Seeking Refuge.I always enjoy the anarchy of possibility at the Toronto Fringe Festival, where all the shows are chosen by lottery (though some in smaller categories such as “international” or “national” as opposed to the majority which are Toronto-based). With five days left in the festival, which runs until Saturday, July 16, there’s still lots to see – especially for those with an interest in musical theatre.

Musicals have always been part of the theatrical appetizers on offer, and sometimes those musicals have gone beyond the fringe to further productions elsewhere – even to the heady heights of Broadway as in the case of the gloriously funny Drowsy Chaperone, which I remember seeing at the George Ignatieff Theatre back when it first appeared at the Fringe in 1999. This September, another new musical takes its first steps beyond the fringe where it was acclaimed last year: Life After by rising Toronto lyricist and composer Britta Johnson, which (in an expanded and reworked form) will start off the 2017/18 CanStage season in a co-production with the Musical Stage Company directed by Robert McQueen (who directed the Fringe version) with music direction by Reza Jacobs.

Perhaps one of this year’s shows will catch the imagination of its audiences and follow a similar path to bigger productions. There are certainly a lot of possibilities: there are over 160 shows at this year’s Toronto Fringe and, as usual, they range widely from heavy hitters trying out new material to newcomers writing their first show, with almost every stage in-between. Twenty-three of these are listed as musicals (including four – half! – of the FringeKids list), 11 as dance pieces and several more are plays that include music as an integral element.

The most anarchic of all would seem to be The Confidential Musical Theatre Project (p. 40 in the Fringe Program), where the details of the performance are kept confidential until the moment the show begins. Even the performers won’t know until an hour before, when they meet for the first time for a quick rehearsal. This should be promising, going by the success over the past year in Toronto of The Confidential Opera Project (also produced by Marion Abbott) as well as the reported success of the musical theatre version elsewhere.

As for themes, this year the one that jumps out is strong women (or girls) standing up to a harsh and confusing world. Given the state of the real world these days, this is not a surprising trend, but it IS nice to see a preponderance of girls as the heroes. This is the theme at the heart of Everything There is to Know (p.44), one of my top picks and also the most full of heavy hitters: book and music are written by the acclaimed Aaron Jensen and the creative team are all top drawer award-winners who have worked across the country, including director Lesley Ballantyne, choreographer Susan Cuthbert, artistic adviser Jim Warren, and producer David Warrick. The story centers on 11-year-old Sophie, who, as the world crumbles around her at home and on a global scale, finds a way to deal with everything coming at her by using her imagination.

On a more serious note, Seeking Refuge (p. 45) by Rick Jones (the Paul O’Sullivan prizewinner for the best new musical theatre script submitted to the Fringe) takes up the international theme as it follows two sisters who are left homeless and without family in the midst of an unnamed civil war. The sisters have only their mother’s jewelry left to barter for passage to freedom – and only enough to save one of them.

Olive Copperbottom.On the more comedic side are Stephanie Herrera’s solo show Am I Pretty Now: a musical romp through plastic surgery (p.40), billed as the “first ever” musical written on this theme, with the star also writing the script and music; and the two hander Bad Date (p.34), written and composed by Erin Aubrey, which promises to be a “racy, outrageous and daring take on a date gone wrong.” Another from the top of my list is New Zealand comedy star Penny Ashton’s one-woman Dickensian musical Olive Copperbottom (p.41): “Our story begins as the death of her beloved mother leaves Olive in the care of Mrs Sourtart at the Whackthechild Home for Wayward Waifs and Strays”...you get the idea. This is a follow-up to Ashton’s very successful Jane Austen solo musical Promises and Promiscuity, which toured Canada and internationally last year.

Often at the Fringe, the kids’ shows can be just as enjoyable for adults – a happy thing for parents, but also for creators wanting to deal with fables, parables, strongly set themes in simpler, bolder packages. Blink’s Garden (p.28), already seen in Winnipeg and Edmonton, focuses on a brave girl in a barren garden ruled by a selfish king; Fables from Far Away Lands (p. 64) also features a brave girl at the centre who, through traditional fables and original songs connected to bullying, female empowerment and working together, arrives at a fantastical land where anything is possible; Jay and Shilo’s Sibling Revelry (p. 29) (note, that’s “revelry” not “rivalry”), described as “Narnia meets The Phantom of the Opera,” is about a brother-and-sister team who help a fairy to find her courage, featuring a strong professional musical theatre cast including Jennifer Walls; and Death Meets Harlequin (p.28), by children’s author Nina Kaye, promises commedia dell’arte staging as well as guest “opener” circus company Deflying Feets. In between the adult and kids’ shows, teens also take the stage in a big way as the inaugural Teen Fringe ensemble (after an intense performance boot camp) forms part of the 50-strong cast of True North Mixtape (p. 46), which also features the award-winning high school show choir the Wexford Gleeks. The show itself, created by the company under the guidance of Edge of Sky Theatre, is also a banner show for our Canada 150 celebration year as it takes a tapestry of Canadian music hits “remixed, repurposed, and reimagined to tackle issues of home, identity, love and inclusivity.” Directed by Ann Merriam (Blood Ties: The Musical, Summerland), True North Mixtape features a diverse group of artists of all different ages, faiths, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds exploring what it means to be a Canadian in the year 2017.

Dance and more experimental music and movement works also have a strong presence at this year’s festival. There are a few strictly dance pieces, but there are several that look to be stretching beyond a simple definition of ‘dance’ to break more experimental ground. Hexen (p.83 ), by a young company of recent Randolph grads, uses song, movement, dance and text to tell the story of an ancient coven of witches reappearing on the earth to warn the humans of a darkness beginning to seep into their lives. With The Old Wolf and the Sacred Trout (p. 32), award-winning playwright Donald Molnar experiments with storytelling through movement instead of words. Universal Horrors (p. 46) by award-winning Victoria indie dance company Broken Rhythm reinvents great classic horror films, including Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein, through dance, music, and multimedia elements.

