While all roads may once have led to Rome, in the Canadian opera world, all roads seem to begin with Tapestry and artistic director Michael Hidetoshi Mori, whose visionary ideas are like seeds sown onto the blank staff paper of composers all over the country.
I am mindful of Rome because Michael invited the barbarians into his wee cathedral in the Distillery District, namely a rock band called “Fucked Up”. Barbarians? Rock is loud and irrational, at least when it’s billed as “metal”, which was how I understood the title of the show “Tap: Ex METALLURGY”, the latest in Michael’s ongoing series of experiments, provocations, attempts to inspire & encourage the creation of opera. Michael’s world is a bit like MaRS or Dragon’s Den, a crucible for creation, but without the negative judgment you find in those other places. Let me say –unlike what you hear on that negative CBC show –“I’m in!” Never mind that experiments don’t always work, that they’re sometimes achingly close while still falling short. We need what Michael offers.
While Michael bravely invited a rock band to collaborate on opera, there’s way too much clever verbiage, too much order, and not enough of the rough and raunchy that makes rock worthwhile. The headline tells you, indirectly.
I interrupt this somewhat rational discourse for an outbreak of noisy rebellion. I like the irrationality of rap and metal and even jazz. Noisy music coupled with clear text is an oxymoron! Give me something crazy, challenging.
The example? A song I love, full of rhythm and life and whose lyrics I know um perhaps 1/10th..? Death and pain and agony, and also sex lurk under the surface. It’s an uneasy balance, but the music rides the text abusively, disrespectfully, destructively. It’s not a happy marriage, it’s a shotgun wedding, if not actually more like rape.
Tonight: Metallurgy B came much closer to this miserable ideal than Metallurgy A. The second piece’s fifteen minutes include five minutes of gold, and is mostly good because it is far less polite and rational. Even so, both pieces are too nice, too logical. It’s as though Michael invited the Visigoths to come to Rome, and they not only came to his cathedral, but they sang in his choir without shame, all scrubbed and civilized. I would strongly encourage Michael to do this again, but next time let the madmen take over the asylum, let the barbarians really bring the metal, smash up the cathedral, at least figuratively, or scrawl messy graffiti all over the polite edifice of the libretti. Yes the libretti are works of art but they need to be subverted, trashed, stomped on, turned into something more genuine.
I can’t decide whether the outcome was because of strictures placed on the musicians, or because they themselves were cowed or even seduced by the temple to which they’d come? Either way I’d hold Michael accountable, as the ringmaster, the one who might have reminded them that he wanted animals in his circus ring.
Speaking of genuine, the most authentic moment of music in the whole evening came when David Pomeroy took up a guitar and wailed away for a couple of impromptu moments bringing the house to life. For those moments it felt connected, mind, body and spirit aligned. The remainder was never as congenial, even though there are some lovely moments, especially in Metallurgy B, composed by Ivan Barbotin.
These voices are the two best voices in Toronto, David Pomeroy and Krisztina Szabo. They are always listenable, although again, I was far more engaged in the second piece than the first.
I would ask Michael to keep up the experiments, mindful that this is a good beginning. But I wish they would take it further, much much further.