Opera 5 –Open Chambers

Walter Pater famously said “all art constantly aspires to the condition of music”.  But did anyone bother to ask “what then does music aspire to”?  Does music seek to be something more, or should it perhaps be content to be itself, the sine qua non, the most ideal of the arts, at least according to Pater.

Such questions were rattling around in my empty skull as I watched and listened to Opera 5’s “Open Chambers: Hindemith & Shostakovich”. Tonight was the second of three presentations that are more than just concerts, as the music was given additional opportunities to signify with the creative use of the principals:

  • Vadim Serebryany—piano
  • Melissa Scott—oboe
  • Wolfram Koessel—cello
  • Yosuke Kawasaki – violin
  • Jacqueline Woodley – soprano 1
  • Rachel Krehm—soprano 2

Sometimes the musicians were resembling actors, taking positions, posing and moving about on an interesting looking stage.

From a musical standpoint the evening was overpowering, wonderfully successful, especially with those two big soprano voices that easily filled the space at Factory Theatre’s studio space. The Shostakovich Romances were especially effective, although I wonder if dramatizing added anything. The musicianship, the commitment, the passion in these songs was tremendous.

In the earlier Hindemith pieces, overflowing with wit & ironic gestures, the results were if anything, more ambiguous, more playful, raising more questions.


(Left to Right): Wolfram Koessel, Cello, Jacqueline Woodley, Soprano 1 (photo: Dahlia Katz)

What if the cellist brings his bow up to lovingly address a woman between his knees as though she were a cello? Or is the idea too fraught, sexist, problematic, and must be ended immediately?  Jacqueline Woodley pushed Wolfram Koessel aside after his momentary approach to her with his bow, intriguing as the moment was.

What if the suggestion of chase music in a duet between two instruments inspires the sopranos to begin chasing one another around the stage? For a good ten seconds they went with it: then stopped.  I wonder, couldn’t the idea have been sustained longer?

There were a few such moments, playing with the strict & polite conventions of the concert. Yet I wondered whether Stage Director & Designer Patrick Hansen at times was fighting against the conventions and habits of his musicians? or did he simply lose his nerve, afraid of upstaging the musicians. He gave his silent onstage personnel so many moments of stillness rather than action. While there were several moments when images were overlaid on the music, I don’t believe anything was gained by the exercise. The music was fabulous, wonderfully well played. The dramatic shenanigans were at times stealing focus without adding much of anything: sitting on the fence between respectful and deconstructive. I would have welcomed it if they had gone much further, and tried something genuinely subversive, as this barely scraped the surface.  Why do it at all if in the end, you’re just going to surrender to the polite rules of the concert, and have your onstage personnel sit there as though they were Toronto concert-goers?

And I repeat, the playing and singing were fabulous. Rachel Krehm’s voice does me in, it’s so beautiful especially when she’s singing in a tight space like this one. She was joined by Jacqueline Woodley, who was sometimes singing forte, sometimes much more softly, but we were immersed in wonderful musicianship.

But the stage action struck me as pretentious, weighing the music down with additional incomprehensible layers.

We’re told that this is the first of a series. I applaud the effort, always delighted with ambitious efforts. I look forward to what may come in future Open Chambers creations.

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