can impress her sufficiently. Much mayhem ensues but the upshot is that Mrs. Waters takes a shine to the hunky soldier and they, at least, live happily ever after.
As promised, I’m passing on the news I missed at FAWN the other night. Basically, in addition to the Anna Höstman project the news concerns the further development of the Synesthesia IV project which seeks to to find a composer to develop a ballet-lyrique with FAWN. So following on from Synesthesia IV part 1, three composers; David Storen, Joseph Glaser and Kit Van Soden, have been selected to join FAWN for the next stage of the project: a one week improvisation workshop, during which they will work with FAWN Artistic Director and Resident Stage Director Amanda Smith, FAWN Artistic Associate Jonathan MacArthur (tenor) and dancer/choreographer Jennifer Nichols. The purpose of the workshop will be to create material through improvisation, which the composers can then use as they each write one short opera for Synesthesia IV pt. II. FAWN will present these works during their 2017/18 season.
Last night in an aerialist loft in the grittier part of the west end FAWN presented Synesthesia IV part 1. Six short pieces by different composers were choreographed by Jenn Nichols and presented in an art installation by Kathryn Francis Warner. It was an interesting and enjoyable show but it left me wondering how it was going to help select a composer for a future opera. I may be old fashioned but I would want to hear how the composer wrote for voice before making that call and only two pieces last night did that.
This Saturday FAWN Chamber Creative are presenting the first part of Synesthesia IV. Yesterday I sat down with artistic director Amanda Smith and singer Jonathan MacArthur to find out what it’s all about. It’s basically a building block in a longer term project to create a contemporary ballet lyrique. Now normally, for me, this term summons up the ghost of Lully and has me running for the hills humming “diddly, diddly; diddly, twiddly” but Amanda explained that they were using it as shorthand for an extended piece combining vocal music and dance so I calmed down. Now one thing I’ve noticed about FAWN is that they don’t rush works to market. There’s usually an extensive process of workshopping and refining. This ballet lyrique project seems to take that one step further and Synesthesia is a first step along the way. Continue reading →