Three more dance-based pieces focus on the female empowerment theme. The “F” Word (p.42), written and directed by Samantha Schleese and Melissa Hart of new Toronto-based SaMel Tanz, uses contemporary, Latin, and hip hop dance to explore the struggles of facing feminism in “a powerful, invigorating and comedic performance from a diverse group of women who aren’t afraid to say it like it is.” Picaza (p.45 ), an intriguingly ambitious multidisciplinary piece performed by 12 Toronto artists from different cultural and professional backgrounds combines contemporary and flamenco dance, physical theatre and original text and music to produce a fully original tale of the coming of age of a young woman. The dancers perform to a range of traditional and experimental music, with original text written in Spanish and English. Lipstique (p.44 ) in contrast sounds like a popular explosion of street dance theatre, performed by Mix Mix Dance Collective, that asks us to question the “future of the feminine.” Co-founded by Gemini and Dora award-nominated dancer and choreographer Emily Law and dancer Ashley Perez, Mix Mix is described as outrageous, fierce and thoughtful in their investigation of diversity in movement, music and art practice.

The Diddlin Bibbles Live in Concert.There isn’t enough space to talk about every show but there are two more on my “must-see” list that I want to mention. Rough Magic (p.45), a melange of theatre, movement and music, explores the story of characters Ariel and Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest before the events of the play, most excitingly using aerial choreography for Ariel. Theatre Arcturus (Lindsay Bellaire and Phillip Psutka) won five-star reviews for their first show Weird at the 2016 Fringe: “This is aerial theatre, where the boundaries of physicality and truthful storytelling are pushed, and sometimes the world turns upside-down.” The Diddlin Bibbles Live in Concert (p. 54) on the other hand, features a singer-songwriter duo, who have traveled all the way from Widdlywack, Wisconsin to “spread their gospel of light, love and lust through their toe-tappin', knee-slappin' tunes.” Written by performers Matt Shaw and Lesley Robertson with director Dana Puddicombe, this sounds like a silly but very entertaining mash-up of musical sketch comedy and mockumentary à la Christopher Guest. Lesley Robertson is one of the funniest performers on the current scene, having made a huge hit in the part of Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing at Hart House this past fall.

Even with this short list of shows you can see there is a wide variety to choose from. No one can really choose for anyone else, and the real joy often comes from finding the unexpected hit or a show that connects when all you were trying to do was fill a gap in your schedule.

Happy Fringing!

Toronto’s 2017 Fringe Festival runs until July 16. More details, including a PDF version of the festival program, can be found at www.fringetoronto.com.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

 

Members of the Silk Road Ensemble at the Aga Khan Museum on June 29, 2017.In my September 2015 WholeNote article on the Silk Road Ensemble, I explored the historic idea of the trade routes “collectively referred to as the Silk Road, an interconnected web of maritime and overland pathways, [which] have for centuries served as sites for cultural, economic, educational, religious – and purely musical – exchanges.” Such ‘silk roads’ encouraged the exchange and development of ever-evolving cultural hybridities, which in turn have shaped the complexion of today’s transnational musical world. Revisiting that notion at the close of the 20th century, the Grammy award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma proposed Silkroad as the name of his new non-profit organisation. Inspired by his global curiosity and eagerness to forge musical connections across cultures, disciplines and generations, that project has since grown several branches.

The first of its projects has proved to be the very successful performing and recording group Silk Road Ensemble (SRE). Under the artistic direction of Ma, the group seeks to “connect the world through the arts,” presenting musical performances and educational programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world. Its mission? To represent “a global array of cultures…creating new forms of cultural exchange.”

No strangers to north Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum – especially since the museum’s intercultural mandate neatly dovetails with SRE’s – eight of the ensemble’s members returned to the space last month for a multi-day residency (though without Yo-Yo Ma himself). Embracing the spirit of inclusion, their stay included a community workshop/jam on June 27 with close to two dozen Toronto world musicians. SRE wrapped up its residency with a well-attended public concert on June 29, in the museum’s domed 340-seat auditorium. The show was divided into two distinct sections, both of which featured Kayhan Kalhor, the group’s renowned Grammy award-nominated kamancheh (Persian bowed lute) soloist and composer.

 Kayhan Kalhor (left) and Sandeep Das.The first half was titled Jugalbani, the common North Indian classical music term for duet, in which tabla virtuoso Sandeep Das joined Kalhor in a long, seamless improvisation. Kalhor was at his intense best, exploring elements of Persian classical music yet fluidly incorporating Kurdish folk melodies, a fusion he is known for. I was impressed by his extensive use of not only advanced bowing but also plucking, tapping and syncopated strumming techniques on the kamancheh, extending its expressive capabilities toward those regularly employed by Hindustani instrumentalists. Joining his playing effortlessly with Das’s, it became clear during the course of the performance how their duo was “like a meeting of two lost cousins,” as Das reflected in an earlier interview. Their duet in turn evoked sombre, peaceful, competitive, playful and joyous moods.

For the second half of the concert, a stripped-down SRE was represented by a string quartet, string bass and percussionist, in addition to kamancheh soloist Kalhor. The first of two extended compositions was American composer Colin Jacobsen's Beloved, Do Not Let Me Be Discouraged. Inspired by both Azeri mugham melodies and the 14th-century Italian laude genre, it received a vigorous rendering here, led by more brilliant playing from Kalhor.

Kalhor wrote his own composition, Silent City, to commemorate the destruction of the village of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan by Iraqi armed forces in 1988. The composer noted, “I chose to base the piece on an altered A-minor scale, using Kurdish themes to remember the Kurdish people.” Beginning as an improvised lament, the work ends in a triumphant Kurdish dance in 7/8, framed in a satisfying complex harmonic setting.

The SRE workshop and final concert suitably complemented AKM’s current exhibition: Syrian Symphony: New Compositions in Sight and Sound, which runs until August 13 and for which SRE is an associate and creative partner.

I visited Syrian Symphony in anticipation of the SRE concert. In it, leading Syrian artists and musicians collectively explore themes of conflict, the struggle to protect the region’s cultural heritage, displacement and the determination to rebuild via large-scale painting, media arts and recorded music.

As well as experiencing emotionally moving images and music, visitors are further invited to interact with the exhibit. They can add selfies to those taken by newly arrived Syrians in Canada, and can place “icon discs” onto frames mounted on the gallery wall. These simple yet effective actions allow visitors to form personal connections to the current Syrian situation, and to the people caught up in its tragedy.

