Besame Opera

There’s lots of kissing in “Bésame Ópera”, the Spanish double bill from Opera 5 currently playing at Gallery 345.   Sometimes it’s even human beings doing it.

I feel lucky that, by a curious coincidence, the new work in Monday’s farewell concert from Queen of Puddings, which employed poetry from Federico Garcia Lorca, was the perfect preparation for these two works.  Lorca’s surreal vocabulary put me in the right frame of mind for what i saw tonight.

First came Manuel de Falla’s El Retablo de Maese Pedro, a chivalrous episode presented as a shadow puppet play within the opera, for an audience of one Don Quichote, who jumps up from time to time, unable to distinguish illusion from reality until finally he overturns the whole presentation.  While it doesn’t seem like much, I found it very powerful.   It’s a very lean score, relying upon percussion and a spare accompaniment to vocal lines that are often chanted, without lots of lyricism anywhere to be found.  As a result the dramatic expression in the words is fully foregrounded, unconcealed by any fancy orchestral footwork or vocal fireworks.

Conrad Siebert did double duty as Maese Pedro—sounding very mellifluous—and playing percussion (is that how the character is written?), and Rachel Krehm was very charming, getting a few laughs as his helper Trujaman.  Giovanni Spanu was an understated Don Quichote, very believable in his pompous responses to the presentation, and never entirely ridiculous.  I was very moved.

At intermission, this opera company named for our five senses again encouraged us to use other senses in the delightful cuisine & beverages to be had.  While I resisted their sangria –because I had to drive home—I’ll surrender to the invitation now (at home).

(walks to kitchen, pours a glass of wine…. Comes back)

After intermission the program continued with a much bigger work, Goyescas by Enrique Granados.  I was first and foremost struck by how ambitious Opera 5 have become.  I’ve been writing about the plethora of small companies in the Toronto area that have sprung up lately.  But mostly they do concert performances and song cycles.

In December their program Opera Eats which consisted of three short operas (Rachmaninoff’s Aleko, Hindemith’s Hin und Zurück, and Milton Grainger’s Talk Opera) was fully staged, including chorus.  Tonight, while the de Falla opera was a kind of miniature –both in terms of length and in its focus upon the delicate imagery of shadow puppetry—Goyescas is another full-fledged work.  Opera 5 put a chorus of eight onstage with the four principals.  In the relatively tight quarters of Gallery 345, they very appropriately raised the roof, in this work exploding with the most basic human impulses.

Opera Five Artistic Director Aria Umezawa

Opera Five Artistic Director Aria Umezawa

Director Aria Umezawa took us deeper into the realms of the surreal and the fantastic.  The challenges posed by tight budgets are perhaps an inspiration to her creativity.  There were two memorable images near the end of Goyescas.  As Emily Ding sings about the nightingale, members of the chorus in black spread her dress as though it were a series of banners to be unfurled.  I was intrigued, not quite sure how to process the image, as the character almost resembles a puppet, manipulated by the people in black, or perhaps a flower whose petals are unfurled.  And then, when Siebert sings with her in the final duet, mortally wounded, instead of blood, he’s effusively giving off red flowers from his chest.  I was –again—very moved.

Opera five Music Director and pianist Maika’i Nash (Photographer Emily Ding)

It makes it very hard to bravo when you’ve lost your voice that way.

I was once again impressed by Maika’i Nash’s masterful music direction.  Need I say that there are other groups in the GTA presenting works in concert, standing with their music in front of them who are no tighter –and sometimes far more haphazard—than what Nash achieved, and this while the chorus were costumed, off their books and at times dancing.

There’s one more performance May 2nd.  And Opera 5 will present an even more ambitious season for 2013-2014.

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