Hausmusik is Tafelmusik’s less formal concert series. It’s not exactly a concert; more an “event”. Last night director Alaina Viau mixed music (woodwind trio, harpsichord, soprano (Ellen McAteer) and electronics from SlowPitchSound) with film projections by Darren Bryant and dance by Libydo to create quite a varied series of effects but all, musically, (just about) within the range one would expect from Tafelmusik.
There are a few things I didn’t mention in my back half of April post. Century Song opened a couple of nights ago at Crow’s Theatre. It’s a live performance hybrid, inspired in part by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Soprano Neema Bickersteth melds classical song (music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Oliver Messiaen, John Cage, Georges Aperghis and Reza Jacobs) and movement to inhabit a century of women whose identities are contained within a single performer. Details here.
Last night LooseTEA Theatre presented a work-in-progress version of their reimagined Carmen. Director and librettist Alaina Viau promised a “a radically envisioned” Carmen and she wasn’t kidding. Apart from the fact that Ricardo (Escamilio) and John Anderson (Don José) are rivals for Carmen’s affections and there’s a woman, Michaela, with a prior attachment to John and, of course, that John kills Carmen there’s not a whole lot left of Mérimée’s story. We are in Toronto. John is a vet suffering from PTSD who has left his wife (Michaela) and kids. Carmen manages a bar but is about to open her own place with the help of investment banker Ricardo. She comes across as an everyday working girl rather than someone whose life is a serial process of picking up and discarding men. Episodes that fit the big numbers of the score are quite cleverly crafted together to weave a narrative that works but rather relies on John’s PTSD to explain the two murders. Woven into the opera are videos by Darren Bryant that contain some of the characters’ back stories. Music is a mix of a conventional keyboard reduction played by Natasha Fransblow and live electronics from sound artist SlowPitchSound. The use of electronics brings a grittiness that feels like an essential way of undermining the “prettiness” of the score. Running around 55 minutes all told it feels a bit episodic and I hope (and expect) that the final version will seem more continuous. Certainly there’s already more than just the basis for a very interesting piece of music theatre.
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.
Gounod’s Faust is very French, stuffed with a specifically Catholic religiosity and has all the elements, welcome or not, of 19th century French opera; it’s long, it has ballet, there are interpolated drinking songs etc. Alaina Viau and Markus Kopp’s adaptation Dissociative Me, presented by LooseTEA Music Theatre, is none of these things (OK there’s an interpolated drinking song, Stan Rogers even, but at least it happens in a bar) and it’s all the better for that.
I met with Alaina Viau, Artistic Director of Loose TEA Theatre, earlier today to discuss her upcoming show Dissociative Me; a transladaptation™(*) of Gounod’s Faust. We started by exploring the reasons why one might choose transladaptation rather than either a “straight” production or simply a radical restaging à la Herheim or Tcherniakov. The starting point for Alaina, one that I completely share, is that certain works are so problematic that they can’t realistically be presented “straight” and still do the things that “art” is supposed to do; stimulate, challenge etc. If a work contains elements that have so radically changed meaning since the original composition that one must treat it as a museum piece or intellectually disengage to make a piece tolerable then, we both believe, something has to be done. I realise that there are those who can enjoy, for instance, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly; a squalid tale of paedophilia and sex tourism, at a superficial level but count me out there.
Apocalypsis was actually my second show yesterday. Earlier in the day I was at an opera “meet up” organised by Alaina Viau of LooseTEA Music Theatre. This was held at a bar on Bloor Street (actually inside the Intercontinental Hotel) and featured a performance of Love in the Age of AutoCorrect; an adaptation by Alaina and Markus Kopp of Mozart’s Bastien et Bastienne which first saw the light at Rosemarie Umetsu’s last August.
It was an interesting experience. Being in a bar not closed off for the event meant that people wandered in from the hotel not expecting to be caught up in an opera performance (and they did look like typical weekend denizens of a luxury hotel). It also meant that the performances were not exactly listened to with Mahlerian dedication. There was a fair amount of chatter and it can’t have been easy for the trio of Greg Finney, Keenan Viau and the ridiculously cute Whitney Mather. The acoustic wasn’t great either but these three were very funny and sang rather well and the piece is more fun Mozart’s original!
It’s a pretty cool idea really and I enjoyed it. I wonder if it would work in a pub with decent beer rather than a bar with overpriced cocktails and crap wine?
For those of you who won’t be glued to the underwater cycling at the Pan-Am games there is actually music on in Toronto over the summer. The tenth Toronto Summer Music Festival features a wide range of events in many genres. The ones likely to be of most interest to AR readers follow.
Loose TEA Theatre’s new show Autocorrect Opera opened last night on the steamy outdoor patio of Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu. It’s a double bill of one acters adapted for the age of the smartphone and the text message. The first piece; Sravinsky’s Mavra was played fairly straight. The young girl Parasha does open the piece with a lament about her boyfriend not texting her and the final denouement is brought on by a missed text but otherwise the plot isn’t much altered though we get a neat updating to the home of a contemporary, status conscious bourgeois with references to the price of Ferrari tyres etc. Good performances all round with Morgan Strickland as a well sung, angsty Parasha, Greg Finney, with his characteristic power and comic timing, as the rich and rather obnoxious father. Keenan Viau, coming in at short notice for an indisposed Daniel Wheeler, was the convincingly annoying neighbour and Justin Stolz was excellent as the extremely unconvincing cross dressing pizza boy, boyfriend, maid. So, good fun but maybe not taking the theme of the evening as far as it might have gone.
Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns must have seemed old fashioned even when it opened in 1929 in a Berlin that had already seen Wozzeck and Die Dreigroschenoper. With its waltzes and gentle chinoiserie it looks back rather than forward musically and makes few demands on its listeners. Similarly, the plot; a bittersweet romance between an Austrian aristocrat and a Chinese prince had nothing in it to disturb contemporaries though modern audiences might find the cultural appropriation a bit hard to take. However, if Turandot doesn’t bother you this likely won’t either.