Kaeja d’Dance presents: Laneway ART-ery Dances

Kaeja d’Dance presents: Laneway ART-ery Dances, a site-specific interactive digital installation. As part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022, two of Toronto’s alleyways will be animated with thought provoking contemporary dance. Launching on September 22, 2021 for a full year. Audiences can visit anytime at no cost.

Laneway ART-ery Dances features 4 short dance films including one augmented reality (AR) experience. All films can be accessed using a mobile device. The AR experience will ignite the dancers to appear as if they are dancing live in the laneway, allowing each audience member to become fully immersed in the installation. While Kaeja d’Dance has been creating dance films for many years, this is their first project to incorporate augmented reality technology. Both the films and the augmented reality experience can be viewed from any mobile device, making the performance personalized and safe to enjoy while adhering to COVID protocols. The dance films feature 7 professional dancers, 7 community participants, and a commissioned score by Edgardo Moreno.

“I see Laneway ART-ery Dances as an invitation to consider the many stories and experiences that pass through the alleys of Toronto. Images of passing vulnerability, strength, and resilience come forward in these works, as if these alleys hold the stories of all of those who pass through. This metaphor becomes apparent in the AR component. We see two wonderful dancers appear in the alley, but we can only witness them through the screen of our devices. It is like the camera of your device is able to harness the memories that live in the alley, memories that are impossible to experience through the naked eye.” – Mateo Galindo Torres,
Artistic Producer

Laneway ART-ery Dances was funded by Toronto Arts Council and is part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021–2022, a year-long celebration of Toronto’s exceptional public art collection and the creative community behind it. Working closely with artists and Toronto’s arts institutions, ArtworxTO will deliver major public art projects and commissions, citywide, from fall 2021 to fall 2022. Supporting local artists and new artworks that reflect Toronto’s diversity, ArtworxTO is creating more opportunities for citizens to engage with art in their everyday lives. The City of Toronto invites the public to discover creativity and community– everywhere. Visit artworxTO.ca for full details.

DATE: Launching Wednesday, September 22, 2021 to view until September 21, 2022.
Alley 1: Broadcast Lane (Cabbage town) – Start at the north end of the lane (Winchester St)
Alley 2: Ciamaga Lane (Seaton Village/ West Annex) – Start at the north end of the lane (Barton Ave)

DANCERS: Aria Evans, Nickeshia Garrick, Karen Kaeja, Mio Sakamoto, Elke Schroeder, Katherine Semchuk, Irma Villafuerte
FILMS BY: Drew Berry and Allen Kaeja
AR DESIGNERS: Mateo Galindo Torres, Jacob Niedźwiecki

FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.kaeja.org/laneway

Established in 1990, Kaeja is driven by two distinct artistic forces, Karen and Allen Kaeja. Kaeja creates award-winning contemporary dance performances for stage, film & communities that have toured the world. The foundation of their stage and film creation began with fifteen years of Holocaust inspired dance works. Allen is the child of a refugee and Holocaust survivor. Kaeja presents local and international dance artists in Toronto through festival platforms, commissions and mentorships, creating with people of all identities, practices and ages.

Passionate engagers of bridging professional and community dance art, Kaeja has received 40+ awards & nominations.

Press releases and announcements” are presented verbatim without comment

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Cliff Cardinal’s Shakespearean musings

I’ve just been to “a Radical Retelling” of As You Like it by Cree actor and playwright Cliff Cardinal at Crow’s Theatre.   A story about someone banished into the forest after his property is stolen from him by his brother seems apt for adaptation by an Indigenous playwright.  

Cliff Cardinal (photo: Dahlia Katz)

Cardinal’s work chases me back to other theories, recalling other approaches to Shakespeare and adaptation.

I see two theorists in natural opposition as east and west.

Maeterlinck and Meagher are opposites. Meagher breaks down the mechanics of how the personages would have been put on the stage of Shakespeare’s time in Shakespeare’s Shakespeare. It’s a book with a focus on dramaturgy, the works in context. He identifies the possible doublings in a play, for example The Fool and Cordelia in King Lear.  I would never have known about this intriguing study had I not had the good fortune to hear Meagher in a classroom here in Toronto.  If not Meagher, there are others one could read, taking comparable positions.

The opposite to Meagher’s pragmatism is Maurice Maeterlinck, the creator of The Intruder and Pelléas et Mélisande.  His dramaturgy is the other extreme from live performance itself, having expressed his discomfort with the body of the actor, saying “The day we see Hamlet die in the theatre, something of him dies for us. He is dethroned by the spectre of an actor, and we shall never be able to keep the usurper out of our dreams.”.  He would prefer to read a play than to see it. No wonder his works are so abstract, that he is a prototypical symbolist, avoiding theatricality like some kind of plague. Some of his plays had a quality identified as “monological”, where multiple characters might exchange words, while seeming to be communicating as though their thoughts came from the same head.

Okay, so I’ve described a polarity that’s my east and west, my left & right if you prefer, imagining four directions as we see in the spirit wheel.  These two are the concrete bodies onstage, vs the imagined bodies in our heads as we read. The other two polarities I picture for Shakespeare (or any other author) have more to do with the question of the author’s meaning or intention. Now before you all start giggling at the idea that anyone can know intention, I merely raise that topic because some delve into such questions, while others would declare them irrelevant: suggesting another polarity.   

The theorist whose analyses of Shakespeare (who he is, what he’s after, how to understand his work) have hit me most profoundly is Sky Gilbert in his study Shakespeare Beyond Science.   He’s far from alone of course. As I mentioned in my review of Sky’s book last autumn, there are more books about Shakespeare than anyone in history, except for Jesus and Napoleon. Never mind all these books and their explanations, I’ve only invoked them as the opposite direction to Cliff Cardinal and others in his camp…

Let me mention another theorist, though, while speaking of Cliff.  One of the strangest, dumbest, funniest moments in my academic career came when I presented a paper while sitting beside Linda Hutcheon, a humble scholar who was very gentle while more or less explaining why I was full of crap to a seminar room full of colleagues.  I blush at the recollection.  I was talking in my over-eager way about adaptation while looking at the whole question of how closely adaptations steer to their original, using the vague term “fidelity” while seeking something almost mathematical in its reductive precision. Linda very gently asked me why I thought an adaptation needed to be faithful at all. It was polite, but my jaw dropped at the question, at the possibility (ha…. or certainty?) that I was the old-fogey conservative in the room.

