La Scena Musicale

Friday, 17 June 2011

Mark Adamo : Little Women

Stephanie Novacek (Jo), Joyce DiDonato (Meg), Chad Shelton (Laurie), Stacey Tappan (Beth), Margaret Lloyd (Amy), Daniel Belcher (John Brooke)

Houston Grand Opera Orchestra/Patrick Summers

Mise en scène : Peter Webster

Décors : Christopher McCollum; Costumes : Melissa Graff

Naxos 2.110613 (114 min 53 s)

****

Little Women a été créé en 1998 au Houston Grand Opera et est devenu depuis l’un des opéras les plus souvent montés sur les scènes internationales. L’histoire est une adaptation du roman de Louisa May Alcott qui raconte la vie des quatre filles March (Jo, Meg, Amy et Beth), vivant dans la demeure familiale lors de la Guerre de Sécession. La mise en scène somme toute conservatrice est totalement en phase avec la musique raisonnablement accessible de Mark Adamo. Le modernisme atonal sert plus souvent d’outil dramatique que de véritable système structurant. Les parties qui se veulent émotionnellement « touchantes » sont plutôt colorées par un lyrisme harmonique qui rappelle des opéras « folk » américains tels que Susannah de Carlisle Floyd ou Emmeline de Tobias Picker. Les interprètes sont convaincantes : Joyce DiDonato campe une Meg assurée, Stephanie Novacek dessine une Jo entêtée et Stacey Tappan est particulièrement sensible dans le rôle de la fragile Beth. Cette captation a été enregistrée à Houston, là où l’opéra fut créé, mais lors de la reprise en 2002. Une œuvre que l’on pourrait qualifier, dans le langage approprié des Américains, d’intelligemment « mainstream ».

- Frédéric Cardin

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Kimmo Pohjonen/Samuli Kosminen: Uniko

Kimmo Pohjonen, accordion & voice; Samuli Kosminen, string & accordion samples, programming; Kronos Quartet (David Harrington, John Sherba, violins; Hank Dutt, viola; Jeffrey Ziegler, cello)

Ondine ODE 1185-2 (51 min 49 s)

***

Here’s a neat lesson in brand name recognition and the advantage of a dedicated fan base. The cover of this album is dark blackish brown with red streaks. The title and artists are given in tiny letters and it is necessary to look into the booklet to establish Pohjonen’s and Kosminen’s claim to composition and arrangement of the music (a commission for Kronos). Aside from credits and acknowledgements, the data sheet is no more informative than Pohjonen’s website. What (or who) is Uniko other than an international manufacturer of something?

The cultural drift of the 21st century seems in large part to be devoted to refuting Rudyard Kipling’s dictum that “East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.” Uniko is an occident-orient express that crashes through all the barriers. Grasping for a comparative, it suddenly occurs and the composers have been listening to the soundtracks created by Goran Bregović for the fabulous films of Emir Kusterica. The similar fusion of computer and instruments and the driving rhythms are indeed suggestive of the Balkan Peninsula. Whether or not that’s what the composers intended, some wizard string playing emerges from the electronic backup. Cross-under concept notwithstanding, this is bracing music. Heartily recommended to Kronosaurs everywhere.

- Stephen Habington

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Italian Concertos

Alison Balsom, trompette; Scottish Ensemble

EMI 4560942 (61 min 46 s)

