Verbotenlieder subculture

This is not a review.

I had the exquisite pleasure of going to Lula Lounge tonight for Verbotenlieder, Tongue in Cheek Productions’s latest extravaganza.

The premise as I understood it from my recent interview with TiC co-founders Aaron Durand & Michael Nyby is an extension from what they did in their 24-man Winterreise. On that occasion earlier this autumn, TiC did something transgressive; instead of a song-cycle interpreted by one man in a concert setting, they assigned each song to a different person, and in a bar with food being served.


Michael Nyby and Aaron Durand, co-artistic directors of Tongue in Cheek Productions

They took it further this time. Instead of 24 baritones, you had a group of women, and the transgressions were of the gendered sort, women singing rep that is usually sung by men.  Oh and they said something I haven’t heard previously, encouraging us to use our phones throughout, to share it through social media.  For me that’s a first although I chose to leave my phone aside while singers were singing.

And I think (as I continue to wrestle with a question my wife posed earlier tonight) I know the answer. Why is this event called “Verbotenlieder”?

…which I translate as “forbidden songs”.

Was anything really forbidden? Or is it perhaps a tendency in classical music for people to get up in arms about, pardon me, nothing at all? I think the name was a tease and a provocation, another German compound word like Winterreise telling you that this is meant for a special nerdy audience, a silly thing to have fun while we all get drunk listening to one another.

What would usually be a kind of box-office suicide worked like a charm.  The place was jammed, the audience louder by far than last time: possibly because a big chunk was comprised of Winterreise veterans.

No you don’t mention Fight Club: but perhaps something similar is at work.

This was not for your usual audience. The whole thing was a series of in-jokes.

  • We watch two women singing “au fond de temple saint”
  • We listen to the daughter of the most famous Canadian interpreter of a famous Italian aria singing it impeccably
  • We watch a pair of singers undertake the Grand Inquisitor scene, arguably the greatest pissing contest in operatic history, but without any actual testosterone.

Now of course I know some people who probably wouldn’t have approached such an evening the way I did. Pardon me if I decided to have fun. I was at the Messiah last night (fun), and watched a grand-child’s school pageant this afternoon (also fun). Does one show up with stipulations, insisting that this person’s fach is wrong for what they’re trying to sing, or that a woman shouldn’t sing a particular aria or song?

Perhaps: but if you worry that the fach is wrong for the singer

If you quibble or have stipulations

if you didn’t let yourself eat drink and be merry?
(okay I understand some mustn’t drink… I never do when I have to drive).

The show I saw tonight was therapy. There isn’t enough work for all the talented singers in this town, or indeed in any town out there. What we saw tonight was a colossal finger jabbed in the direction of those who make the rules, of those who are uncomfortable with experimentation.

They’re called “Tongue in Cheek” for a reason. That being said, there were plenty of serious moments. I did actually shed a tear watching “kuda kuda” sung by Natalya Gennadi, beautifully sung and acted. I laughed loudest at Beste Kalender’s brilliant re-imagining of “Erlkönig” (a drinking game! Divide the audience in three, based on the three characters in the song, and take a sip whenever you hear yours –Vater, Kind oder Erlkönig—mentioned). Did I say I was sober? Tonight fortunately Erika was along so I didn’t need to drive.

Although come to think of it, Brittany Cann gave Kalender a run for her money (as funniest), in her brilliantly inebriated finale to the Ravel cycle “Don Quichotte à Dulcinée”.

It was a team effort, including Elina Kelebeev and Natasha Fransblow, pianists, stage direction by Anna Theodosakis, and several creative (hilarious) departures from the original text.   Here’s a link to the page where you can see it all listed, all the names of repertoire and the singers & musicians.

It was a funny night, to be upside down inside the rep. I’ve played so much of this music (for instance, I recall my brother singing the aforementioned Ravel cycle), sung some of it too: often knowing full well that internal sense of the forbidden, picturing the scolding fingers, the wrinkled noses. No I shouldn’t sing Wagner or Verdi. Do I embrace transgression? I sang the Four Last Songs at a recital and just to be really nerdy and weird, I played the accompaniment too, knowing full well that I was not supposed to do it (celebrating the 50th anniversary of the composer’s death: but it was fun).

And what I couldn’t miss was the sight of the supportive artists screaming for one another, eating it up and standing in solidarity, for everyone’s right to break the rules.


Everyone on stage for a final bow.

There may also have been some practical purpose too, when I saw some of those in attendance, enjoying the great singing but also nodding, making a note for future shows: where they might engage one of these brilliant women.  It was a showcase of vocal & dramatic talent.

To have singers boldly go where they weren’t supposed to go, a bit like Captain Kirk..?  Like I said, it felt like therapy.  While this one may be hard to top, I think Aaron & Michael may be on to something. I’ll be intrigued to see what TiC do next.

This entry was posted in Music and musicology, Opera, Personal ruminations & essays, Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Verbotenlieder subculture

  1. C. Luce says:

    Sad I missed it –

    • barczablog says:

      In the best shows, one wants to be IN the show, to be part of the magic circle. I was there, but in a real sense totally on the outside. That’s one of the drivers of Tongue in Cheek, that natural organic desire to be in the show.

  2. Pingback: Sing-Along Messiah 2018 | barczablog

  3. Pingback: Pollyanna and the lessons of 2018 | barczablog

  4. Pingback: Questions for Beste Kalender | barczablog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s