Whoops. And her question could very easily be a kind of footnote to Cliff’s bold work.

I suppose I came at it leading with my musical background, numbly aware (if that isn’t a complete oxymoron), that sometimes music is radically altered in its treatment, no longer something we’d call an “interpretation” but now having become through a series of changes (insertions, deletions, shifts of emphasis) a new text and such a new text as to require a shift in the attribution of authorship.

I think it’s a different question with Shakespeare than with a more recent author such as Maeterlinck.  Shakespeare himself was regularly appropriating stories from other sources for his plays, in a time when plays were not yet published the way they are now: with declarations of copyright.  Maeterlinck’s death is sufficiently distant to make his work public domain, but except for his early creations are largely forgotten now.  It’s exciting to adapt and change something people know and recognize, not nearly so exciting when we don’t know the thing being adapted.  Linda Hutcheon made a wonderful analogy for the excitement of adaptation, reminding us of the palimpsest, an old manuscript where something has been written over top.  If the old thing showing through the layers is unknown to us? the adaptation won’t have the same torque, won’t even be intelligible as adaptation, because we won’t recognize the part that’s from the earlier thing, mixed with the new thing overlaid.

When does it stop being Shakespeare, and become for example, Cardinal? I was thinking of this earlier today while playing a couple of of Busoni’s Bach transcriptions, pieces that are barely Bach once Busoni gets his big hands on the ideas.

But Bach is still visible through Busoni’s overlay. What if we can’t easily discern the original in the adapted version?

That’s the challenge of any adaptation and is surely part of the fun.   

In the spirit of being spoiler-free, I’m avoiding saying too much about Cliff’s choices. I recommend his radical retelling at Crow’s Theatre, running until October 24th.   

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Zorana Sadiq talks about MixTape

A Dora-award winning multidisciplinary artist of Pakistani descent, Zorana Sadiq creates work that is wide ranging and spans different types of performance, including theatre, television, chamber music, contemporary music, and opera. Zorana is currently a Creator in Residence at Crow’s Theatre working on her solo show, MixTape.

If you’ve ever made a mix-tape that title pushes your buttons. Déjà vu! I remember the tape I made when I was just getting to know my wife. At one time a mix tape could be like a bouquet of flowers or a love-letter, to introduce yourself romantically, intimately to someone you wanted to know: romantically, intimately.

Sadiq has performed extensively in Canada and the Unites States alongside many of classical music’s leading conductors including Bramwell Tovey, Robert Spano, and Alex Pauk, and has appeared with Music Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Vancouver Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Musica Viva, and New York’s Da Capo Chamber Players.

I’m intrigued that a serious theatre and musical artist like Zorana delves into her own deeper musical self with MixTape.

Are you more like your father or your mother?

Both and neither. And I’d say mostly neither. I have a child of my own now, and see and recognize in myself the tendency to want to point-out personality inheritance, but really, they are their own thing. I think if you grow up in a turbulent house, which I did, you spend a lot of time trying to create yourself in relief to your parental influences, if that makes sense. And of course, that is only so successful, but you do it anyway.

Zorana Sadiq

What is the best or worst thing about what you do?

I consider myself very lucky to be able to express myself through a number of mediums. In a sense, they are all fueled by an essential need to communicate and share ideas and beauty- but they require different “muscles”. Singing, acting, teaching and writing are great joys for me, and a life spent jockeying between them keeps me feeling well-played. I never feel like I’m static or in a rut.

The promotion for MixTape says “Can you think of the first song you played over and over again? The first song that you would take the time to rewind on the cassette tape, because it was worth it.” My first song was either Mamas & the Papas’ “This is dedicated to the one I love” or maybe “Strawberry Fields” by the Beatles . Let me ask you Zorana ”what was the first song you listened to over and over?”

I discovered the joys of lifting music when I was in grade seven and so I played a recording of Fauré’s Pavane over and over so that I could learn the notes on my flute. The cassette-which was that light beige color, was an EMI classical compilation of some kind. It’s funny that I can remember the “gist” of the cassette itself, but that haunting, dotted melody of the piece is still fresh in my mind.

This is a pre-recorded cassette. Somewhere in the house there’s a precious mixtape…misplaced, forgotten until now. I could only find pre-recorded cassettes like this one.

I would say a close second to the Fauré was Michael Jackson’s I Just Can’t Stop Loving You. I had a whooooole thing going on around that song.

What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?

I wish I was fearless. I admire people who do the thing first, and consider the possible disasters afterwards.

When you’re just relaxing and not working, what is your favourite thing to do?

Cook. Bake, specifically. This pandemic forced us all to make special occasions within our houses, and food was a natural way for us to do that.

I also love to read, and find that when I’m working on something- memorizing a score, learning lines- I lose my absorptive powers. So when I can really dive into a book- it’s delicious for me.


More questions about Zorana Sadiq’s new show MixTape that will be presented by Crow’s Theatre beginning November 9th.

Talk about your relationship with tapes and taping. When did you first make a tape and what was on it?

I got my own double cassette recorder in my early teens, and was hooked. I remember the sound seemed so full and expansive, even though it was just a regular boom box. Maybe because it fillllled up my room in a way that made me feel the space was really mine. Mix tapes became a huge thing for me, and something about waiting for songs to come on so you could grab them from the radio made it more magical. Like fate was involved in waiting for A-HA’s ” Take on Me” to come on.

Tapes have all kinds of obvious disadvantages. The sound quality isn’t great, they are slow to work with, they wear out. But they also were very democratic. Nothing was hidden away that you had to be an expert to manage. I always like how very close the music was to me with cassettes.

My mix tapes were very eclectic. I wanted ebb and flow and variety. It’s not that dissimilar from programming recitals, actually. And I think you can introduce new things to listeners in the way that you chose the sequence of your songs by building momentum, or by surrounding a new piece in the familiar.

It’s one of our first curatorial tasks as young people.