HHHHII

Depuis dix ans, la charmante Alison Balsom a su convaincre le monde de la musique classique que la trompette virtuose, chasse gardée majoritairement masculine depuis toujours, pouvait resplendir de mille feux sous les doigts prestes et alertes d’une jeune femme d’à peine une trentaine d’années. Mme Balsom possède une technique fluide et assurée et elle dispose surtout d’une belle sonorité ample et nette qui ne brille pas exagérément dans l’aigu, ce qui donne à ses interprétations un aspect coussiné, mais sans mièvrerie. Le programme présenté sur ce disque est on ne peut plus « grand public ». Des arrangements de concertos baroques pour violon ou hautbois sont illuminés d’une autre couleur par cet instrument « royal » qu’est la trompette. Vivaldi, Albinoni, Marcello, Cimarosa et Tartini offrent à Mme Balsom amplement de matière pour démontrer son élégance sonore et son aisance technique. Cependant, le roi incontesté de ce genre de répertoire fut, sans contredit, Maurice André. Comment se compare la jeune anglaise née en 1978 ? Très bien, il faut le dire. Mais elle paraît un brin trop « policée» face au brillant maître. On lui recommanderait plus d’audace, et une attitude plus frondeuse, question de nous garder sur le bout de notre siège.

- Frédéric Cardin

Labels: , , ,

John Adams Portrait

Angèle Dubeau, violon; Louise Bessette, piano; La Pietà

Analekta AN 2 8732 (60 min 36 s)

*****

Le compositeur américain John Adams s'illustre principalement dans le domaine de l'opéra et de la musique symphonique. Or, Angèle Dubeau et son ensemble La Pietà s'intéressent ici à son répertoire de musique de chambre avec pour résultat un disque très bien ficelé. Le duo pour violon et piano Road Movies est ici interprété avec la fougue qu'il mérite tandis que le quatuor à cordes John's Book of Alleged Dances est présenté avec toute la fantaisie que le compositeur lui a conférée (on regrette tout de même que ne soient ici enregistrés que des extraits, tant les musiciennes nous convainquent par leur interprétation). Quant à Shaker Loops – déjà un classique si l'on se fie à ses nombreuses interprétations disponibles sur disque –, l’œuvre est ici présentée dans sa version originale pour septuor à cordes. La beauté du son et l'agilité des musiciennes sont au service de cette musique diaphane, brumeuse et enveloppante. Un beau disque qui s'écoute avec un grand plaisir.

- Éric Champagne

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Festival Classica: Giving Classical Music an Urban Twist!

By Christine Lee

FRIDAY

By 5 p.m.  many people had already gathered to sit and listen to the music at Saint-Lambert’s Festival Classica, the town’s first classical music festival. 

The festivities really began at around 9 p.m. with the Orchestre Symphonique de Longueuil, directed by Marc David. As they began to play the first notes of a waltz, dancers in magnificent dresses and tuxes appeared and began their choreography, astounding spectators. As the night progressed, the parking lot turned into a dance hall; the music of the Bee Gees and ABBA compelled people of all ages to dance. A quick headcount showed well over 1,500 people. As the orchestra finished the encore, a crowd member protested: “But the dancing has just begun!”

This first concert set the tone for the rest of the festival.

SATURDAY

On Saturday, Saint-Lambert’s churches hosted various concerts: Annabelle Follows the Sound of Her Own Voice, a family-friendly show featuring soprano Christina Tannous  and pianist Dominic Boulianne, Brahms’s Liebeslieder Walzer (Love Song Waltzes op. 52 and op. 65) and Tango Boréal. Outside, opera was broadcasted on a giant screen and the St. Lambert Choral Society took to the outdoor stage, showcasing a wide variety of Broadway music, from Les Misérables to The Phantom of the Opera; several soloists donned costumes.

Another noteworthy concert featured Daniel Taylor, the internationally-known countertenor who took everyone’s breath away at the Église Saint-Barnabas with his beautiful, versatile voice, capable of commanding and delivering many emotions. The crowd gave a standing ovation as soon as the last note was sung and demanded an encore, which Taylor gladly delivered. The singer drew chuckles from the audience when he tried to converse and even joke in French during the concert.

Marie-Josée Lord made a (surprise) special appearance at the Espace Musique 100.7 FM tent, where her performance was met with applause and hand shakes. Her show the next day was sold-out, so many craned their necks for the chance to see her in person.

