If identity is performative, a mere construct that we enact, the demonstration of such notions would be wonderful material for the theatre. And so it is when we come to Dominick Argento’s 1971 opera Postcard from Morocco, currently on offer at the Opera Department of the University of Toronto.
The opera comes from the liminal world of travel, of people who are not actually in their lives but instead in between. We never know whether these stories—as in any exchange with travel companions—are true or false. Do we trust their stories? Do we perhaps see their personal belongings as invitations to discover entire voyages, fanciful or true? I am recalling a trip I took to Guelph long ago, seeing Postcard from Morocco, meeting the charming composer: who as far as I know is still alive. Did it really happen, it’s so long ago I can scarcely recall. Can you believe what you see, what you hear or read? Whether you’re traveling or seeing opera or reading a blog: you never know what’s real, what’s genuine. And what’s an invention.
Michael Cavanagh’s direction and Fred Peruzza’s design dare us to doubt, happily problematizing what we see and hear, by pushing everything in the direction of pure theatricality. The orchestra is visible onstage complete with fezzes and Moroccan attire. We’re on the Brechtian rather than the Wagnerian side of the equation, where the machinery is largely visible rather than concealed, where the viewer is encouraged to notice that everything is illusory, that nothing is real.
That small orchestra, smoothly led by Les Dala, ranges wildly from operatic discourse to a jazzier sound including a flamboyant drum solo from Sam Kim. It’s a fun & eclectic score that –while we’re speaking of travel—includes a section called “souvenir de Bayreuth”, taking several tunes of Wagner and twisting them inside out.
The work is double cast, with a final performance still to come Sunday March 15th at the MacMillan Theatre. There were several standouts tonight. Charles Sy as the man with the paintbox displayed the gentle tunefulness recently heard in the COC Ensemble competition that he won back in November. Alessia Naccarato had a suitably ironic delivery as the Lady with a Hat Box, while showing a more guileless aspect as the Spanish Singer. Danika Lorèn sparkled as the Lady with a Hand Mirror, and was quite lovely in her duet with Marcel Entremont as operetta singers. Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor as the Lady with the Cake Box was pushed in a somewhat comical direction by the production but she sang with great conviction & pathos.
I wish I could see the other cast. I’m sure it’s worthwhile whoever is singing this fabulous score. Go see it if you can, Sunday at 2:30.