Nightwood Theatre: Strombergs Family Realization Fund winner

Nightwood Theatre is pleased to announce the winner of the inaugural Strombergs Family Realization Fund: Dian Marie Bridge. This $10,000 cash award, established by theatre director Vinetta Strombergs in honour of her artist parents, is intended to support a woman who has spent at least 20 years in the profession of theatre in any discipline and is now looking for a way to finance a project of passion that includes aspects of theatre, music, and movement.

Bridge is a Toronto-based freelance theatre-maker and arts manager. She holds a degree from Brock University and attended the University of Minnesota. Bridge has worked with many organizations across Canada and the US including Harbourfront Centre, The Stratford Festival, Obsidian Theatre, The Guthrie Theatre, Canadian Stage, Mirvish Productions, Soulpepper Theatre, Playwrights Guild of Canada, and Storytelling Toronto. She is also an inaugural member of the Stratford Festival’s Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction, and is a recipient of the Elliott Hayes Playwright Development Guthrie Award. She has been an artist mentor through The Paprika Festival, The AMY Project, Speak Sudan, b current’s RaizinArtz Program, Only One You workshops, and the Boys and Girls Club of Vancouver.

An active member of Canada’s theatre and arts community for over two decades, Bridge recently started making inroads into the dance and visual arts communities. Her work has shifted with the intention of helping to bridge the creative communities in Canada, through peer-to-peer mentorship, cross-pollination of ideas, practices, retention of knowledge and practice through continued direct support of artists.

Bridge’s winning project is titled Crossing Into Lullaby. Rooted in the space between history and mythology, Crossing Into Lullaby uses a family ghost story of “Granny Eating With the Baby” to examine the desperation that can come with parenthood, and the impact of family mythology on individual choice. This mash-up of sound, projection design, live scoring and movement uses the true-to-life family story to reveal just how interwoven our lives are with metaphysics, trauma, and death.

“It is not lost on me that the Strombergs Family Realization Fund was established in the memory of Vinetta’s artist parents, now this funding supports my dream of continuing work that honours all of my mothers and ancestors,” says Bridge. “Foremost in my mind of late, has been the wish for more time, and the return of energy that comes with youth. This fund becomes that time and energy. It is the ability to sit in my creativity fully for a dedicated amount of time. It is respect for my practice, and talent. It is a chance to share space, resources and connections, by working on a project that is a huge part of my heart, culture and life. I am deeply humbled and grateful for the belief and trust in this work.”

Vinetta Strombergs established this “Realization Fund” in memory of her artist parents, Alfred and Hilda Strombergs, who emigrated to Canada after the war. Vinetta’s career in theatre spans 50 years, thanks to the support of her parents and the love of all theatrical disciplines instilled in her. She started as an actor and became a director in order to realize a desire to create theatre projects that no one would hire her to do. Her passion for theatre and independent projects continues to this day.

“As women age, they bump into barriers that force them to quit or fight,” says Strombergs, “Some forms of theatre and ideas about making theatre encounter obstacles that mean they fall through the cracks in the regular funding systems. And there’s never enough money to go around. Hence the idea to create this award and pay forward some support. This award is for senior artists who have a passion project that has fallen through the cracks, but who deserve a chance, and deserve the opportunity to receive funding for their project to be realized.”

ABOUT NIGHTWOOD THEATRE

As Canada’s foremost feminist theatre, Nightwood provides an essential home for the creation of extraordinary theatre by women. Founded in 1979, Nightwood Theatre has created and produced award-winning plays that have garnered Dora Mavor Moore, Chalmers, Trillium and Governor General’s awards. The company is helmed by Artistic Director Andrea Donaldson and Managing Director Beth Brown, and has received public acclaim for artistic excellence, the successful training and development of emerging female talent, and its ongoing advocacy around gender equity.

Nightwood Theatre’s 2019-2020 Season

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Seventh Elizabeth Krehm Memorial Concert: Shostakovich & Strauss

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Elizabeth Krehm

Annual benefit concert for St. Michael’s Hospital 

Strauss’ Four Last Songs
and Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony

Program includes Kol Nidrei by Bruch, The Four Last Songs by Strauss and Symphony no. 5 by Shostakovich. TORONTO—An accomplished group of musicians will assemble on Mon Nov. 25, 2019 for a special performance at Christ Church Deer Park in Toronto to benefit St. Michael’s Hospital (SMH). This annual fundraiser, presented by Opera 5 General Director Rachel Krehm and her family, has generated over $100,000 in the past six years, with 100% of ticket revenue supporting SMH’s Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit (MS ICU).