Serhiy Salov, originally from Ukraine, now lives in beautiful Montreal. So what’s his connection to Saint-Lambert? His piano teacher lives there! From the very first note of Salov’s performance, the audience was captivated, stunned by how his hands effortlessly glided over the piano as he played Ravel and Stravinsky. Even the most difficult and virtuosic passages were conquered by his nimble, slender fingers. There was perhaps even a sigh of regret from the spectators as Salov lifted his hands from the last chord. A standing ovation and cries of "Bravo" echoed through the church hall. The pianist returned for an encore, playing a medley of orchestral works arranged for piano. When I found him after the concert, he exclaimed: "The crowd was so wonderful and welcoming! I wanted to play more pieces.”

Carmina Burana
Back at the outdoor stage, two pianists, three soloists, four percussionists and a choir of 200 led by Michel Brousseau touched the hearts of the audience (almost 3,000 people) with their rendition of Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. The man behind the Festival, baritone Marc Boucher, was seen on stage (at last!) as a soloist and melted the audience’s hearts with his rich and deep voice. When the last chord was struck and sung, the crowd left their folding chairs to applaud, cheer and ask for an encore. A brilliant performance! 

SUNDAY 

Marie Josée Lord, SOLD OUT 

Beatles Baroque
The Beatles Baroque concert attracted a large audience. The spectators were invited to sing along with the music, but many were too shy; however, as time passed, they gradually began to hum along. These sing-alongs, combined with dance-alongs (shows with programmes focusing on dance music: waltzes, tangos, marches, polkas, folk dance, etc.) and paint-alongs (painting inspired by the music), definitely set Festival Classica apart from your usual classical music fest. The wide range of interactive activities allowed the public to come close to the performers and attracted many people. Crossing over different media, Festival Classica brought together paintings, concerts, drum workshops, a masked ball, and even opera and Broadway karaoke (with a spotlight and video camera)! 

Wonny Song and Alexandre Da Costa
Violinist Alexandre Da Costa and pianist Wonny Song took to the stage at the Saint-Lambert Church. Both he and Song charmed the Saint-Lambert audience with their sensitive playing. Song later revealed that it always makes him slightly nervous to play before a home crowd. "It comes with a little stress but it's definitely a rewarding experience," he said. "[It's] stressful and exciting at the same time." Even so, the crowd loved the two musicians and the thundering applause was almost deafening. Song commented, "It was a pleasure playing here [at this festival]. The atmosphere is very charming, intimate, and magical: an audience that all musicians would enjoy playing for." It really showed through the performance how deeply they both enjoyed playing this concert.

As for the festival itself, Da Costa believed it to be a “superb idea.” He explained: “these days, the trend is long festivals, so to have one that lasts three intensive days is a bit like the [Montreal] Jazz Festival [or] the Just for Laughs festival … [Festival Classica] is very interactive and the spectators can choose from a multitude of activities.” Da Costa added, “I’ve known the director Marc Boucher for a long time, so we were really happy to be part of this first edition. We definitely will negotiate to try to come back here because it’s really a festival that we enjoy and love.”

Indeed, with such a wide variety of concerts, quality performances, high-profile guests and activities for everyone, Festival Classica is bound to be successful and is well on its way to its second edition. 

Concerto Della Donna
Anne-Marie Lozier of the all-female choir Concerto Della Donna also shared her thoughts on Festival Classica. “It’s a great idea because it allows people to test out [classical music], especially [at] the free concerts [since] there is no cost, no investment in it,” she said. “They can come and if they don’t like it, they leave; if they like it, they stay and attend even more concerts… I feel really honoured that they asked us to take part in this first edition.” She also pointed out that the location of the festival differentiated it from others. “[Saint-Lambert is] a lovely town! I hope the festival doesn’t [move downtown]. I think it’s nice to have it outside. First of all, there is less street traffic and, second, it allows people like me who have never been to this area to come out and attend.”