Members of the Silk Road Ensemble performed in concert at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, on Thursday, June 29 at 8pm. For more information about the Aga Khan Museum’s programming and current exhibition, visit www.agakhanmuseum.org.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

 

Coming back to Canada last month after two and a half weeks in Versailles, Paris, and London gave me rather severe culture shock for a while, but there were shows I knew I wanted to see before they closed in order to catch up with the Toronto music theatre scene – particularly because all three took a new look at classics for the stage.

Onegin by Veda Hille and Amiel Gladstone, presented by the Musical Stage Company at the Berkeley Street Theatre downstairs, June 4

Daren A. Herbert and Hailey Gillis in Onegin. Photo credit: Matt Barnes.Onegin began life as an epic poem by radical Russian writer Alexander Pushkin that, first published in serial form between 1825 and 1832, became a hit with the reading public. It also foreshadowed Pushkin’s own death, with the famous duel between the title character and his best friend Vladimir Lensky. In 1870, Tchaikovsky was asked to turn Onegin into an opera, which also became a huge success (and is still a reliable hit today). Tchaikovsky was also affected personally by the story: apparently not wanting to make the same mistake as Onegin, he divorced his wife and then married a young student who had written him a passionate love letter – another of the anchoring events of the original. So, from the beginning, Pushkin’s tale had a profound effect on all those who came in contact with it.

At the start of the musical, presented by the Musical Stage Company at the Berkeley Street Theatre last month, all this history is mashed up into the opening numbers, performed by the cast as if they are a group of strolling players in a cafe inviting us, the audience, in to drink and take part in a rollicking romantic Russian tale – with audience participation. One character even tells us: “yes, it’s that kind of show.”

The first named character we meet is Lensky, a young poet who introduces us to the rest of the characters – finishing with his best friend Evgeny Onegin. It felt unusual to have Lensky so front-and-centre, yet Josh Epstein is so strong in the role that he rules the stage, bringing great energy to the scene. Onegin himself is described as a rake and a loner and yet very attractive; award-winning performer Daren A. Herbert inhabits the role with insouciant style, seemingly channeling Will Smith with a dash of Rex Harrington. The tongue-in-cheek travelling montage is hilarious and sets him up perfectly as the hero to be caught – and to be wary of.

When female lead Tatyana, played by Hailey Gillis, meets him, she falls in love immediately – and Gillis is so transparent in her emotions that she takes us with her every step of the way. In all versions of the story Tatyana’s ‘letter writing scene’, where she decides that in spite of all common sense she is going to write to Onegin to tell him that she loves him, is central. In the musical it becomes the heart of the story, in the form of Tatyana’s brilliantly performed, six-minute song “Let me die.” Gladstone and Hille’s stated goal of creating a song that “could be sung by a teenager today” was met completely, Tatyana even picking up and playing a guitar part way through, as any modern teenager in the throes of first love might do.

The tragedy begins with Onegin turning down Tatyana, telling her that “marriage is not for him, although if it were, she would be the one he would choose.” It gets worse when, out of pique, he flirts with her sister Olga, the fiancée of his best friend Lensky, leading in turn to Lensky challenging Onegin to a fatal duel.

Up to this point I was completely captivated by the story and performance and expected to have my heart thoroughly broken in the second half. Somehow, however, the final quarter of the show, where Onegin meets Tatyana again, did not have the effect on me that I expected. Looking back I think it may have been a result of the direction of the title character – or perhaps, missing material. In the ballet version of the story, Onegin has powerful melancholic solos that make achingly clear his sorrow and emptiness after Lensky’s death. While the musical gives Onegin moments to express this, there wasn’t ever a full song where we were given a personal connection with his pain.

What does almost work is the reprise and turnabout of “Let me die,” now sung by Onegin as he writes to Tatyana helplessly declaring his love for her while she, now married to another man, agonizingly turns him down. Gillis does a lovely job of showing us a Tatyana who has matured into an elegant woman with beauty and poise, who almost gives way to her reawakened love for Onegin – but again, there was something missing in the balance of the scene so that it felt more her story than his and not an equal tragedy.

Those caveats aside, this is a wonderfully energetic, young indie-rock version of Onegin that deserves a longer life. I left feeling a bit unsatisfied but still impressed and affected strongly enough by the show as a whole to buy the cast album on my way out. It will be interesting to see how this Onegin fares as it goes out in the world to other theatres, beginning with this production’s next stop at the 900-seat theatre of the National Arts Centre. It needs some tweaking in my opinion, but with that it should have a long life as the latest theatrical version of a beloved tragic story.

Porgy and Bess In Concert at Soulpepper, June 2

Troy Adams, Neema Bickersteth, Thom Allison, Jackie Richardson, Walter Borden and Alana Bridgewater, in Porgy and Bess In Concert. Photo credit: Daniel Malavasi.Also on my “must-see” list was Porgy and Bess in Concert, presented by Soulpepper for a very short run in the Baille Theatre. This was a very different case of a classic revisited: not a new version of a classic, but rather a new showcase for parts of it.

Again a tragic tale of love found and then lost, the glory of Porgy and Bess is the Gershwin score. Who has not heard some version of the lullaby “Summertime,” the biggest break-out hit song? Other songs are equally ensconced in the musical theatre canon: “I Loves You, Porgy”, “Bess, You Is My Woman, Now”, “There’s a Boat that’s Leavin’ Soon”, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and more.

From the beginning, Porgy and Bess  has proven to be – as director  Mumbi Tindyebwa writes in his program notes – “a lightning rod for conversations around race and representation in the arts, questions that are very much alive in our artistic community today.” Gershwin famously insisted on having a fully African-American cast for his 1935 Broadway premiere, refusing to allow any company to perform it in “blackface”. There has also been some discomfort with the story itself being seen as a stereotypical depiction of African-American life. Both issues were addressed in the format of this production. Although advertised as Porgy and Bess in Concert, it was actually at once both less and more than that. It was not the full musical presented in concert format, but rather a selection of the main numbers along with other songs popular at the time of the show’s writing. Narrated by Walter Borden (from a script written by Richard Ouzounian), the framework provided interesting information on the original inspiration for the material, as well as its development from folk songs, to the novel and play by Dubose Heyward, to the musical/opera by George and Ira Gershwin.