Does a mixtape reflect the person who makes it?

I say in the show that making a mixtape is like decorating your locker. It can be used to express who you are. It can also be a love letter, or a shared joy between friends. It’s hard to give a friend music anymore these days, with everything being digital. Sharing a playlist isn’t as personal, I think.

I always listened to a pretty big range of music, my ear was restless like that.

Crow’s Theatre announced your “Creation Residency” earlier this year, as part of “a new slate of original theatre, podcast, screen-based and multi-platform projects-in-development.” Talk for a moment about your experience with Crow’s and Artistic Director Chris Abraham, who directs your show.

Chris Abraham, Artistic Director, Crow’s Theatre

Seven years ago I did a concert of my first loves, Prince and Kate Bush- arranged for classical soprano and a small chamber ensemble. (Peter Tiefenbach, Joe Macerollo and Tim Francom were my partners in crime on that show.) It was an itch that I had had for a while. As a young soprano, I had always admired Cathy Berberian and Teresa Stratas. I loved how they negotiated surprising repertoire with their beautiful classical voices.

Interacting with those early musical loves within the paradigm of a classical soprano gave me pause. I didn’t speak at all, in that concert, which is rare for me- I like to chat between sets in a regular recital to draw the audience into the music. But in that case, it was just the music. But, it left me restless. Once all those things were out on the table, my voice, the training, the pop songs, my feelings about the artists themselves- I could feel tug to make some more meaning of all of these parts of my musical self.

Nina Lee Aquino

I also had an early push of encouragement from my dear friend, Factory AD Nina Lee Aquino, who said after that concert: “You know there’s a show in there, right?” Factory also gave me the very first writing grant I got for this piece, and Matt McGeachy at Factory was my first introduction to the blessed role of a dramaturge.

So, I wrote on and off for three years. Hashing it all out as best I could.

Chris Abraham heard about my script and asked me to read it to him last summer. I had been writing for so long that it was a relief to have the words outside of myself, in the air. Shortly after that, I was invited to do the residency and that’s when our work began.

Our first dramaturgy sessions were a lot about activating my unconscious to write, to color-in the person in between all of the music- which I had previously been sheepish about. We would talk and talk and he would point out things in my story that activated my thoughts and theories about sound. One of Chris’ many strengths is his ability to see larger patterns in a story. I feel very lucky that he was my dramaturge for this play. He has a special kind of curiosity that disarms the storyteller.

I also did early workshops experimenting with sound and music and how it might function to continue the narrative of the writing itself.

Thomas Ryder Payne, the sound designer for this show, also has very hungry ears.

Thomas Ryder Payne

In our work we have run the gamut of how much and what kind of musical information aids and abets us in this play. We do want the audience to feel a sense of their own instrumentality.

Could you give us some idea of what sort of work to expect with Mixtape? Is it a musical, or a play or something else?

MixTape is a play. A travelogue of sorts through a life lived through my ears, trying to figure out how best to be heard. I hope that the audience will relate to this journey we all take, to be known to ourselves, so that we radiate that outward in our lives.

I tell the story with my voice.

Is this a good time to be growing up with the media we have available? Is it harder or easier in our digital – social media era than it might have been working with cassettes?

I think this was covered above. I also don’t want to stray into judgement about digital music- it does feel limiting to me, but that is my personal experience. It has also made music more available for the curious listener. I can say that an algorithm choosing songs for a playlist frightens me a bit. The streamlining of tastes by a corporate hand also worries me.

But I do have faith, particularly in young people, that in the end, if music matters to them, they will be guided by their own tastes.

The promo for this show says the following:
For writer, performer, and musician Zorana Sadiq (Towards Youth, Crow’s Theatre), sound is our first, last, and most influential sense. In the world premiere of her new solo show MixTape, directed by Crow’s Theatre Artistic Director Chris Abraham, Sadiq invites her audience into a life experienced through sounds and an obsession with making them.
Please tell us more about your philosophy and what you would hope to achieve in your art and your life.

I think we all come out of the box as instruments. Human instruments. And for a time, we all make the sounds just as we feel them. The sounds that babies make are astonishing in their eloquence. Eventually most of us learn to speak, and thus begins the cultivating of our instruments. For singers, we take this a step further, training our voices to sound different ways, to have a bigger set of knobs and dials.

I think the answer to WHY we seek to do this, and what we think we will achieve is one of the central investigations of the play.

Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?

I have been so very fortunate in my life to have great teachers and incredible mentors. To start, my high school music teacher, Leon Racine planted an early seed around the purpose of music, and encouraged us to improvise and activate our generative, creative selves.

I was very lucky to have studied with Susanne Mentzer at the Aspen Festival. She gave me the real goods on the cost of holding back when you are singing.

I got to work with Dawn Upshaw when I was a fellow at Tanglewood and she really epitomizes for me the singing actor. Communication burned through all of the beautiful notes she sang and it really left its mark on me.

As an actor, one of my first theatre gigs was in Tout Comme Elle- which Luminato produced, with a cast of 50 intergeneration woman. I don’t know how I got cast, but it was like school for me. The cast was stacked with the best actors in the country. That was my syllabus: Kristen Thompson, Akosua Amo Adem, Liisa Repo Martel, Tanja Jacobs, Lili Francks, Anusree Roy. I was very grateful to get to work in that forest of fabulousness.


MixTape opens November 9th at the Guloien Theatre 345 Carlaw Avenue. For further information click here.

In addition, I’ve heard that MixTape will be the first show of the season to be filmed and then edited for digital broadcast following the live run. The streaming dates are December 2 – 19. For more information click here.

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Russell, Tamara, Johannes and Perryn take us for a test-drive

If asked to identify the two most reliable performers for the Canadian Opera Company over the past decade, you might well come up with the singers chosen to launch the COC’s “season like no other”.

I remember Russell Braun’s Chou En Lai from Nixon in China on the Met high definition broadcast a little over ten years ago, as though it were just yesterday. I still think of Russell’s voice as youthful, as apt for Prince Andrei (in War and Peace), Pelléas, Ford (in Falstaff), or Louis Riel, even though he can also play a mature role such as Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte. It’s a given that he’ll bring dramatic intelligence to whatever he sings, the focus of whatever he does for the COC.