All in all, Festival Classica was a great success and many are holding their breaths, hoping that there is a second edition in the making. By the looks of it, there are high chances we’ll be hearing more from Marc-André Lechasseur and his superb team that put this event together.



www.festivalclassica.com

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Louis Lortie plays Liszt – The Complete Années de Pèlerinage

Louis Lortie, piano

Chandos CHAN 10662(2) (2 CD : 161 min 20 s)

******

Louis Lortie revisite les Années de Pèlerinage de Liszt, cette fois dans leur intégralité, après une escale à la deuxième année italienne il y a de cela une vingtaine d’années. Il paraîtra cliché de parler de maturité, mais c’est juste, car Lortie a effectivement acquis un bagage musical impressionnant depuis ses jeunes années, et il en fait ici un usage intelligent et sensible. C’est au deuxième degré de la lecture que l’on remarque la véritable valeur de l’interprétation du pianiste québécois. Les traits subtils et suggestifs qui touchent à l’intangible de la perception lisztienne sont effleurés avec respect et avec soin. Lortie retourne à la lettre des œuvres, c’est-à-dire à l’aspect sacré de ces déambulations profanes et de ces impressions à première vue charnelles, mais en réalité profondément spirituelles. La douceur et la tendresse du jeu, l’élan brillamment calculé qui donne parfois la sensation d’être incontrôlé, tout cela procède d’une lecture préméditée et pleinement assumée. La prise de son laisse au piano la chance d’être à la fois ample, soyeux et lustré. Magnifiques.

- Frédéric Cardin

Labels: , , , ,

Mahler: Symphonies Nos 1-10

Vocal soloists; Schweizer Kammerchor; Zürcher Sängerknaben; WDR Rundfunkchor Köln; Kinderchor Kaltbrunn; Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman

RCA Red Seal 88697 72723-2 (15 Hybrid SACD – 794 min 24 s/ DVD 80 min)

*****

It used to be that a Mahler symphony cycle on record typically required a decade or more to complete. The sessions for this set began in 2006 and concluded last year. RCA threw in super audio (playable on conventional CD decks) recording and launched the cycle with military precision in 2007. The performances reached collectors in sequence, at mid-price and in short order. The appearance of this lavish boxed set followed the last individual release by only a few months. The collection comes at bargain price and the highest production values have been maintained. A consolidated booklet includes splendid essays on each work by Thomas Meyer, complete sung texts with English translation and even a roster of the players. The striking cover art for each album (details from art nouveau paintings by Swiss artist Augusto Giacometti, a contemporary of the composer) is retained. Even the slip covers are of high quality with double-disc symphonies housed securely together in bi-folds. No wonder that multiple sponsors are listed -- including Mercedes-Benz. This is Champagne fare on a beer budget.

David Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchestra won international renown with a series of recordings for Arte Nova. Their Beethoven symphony cycle was a million-seller. A Schumann cycle and the orchestral works of Richard Strauss were also lionized by critics. During the past four years or so, Zinman has taken the trouble to acquaint us with the fact that the Tonhalle is a world-class Mahler orchestra. His methods are revealed in the accompanying film documentary on the preparation and performance of the Sixth Symphony. Going Against Fate by Viviane Blumenschein is remarkably candid in presenting an orchestra in rehearsal and on the concert platform. Musicians are encouraged to express their feelings about the music. And except when he is belting out Tom Lehrer’s satirical song, Alma (yes, that Alma), Zinman is a model of decorum and humility.

As the discs came along one by one, the reception was generally warm with a bit of sniping from critics on the flanks. After hearing the complete contents of the box, let it be said that here is a rare example of the whole exceeding the sum of the parts. The performances are excellent and audio quality is of the highest standard. In each symphony, Zinman is scrupulous in observing Mahler’s markings and the players respond magnificently to his requirements. The project also attracted superbly prepared choruses and a first class lineup of vocal soloists. The singers taking part are: Juliane Banse, Anna Larsson, Birgit Remmert, Luba Organisova, Melanie Diener, Lisa Larsson, Yvonne Naef, Anthony Dean Griffey, Stephen Powell, Askar Abdrazakov and Alfred Muff. The experience is rather like joining this legion to complete an odyssey. Only journey’s end is abrupt. Zinman elected to use the ‘completion’ of the Tenth by the American Clinton Carpenter rather than his normal choice of Deryck Cooke’s performing version. Of all of the realizations produced, Carpenter’s is the most interventionist. It is worth hearing but it can never supersede what Cooke achieved.

