The first of Amplified Opera’s series of three shows in the Ernest Balmer Studio took place last night. The series explores the idea of “otherness” in opera. The Way I See It , directed by Aria Umezawa, explores how the opera and wider world treat the visually impaired and how we (in the broadest sense) can not just accommodate but incorporate their insights and perspectives into our performance practice.
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.
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.
Dido and Belinda is the first show from Opera Q and Cor Unum Ensemble. It’s a reimagining of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas from Belinda’s perspective and with a decidedly gender fluid twist. Nathum Tate’s libretto is extended by spoken passages which give Belinda’s take on the story and make it very much a story of the two sisters. The back story is Dido’s flight from Tyre rather than Aeneas’ flight from Troy. The future is about Belinda as Queen of Carthage not Aeneas’ “promised Empire”. It works pretty well though I have reservations about interpolating text in the final scene. I think Belinda’s accession as Dido’s successor could have been conveyed without interrupting some of the most sublime music ever composed. That’s a minor quibble though in a story concept that works.
I met yesterday with Ryan McDonald and Camille Rogers to discuss their new project, OperaQ, and its upcoming show Dido and Belinda. The driving idea is that opera needs a space for “queer people to tell queer stories to queer people”. Now I’m sure many peopl’s initial reaction would be close to mine along the lines of “surely there’s no shortage of gay people in the opera world?”; which is ,of course, true but not really the point. Gender presentation in opera is highly conventional, both on and off the stage. There are strong stereotypes about “masculine” heroes. Can an overtly gay man get cast as Otello (or even Hadrian)? There are equally strong stereotypes about how female singers should present. Everybody is supposed to be glamorous à la Maria Callas, an attitude that was brilliantly taken apart in Teiya Kasahara’s Queer of the Night. Transgender issues add another layer onto this where, paradoxically perhaps, operas traditions of cross dressing confine rather than create space for transgender expression. So, opera, lots of queers but not much queerness?
FAWN Chamber Creative presented a new piece last night at Kensington Hall. It was called Belladonna and was billed as a “queer, techno opera” to a libretto by Gareth Mattey who apparently specialises in this genre. “”Queer, techno pastoral” might have been nearer the mark. Basically, sheep tending person of uncertain gender/orientation meets another such. A supernatural being of some sort intervenes. There are hallucinogenic berries (“tripping hither, tripping thither?”). “Exploration” ensues. I was unclear on whether or not it had a happy ending. I’m not sure it matters.
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.