Baritone Russell Braun

Tamara Wilson has emerged as a star on the world stage, and we were fortunate to watch her development here in Toronto. Like Russell, she’s often at the dramatic heart of whatever she’s doing, not just a beautiful voice. While the pandemic made us miss her Aida, we did get her Turandot and Desdemona, two recent high marks at the COC.

For my money, the real leader of the COC over the past decade has been their music director Johannes Debus, as the orchestra has fearlessly undertaken the most challenging works. We hear a remarkable versatility, in the subtleties of Handel or Mozart, the endurance tests of Wagner’s Ring or Tristan und Isolde¸ 20th century scores such as Peter Grimes, Louis Riel, Elektra or Dialogues of the Carmelites. Whatever the orchestra is doing the singers are in good hands, as are the composers. And we the listeners have been blessed.

This trio of Tamara, Russell, Johannes (leading the COC orchestra of course), with Perryn Leech as our master of ceremonies, took us for a test drive of the new virtual Four Seasons Centre. Government funding has given us –speaking of Canada collectively—the ability to watch and listen to concerts and operas at the Four Seasons Centre that used to require your attendance in person.

COC General Director Perryn Leech as our M.C.

What does it sound like, I wondered…?

When I used to buy stereo equipment, I’d go to the store, perhaps carrying a record or two along, to audition the systems. When you buy a car you take it for a test-drive, to see what it feels like when you step on the gas, turn a corner, push the brakes.

The concert from the COC is like our test drive or our audition, to find out what it looks like and feels like.

We assume that the COC has expertise:
-all those singers who know how to sing a high note or a low note, in English, Italian, German, French, Russian, Czech, Hungarian,…
-all those orchestral musicians playing
-all those costumes & sets designed and built to tell a story

But the technicians recording and transmitting the performance from the Four Seasons Centre?

At the controls

Perhaps they have had a chance to practice. Even so they are still getting accustomed to their new toy. This concert is more than a test drive, more than a dress rehearsal. They need to know how to shift gears, how to handle the equivalent to potholes in the road. While you might prefer to slow your car down, this is a high-performance situation. The soprano must hit that loud high note. How do you capture that without distortion? What microphones or cameras capture that best? Are there sweet spots on the stage where the acoustic is a bit better or worse? Does it matter whether they’ve put a set behind the singer, or whether the orchestra is blasting along at the same time..? You only find that out by using the space, the musicians, the voices: and hearing the results. Perhaps the hall itself should be thought of as another instrument that the technicians will be playing, with interpretive choices to be made, as a producer mixing a recording faces choices. Do you push the bass to give it oomph, or perhaps the treble to help us discern the details of the text or the textures of the orchestra? Is it better with fewer microphones?

This is also your chance to try it out, especially if we’re missing the place, missing opera. There is no audience visible, no applause to be heard. Not for the first time, I am thinking that the canned laughter & applause for television back in the 50s & 60s wasn’t so dumb, in seeking to make the experience a bit more real. I used to think that their intention was to persuade us that Lucy and Ricky were funny. But now I’m thinking they also wanted us to accept the televised reality, as a performance for an audience, which is just as important. If I hear vissi d’arte without applause, have I really heard the aria? The sound of an audience as a presence in the theatre, receiving and enjoying the performance validates the reality, as a part of live opera.

But the cameras and microphones offer compensations, closeup opportunities we would never have in a live setting.

I was delighted at the choice of “Dich teure Halle” as the first piece to be sung.

Soprano Tamara Wilson, Johannes Debus and the COC Orchestra

Elisabeth’s aria speaks for all of us in her enthusiasm to be back in her beloved hall of singing: aka Four Seasons Centre. Tamara’s joy seemed genuine.

Soprano Tamara Wilson

The camera panning the hall at the end was perfectly appropriate, even if I wish we had a full hall instead. But that’s in the future. For now we will have to be content with the online version available online until Friday, March 25, 2022. Tickets for the in-person offerings (three operas February – May 2022) go on sale October 14th. You can find the virtual concert and discover more about the COC’s upcoming programming at their website, coc.ca.

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Nicole Lizée Undisrupted: A Guide to The Orchestra

Is “undisrupted” a word?

We have disturbed and undisturbed, disputable and indisputable.

As far as I can tell the best way to understand undisrupted is in its use as the title of a series on CBC Gem:
“In this ground-breaking video series, Canadian visionaries Measha Brueggergosman, Shawnee Kish, Nicole Lizée, and Ana Sokoloviċ share their stories using the NAC Orchestra as their megaphone.

It seems that the title is a big hint. Four creators were turned loose, their work free of disruption.

Ergo “Undisrupted”.

I’ve just watched Nicole Lizée’s episode, described this way on the CBC website.

“Composer and film-maker Nicole Lizée wrote the music, screenplay and directed her episode, which features NAC Orchestra in a magic realist documentary.”

I was afraid of what an Erin O’Toole victory might have meant for the CBC. He spoke of defunding, right? So I’ve been breathing sighs of relief since September 20th.

Lizée’s documentary reminds me of the CBC we used to know in the days of Glenn Gould, when the CBC was willing to be a forum for experiment and exploration of the medium.

GG and NL both presuppose a certain level of intelligence that reminds me of the good old days. “A Guide to the Orchestra” is the title we keep seeing in the film, on scores, on books, even though this little film isn’t in any sense a guide to the orchestra in the usual sense of a composition such as The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten.

The fact I’m reminded of Wes Anderson (who used Britten’s Guide in his Moonrise Kingdom, one of my favorite films) is a good sign.

Lizée’s guide is several orders of wackiness beyond Britten.

Yes we do see a milk container with a picture of a missing person on its side, namely The Copyist. I must mention that, as a dinosaur who has written most of his scores manually on staff paper, this image is simultaneously poignant and hysterically funny, and yes I suppose I’m laughing at myself at a moment like this.

No the face on the carton doesn’t resemble me, at least not very much.

I refuse to be a reviewer who thinks it’s their job to tell you the whole story of the film, to spill all the good jokes and leave you with no reason to watch. So I won’t do that, although gulp, I’m going to show you one small sequence of the film, as captured on my laptop. And then I’ll unpack this both in terms of what I see Lizée doing in this film and relative to what we’ve seen her do elsewhere.