Commencing the program this year, French cellist Michel Strauss, professor of cello at the Paris Conservatory, will be playing Bruch’s Kol Nidrei alongside the Canzona Chamber Players Orchestra under the baton of Kingston Symphony Music Director Evan Mitchell. Soprano Rachel Krehm joins the orchestra to close out the first half, presenting Strauss’ beloved Four Last Songs. The concert concludes with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

The annual fundraiser is presented in memory of Elizabeth Krehm, who passed away at the age of 22 in the MS ICU at St. Michael’s Hospital on Nov. 17, 2012. During her month-long stay in the MS ICU, Elizabeth received a high level of care from the unit’s doctors and nurses, prompting the Krehm family to establish this benefit concert series in her memory.

“It is so important for us to support the ICU at St Michael’s on an ongoing basis as a thank-you for the excellent care which was given to Liz,” says Rachel Krehm. “This year’s concert is very special. Michel Strauss and my father studied music together in France in the 1970s and to have a family friend come and honour Elizabeth means the world to us. Strauss holds a special place in my heart and to sing these songs for my sister Liz adds an even greater level of personal meaning. Shostakovich’s 5th symphony represents the overcoming of a great struggle, which we all can appreciate as we mourn and remember. Along with Liz, we honour the lost friends and family of all involved in making the concert happen, and we look to present the night as a healing experience through the power of music.”

The concert takes place on Nov. 25, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is pay-what-you-can with a suggested minimum donation of $30. All proceeds benefit the Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit of SMH. This admission model ensures access for anyone who wishes to attend.

LISTING INFORMATION
The Seventh Elizabeth Krehm Memorial Concert: Shostakovich & Strauss

Monday Nov. 25, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.
Christ Church Deer Park, 1570 Yonge St, Toronto, ON
Tickets: by donation at the door (pay-what-you-can)**
More info: 647-248-4048 or click here

**Early donations, which allow bypassing of the line at the door, may be made on the St. Michael’s Hospital Elizabeth Krehm Memorial Page**

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Welcome to the Club: PAL fund-raiser

Welcome to the Club!

Please join us at PAL’s Crest Theatre Green Room on Thursday October 24 for a star-studded evening in support of the programming at PAL’s Celebrity Club!

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110 The Esplanade, Toronto
Featuring:
Sean Cullen
David Warrack
Theresa Tova
Micah Barnes
Laura Hubert
Melissa Story
Peter Anthony
Donne Roberts & Yukiko Tsutsui
Ori Dagan
Tickets: General Admission $25 / PAL Residents $20

Click for info / advance tickets

 

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Resonant Minorities

Tonight I was present at the Canadian premiere of Yang Zhen’s third installment of his “Revolution Game Trilogy”, Minorities, a Red Virgo production presented by Canadian Stage.

You will recognize many things in this show.

We watch five female dancers later joined by a singer.  We begin with the stillness of a minimalist tableau that reminded me of Robert Wilson’s Turandot, until the cartoon faces unexpectedly start singing, including a comical Mao Zedong.  The energy is wildly happy, with the subtlest overtones of disrespect.

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Minorities, with a smiling Chairman Mao peering over their shoulders (photo: Dahlia Katz)

And then each one presents herself as a member of an ethnic group associated with a place.

Macao: Lou Hio Mei

Uyghur: Guzhanuer Yusufu,

Mongolia: Aodonggaowa

Tibet: Gan Luyangzi

Chinese Korean:  Ma Xiao Ling (I did not know that there were Chinese Koreans)

At times we heard them speaking their language, at least I think so because of the variety we heard.  These are very beautiful to hear, whether or not they are also mixed with a few English words.  When have I ever heard so many languages in one short evening’s program?

They were dancing their national dance, attired in their folk costume, sometimes singing or playing music.    For awhile it moves along very conservatively, each one showing us something about themselves, teaching us about their past even as we get glimpses of complexities & conflicts.

We’re told of the pressure to conform & to blend into the bigger cultures while abandoning one’s authentic language.  I’m reminded of the cultural genocide here with the Indigenous populations.

At one point the safe and conservative music is juxtaposed against something wildly provocative, in costuming that’s modern.  I won’t say much because I don’t want to spoil the effect, other than to say that they are on the edge of a kind of satire, where lip service is paid to the Cultural Revolution & Madame Mao even as those values are mocked & parodied.

It’s among the subtlest satire I’ve ever seen, from a group of performers who were always positive, smiling & welcoming to the audience.

I had a wonderful experience.  Before the show began the young woman sitting next to me said a quiet hello, which I wasn’t sure whether it was directed at me or the person beside me.  I think perhaps it was meant for both of us? We both quietly said ‘hi’ back.

A couple of minutes later she said hello again and this time it felt more like it was for me, and so I answered.  We began to chat.

I was fortunate to be sitting beside Ma Xiao Ling, who pointed to her picture in the program and said “that’s me” in a very friendly voice.

