This was the seventh time I’ve seen Soundstream’s Electric Messiah. It’s different every time of course but some things stay, more or less, as features. The biggest change this year is the shift from the Drake Underground to Crow’s Theatre. It’s staged as a conventional proscenium arch type show with the audience sitting in tiered rows facing the stage rather than being set up night club style. There’s no bar in the actual performance space but you can still take a drink to your seat. The drinks are cheaper than at the Drake too!
Tapestry Briefs: Les shorts qui chantent opened last night at the Alliance Française. It’s a twist on the traditional Tapestry Briefs show. This time it’s bilingual with the twelve sketches emanating from a bilingual LibLab held in Toronto in conjunction with Opéra de Montréal and Musique Trois Femmes. The short scenes are directed by Tim Albery and make really interesting use of video projections in the very Intimate theatre at the AF.
Last night’s TSO program, conducted by Gustavo Gimeno, kicked off with three short pieces by Canadian composers. All were impressive. The first two; Adam Scime’s A Dream of Refuge and Bekah Simms’ Bite are reflections (to some at extent at least) on the pandemic. The Scime piece is lighter and brighter. There is uncertainty there but ultimately it seems to speak of hope. The Simms piece wis much darker with heavy percussion and blaring brass. A sense of uncertainty permeates the string writing. It’s quite disturbing. Roydon Tse’s Unrelenting Sorrow was written for those who have lost loved ones. It’s quite melodic and has strong contrasts between dramatic and more lyrical passages. Sorrowful perhaps but not unrelentingly so.
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”.
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.
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 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.
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.