A box of orchestration? And there’s a picture of a missing person on that milk carton
Inside the box of Orchestration? sensuous vivid colours. Yummmm
Tasty orchestration
But what’s bursting out of that..that….that tasty chunk of orchestration???
MISSING: answers to “Copyist” last seen wearing black turtleneck and carrying portable ant farm

There are at least two things going on with the film in the half minute encompassed by these pictures. (yes there’s a great deal going on. It’s half an hour, and every minute makes you think and might also make you laugh. If Measha, Ana and Shawnee can come anywhere close to what Nicole did in this little film? The series is a success.)

Lizée picks up something she’s already shown us in her exploration of Karaoke that was seen in Toronto in early 2020, a collaboration with the Australian Art Orchestra. We may be accustomed to thinking of musical scores as a two-dimensional system of representing sounds on the page. Indeed, the parallel to this in art is best captured by Maurice Denis, who famously said

Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a female nude or some sort of anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors.

We might call Denis the opposite extreme from Lizée, who is something of a transcendentalist in wanting us to believe that the music on the page is not just flat on the page, but even in some sense alive.

Okay, yes she’s working on this project with a layer of irony. We keep seeing signs of ants in this film, who are bursting out of the most unexpected places. They’ve got tunnels underneath the National Arts Centre stage – I wonder if Hamilton Southam would be amused at the idea—and in other places. You see the dry oblique reference to an ant farm in that missing copyist picture.

Although the milk does spill when it’s consumed, the humour is as dry as one of Glenn Gould’s intercultural references.

I’m inadequate to the task in positing “mockumentary” as the genre for this film. We’re not really in the realm of This is Spinal Tap or Best in Show. This is profoundly wacky. I mean it might be profound but it’s wacky all the same.

Lizée’s musical contribution to the film is in some respects incidental, excuse the pun. Her score underlies everything, a most self-effacing creation in that respect.

So, first let me recommend Lizée’s piece.

And now I must check out the other three (from Measha Brueggergosman, Ana Sokolovic,Shawnee Kish).

In passing let me direct you to the CBC’s own essay that gives you the overview of the series. The headline of the page gives you a good idea:
Four curators were given an orchestra, a film crew, and huge creative freedom. This is what happened.

Here’s a link to the UNDISRUPTED page, where you can find all four of the creations.

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In captivity: Nabucco with TCO

Our society and our culture are seeking recovery now, trying to heal. Yes there has been illness & death. But even if we’re safe & healthy (very fortunate to be safe in this city, in this country) we’re troubled in our hearts, because of what’s happened to our culture. Concerts are not just music making, they are a medium for communication, an exchange between artists and audiences. If the audience is not there, the artists are distant: there is a kind of estrangement, an alienation. At times we’ve been locked down, kept in our homes by rules restricting who could see one another, sometimes permitted to venture forth cautiously.

Speaking of lockdowns, there’s a curious parallel to Toronto City Opera’s choice of work. This fall they’ll be doing Verdi’s Nabucco, an opera telling a story of the Biblical Israelites and their captivity in Babylon.

The most famous number in that opera is a chorus “Va, pensiero”, the sad lamentation of a people far from home.

It’s the latest example of programming influenced by the pandemic. Voicebox/Opera in Concert programmed La Voix Humaine, knowing that we’re in a similar predicament as the lonely woman talking into her telephone, an opera that never seemed so relevant to me until now. Lyric Opera of Chicago programmed Pagliacci, putting the chorus, (who usually function as the audience for the play within the play) in the seats of their opera house, allowing them to fulfill the social distancing requirement at the same time. Their edgy version of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, staged in a modern garage with the audience in their cars for a drive-in experience, included a the diva riding off at the end in her convertible.

And now Toronto City Opera offer Nabucco, including the famous chorus.

In this remarkable video, you see and hear thousands of people singing along, which seems an apt illustration when we consider Toronto City Opera. TCO are an offshoot of the Toronto District School Board. They began way back in the 1940s, when they offered an opera workshop at Central Technical School, but changed their business model and their mission statement in the 2017-2018 season:
“A new performance model was created with paid, emerging, young professional soloists, a new professional artistic team, and new performance venues to enhance the audience experience”

While the soloists have to audition, their chorus still get a learning experience, available to anyone who wants to sing, without any audition requirement. I’ve signed up myself, because I miss live music, miss singing and miss making music in church.

And I’m looking forward to be in their chorus singing “Va, pensiero”.

After I registered (including paying a fee), they sent me a link to download pages of the score, a list of cuts. We begin rehearsal on Thursday September 30th.

The safety protocols are reassuring:
• Double vaccination required for all artists and production personnel including all choristers
• Disposable singers masks provided by TCO for choristers
• TCO has rented a space that will allow for distancing for rehearsals and performances for performers and audiences
• Ontario Public Health regulations for concerts which require masks and audience vaccination will apply.

Toronto City Opera will be producing Nabucco as a semi-staged Opera In Concert in November. As an Opera in Concert the chorus will be using scores so memorization will not be required. TCO performances are conducted by Artistic Director Jennifer Tung with piano accompaniment by Music Director Ivan Jovanovic
Saturday November 13 – matinee at St Andrew’s – time TBD
Possible second performance Friday November 19 – venue TBD

If you’re interested, here are the links to
–their website to see an overview
–their fundraising to support their work

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A season like no other: templates

Before the Canadian Opera Company begin their virtual season this fall, it’s worth looking at what the other big companies have been doing.

The COC are promoting “A Season Like No Other” in this unique time when everyone is living through their own annus horribilis, the worst year in memory, struggling to cope with a complete loss of ticket revenue, and the devastation of their relationship with their community.

And we’re not even talking about the impact on the artists and their income (or lack thereof).

Earlier this year I wrote about some of the free online offerings from the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera as responses to the pandemic. As I now consider the other big North American opera company, Lyric Opera of Chicago, I’m using their example to demonstrate patterns, in hope that they may help us understand what might be coming in Toronto and elsewhere. It’s exciting that we now also have the technology here in Toronto to offer content online to make the name of the Canadian Opera Company relevant in a new way.