Long after the Mahler consecutive anniversary years, this symphony cycle will be recalled as one of the greatest issues of the period.

- Stephen Habington

Buy this CD at amazon.com

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, 13 June 2011

Jennifer Higdon: On a Wire / Michael Gandolfi: Q.E.D – Engaging Richard Feynman

eighth blackbird; Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Robert Spano

ASO Media CD 1001 (48 min 55 s)

****

Ce disque sur étiquette maison de l'Orchestre symphonique d'Atlanta regroupe deux créations récentes commandées à deux compositeurs bien en vue chez nos voisins du sud. Tous deux travaillent à une musique résolument tonale, avec un certain goût pour les emprunts stylistiques non classiques. La pièce de Jennifer Higdon, On a Wire, est un concerto grosso conçu pour le sextuor eighth blackbird. D'un seul mouvement, la pièce se développe au fil de nombreuses sections où l'ensemble de chambre dialogue avec l'orchestre. Si on peut admirer l'agilité dont fait preuve la compositrice, il faut cependant admettre que l'œuvre semble plus anecdotique qu'essentielle. L'œuvre chorale de Michael Gandolfi évoque quant à elle l'univers du physicien Richard Feynman à travers des textes d'auteurs classiques américains (Gertrude Stein, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, etc.). Si le projet artistique reste confus (l'esprit de Feynman semble loin de Stein et Dickinson), la musique demeure charmante. Il faut avouer que l'on craque facilement pour le rythme un peu funky du deuxième mouvement. Au final, on se retrouve avec deux œuvres honnêtes et bien faites, interprétées par un orchestre d'un très bon niveau.

- Éric Champagne

Labels: , ,

Haydn : Concertos pour violoncelle

Wen-Sinn Yang, violoncelle; Accademia D’Archi Bolzano/Georg Egger

Oehms Classics OC 782 (72 min 7 s)

****

Le violoncelliste suisse d’ascendance taïwanaise Wen-Sinn Yang s’était attiré des éloges pour son exécution intérieure et raffinée des Suites de Bach (Arthaus Musik, 2005). Manquait cependant à sa gravure un certain enjouement nécessaire par moments à ces chefs-d’œuvre. Les deux Concertos de Haydn qu’il propose maintenant possèdent les mêmes qualités, mais appellent la même réserve. Le son est toujours beau et soutenu, et les rythmes relèvent de ce que l’on peut considérer comme étant un juste milieu. De ce point de vue, les mouvements lents sont les mieux réussis. On aurait souhaité trouver plus d’entrain et de mordant dans les mouvements extrêmes, cette forme d’humour parfois bourru qui reste la marque de « papa Haydn », mais le soliste s’en tient à un sérieux par trop monolithique. Il faut dire que le chef est d’abord et surtout le premier violon de l’ensemble restreint qu’il dirige assez mollement. Le programme est complété par une transposition du Concerto pour violon no 4 en sol majeur, moins inspiré que les compositions originales pour violoncelle, malgré un Adagio bien senti.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Villa-Lobos : Choral Works


SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart/Marcus Creed
Hänssler CD 93.268 (62 min 4 s)
*****
La musique chorale de Villa-Lobos, avouons-le, est une denrée rare autant sur disque qu’au concert. Raison de plus de se réjouir immensément de cette parution soignée de la maison Hänssler. Deux pièces au programme sont des premiers enregistrements, soit José et Préces sem palavras, pour chœur d’hommes. L’écriture vocale de Villa-Lobos est consonante et recherche la fluidité de la ligne mélodique plutôt que l’effet sonore ou la complexité harmonique. Le résultat est un corpus éminemment agréable à écouter et probablement très plaisant à interpréter. Curieusement, on est parfois tenté de faire un rapprochement avec la musique chorale anglaise du 20e siècle, Herbert Howells ou encore le très populaire John Rutter, mais avec quelques jolies touches de faux-folklorisme brésilien. On retiendra particulièrement la Bachianas Brasileiras no 9, dans sa version pour chœur, évidemment. Aussi, le somptueux Prélude et Fugue no 8 BWV 853 de Bach, arrangé pour chœur mixte à six voix ! À lui seul, il vaut le prix du disque ! Plusieurs autres très belles surprises raviront le mélomane curieux qui aura la bonne idée de se procurer ce disque véritablement indispensable.

- Frédéric Cardin

Labels: , , ,

This Week in Toronto (June 13 - 19)

Luminato 2011 (June 10 - 19)









by Joseph K. So

There was a time when Toronto in the summer was a cultural desert - how times have changed! Now we have the Black Creek Summer Music Festival, Toronto Summer Music Festival, and this week, the headliner is the Luminato Festival of Art and Creativity, now in its fifth year. The centerpiece this year is a re-telling of the old Arabian tales in One Thousand and One Nights directed by Tim Supple, based on translations by Hanan Al Shaykh. I attended the opening on Saturday at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Center on Front Street. The show is in two parts, each approximately three hours long. If you have preconceived ideas about Arabian Nights, leave them at the door, as you will be confronted, shocked, provoked, and delighted in this brilliant re-imagining of these ancient tales. In addition to this, there are a number of must-sees Luminato events this week. If you are a fan of K.D. Lang, be sure to catch her on June 17 at the Festival Stage. There's the world premiere of Andromache, directed by Graham McLaren ad adapted from the Racine classic by Evie Christie. The National Ballet of Canada is contributing the North American Premiere of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in a co-production with the Royal Ballet in London. (June 10 -12 at the Four Seasons Centre). The celebrated Kronos Quartet is presenting four concerts with a multi-cultural bent (June 10-11 at Koerner Hall of RCM and June 15 at the Jane Mallett Theatre). And the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is having a special performance of Mahler's magical Fifth Symphony, billed as TSO Goes Late Night, on Saturday, June 18th at Roy Thomson Hall. For Festival details and ticket information, go to http://www.luminato.com/2011/

Elsewhere, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is bringing back the ever-popular violinist Joshua Bell playing Bruch's Scottish Fantasy. Also on the program is Mahler's Symphony No. 5, and a piece by Canadian composer Gary Kulesha, with the intriguing name of Torque. TSO music director Peter Oundjian is a the helm. Two performances, on June 15th and 16th at 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. As mentioned above, there is an extra performance of the Mahler in conjunction with Luminato on Saturday at the late start of 10:30 pm. http://tso.ca/Home.aspx

Tapestry New Opera Works, the eclectic and adventurous company under the leadership of Wayne Strongman is presenting its New Opera Showcase: Excerpts from Four New Operas. On the program are works by Maja Ardal and Norbert Palej, Marjorie Chan and John Harris, David Brock and Gareth Williams, and Michael Lewis MacLennan and Jeffrey Ryan. Among the many performers are Kimberly Barber, Keith Klassen, Neema Bickersteth, and Peter McGillivray. Two performances, on June 14 at 7:30 pm and June 15 at 6:30 pm, at the Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District in downtown Toronto. For more information, go to http://www.tapestrynewopera.com/



Labels:

Luminato Opens with New Re-imagining of Old Tales



















Scenes from Tim Supple's One Thousand and One Nights (Photos: Cylla von Tiedemann)



One Thousand and One Nights
A Dash Arts Production and Luminato Commission
Dramatized and Directed by Tim Supple
Stories Adapted by Hanan al-Shaykh
June 7 -9 (preview) 10 - 19 (performances)
Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, 227 Front Street


