Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was a song recital with an Oriental(ist) theme by polyglot soprano Miriam Khalil and pianist Topher Mokrzewski. It kicked off with the two Suleika songs by Schubert to texts by Marianne von Willimer. For my taste Miriam’s voice and treatment of the songs was decidedly on the dramatic side. It was interesting and there’s no doubting the commitment but it’s not my favourite way to hear Schubert. It was all uphill from there though. Ravel’s Shéherazade; Debussy inspired music to texts by Tristan Klingsor, was given an equally dramatic treatment, and Miriam is very dramatic in both voice and body language, but here it worked for me, especially the passionate invocation of the invented East in Asie.
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
Here’s the news that’s arrived in my inbox this week.
Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts announced that from 2019 the DORA awards will be gender neutral. In categories where there has traditionally been “Best Performance by a Male” and “Best Performance by a Female” there will now be a single “Best Performance” award.
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.
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.
There was a sort of mini Schoenberg Fest at the TIFF Lightbox yesterday. First up we got Topher Mokrzewski and Adanya Dunn with Claude Vivier’s Hymnen an die Nacht and five pieces from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. The Vivier was a very apt choice; a piece of CanCon in the spirit of the Schoenberg. Topher may not like Schoenberg but he certain;y knows how to play it and Adanya, in my opinion, is at her considerable best in music of this type. Good start.
Here’s a round up of upcoming performances of interest over the next week or so. Sunday at 3.15pm TIFF are showing Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s films Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” and Moses and Aaron. The films will be preceded by a live performance of a Schoenberg piece by Adanya Dunn and Topher Mokrzewski. More details here.
I’ve seen opera in a lot of venues in Toronto, including several pubs, but last night was my first time at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club; the occasion being the first pub night hosted by Against the Grain Theatre. There was a pretty decent crowd and, somewhat to my surprise, a couple of decent beers on tap. There was also singing with Topher Mokrzewski at the keyboard of a piano almost as grotty as the one he made his AtG debut on. Perhaps unsurprisingly the line up was pretty impressive; Clarence Frazer, Stephanie Tritchew, Aaron Durand, Cait Wood and John Brancy plus a bonus drop in by no less than Krisztina Szabó. Rossini, Puccini, Donizetti, Bernstein and others all got a look in. It was loud, it was fun and the audience, not all of whom I suspect knew what they were in for, stayed. Further sessions are planned for the first Thursdays in November and December at the same venue.