Performing the songs in a tight jazz/blues quartet were some of Toronto’s top jazz, blues and gospel performers: Troy Adams, Thom Allison, Neema Bickersteth, Alana Bridgewater, and Jackie Richardson. While the singers were all strong, I wish they had not relied so heavily on microphones instead of letting their voices soar in the great ballads and duets of what is essentially, and was originally meant to be, an opera.

It was an informative and enjoyable evening, though not exactly what I had been expecting. Perhaps the title should have been something more along the lines of “Exploring Porgy and Bess in Concert.” There is a growing appetite across North America, if not also further afield, for concerts that incorporate a scripted framework with some staging and visual elements. One need only look at the success of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Beyond the Score series, which explores the inspiration behind various symphonic works, or closer to home, Alison Mackay’s scripted shows created for Tafelmusik and the Toronto Consort. The “in concert format” is also an inexpensive way to keep older and more obscure musicals in the public eye and happily, Soulpepper has promised more concerts in this style in upcoming seasons.

A Streetcar Named Desire, John Neumeier. National Ballet of Canada, June 19 at the Four Seasons Centre

Sonia Rodriguez and Guillaume Côté in A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo credit: Karolina Kuras.Of the three “classics revisited” last month, this was the most recent classic, though a revisiting from the 1980s, and also – to me – the least successful of the three. Iconic American playwright Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire is a revered classic of the American Theatre, and though less universal than the other two, equally a tragic tale of love and lives lost,  known so well from its great impact and success on both stage and film. Who doesn’t know the famous quote of Marlon Brando agonizingly yelling “Stella!”?

There have been a number of ballet versions of the play, but this seems to be the only one that is not a straightforward retelling and instead a comment upon, or reaction to, the original material, as choreographer John Neumeier has said himself in interviews. His primary departure from the original play is to create an entirely new first act, where Blanche, from a bare iron bed in a sanitarium, revisits her past. In a sequence that feels much too long and vague we are shown the beginning of the tragic downturn of her life on the discovery that her husband is in love with another man, followed by his suicide and the decline and fall of her family. It’s an interesting idea but not totally successful, and not helped by the presence of three men in and on and around the bed with Blanche, clearly not part of the wedding or family scene but not clearly belonging anywhere else except, perhaps, in her mind, which ultimately is what we are supposed to realize. Accompanying this act are sparse recorded solo piano pieces by Prokofiev,   simple and enigmatic.

In the second act of the ballet, Neumeier returns to the well-known plot of the play, with Blanche visiting her sister Stella, now married to Stanley Kowalski, in New Orleans. The music choice here was completely apt, switching from the more romantic Prokofiev to the jarring and jazzy music of Alfred Schnittke, which the choreographer has said he found perfect for his purposes. Here we see Blanche trying to orient herself to the very different, rougher, modern, working-class style of life that she finds there.

Less dreamy than the first act, the action is faster but still lingers a bit too long in various parts: the boxing scene with Stanley and Mitch for example, and particularly the uncomfortably long and explicit yet stylized rape sequence. These scenes also felt dated for me, and would probably be choreographed quite differently today, even if by the same choreographer. The most effective scene I found was the heartbreaking pas de deux sequence between Blanche and Mitch that begins with a shy presentation of roses, grows to an increasingly romantic sharing of possibility, and then degenerates – after the interruption by Stanley “telling” Mitch of Blanche’s past – into Mitch leaving Blanche broken and in despair. Piotr Stanczyk was in good form as a strident and masculine Stanley, Svetlana Lunkina was delicate and fragile as Blanche, but the standout performance for me was Donald Thom as Mitch, elevating this secondary part into a new revelation of character and story – a striking example of how, in all three of these shows, a classic narrative can be reimagined and redefined with each new production and performance.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

 

Sean Catheroy (left) and Teresa Tucci, in SOLT’s 2016 production of the opera A Tale of Two Cities.Summertime in Ontario is notorious for being the operatic off-season—but these days that’s far from the truth. While it may be true that the region’s largest opera houses more-or-less adhere to a conventional September-to-May season, an increasing number of local opera companies are making adventurous summertime programming a part of what they do. And in the last few years, those companies have really come into their own.

Summer Opera Lyric Theatre is one example. While it’s been around as a summer opera workshop for emerging artists since the 1980s, it has increasingly been turning its focus towards creating productions that feel fresh and relevant for local audiences. This season, SOLT’s roster of emerging opera singers will present three productions, between July 29 and August 6: Bizet’s Carmen, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and a Canadian double-bill—John Beckwith’s Night Blooming Cereus, paired with Michael Rose’s new one-act opera, Northern Lights Dream.

Part of what makes this year special is that all four operas—including the Bizet and the Mozart—will be sung in English. Also of note is Rose’s Northern Lights Dream, which, in addition to drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will explore queer themes.

“The Rose work—a one act piece—is a world premiere, [and] deals with the coming out of a mature gay man and the effect it has on his wife,” says Henry Ingram, who is on faculty at SOLT. He adds that coming-out stories that examine the experience of spouses are rarely told in the arts, especially in opera—but that operas that centre queer narratives have recently been gaining visibility. “Brokeback Mountain, Les Feluettes, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys at the Met and Rufus Wainwright’s commission for the COC on the Roman Emperor Hadrian are several examples that come immediately to mind,” he says. It all reflects how SOLT plans to use the summer—a time when it can be tempting for arts presenters to retreat to conservative, ‘back-to-basics’ programming—to experiment, and to create programming that reflects the language, concerns and interests of contemporary local audiences.

Of course, when it comes to the summertime reinvention of contemporary opera, one indie opera company is king. After a summer in eastern Canada last year to premiere the Alexander Graham Bell opera The Bells of Baddeck, Bicycle Opera is back, with one of its biggest projects to date. Starting July 15, the company will embark on a three-week bicycle tour with the premiere of Sweat, an a cappella, one-act opera by composer Juliet Palmer and librettist Anna Chatterton—an ambitious departure from the company’s usual practice of touring collections of very short single-scene operas and opera excerpts. Featuring four soloists (Stephanie Tritchew, Catherine Daniel, Larissa Koniuk and Keith Lam) as well as a five-member chorus, Sweat explores the ethical issues behind the global garment industry. The company’s tour begins in Hamilton and includes stops throughout southern Ontario, closing in Toronto from August 3 to 6.

With both these productions, it seems as though this is the year that the companies have hit their stride—creating ambitious, large-scale works that feel relevant and refreshing, in the way that all summer music should be.

For a full overview of local opera this summer, see Christopher Hoile’s June opera column, which serves as a helpful reference for productions taking place across the region from now until the fall.

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and music writer, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

 

Sheila Jordan, at Jazz Bistro. Photo by the author.Now’s the time to listen up to Sheila Jordan. 88-years-young and singing better than ever, she is at a creative peak, touring the world as jazz singer, educator and “jazz ambassador.” Much is amazing about this beautiful songbird who weaves her soul’s magic on all sorts of stages, changing lives one gig at a time. She does this all herself and always has, and as the song goes, she did it her way. “I’ve never had an agent or a manager,” she once told me. “I’m not a diva, if you know what I mean. I just want to sing, teach, and spread the message of this music. Most of the gigs I get, I get from musicians.”

On June 26 and 27, 2017, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival presented Sheila Jordan at one of the city’s premier jazz venues, Jazz Bistro. Pianist Adrean Farrugia, bassist Neil Swainson and trumpeter Brad Goode all provided inspiring accompaniment for the singer. There were two performances nightly, at 7pm and 10pm, and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for all four of them. (Thanks to Brian Chahley, the last set of the four can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/jecJbHKflhk.)

Before I get to the review of these appearances, just in case some of you reading this will say, “Sheila who?” I will give you a little introduction; for those curious about this woman’s extraordinary life, music and legacy, I highly recommend Ellen Johnson’s biography “Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan”.

Sheila Jeanette Dawson was born on November 18, 1928 in Detroit to unwed teenagers. As a toddler she was raised by her grandparents, at one time 10 people sharing a room, in Summerhill, a poverty-stricken coal-mining town in rural Pennsylvania. It was there that she discovered her gift of expressing her woe through songs, her Cherokee bloodline seeping with chant into the likes of You Are My Sunshine, Downtown Strutter’s Ball, Shine on Harvest Moon and When I Grow Too Old to Dream in the beer gardens for an inebriated crowd of coal miners. She returned to Detroit at 14, but her alcoholic mother’s abusive husband drove the precocious child to early independence.

Then it happened – the moment that changed her life forever – sparked by a nickel in a jukebox. The record was Charlie Parker and His Re-Boppers and it was a huge eureka moment for her. The bold risks and expressive innovations of modern jazz, especially those by its magical main man, Charlie “Bird” Parker, struck a (bebop) chord deep within the adolescent, and since dedicating her life to jazz music 70 years ago, she has never looked back. Following Charlie Parker around from club to club, she and her friends inspired the song Chasing the Bird and Parker lauded her “million dollar ears.” They were close friends until his death in 1955.

Bird lives on in Jordan’s music to this day, his adventurous spirit felt in every note. On Tribute, her lyrics in dedication to Parker culminate in a sentiment her own fans can relate to: “…somehow I find it rather strange knowing that there are those of us who really love him, while so many aren’t even aware of his name…” A memorable performance of this tune can be found here, in duo with bassist Harvie S – “bass and voice” being a collaborative form Sheila herself originated after experimenting with Charles Mingus in the early 1950s.

Sheila’s life story is actually best summed up herself, in the tune Sheila’s Blues which she recorded on one of her finest albums,The Crossing in 1984. It is an incredibly personal artistic statement, encapsulating not only her dazzling musicality, but also the honesty which makes it matter. There are a handful of brilliant versions of this song on YouTube, including this one posted last week, filmed in 1988 in Graz, Austria where Sheila was teaching a workshop, and this one from 2012 in front of an appreciative hometown crowd in Detroit.

Fast-forward to June 27, 11:21pm, TD Toronto Jazz Festival, Jazz Bistro, Toronto, Canada. Sheila Jordan and the Adrean Farrugia trio just finished performing her cathartic composition about recovering from alcohol and drug abuse, The Crossing, and there is not a dry eye in the house. Advertised by the festival as “one of the finest singers in jazz since Billie Holiday,” Jordan’s astonishing depth as a ballad singer was evidenced by songs she sent out to musicians who had touched her life. The second night in particular was poignant, in huge part by jazz pianist Geri Allen's passing. The 60-year-old jazz luminary was well-known for her spirited, deeply blues-oriented style of playing and composing. Jordan, a close friend of the artist, dedicated The Thrill is Gone to her, managing to avoid her own tears while inspiring a plethora in the audience.

Jordan's rendition of Abbey Lincoln’s melancholy Bird Alone was imbued with a bossa nova beat that only enhanced its mood. Kenny Dorham’s still-timely Fairweather was dedicated to its composer, an underrated trumpet player she urged the audience to check out. A splendid composition by Alan Broadbent and Dave Frishberg encouraged each audience member to follow their Heart’s Desire: “I quit my day job at 58 and here I am today. It’s never too late!”

Maybe what makes Jordan’s ballads so arresting is the humour that surrounds them. Hardly trying to hide her age, she channels her inner child, improvising her own lyrics on the spot with consistently hysterical results. On a slowed-down tribute to Ella, titled Lady Be Good, she purposely didn’t scat, but told the story of the first time she heard Fitzgerald, on a 78 she purchased with a quarter earned by scrubbing a woman’s steps.

A genuine jazz giant in a tiny frame, it is Jordan’s lightness of being, her casual ability to connect with strangers, that makes her not merely refreshing, but wondrous. Some 70 years after she first heard Bird, this sage storyteller is as fearless as she is precious; may she long continue to sing, swing and inspire.

Singer (with) Heart, Educator In-The-Moment! Loving Audiences
Jazzy Open Range, Dreamlike Agility; Now’s the time to listen up to Sheila Jordan.

Sheila Jordan performed a total of four sets on June 26 and 27 at Toronto’s Jazz Bistro, as part of the 2017 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

 

Jean-Pierre Melville (left) and Pierre Grasset.To celebrate the centennial of the birth of French director Jean-Pierre Melville, TIFF Bell Lightbox is screening 12 of his feature films and one short between June 29 and August 19.