By Joseph K. So

Now in its fifth season, Toronto's Luminato Festival of Art and Creativity has always focused on exploring edgy and provocative re-imaginings of all facets of the performing arts. This year, the centerpiece of the Festival is its commission of Tim Supple's One Thousand and One Nights, an audacious re-telling of the old tales known in the west as the Arabian Nights. Luminato has previously collaborated with the British director in A Midsumjmer Night's Dream in 2008. Supple uses the text of the original stories adapted by Lebanese writer Hanan Al-Shaykh. According to her bio, her novels were initially banned in many Arab countries but are now translated into twenty-nine languages world-wide. This new interpretation bears little resemblance to the sanitized and sugarcoated versions we westerners were exposed to as children. There's no Ali Baba and no Aladdin in this production, as these characters were added on later in a French translation. The re-telling by Supple and Al-Shaykh is far from bedtime stories for children - it is intense, provocative, explicitly sexual, ribald, violent, and highly emotional, confronting and challenging the audience into abandoning their pre-conceived notions. The production has been five years in development. In Supple's Notes included in the program, he mentions doing exploratory work in Cairo as early as July 2006. He found Luminato as the creative/funding partner in 2008, and the work began in earnest in 2009. In November 2010, an audition involving seventy performers took place in Alexandria and eventually twenty actors were chosen to participate.

Given the political events that engulfed the Middle East since January of this year, One Thousand and One Nights with its violence, repression, and subjugation of women has take on a contemporary resonance, particularly for the actors who have left behind families and loved ones to come to Canada. Many are understandably worried about the safety of their families at home. Al-Shaykh wrote the text in Arabic, and it's performed here seemlessly in Arabic, French and English. Unfortunately I was sitting fairly high in the center section, too far from the TV monitors used for the translations for me to read comfortably. For the largely non-Arabic speaking audience, understanding the text was a huge challenge, even though to be fair, the actors largely spoke clearly the vast majority of the time, but some of it was inevitably lost. It didn't help when the monitors had periodic glitches, with long stretches of dialogue without accompanying translation. Because of the bad sight-lines, I found myself torn between reading and trying to see what's happening onstage. Twenty stories were told in two parts - some familiar ones, others less so. Supple and Al-Shaykh went to the oldest manuscript to do the research, and the director pointed out in his Notes that little was added or changed. The show was long - two parts each slightly more than three hours, performed in the afternoon and evening. The cast was made up of 19 young, energetic and compelling actors, many of them taking on multiple roles and doing full justice to the heavy physical and theatrical demands placed on them. We western audience members are not used to the gritty, provocative, in-your-face theatrics of this production. Kudos to Supple and his creative team - set designer Oum Keltoum Belkassi, costume designer Zolaykha Sherzad, lighting designer Sabri el Atrous, and sound designer John Gzowski - for their skill in transforming a rather anonymous performing space into one suitable for the story-telling. It was amazing what they did with a simple platform with one movable wall that allowed entrances and exits, plus a few props (like carpets, fabrics and lights dropping from overhead etc.) and the occasional projections.

The central theme of One Thousand and One Nights involves the young bride Shaharazad (wonderfully played by Houda Echouafni) trying to stay alive by telling a serious of fantastic stories to the King Shazaman, who had vowed to take revenge on womanhood after he caught his unfaithful wife in an orgy with her slaves. This opening sequence was expertly - if rather shockingly - executed and deftly directed by Supple. This was followed by a series of fantastic tales that were quite gripping, although I wished I didn't have to struggle so much with the translations to make out what was said. Despite its length, the three hours in the afternoon - with a short intermission - went by relatively quickly. That said, I wonder if this work is better served by condensing into a single sitting. Special mention must go to the orchestral ensemble for its wonderful playing. Even with the length and some of the production glitches, it was a highly intense theatrical encounter and likely something not previously experienced by most in the audience. The show is definitely worth seeing. Performances continue until June 19th at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre. http://www.luminato.com/2011/

Labels: