We always know our spatio-temporal co-ordinates with the help of satellite surveillance and assorted electronic devices. When was the last time you were lost? Those of us with regular jobs go back and forth along the same streets. From time to time we may discover a new way to get home; the novelty of that first time quickly fades into routine.
Nowadays it’s a luxury to get lost, a magical experience. Tonight I managed it with the help of Against the Grain Theatre.
AtG regularly find new places to undertake unorthodox performances. How apt then that they took us to “The Extension Room”, in other words, a place where people stretch? Kafka/Janáček/Kurtág certainly stretched singers Colin Ainsworth & Jacqueline Woodley in new directions; ditto violinist Kerry DuWors & pianist Topher Mokrzewski.
I may be making too much out of this, but while I’m playing with this, I couldn’t help noticing
- Kafka/Janáček/Kurtág is a program of Eastern European writers & composers
- The Extension Room is located on Eastern Ave
And so, between the location and the rep I was most definitely lost. And I like that sensation. Earlier today I was watching Parsifal on the High Definition broadcast, knowing the words & music really well. I envy those experiencing such works for the first time, because that’s when you can truly get lost in the work. Luckily I was able to get lost in the east: or the east end of town at least.
The two works being presented were quite different.
Kafka-Fragments by György Kurtág began the evening. We’re told “words have power” and we can see it in this work, comprised of small writings Kafka wrote, set in the 1980s by the Hungarian composer for voice & violin. Some of the segments are long, some short, some surreal, some hysterically funny. There are forty in all, a genuine virtuoso tour de force from violinist Kerry DuWors and singer Jacqueline Woodley, a dissonant work in a modernist idiom (possibly atonal… I’d have to hear it again to be sure). I wish someone would record their remarkable performances so I could hear it all again.
There are at least two reminders of that emphasis on words. The handed out translations resemble something from an old-style typewriter, a cute design element matched by the cascade of papers hanging from the lights in the ceiling (see them in my photo?).
The second half of the program was in a more accessibly tonal idiom, namely The Diary of One Who Disappeared by Leoš Janáček. Sung in Czech, most of the work is handed to the tenor, in this case Colin Ainsworth. I’ve been listening to Ainsworth’s easy tenor for years with Opera Atelier as their go-to singer in roles such as Armide (last season), Mercure (on their Persée DVD) or Tamino (in Magic Flute, coming in April). It’s a chance to hear him singing something completely different from the usual.
One of the oddities in musical theatre is the regular contradiction between someone singing when they should be doing something. A man singing on and on about a gorgeous female right in front of him?
When are you going to kiss her, man?
Director Joel Ivany might have read my mind. One minute I am thinking “why doesn’t he kiss her”, the next, a man is on top of a woman a couple of feet away from my feet, and I am wondering just how far they will go. This was such a Toronto moment, sitting in a theatre across from another bunch of people, as we were all watching the couple making out, and not sure what we should look at. After the kissing, Ainsworth reminded us why he was there with a couple of superb high notes.
AtG will be back at the end of May with Figaro’s Wedding, an updated adaptation of Mozart’s opera.