While LOC have begun their fall season of live performances, with Macbeth and The Elixir of Love, of course it’s a different country, where there’s an entirely different social contract. While there may be an appetite for theatre in Toronto it’s not permitted indoors: at least not on this scale. It’s worth noting, however, that in Chicago the productions are either brand new or new to Chicago. For the COC in Toronto where we’re not seeing anything live until February and we have a new General Director launching a new era, the COC have chosen to cautiously offer us three mainstream operas in productions that we’ve seen before. Is the difference a matter of cultural differences (the brash Americans, the cautious Canadians) or the leadership? I can only speculate although I’ve heard tell of financial challenges faced by the COC.

Enough about divergences, let me return to the question of similarities, in a search for a pattern or template.

LOC have been offering a virtual – online option, with some similarities to the Met & San Francisco, but some differences. At the risk of being reductive, I think I see three usual options in the streamed content, namely 1-concerts, 2-opera in conventional presentations, and what we might call 3-operatic adventures. If I am over-simplifying I’m sure you’ll tell me.

Option 1: Concerts
LOC recorded a concert led by their longtime Music Director Sir Andrew Davis. (Yes he’s the same one who was once the Toronto Symphony’s Music Director) that has been available on YouTube since the spring.

The Met has done something similar.

By coincidence, the Canadian Opera Company begin their online offerings this weekend with a concert, Russell Braun and Tamara Wilson with the COC orchestra, led by music director Johannes Debus.

Johannes Debus (photo: Bo Huang)

I feel I must mention one concern that comes up for me whenever I watch concerts online, best summed up by a cliché I regularly invoke. You’ve probably heard the old philosophical question asking “if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, is there a sound?” But I wonder, if music is played but there is no audience: is there actually a concert? This is especially relevant to opera and the relationship to audiences. Is “vissi d’arte” really “vissi d’arte” without applause at the conclusion? I’m not sure about that one. Of course when we watch opera on film it’s similarly distanced from an audience.

Option 2: traditional presentations of opera
LOC offer a performance of Pagliacci in modern dress captured in their own theatre. The chorus are socially distanced, seated in the audience, but that works perfectly for Pagliacci given that the chorus function as an audience for the performers in their opera-within-the-opera that closes the work. While it’s not as long as most full-length operas, (usually paired with another opera to fill out the bill), it’s enough for a virtual offering. Like the Soundstreams concert I watched yesterday 75 minutes is enough in the virtual world.

No it’s not so traditional as to use the costuming & sets of the score as written: but nowadays fidelity to the text is the exception rather than the norm. Having Canio or Tonio in modern clothes is actually normal for opera in the 21st century.

Similarly, the COC will offer Gianni Schicchi in October as their first opera offered online. As with Pagliacci, it’s a shorter work: but online that’s okay.

Option 3: more radical approaches to opera
LOC had Yuval Sharon do a radical re-invention of Götterdämmerung, titled Twilight: Gods, originally staged inside a parking garage as a kind of drive-in opera. This too is short compared to the original (although when I recall some complaining at the length of the full opera, I remember: you can’t please everyone). Where the ending as written has Brunnhilde ride her horse onto a funeral pyre (impossible to stage), in this version, instead of riding on a mustang (or a horse) our heroine drives off in a Ford Mustang convertible. Some of the segments worked better for me than others. The Hagen-Alberich scene was electrifying. There was original content added, that might irritate a purist. Where the men sang with pristine clarity I was sad that most of the female voices in this show failed to enunciate their words clearly. It’s not something that has to be so, given how clearly I heard every word sung mostly by women in yesterday’s Soundstreams presentation. It can be done, so long as the singer makes the effort to treat every word with care. On balance, I welcome this kind of broad exploration of repertoire, a way of opening up new channels and pathways, finding a new audience. It makes opera feel more inclusive so long as it is done with sincerity and a thorough-going integrity of purpose.

The COC offering for November seems to be from the same rough template, as they turn to Against the Grain Theatre for Mozart’s Requiem. The AtG version is described this way in the press release:

This multi-disciplinary presentation in collaboration with Against the Grain Theatre invites us to reckon with the impact of COVID-19—and heal together through the power of Mozart’s astonishingly moving Requiem.
Incorporating interviews with front-line medical workers and community members directly affected by the pandemic, this interpretation conceived by Joel Ivany and Johannes Debus connects individual stories of loss and resilience to the sonic world of Mozart’s heartbreakingly beautiful piece. The result charts a passage out of the darkest days of an unprecedented global event towards a new hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Against the Grain Theatre’s artistic director Joel Ivany

There are other presentations this fall as well, including:
Espiral from OKAN beginning November 13, which appears to be a concert from a group described as a fusion of “jazz, folk, and global rhythms with Afro-Cuban roots”.
In Winter, a concert including Ian Cusson’s newly commissioned work “In Winter” featuring the COC orchestra, chorus and soloists.

Composer Ian Cusson (photo: John Arano)

You can find out more from the COC website.

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Garden of Vanished Pleasures aka the poetry of Derek Jarman

I wondered whether one needs to know Derek Jarman, as I watched Garden of Vanished Pleasures for the first time. It’s the new Soundtreams Online Broadcast through Crow’s Theatre that is available from now until October 10th. I wondered whether it’s universal, something you can appreciate regardless of whether you know anything about Jarman and his life.

You may wonder “who is Derek Jarman”. Soundstreams offers some answers on this page, as preparation for their film-concert. I offered my own 2 cents worth a few days ago, admittedly wishing I knew more about the man. His entry on IMDB gives you some clues, a remarkable list of films and music videos. You can see some of his collaborators.

Garden of Vanished Pleasures is an apt title for a song cycle comprised largely of Jarman’s poetry, a gay activist film-maker who died of AIDS related causes in 1993.

Composer Donna McKevitt

With music composed by Cecilia Livingston and Donna McKevitt, it is mostly a gentle approach to the subject although sometimes the profanity comes bursting through, the anger of the Gay Plague. While I believe this work could have been produced at any time, Soundstreams come at us knowing we’re especially sensitized to outbreak imagery and the contemplation of mortality. For the most part we’re spared suggestions of mass illness or death as Jarman’s vision is largely one of the immanent beauty of his garden sanctuary staring at his own mortality and the loss of his friends.

Composer Cecilia Livingston

While everyone will process the work differently I’m comfortable recommending the work to you. It’s not opera but rather a series of songs, meditations and ruminations rather than anything requiring action. If we were to imagine the continuum between realism and poetry, we’re mostly in the world of the symbol, a place that welcomes ambiguity and complicates the process of signification. There are several layers to Jarman so it’s no wonder that we encounter them in Garden of Vanished Pleasures.

No the visuals won’t be mistaken for the richness one finds in Jarman’s films, but this is a song cycle, not a feature film. We’re in a realm where meaning is created in the mind of the listener, rather than in a perfect representation of reality on the screen.

There’s an interesting combination of sung performance, projected images and CGI, requiring a fairly sizable team of collaborators. Tim Albery’s name may be familiar to you as the director of some of the most impressive shows ever seen at the Canadian Opera Company, such as War and Peace, or Götterdämmerung, while his production of Aida was one of the last schedule operas to be cancelled last season due to the pandemic. Unlike the masses required for the three big operas I mention, Albery has only four singers and a few musicians, often alone on the Crow’s Theatre stage where they filmed.

Music director Rachael Kerr leads from the piano.

The ensemble of musicians playing sometimes alone, sometimes with singers, included Rachael Kerr, music director and piano, Brenna Hardy-Kavanagh, viola and Amahl Arulanandam, cello.

Soprano Mireille Asselin

The singers, sometimes as soloists, sometimes in groups, were sopranos Mireille Asselin and Lindsay McIntyre, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Cuddy, and countertenor Daniel Cabena.

Countertenor Daniel Cabena before the image of St Sebastiane

Garden of Vanished Pleasures will be available until October 10th. It’s quite a stimulating creation, well worth your time.

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Question marks about the COC’s winter & spring season

I’ve seen some disgruntled responses in social media to the announcement of the Canadian Opera Company offerings for early 2022.

The COC are offering nine performances of Madama Butterfly in February, then seven shows each of La Traviata & Magic Flute in late April through May. Two of the three are identified as COC productions, while the third is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chigao & Houston Grand Opera. That surely means that the Butterfly would be Brian Macdonald’s (last seen in 2014) the Flute would be Diane Paulus’s (seen in 2011 and 2017), while the co-pro Traviata was seen in 2015.

The disgruntlement I heard has to do with the comparative safety shown by COC’s management in programming three of the absolutely most popular operas.

How safe?

If we go to operabase.com they will tell you that the most popular operas are, in order, (I didn’t bother going past #7 for obvious reasons):
2) La boheme
3) Carmen
4) The Fallen Woman( aka LA TRAVIATA)
5) The Marriage of Figaro
6) Tosca

I don’t know the year for this listing, only that this was what presented itself without any preamble or adjustment to the site.

I will look at this, and the question of whether the dissatisfaction I spoke of is reasonable from at least three overlapping different contexts:
1) As a Canadian concerned about the COC and the stewardship of the company.
2) As a lover of the arts who has observed singers & musicians struggling through the pandemic.
3) As a subscriber, aka as a customer considering renewal of my subscription

1 concerns the COC’s survival. We’re coming out of a pandemic that has devastated many businesses. The choice of operas strikes some people as too conservative (in being 3 of the 7 most popular operas).

But that conservatism is in the service of the company’s survival. These three operas are more or less a guaranteed sale, money in the bank. And speaking as someone who misses live performance, I would love to see these operas done live, especially if they’re done well. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

2 concerns the working artists. While I hope that the COC will aim to employ Canadians rather than bringing in a bunch of foreign imports, at the same time, the ticket sales that drive #1 may require a few stars. Later this month for instance, the COC are offering an online concert featuring Canadian baritone Russell Braun opposite American superstar soprano Tamara Wilson. We don’t yet know who is to sing in those three operas, but the management has to reconcile fiscal prudence against their responsibility to the artform & the artists. I don’t envy them, given the challenges they face.

For #3, my options as a subscriber pondering the renewal, I’m in the dark as to what’s really being offered, given that we’re told on the website & in our emails, that (and I quote)

Subscriptions on sale: October 14, 2021
Subscription renewal deadline: November 10, 2021

Yes the season has been planned very quickly, but this is an astonishingly narrow renewal window, in fact just four weeks.

We don’t yet know who is to sing in these operas. Presumably they’ll tell us by October 14.

We don’t yet know whether we will be permitted to fully occupy the theatres as of February 2022. If the delta variant & the “fourth wave” prevent a full opening of theatres in Toronto perhaps the question becomes moot.

But come to think of it, if Perryn Leech and the COC brass are asking the same question –that is, wondering whether full occupancy of theatres will be permitted – that would go a long way towards explaining their safe programming.

COC General Director Perryn Leech

Imagine if they had undertaken something risky such as the coproduction of Wozzeck that’s eventually coming our way, and they were committed to it, but forced to work in theatres holding a limited seating capacity. The “safe” programming choice makes sense if they fear having the rug pulled out from under them by COVID.

There’s another question mark of another sort. If we don’t jump on board between October 14 & November 10, we have no assurance that we keep our subscriptions for the following season. I haven’t phoned up the subscription office to query, but in the FAQs, they say this:

What if I did not renew for the canceled 2020/2021 season?

No further action is required from you at this time, and your priority in the seating queue will be maintained if you order a subscription for any 3 opera package of Madama Butterfly (Feb 4-25, 2022), Verdi’s La Traviata (April 23-May 20, 2022), and Mozart’s The Magic Flute (May 6-21, 2022).

That implies that if we feel uncomfortable about going inside a full theatre in February, April or May, and skip the winter-spring offerings, that we lose our place in line. Or in other words “your priority in the seating queue will be maintained if you order a subscription for any 3 opera package.”

