Truth & reconciliation through music, one step at a time, in the inspirational, intersectional I Call myself Princess

Marion Newman & Aaron Wells. Set design by Christine Urquhart. Costume design by Snezana Pesic. Lighting design by Kaitlin Hickey. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Paper Canoe Projects and Cahoots Theatre join forces with Native Earth to present Jani Lauzon’s I Call myself Princess, directed by Marjorie Chan, with associate director Keith Barker and music direction by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. History, biography, opera, and truth and reconciliation combine in this inspirational, intersectional tale of two Indigenous opera singers connecting across time and space in a journey of discovery, identity and bridging the gap between peoples one step at a time. The show opened to a packed house at the Aki Studio last night.

When opera student William (Aaron Wells), a gay Métis man, moves from Winnipeg to Toronto to study on a scholarship, his work on a production of Shanewis (The Robin Woman), 100-year-old “Indian Opera,” turns into a journey of discovery, revelation and mystical connection. Dropping clues into his path is the spirit of Tsianina Redfeather (Marion Newman), whose life and experience inspired and informed the opera, written by white composer Charles Wakefield Cadman (Richard Greenblatt) and white librettist Nelle Eberhart (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster).

Borrowing from Indigenous music, filtered through the colonial lens of well-meaning, but unaware white artists, the opera seems hokey and embarrassing by today’s standards in terms of its cultural appropriation, and romanticized, homogenized presentation of Indigenous culture. And as he delves deeper into its history—consulting mainly the works of white academics—Will finds himself increasingly uncomfortable rehearsing it. His numerous calls to the Dean falling into a voicemail black hole, he reaches out for support from his boyfriend Alex back home (Howard Davis)—who’s overwhelmed with shift work, business school and looking after his family—and finds he’s on his own. Until Tsianina appears. An Indigenous opera singer from the past, she shows him the path she chose and the part she played in putting Shanewis on the stage.

Lovely, compelling work from this cast, featuring some impressive vocal chops. In an artfully balanced performance that features soaring mezzo soprano vocals, Newman’s Tsianina is playfully mischievous and possessing the wisdom of an elder; part colleague, part spirit guide on Will’s journey of identity and expression. Understanding that sharing truth and effecting change take time, Tsianina is patient and circumspect as she works on the opera—growing and earning respect as an artist, but holding back as she gauges what her non-Indigenous colleagues and audiences are ready for. Turning down two opportunities to perform at the Met, sees her work as a balance between self-expression and truth-telling—and making connections, step by step. Wells adeptly navigates Will’s inner conflict and serves up passionate, robust vocal performances. Personal and professional challenges collide, and Will struggles to be truth to himself and his drive for artistic expression and career, and his Indigenous heritage as he struggles with the content of the opera.

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Richard Greenblatt, Aaron Wells, Marion Newman, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster & Howard Davis. Set design by Christine Urquhart. Costume design by Snezana Pesic. Lighting design by Kaitlin Hickey. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Rounding out the intersectional angle of the piece are Greenblatt’s Charles, a gay man navigating his personal and professional life during a time when being out was suicide; and Ch’ng Lancaster’s Nelle, who like Tsianina must keep the public’s preparedness (in her case, for a female librettist) in mind. Greenblatt and Ch’ng Lancaster do a commendable job with Charles’ and Nelle’s personal arcs—going from well-meaning, but patronizing and largely clueless in their support of Indigenous peoples to more respectful and thoughtful allies. And Davis’s Alex, a Black gay man who doesn’t read as Black due to his light skin tone, and who must deal daily with the outside perceptions and assumptions in a largely white population. In a performance that shows both strength and vulnerability, Davis gives us a loyal, passionate man who sacrifices much for those he loves, but must come to terms with the fact that, despite his best efforts, he can’t be all things to all people, all the time.

You can tell that a lot of love, work and thought went into the production design. The fringe on Christine Urquhart’s set, combining colonial and Indigenous elements, mirrors that of Tsianina’s costume; designed by Snezana Pesic, and built by Kinoo Arcentales (Yana Manta), with beading by playwright Jani Lauzon (who delivered the moccasins last night after working all night to finish the beading). And Marc Meriläinen’s sound design—drawing from Shanewis (The Robin Woman) and classical opera, as well as original compositions by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate and Jani Lauzon—immerses us in this world of music, cultural intersection and history.

Truth and reconciliation—step by step, in each connection, each collaboration, each brave act of expression.

I Call myself Princess continues at the Aki Studio until September 30. Get advance tickets online and go see it.

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Rich tapestry of image, sound & dance tells a powerful story without words in remarkable Century Song

Neema Bickersteth in Century Song—photos by John Lauener

 

Nightwood Theatre partners with Volcano, Richard Jordan Productions UK and Moveable Beast Collective to present Century Song, opening last night in the Guloien Theatre at Crow’s Theatre’s home at Streetcar Crowsnest.

Created by soprano/performer Neema Bickersteth, choreographer Kate Alton and director Ross Manson, the multimedia, multidisciplinary Century Song tells the stories of women throughout the past hundred years, incorporating the music of composers Sergei Rachmaninoff, Olivier Messiaen, John Cage, Georges Aperghis and Toronto’s Reza Jacobs; and including accompaniment by Gregory Oh (piano) and Ben Grossman (percussion, computer). The show also includes stunning projected images—black and white, and colour portraits, visual art pieces, and evocative landscapes, cityscapes and environments—projection design by Torge Møller and Momme Hinrichs from Germany’s fettFilm; and featuring the works of numerous photographers and artists.

This is a show unlike any I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen a lot of theatre—so how can I describe to you this beautifully moving, powerful and innovative piece of storytelling that is really best experienced on an emotional and visceral level, as opposed to a cerebral level (though it does leave you with plenty to think about).

Opening in 1915 with Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, we see a woman corseted and engaged in repetitive action, evoking housework and an agricultural setting. Moving into the 1920s/1930s, she is now clad in a sleek golden gown, placed in a magical forest—the setting, sound and imagery changing as time shifts into the 1930s and 1940s, with increasingly intense and horrific renderings of social and economic upheaval, and the devastation of war.

Century_Song_7With projections covering both the back wall and floor, the zooming in on images provides the illusion of movement. This technical aspect takes on a playful effect as we journey from the 1950s through 1978, where we see multiple Bickersteths as a variety of characters in various living room settings. And it’s particularly cool when she returns to the stage, joining her projected, life-size selves.

The landscape gets intense again, as we’re whisked up a skyscraper and onto the roof where we see a vast, endless cityscape before us. It’s dark and stormy. Now dressed in a business skirt suit, she is caught up in a frenzy of chaos and speed—overwhelmed by the pace and bleakness of it all.

Century_Song_6Returning to a quiet moment, Bickersteth closes with Vocalise for Neema by Reza Jacobs, a piece commissioned specifically for Century Song; with a haunting, yet soothing, lullaby quality that shifts into bluesy and playful tones, it promises to bring some to tears as we return to the safe confines of the theatre space in the present time.

Bickersteth is a wonder up there, bringing a powerhouse performance that combines operatic vocals and dance. Taut and precise, flexible and present, her work is masterfully fluid and evocative as she travels through time and space—presenting the lives of these women, with all their joys, fears, challenges, successes and expectations as they play out their roles.

With shouts to the design team: Camilla Koo (set), Rebecca Picherack (lighting) and Charlotte Dean (costumes).

A rich tapestry of image, sound and dance tells a powerful story without words in remarkable Century Song.

Century Song continues at Streetcar Crowsnest until April 29; advance tickets available online. Get out to see it—this is theatre like you’ve never seen.

Department of Corrections: The original post contained a typo in director Ross Manson’s surname; that has since been corrected.

Great fun & lots of laughs in AST’s big, bold & stylish Lend Me a Tenor

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Peter Raimondo & Darrell Hicks in Lend Me a Tenor – photo by John Meadows

Alexander Showcase Theatre (AST) opened its production of Ken Ludwig’s hilarious romp Lend Me a Tenor at the Papermill Theatre at Todmorden Mills on Thursday, directed by Vincenzo Sestito.

Set in 1934 in a hotel suite in Cleveland, Cleveland Grand Opera Company manager Henry Saunders (Seth Mukamal), his daughter Maggie (Anne-Marie Krytiuk) and his assistant Max (Peter Raimondo) anxiously await the arrival of world-famous tenor Tito Merelli (Darrell Hicks), a stellar performer who’s big on wine and women, but not so much on punctuality. Add to the mix a fanboy Bellhop (Steve Kyriacopoulos, doing double duty as producer), Merelli’s jealous wife Maria (Sharon Zehavi, also the graphic designer), the opera company’s resident diva Diana (Nina Mason) and the Saunders’ doting family friend Julia (Michele Dodick), throw in some mistaken events and a comedy of errors – and hilarity ensues.

Lend Me a Tenor is a prime example of a go big or go home enterprise – and the AST cast brings it big time. Krytiuk is adorably feisty as the star-struck, wide-eyed romantic Maggie, a young woman longing for adventure and excitement, away from the watchful eye of her controlling father. Mukamal’s Henry is all business; gruff, bombastic and able to turn a dramatic and moving phrase when called for, his company’s production of Otello a make or break proposition. Raimondo is sweet and humble as the hard-working, put-upon Max; a lover of opera himself, but always toiling in the background, he’s in love with Maggie and wants to prove himself. Kyriacopoulos gives a great comic turn as the persistent and irritating but likeable Bellhop, a fanboy opera lover himself who needs no excuse to insert himself into the action.

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Seth Mukamal & Michele Dodick with Anne-Marie Krytiuk & Steve Kyriacopoulos in the background – photo by John Meadows

Hicks gives a larger-than-life, but warm performance as the brilliant and generous Merelli; mining the sensitive and sensual soul of the famous tenor, he finds the facets of Merelli and avoids a two-dimensional rendering – and he’s got an impressive set of pipes. As Merelli’s fiery wife Maria, Zehavi is by turns sexual and sexually frustrated; fully aware of her husband’s penchant for dalliance, she is ever on the prowl for hidden mistresses – and at the end of her rope with trying to keep up. Mason gives us a sensual, wry-witted performance as the slinky and driven soprano Diana, an ambitious opportunist who’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it to the Met. And Dodick is a delight as the Saunders’ friend Julia; “Aunt Julia” to Maggie and a big Merelli fan herself, she’s a jovial and positive force to be reckoned with.

With shouts to the design team for the sleek 1930s vintage flare: Gwyneth Sestito (music co-ordinator and costumes), Deborah Mills (props) and Peter Thorman (set).

Everyone loves a tenor, especially the ladies. Great fun and lots of laughs in Alexander Showcase Theatre’s big, bold and stylish Lend Me a Tenor.

Lend Me a Tenor runs at the Papermill Theatre until Dec 5; see the show’s page for dates/times and advance tickets.

You can also keep up with Alexander Showcase on Facebook and Twitter.

Powerful pipes @ Atelier S recital

Last night’s Atelier S recital, ‘Allerseelen’ was disturbing. In the best sense of the word.

The recital’s theme ‘Allerseelen’ (German) – translated into All Souls’ Day – made for a program that showcased songs of longing, desperate and despised love, and mourning, with Fate as a darkly comic force (Fate as the ultimate buzzkill). The powerhouse voices of Martha Spence (mezzo-soprano), Patrick Huang (tenor) and Stuart Graham (baritone) were supported nicely by special guests Michael Rose (piano) and Christopher Jääskeläinen (violin). A bit of a comic opening to the evening’s festivities when Stuart came out to tell the audience that they’d be starting a bit late, as Christopher had forgotten his shirt. I couldn’t see why he couldn’t have gone skins, but that was just me I guess.

Program stand-outs for me were Stuart’s performance of “Sudyba” (Rachmaninoff) – Fate comes knocking and spoils everyone’s good time; Martha’s Charlotte in the letter scene from Werther (Massenet); and Patrick’s performance of “Fuor del mar” from Idomeneo (Mozart). Powerful performances and impressive vocal prowess.

If you ever have  a chance to see an Atelier S recital or workshop, I highly recommend getting out to see them. Check them out at: http://atelier-s.org/

Atelier S presents ‘Allerseelen’

Hey, kids – if you love to hear amazing voices singing excerpts from the classical repetoire, then this is for you. My pal, mezzo-soprano Martha Spence, will be singing in Atelier S’s upcoming recital ‘Allerseelen’ at College Street United Church tomorrow night.

Here are the details/reservation info I got from Martha:

Tuesday, November 8th at 7:30 pm, I will be taking part in Atelier S’s latest recital ‘Allerseelen’ at College Street United Church (NW corner of College and Bathurst). I will be joining tenor Patrick Huang and baritone Stuart Graham in an evening featuring the works of Richard Strauss’ Opus 10, assorted songs of Sergeï Rachmaninoff, Ravel’s “Deux Mélodies Hébraïques” along with assorted works of Fauré, Duruflé, Massenet, Gounod, Mozart and Olonso. We are honoured to have as our collaborators, pianist Michael Rose and violinist Christopher Jääskeläinen. An added component to the evening will be the works of visual artist Adib Azadeh (www.adibart.com) on display. Adib will be present to discuss his work during the intermission. This promises to be a rich evening for the senses! 

For full event details and advance online ticket purchase, please visit www.atelier-s.org or e-mail atelier.s@sympatico.ca  or call 416-927-9105. Advance tickets: $20 (adult) or $35 (two adults “bring-a-date”), $17.50 (student/senior) or $30 (two student/senior “bring-a-date”). N.B. You can save up to $15 when purchasing advance ‘Bring-a-date’ tickets.

Thanks, Martha! I’ll be there.

Coming up: more on painting Willow Quartet (hopefully with pix, courtesy of playwright Joan Burrows). We, along with actor John Healy, were at Mike’s yesterday helping Ed and Mike with the set, and I’ll be at PAL tonight with some of the production gang and cast to cut the leaves for the willow tree.