A tale of the stub, or Pollyanna Interrupted

As I was choosing my wardrobe for a trip to my mom’s place for lunch, I opted as usual to try to look a bit nicer for her, pulling out a pair of dress-pants that I realized haven’t been touched for months.

When I was trying them on, I felt a ticket stub in the pocket. Wow it’s the last show I saw, a week into March 2020.

March began with such promise.

Sunday March 1st was a matinee of the National Ballet. Chroma, then Marguerite and Armand marking the farewell of Greta Hodgkinson, and finally the world premiere of Crystal Pite’s Angels’ Atlas.

Thursday March 5th was a Koerner Hall concert by James Rhodes, my first Beethoven concert of what was supposed to be a year celebrating his 250th anniversary.

And finally Saturday March 7th was that Toronto Operetta Theatre’s HMS Pinafore.

After 67 days (31 days of January, 29 for February + 7 days in March) that was it for live performance in 2020.

Suddenly it was all about cancellations. Nederlands Tans Theater with another work from Crystal Pite,…? Jan Lisiecki to play Beethoven with the Toronto Symphony,….? and the next week, Yuja Wang, to play Brahms….? The spring season of the Canadian Opera Company….? All either gone or postponed.

I’m not sure when I became conscious that this was going to last, but I was incredibly busy at work, writing procedures, doing long hours…So I couldn’t blog as often, and when I did it was more likely to be about a book or a film, or music I was making at home. And I was being extra careful to stay positive (as Stacey advised me), which is a big reason I talked so much about Sam the dog lately. She cheers me up.

If she could talk, she might say “you again?!”

I’m publishing this today because it feels like a natural beginning: January 20th being a significant date south of the border. As a retrospective for 2020, I don’t think I can do the usual best of Pollyanna thing as in other years, not when “the year” was so short. Instead I will make a couple of observations.

Alexander Neef has been succeeded as General Director of the Canadian Opera Company. The Neef decade was remarkable for its casting triumphs, for a fascinating parade of directors & productions, and for some unanswered questions about company finances. I’m hopeful that Neef’s successor Perryn Leech will be good for the health of the company, coming during this natural break imposed by circumstances.

Perryn Leech, incoming General Director of the COC

The next show will be a new beginning.

Meanwhile, am I the only one who found it odd that the COC were promoting their flagship attraction of Parsifal (meant to premiere in the fall, but cancelled) as “monumental”, trumpeting about how many hours long it is? Monuments are what you put up for dead people. Monuments are big heavy things, no? Long shows don’t usually attract an audience, especially not with this kind of language. Why not just hand out sleeping pills. And—a tiny quibble—if you’re going to play a sample of the opera for the audience at the season launch, why not try to excite the listeners? Why not give us the first ninety seconds of Act II, and played with conviction? Perhaps I’m asking too much, but I’m a subscriber. I was not impressed, even though as a devoted Wagnerian and admirer of the production, I’d be sure to see it at least a couple of times.

I have been pondering a few questions for months now, and confess that I don’t have the answers. We’re in a funny place right now, where the arts are prohibited in the usual venues in the usual ways, but are sometimes permitted in a variety of virtual arenas, depending on the medium. The rich are getting richer, whether we mean the companies like Shoppers Drug Mart, Walmart, Amazon, youtube, and telecom companies who profit during our lockdowns, or the clever entrepreneurs. And some are in big trouble.

I’ve been wondering about whether the virtual media are only a temporary replacement or the new normal. And my gut feeling is that we have to face facts. Of course I prefer live to the artificial, I’d rather singalong with Messiah than see it on TV, I’d rather be at a concert venue or theatre, always. The business model was always a bit precarious, leaning heavily on government & private support. I think circumstances have forced a great many artists to learn how to zoom, how to record & share their art. I hope the coming year –whenever we get to the promised land after COVID of course–sees a huge explosion of audience gratitude, even as I cringe thinking of artists & companies who are suffering, trying to pay bills with so many gigs cancelled. Virtual has been competing with live for quite awhile now. Long before the high definition broadcasts, there was already a fund from the recording industry in support of live music. This isn’t a new issue but one that has been underway for decades, if not centuries.

I wonder too about trained voices, meaning the ones that can be heard without amplification. I couldn’t help noticing that the virtual realm changes the paradigm. In Messiah / Complex the most authentic looking and sounding performers were the Indigenous voices not the powerful trained voices. It’s not terribly logical of me to use one event as somehow indicative: except that it confirmed exactly what I expect. I am reminded of the time of the early talkies, as captured in Singin’ in the Rain, when the rules changed due to a paradigm shift. Obviously it’s way too early to be making pronouncements, predicting winners and/or losers, but I think it’s a fascinating time. Hang on to your hat, the winds of change are blowing.

So I would recommend that you think about who and what you really like, who you want to support, and then if at all possible, to lend a hand. Whether you prefer dance, opera, music, a place of worship, restaurants,… they all are hurting in different ways right now. I wish our government would offer paid sick-leave, as I saw the advantages this confers while at the U of T, where they had the vision to be super lenient with staff whose possible illness might or might not be that virus. Mr Ford, this is no time to be cheap and worried about the deficit. There are lives at stake.

In the meantime, you know what to do to stay safe.

This entry was posted in Animals, domestic & wild, Dance, theatre & musicals, Music and musicology, Opera, Personal ruminations & essays. Bookmark the permalink.

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