I’m not sure how I feel, predicting the future. What will it be like in Toronto in February, or April or May? I’m conflicted about risking my health (or the health of my 100 year old mom whom I see regularly). I’d be totally cool with seeing the Macdonald Butterfly, the Paulus Flute and the Arbus Traviata if I knew they were employing young Canadians who need the work. I’m eager to see the François Girard Parsifal, or the William Kentridge Wozzeck, whatever year they’re finally programmed, and so I must not lose my subscription seat to be assured of that opportunity.

I assume that I must buy a subscription even if I don’t feel comfortable attending: to keep my place in line. I will have four weeks (between October 14 and November 10) to decide what to get, without knowing how safe it will be. I trust that they’ll tell us a bit more about the casting by October 14. Perhaps they don’t mean to put a gun to my head about seeing these three operas if I want to continue on in the fall of 2022. But then again that’s usually the deal. A subscription normally means a leap of faith.

Then again I wonder what the availability of tickets will be. Perhaps a subscription is not needed? But I love our location and would hate to lose them (although I wonder whether we will even be able to sit in our usual location for the three operas…? so many questions).

All these factors — COVID, the health & safety of Torontonians, the fiscal health of the company, the casting choices — come into the question of the COC’s programming in February April and May.

We shall see.

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Encounter with Donald Arthur

I met Donald Arthur through the Toronto Wagner Society, our guest after publication of the memoirs he translated & edited for Hans Hotter, the great Wagner baritone.

I jumped at the chance to offer Donald a bed overnight in our home. The next day we made him breakfast, and then I took him to the airport. I wracked my brains trying to recall when that was. I was on the TWS executive for a time, a regular contributor to their newsletter between 2004 and 2008. I found the inscription he wrote into the Hotter memoirs, that tells me October 2006.

In addition to the Hotter memoirs Donald’s name also appears on the cover of Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey and he participated in Astrid Varnay’s memoir, a book that I will eventually read.

Donald also shared excerpts of a draft he was writing with James King, although the tenor died in 2005. I don’t know whether they had finished writing and editing, but the book has not been published. I saw some parts available online from a university library’s collection of King’s collected writings. I wondered, not for the first time, about the complicated life of the collaborator, especially when their subject passes away, and how (or even whether) Donald was compensated for his work on the King book, done perhaps in expectation of future sales that never happened.

We’re coming up to the five year anniversary of his passing, on September 21, 2016 in Munich, roughly half a year short of his 80th birthday. Donald was born on April 29, 1937 in New York.

I used to say “I wear many hats” as writer, singer, keyboardist, academic, composer, a bit of a jack of all trades. But my hats are off to Donald Arthur, a uniquely versatile individual. He was a writer and ghost-writer, a translator, an actor, singer, voice-over artist, in multiple languages.

His entry on IMDB (37 acting credits and another 16 in other disciplines) is remarkable, including a surprise. The 1981 film Montenegro credits three writers and Donald Arthur is one of them. I wish I could have asked him about that, one of my favorite films of that decade, that I haven’t seen in a long time.


Here’s the one example of his work in English that I found on YouTube.

Alas we drifted apart. I regret that we seemed to lose touch with one another, partly because I was swamped on several fronts, but most likely because Donald was so busy. For example, here’s an excerpt from an email he sent in December 2006, not long after his visit to the Wagner Society and our little home in Scarberia.

Dear Leslie;
Well, after doing my dog and pony show, in a manner of speaking, across the map of North America and beyond, I finally made it back to home base and am slowly digging myself out from under the ever-growing mound of responsibility, but mind you, I’m not complaining. The beauty part is that when I asked a lot of potential customers if they wouldn’t mind waiting for me to come back, it never entered my mind that most of them would, bless their cotton socks. But the biggest surprise came about in San Francisco, where a friend of mine currently reading a book on linguistics by a distinguished professor of the subject in Manhattan showed me a footnote in which he despaired about the failure of the German version of SOUTH PARK to convey any of the flair of the original except for the guy who dubs Isaac Hayes as the Chef, and even sings Isaac’s songs in German, who comes across as a carbon copy of the original! That’s high praise, and I guess that makes me an honorary soul brother.

I was a bit frustrated when I tried to find examples of Donald’s voice-work in Germany. After a long search, I found two very brief samples of Donald singing in German, once I figured out that I needed to search for “Chef Koch”. Perhaps there are more.

Not bad.

But let’s get back to the encounter during Donald’s visit, when I found out something that Toronto was known for…

Donald split his life strategically between two homes. In summer he lived in Germany, but would winter in Malta.

…Donald asked me to find a Maltese bakery he had heard of, located in the west end of our city, a bakery that was known in Europe. I was to take him there en route to the airport. I was a bit astonished that our Wagner society guest would want to stop for a coffee and pastizzi at the “Malta Bake Shop”. But there it was on Dundas St West, conveniently located in our path westward to the airport, where the bakery exists to this day.

Pastizzi were new to me. I remember enjoying my first pastizzi plus coffee through Donald’s visit to the bakery before going on to the airport.

It wasn’t the first time I thought that Donald really knows how to live.

Years later, I looked up the Malta Bake shop, confirming that yes they are still in business, as of 2021. They offer their wares at multiple locations around the GTHA as I discovered via their fan page on Facebook.

a graphic I found on Facebook

One of the locations on that list is not far from me in Scarborough.

A couple of weeks ago Sam the dog gave us a bit of a scare, an occasion to visit the emergency vet up at Birchmount and Ellesmere here in Scarborough, not so far from the Highland Farms location that carries products from Malta Bake Shop. Yes, I found pastizzi in the freezer at Highland Farms and thank goodness Sam is okay after all. But with all the disruptions of our day at the emergency vet clinic, we needed to grab something fast to eat from Highland Farms: including the pastizzi.


When I baked them I wondered, perhaps the ones you get fresh at the Dundas W location are better? But these were pretty amazing. If I could bake them without messing them up, that’s a good recipe. They’re delicate in flavour & texture. And hard to resist.

I will end recalling the way Donald closed email, a true gentleman.

Fond good wishes to Erika and your good self – Ésanyam, too!

“Ésanyam” means “and to mother” directed to my mother in law Irene whom he had met here on his visit. He was the picture of charm, adding that tiny bit in Hungarian.

Irene passed away in 2009. I miss them both.

Donald Arthur
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