Most of Melville’s films dwell in the shadowy world of men who live close to death – gangsters, cops, French Resistance fighters. They usually unfold in B&W, methodically, in stories told like a procedural. His characters often drive around in big American cars, finned gas guzzlers from the late 1950s and early 1960s, and Melville likes to shoot them externally through the front window and internally from the back seat. He’s fond of long looks filled with unspoken words, and of scenes of dancing girls in clubs. But even fonder of jazz, which he uses extensively in the films I was able to preview for the TIFF retrospective.

Melville himself stars in Two Men in Manhattan (July 9), as a journalist for Agence France Press dispatched by his employer to investigate the disappearance of a French delegate to the United Nations. Released in 1959 (but more importantly, shot in Manhattan in November and December 1958), this noirish B-movie looks terrific, the authentic footage of NYC exquisitely beautiful and time-capsule worthy. The journalist turns to an alcoholic photographer pal (Pierre Grasset) for help in the case – he’s got photos of the diplomat with three different women (possible mistresses) – and the duo set out to cherchez la femme. One of these women is a jazz singer with a light, dusky voice (played by Glenda Leigh), who they meet during a recording session of Street in Manhattan at Capitol Records. (Leigh was still active in Florida as recently as 2013.)

Two Men in Manhattan: Martial Solal, piano; Bernard Hulin, trumpet.The evocative score is by Christian Chevallier and Martial Solal (who also wrote the score for Godard’s Breathless, Melville’s Léon Morin, Priest and Bertolucci’s The Dreamers). From the opening trumpet underneath footage of Times Square, you know immediately that you’re in New York in the 1950s. The trumpet theme recurs periodically as the city is unveiled from the UN to Greenwich Village, including contemporaneous marquees of movies featuring the likes of Jeff Chandler and Esther Williams. But it’s images of Times Square and 42nd Street that jump out like time-lapse photography. Two Men in Manhattan may not have the gravitas of Army of Shadows, the elegance of Bob le flambeur (July 7) or the gangster demi-monde of Le Doulos (July 29), Le Deuxième Souffle (July 25) and The Red Circle (July 28), but it’s a jewel in its own right and not to be missed on the big screen.

Jean-Paul Belmondo in Le Doulos.Army of Shadows (June 30; July 30) is an unmissable portrait of a handful of French Resistance fighters (Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret star) inexorably doomed in the early days of the movement; Léon Morin, Priest (July 16) also takes place during the German Occupation which serves as backdrop to its erotically charged tale of a lapsed Catholic-turned-Communist widow (Emmanuelle Riva, fresh from Hiroshima, mon amour) and the intellectually engaged priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo, fresh from Breathless) who rekindles her faith.

The series opened with a 35mm print of Le Samouraï (June 29; August 19), a film that influenced John Woo and Jim Jarmusch among others. Its ultra-cool hitman is played by the magisterial Alain Delon, his screen presence at its peak. The jazz-based score, filled with foreboding that mirrors the psyche of its protagonist, is by François de Roubaix. In Melville’s last film, Un Flic, Delon is a cop who plays piano for his mistress (Catherine Deneuve), the girlfriend of his prey (Richard Crenna, whose craggy face can’t be dubbed the way his voice is). Michel Colombier’s score was his first for Melville (who never used any composer more than twice) but followed in the jazz footsteps of most of its predecessors since Eddie Barclay and Jo Boyer’s memorable work in Bob le flambeur.

TIFF’s retrospective on the work of Jean-Pierre Melville runs until August 19 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information, visit http://www.tiff.net/#series=army-of-shadows-the-films-of-jean-pierre-melville.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

 

 The cast of Uncle Vanya. Photo credit: Valeriy Myasnika.As I made my way through the lobby of the John Bassett Theatre on Saturday, June 24 to find my seat, I was surrounded by Russian speakers excitedly in conversation, waiting for the curtain to go up on the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre production of Russia’s Uncle Vanya (as part of the 2017 Luminato festival). What a perfect unexpected pre-show start to an evening of classic Russian theatre that I was to review as part of my work as The WholeNote’s music theatre columnist

“Wait a second,” you say, “Uncle Vanya? But that's Chekhov, right? Slightly turgid, sad, straight plays about people who want to go to Moscow or not sell their Cherry Orchard...right?” “Well, yes,” I reply, “and no.” This company is famous for using the theatrical methods of Meyerhold – large-scale symbolism, mime and music – in their productions, so it does qualify as “music theatre” to some extent. I was interested to see how important music would be to telling the story, as well as what would be different in the Vakhtangov company’s approach, and how it would affect my response.

It took a while to acclimatize to the style and its conventions, which at first were almost alienating, but by halfway to the intermission I was won over and the production began to take hold. From the beginning, the music was a constant. Almost no scene was un-scored or unaccompanied by sound – sometimes in accord with the surface emotion of a scene, but more often expressing what lay beneath – and only rarely was there no music or sound at all, and only for specific effect.

While the text of the play (and the program stated, no word of Chekhov’s writing had been omitted) was spoken in what one would think of as a natural, realistic way, the physical expression of emotion, feelings and relationships was not. At first it seemed strangely presentational and arbitrary, but later it became refreshingly evocative of what the characters were feeling – often the opposite of what they were saying. From Elena throwing herself onto the floor in the middle of the stage or walking across the stage with a silver hula hoop (which naturally folded into the staging), to Vanya’s caressing of Elena’s feet and calves (the only part of her visible from behind a screen), to characters feeling no need to look at each other as they spoke, to the grand mimetic entrances and exits for the professor and his entourage, the physicality of this production was used to powerful, and often disconcerting, effect.

From my reading about Meyerhold I had expected the stylization to have more influence over the speaking of the text, so that was the biggest surprise, and for me a great part of the success of this production. Somehow in this particular combination of words, movement and music, the inner needs and lives of the characters were set free and allowed us to love them and laugh at them at the same time. World theatre criticism and production has finally moved on to a more general acceptance of the fact that Chekhov’s plays are actually meant to be funny (alongside the personal and societal sorrows they depict) but this production was a revelation, the comedy and tragedy so strongly interlaced and exposed to us in the audience that we came to really care about these odd, desperate trapped people, in all their absurdity and flawed humanity.

Dancers Ching Ying Chien and Christine Joy Ritter in Until the Lions. Photo credit: Jean Louis Fernandez.Until the Lions: Earlier in the festival on June 18, I had the chance to see Akram Khan’s dance production Until the Lions, and in this the music was even more integral. Long before the show itself began there was an almost subliminally present, ominous wind-like soundscape playing through the theatre’s speakers, interlaced with moving light and shadow on the stage. As the piece itself began this was layered with live music performed by a team of musicians using their voices, drums, a guitar and various other instruments to create an invigoratingly live soundscape score for the dancers. There was a magical quality to the setting: a stage looking like the rippled stump of a giant tree with springy bamboo shoots growing randomly on its uneven surface and around the stage, in front of an audience seated on all four sides, was a path for the musicians, and occasionally for the dancers, to travel. Taken from the “Story of Amba,” a princess in the Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata, Until the Lions explores the unseen side of her story in an immensely fierce and passionate hour of choreography for three dancers (Akram Khan, Ching-Ying Chien and Joy Alpuerto RItter.

Pss Pss. Photo credit: Pipo Gialluisi.Pss Pss: On the same day as Until the Lions I went earlier to see Pss Pss, a clown performance by the Italian Compagnia Baccalà at Luminato’s “Famous Spiegeltent,” not expecting it to connect at all with the later show and yet, much to my delight, it really did.  Brilliant clown duo Camilla Pessi and Simone Fassari, looking like white face versions of Edward Everett Horton and a young Christina Ricci, began almost in silence, finding hilarity in the shared desire to eat an apple with barely a sound other than the whispered “pss pss” to catch one another’s attention. Then, the music erupted into the space – wonderfully circus-y dramatic music, selections from Ekberg, Torgue, Houppin and Lindvall – and these two goofy figures we were starting to love morphed into brilliant, slightly clumsy (but not really) acrobats throwing each other around. Pessi balanced on Fassari’s shoulders, head, even a single hand, the two bodies supporting each other then falling and tumbling and intertwining in a choreography that would find a serious counterpart in the passionate dance duets of Until the Lions later that day. Such synchronicity, and fascinating to see the relationship between two people depicted in such funny and then such searing detail.

All in all, an impressive array of shows at this year’s Luminato festival – and a reminder of how successful “music theatre” can be found in even the most unexpected of places.

The Luminato festival ran from June 14 to 25, in various locations throughout Toronto. For more information, visit www.luminatofestival.com.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

 

Westben concerts at the Barn.Classical music aficionados, rejoice! Westben Theatre is gearing up for their annual summer festival, which runs from July 2 to August 6 this year. The lineup is nearly entirely Canadian, making it a fitting celebration for the country’s 150th birthday. All the more reason to get out of the city and celebrate classical music as Mother Nature intended: in the great Canadian backyard. All you need is a curiosity to hear classical music packaged differently – have you ever heard a professional piano concert in a barn? How about a birdwatching walk with piano music serenading participants on the trail? Or a late night jazz pub crawl around the Trent Hills region?

Based out of a barn-style theatre in Campbellford, Ontario, Westben has 25 events slated for its music series this summer – most of which can be sorted into six categories:

International – a homecoming for Canadian artists who perform on world stages
Canadian Acts – eminent homegrown acts
Novel Experiences – sound explorations presented in non-conventional formats
Technical – technical demonstrations or presentations
Jazz – casual presentations around town
Miscellaneous – performances falling outside classical and jazz genres

Here are some of The WholeNote’s picks from each category:

INTERNATIONAL
Rolston String Quartet
Sunday, July 9, 2pm

The winners of the 2016 Banff international String Quartet Competition are on a busy touring schedule, playing at various festivals across the country. It will be interesting to hear how the acoustics of a string quartet resonate in a barn…

Great Pianists: Jan Lisiecki
Saturday, July 22, 2pm

Gramophone Magazine 2016 Young Artist of the Year, the 21-year-old Calgarian first came into the international spotlight in 2010. He will perform works by Bach, Schumann, Chopin and Schubert.

CANADIAN ACTS
Fiddle! Everything Fitz
Sunday, July 16, 2pm

Old-time fiddling and Ottawa-Valley step dancing. This promises to be an engaging and patriotic concert!

NOVEL EXPERIENCES
Song Birds: Find the birds, find the pianist!
Saturday, July 22, 7am

An out-of-city experience: a hunt for music and birds in Ferris Provincial Park, as pianist Rashaan Allwood interprets birdcalls in the park. Allwood will have performed the evening prior in the Barn, in another bird-themed program of piano works by Olivier Messiaen. The composer’s fascination with birds is well-documented: he would attempt to imitate their chirps and warbles in his music. As Allwood wrote to The WholeNote, “[the space] is a great venue because it's isolated, and quasi-outside in a barn that was turned into a concert hall. Really cool stuff.” He also has plans to bring the performance to Toronto audiences: “I'm planning to do the same program with images in Montreal, Scarborough and Toronto, sometime between September and November this year.”

TECHNICAL
On the Record
Saturday, July 22, 7pm and Sunday July 23, 10am

This is your chance to learn about the recording studio from sound engineer Andy Thompson. How does that life-changing performance get transcribed onto CD, for repeat enjoyment? After the workshop, participants will take away a recording of their own performances.

JAZZ
Emilie-Claire Barlow
Saturday, August 5, 2pm

Trent Hills will be alive with the sound of this two-time JUNO Award winner. Barlow is a Canadian jazz singer, arranger, record producer and voice actress. She will appear with Amanda Tosoff (piano) and Jon Maharaj (bass).

Jazz Jam
Saturday, August 5, 9pm

Bring your own instrument and jam with the Band! Featuring vocalist/pianist Rob Phillips, bassist Howard Baer, and drummer Harry Ellis.

Jazz Brunch
Sunday, August 6, 11am

An easygoing way to spend a Sunday. Breakout performances at various locations. See website for details.

MISCELLANEOUS
TGIFun! Arrogant Worms
Friday, July 7, 7pm

Those who are averse to fun should stay away from this performance! The Arrogant Worms will perform selections from their latest album, on Canadian themes. Billed as “tuneful and silly escapism for everyone who needs it!”

Waves of Broadway
Wednesday, July 26 to Saturday, July 29, 2pm

Performances of water-themed Broadway hits.

Montreal Guitar Trio & California Guitar Trio
Friday, August 4, 7pm

These two trios have been giving joint performances for the past seven years. On the bill: jazz, world music, classical, rock, blues, progressive, and quintessentially Californian surf music. With six guitarists on stage, this promises to be a fun event!

Westben’s summer festival series runs from July 2 to August 6 in Campbellford. For more information, visit www.westben.ca. Stay posted at www.thewholenote.com for more updates from this year’s Westben festival.  

Jennifer Liu is a recent graduate in piano performance, and has written on classical music for La Scena Musicale, The WholeNote Magazine, and Musical Toronto.

 

 

Suki Waterhouse. Courtesy of NEON.With its hallucinogenic mood, stunning cinematography, survival-revenge theme and lone-wolf protagonist, Ana Lily Amirpour's follow-up to her striking debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night shows off its confident director's singular vision of a post-modern western with aplomb.

Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is a young woman unceremoniously dumped into the vast Texas desert, lumped in and fenced off with other marginalized rejects of American society known as the bad batch. She's soon caught by one of the area's many cannibals (bridge dwellers), who severs her right arm and leg. Managing to escape using her toughness, ingenuity and a skateboard, she's found by a Good Samaritan who brings her to the town of Comfort, where a Hugh Hefner-like, LSD-dispensing strongman known as The Dream (Keanu Reeves) holds its citizens in his thrall. But Arlen can't resist the call of the wild in the form of Miami Man (Jason Momoa) and his young daughter. As the story unfolds (with frequent satiric jabs), it's clear that Arlen is living out an allegorical distillation of the American dream of family and freedom.

Jason Momoa and Suki Waterhouse. Courtesy of NEON.The Bad Batch's languorous dystopian atmospherics are enhanced, amplified and re-enforced by Amirpour's well-chosen soundtrack. Federale's All the Colours of the Dark, for example, begins sleepily, like the day itself. “I awoke in the dark / called out into the cold dark” it sings out, as the day unfolds in a series of landscapes and skyscapes matching the music's druggy somnambulance: “All the colours of the dark will remind you of someone who once was you.”

Keanu Reeves as The Dream, with his enforcers. Courtesy of NEON.Black Light Smoke's Screws in My Head, with its cool, insistent beat, buttresses the carnival-like dance music played by Comfort's resident DJ (Diego Luna) that introduces The Dream and his coterie of pregnant machine-gun toting enforcers with their “THE DREAM IS INSIDE ME” T-shirts. Earlier, the same band's Firefly underscores Miami Man and his bridge-dwelling family with a rolling, hypnotic beat and pointed lyric: “I'm like a firefly trapped in the spotlight.”

And what could be more apt than the lyric of White Lies' Fifty on Our Foreheads to put a bow on the movie's happy, if uncertain, ending: “A quilt of darkness dotted with our teardrops. The moonlight licked the face of danger.”

If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic movies, The Bad Batch is a must-see.

The Bad Batch plays from June 23 to June 29, at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

 

The Seven Deadly Sins at the TSO. Photo credit: Jag Gundu.What a treat to hear Wallis Giunta sing Anna I and to watch Jennifer Nichols dance Anna II, to experience them playing two exquisite halves of a whole. Their plight was the centrepiece of last night’s concert at the TSO, in a semi-staged version of Brecht/Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins that documents the seven-year, seven-city trek that two ‘sisters’ undertake to make enough money to build the “little house in Louisiana” that is everything their family wants.

The Seven Deadly Sins was originally envisioned as a “ballet chantée” – a “sung ballet” with a full ballet company as well as singers and a leading dancer, telling the story of two sisters (or are they?) encountering the seven deadly sins in seven American cities as they strive to raise money for their family. Last night’s semi-staged version, directed by Joel Ivany and choreographed by his frequent collaborator Jennifer Nichols, did a very clever job of having the four male singers take on the roles usually performed by dancers as well as their own characters of the “family” (father, mother and two brothers). As Nichols had earlier told me (and as she explains in the program notes), her approach to the choreography was “to find a way to express that the family of Anna does not simply sit outside of her in judgment but are an extension of her own self-examination, her hopes and fears.” This, added to the usual interchangeability of Anna I and II in spite of the divided sides of her personality, led to a very interesting new take on the piece. The four male singers (Isaiah Bell, Owen McCausland, Stephen Hegedus and Geoffrey Sirett) proved admirable actors and performers of the choreography and staging – Geoffrey Sirett standing out in a moving pas de deux with Nichols in the “Lust” chapter.

Giunta and Nichols also blended seamlessly – Giunta moving like a dancer as well as acting powerfully, and Nichols also acting wonderfully while dancing and speaking. Looking almost identical but subtly differentiating themselves more and more throughout the piece, practical Anna I (Giunta) became more and more hardened to the “practical necessities” of the world while the ”she is an artist” Anna II (Nichols) grew more vulnerable and beaten up from fighting impossible fights. The pair’s repeated refrain (ironic for the audience) of “Nicht wahr, Anna?” (Right, Anna?) and “Ja, Anna” (Yes, Anna) still echoes in my memory, with poor Anna II more and more discouraged even while continuing to agree with her stronger and more soulless half.

The original production in Paris in 1933 was apparently received with some puzzlement, and while The Seven Deadly Sins is considered a modern classic and true to the political values seen in other Brecht/Weill collaborations, watching it tonight I was not surprised that it would have been received that way. The irony in the libretto is sometimes too subtle, sometimes too over the top,  and the sins themselves not easy to depict onstage – perhaps why this work is much more often seen in concert form rather than being fully staged. In this case, though, the semi-staged, choreographed production last night was much more satisfying than a straightforward concert singing of the material would have been.

It was also fascinating to see in this third collaboration of director and choreographer such a seamlessly smooth blending of approach and staging. Perhaps it was my high expectation of these friends and their abilities that made me want even more from the performance – perhaps a more pointed political context given the state of the world today, or another way to give the production more of a contemporary urgency, but that may be just me. Already their work together is reaching new heights and depths, and with the new video element to bookend each chapter of the story (enigmatic, Bergman-esque black-and-white video images created by Jennifer Nichols with Christopher Monetti), they are already exploring new territory. I look forward to seeing their next collaboration, as well as which other semi-staged productions the TSO will make part of future seasons.

Brecht/Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins was presented by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday, June 14, alongside works by Balfour, Barber and Bartók. A second performance takes place on Thursday, June 15.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

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