The Killing Flower is an opera by Salvatore Sciarrino. Both Italian and English versions exist and it was the latter that was given, in semistaged form, at Walter Hall as part of the Toronto New Music Festival last night. It’s a very distinctive work and not easy to form a full appreciation of on a single hearing. The plot is straightforward enough. There’s a duke and duchess. She falls in love with a guest. They are betrayed by a servant. He kills the guest and then her. But all this happens in a highly abstracted way (made even more abstract by not being fully staged). As the composer puts it:
My theatre is ‘post cinema’ theatre, beginning with the way the scenes are laid out – they proceed by dry blocks that ‘subtract’ in order to get the point across.
Got that? Nor me but what I saw was a succession of scenes in which two characters exchanged fragments of text repeated multiple times. This was actually quite useful as there were no surtitles and it made it easier to grasp what the (very few) words actually were.
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.
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 →
I’m not a huge bel canto fan so it’s probably no surprise that I had, previous to this DVD, only seen Bellini’s La sonnambula once. That was in Mary Zimmermann’s messy production at the Met which had left me with the impression that it was a rather feeble comedy with formulaic music and not much improved by Zimmermann’s attempts to sex it up. I did wonder if it might be improved by the full on Regie treatment and so I was quite happy to have a chance to see the DVD of Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito’s 2013 Stuttgart production, especially as it had played to significant critical acclaim and won a bunch of awards. I was surprised and impressed. Far from being a cavalcade of extraneous elements (the usual charge levelled at Regie), this production probed the libretto and the source materials in a highly intelligent way to produce something really rather moving. The music is still what it is; tuneful, well crafted but hardly deep, but there you go.
FAWN Chamber Creative’s latest project is an opera called The Harvester. The libretto is adapted by Paul van Dyck from his own play of the same name and the music is by Aaron Gervais. The genesis (and we’ll come back to that) of the piece lies in the mind of soprano Stacie Dunlop who wanted a reduced orchestration version of Schoenberg’s Erwartung and a one acter that could be performed with the same band to form a double bill with it. Van Dyck’s play seemed to have the right stuff and Aaron was up for both parts of the project. Co-opting Kevin Mallon and his Aradia Ensemble and Amanda Smith to direct rounded out the project.
I met with Adam Scime and Amanda Smith of FAWN Chamber Creative today to talk about chamber opera in general and their upcoming show L’Homme et le Ciel in particular. There are several questions that are exercising the minds of many people in the opera community as they try to create in and for the space that lies between the COC and an out of tune piano in a pub and that has value beyond providing performance opportunities for the participants.
There’s probably a rough consensus that the answer lies in “chamber opera” but less unanimity on what that means either in terms of forces employed or repertoire. Equally, there are differing views on where the potential audience is to be found. So where does FAWN sit on these issues?
There are a couple of opera openings next week. Pyramus and Thisbe; the Barbara Monk Feldman, Monteverdi, Chris Alden creation, opens at the COC on Tuesday 20th for a run of seven shows and Opera Atelier are opening a run of six shows of Lully’s Armide at the Elgin starting on Thursday evening. Both shows are very much a case of Canadian talent on display with no big international names. La Traviata continues at the COC in tandem with Pyramus and Thisbe.
There’s one interesting new announcement for the following week. Amanda Smith and Alaina Viau are collaborating on a show called Toronto Darknet Market. It’s inspired by those parts of the internet that even I don’t know about and will run as a sequence of three performances on the 29th starting at 8pm. It’s at 8-11 which is at 233 Spadina (south of Dundas). It’s a PWYC fundraiser for a chamber production of Médée by Marc-Antoine Charpentier next year. Toronto needs more staged baroque opera that’s not Opera Atelier so this initiative deserves support. There will be good young singers on display with music by Purcell, Berg and Cage among others.