And so we chatted. I asked her how many languages she speaks (a few… including a fair grasp of English), asked her about her discipline (she’s a dancer, she started at the age of 7 and has been dancing for 20 years… so I concluded she must be 27), and the future of the show (after 10 days here they’re off to San Francisco).  After she had told me who she was (pointing at the program) it only seemed fair that I should give her my business card with the blog’s address although I don’t know if she will see this review.

And when the loud music began, she and a few others seated in the audience got up and began to dance ever more vigorously in place before going to the stage.  At times it’s the folk dance that conforms to the values of the Cultural Revolution, at other times much more modern & radical.

If you go see this show and one of them addresses you I recommend that you talk to them. You won’t regret it.   It’s truly immersive, as we they sometimes came right into the audience to interact with us, and then taking some of us onto the stage to dance later on.

More and more I think that a discipline can be like a fortress that offers a place for people to hide.  Canadian Stage have become a company curating experiences that mix disciplines while challenging our expectations, and avoiding the safe & easy pathway.  We’re in the presence of music, dance, layers of meaning in the words & images, animation & text.

I didn’t know what to expect when I came in, and indeed am a bit mystified by the cool surface of Minorities. There’s a sentence in the program that I have come back to more than once, as I seek to unpack the layers of irony:

“Yang explores the constant conflict between social prejudice and individual consciousness—how one can express oneself and relate to the world in which they live—and examines how minority identities in China fit, or don’t fit, in the narrative of a harmonious One China.”

At times we’re hearing of the 56 different ethnicities, reconciled into the One China especially in big loud songs that sound like communist propaganda.  The dancing is enthusiastic, even if we’re given images to problematize their ideal utopia.

Minorities is a piece of dance theatre to challenge preconceptions & assumptions even while offering you something that feels very sweet & kind, continuing until October 27th at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre aka the Berkeley St Theatre.

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Rusalka: and now for something completely different

Tonight the Canadian Opera Company premiered their take on the recent Lyric Opera of Chicago production of Dvořák’s Rusalka directed by Sir David McVicar.

It stands in rather stark contrast to the other current COC production, Puccini’s Turandot¸ whose mise-en-scene seems at odds with the score.  Richard Wagner would recognize McVicar’s reading of the story as “Gesamtkunstwerk”, his ideal of the total art work where all the components work together to tell us the story.  While it may be that both Puccini & Dvořák would have wanted a unity between all interpretive elements, McVicar’s approach is recognizable in the usual sense as a production honouring the work.  Yes it’s still the story of a mermaid who becomes mortal because of her love for a prince.  While it’s a bit edgy and up to date in its portrayal of nature and humankind’s relationship to the environment, the conservative audience would take it to its bosom –especially after Wilson’s minimalist stylings—for its willingness to follow the score.

Ballet makes a welcome return to the Four Seasons Centre stage even though holy cow it’s not December / Nutcracker season.  Yes Virginia, they do sometimes put ballet into opera. In fact many were written that way, although you’d never know it from COC productions such as the Aida they’re reviving later this season.  Andrew George’s choreography brings the work extra dimensions, sometimes symbolic sometimes a wacky diversion.  The energy dance brings to the work helps propel the story during a rather long evening.

Whatever else one might say about this show, it belongs to Sondra Radvanovsky, who sounds better this year than ever.  While the opera is sometimes a little melodramatic and not to be mistaken for Shakespeare, Sondra’s toolkit matches the work perfectly.  There’s a different movement vocabulary for each act, creating a different tone.  There’s a long stretch where the character is silent, unable to make a sound as a condition of becoming human; Sondra does these scenes as well as I’ve ever seen them done, with some brilliant moments incorporating the ballet.  In the last act she reminded me of a wounded animal, heart-breaking…

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(centre) Sondra Radvanovsky as Rusalka (photo: Chris Hutcheson)

Anthony Tommasini’s book The Indispensable Composers does not include Antonin Dvořák in its list of the most important composers: and perhaps it should.  Rusalka is one of the most beautiful opera scores.  Tonight we heard stunning work from the COC Orchestra led by Johannes Debus in an idiomatic reading.  At times we might mistake Dvořák for his near contemporary Brahms, who did make Tommasini’s list even though he is not Dvořák’s equal (in my opinion if not Tommasini’s). Sometimes Dvořák descends into a splendidly ethnic sound for instance in the opening to Act II, a delicious scene with a decidedly Czech flavour.  Debus keeps things moving, while the orchestra let their hair down, sounding properly Slavic.

This is one of the strongest recent COC casts. Alongside Sondra, Pavel Cernoch’s Prince is more than a pretty face, especially moving in the last scene.  It’s a bit of a miracle that he can be so sympathetic in this role (the Prince being one of the least sympathetic characters in all opera). I was surprised by a flood of tears in the last scene: although Sondra deserves some credit for the impact of the final moments.  And Keri Alkema is again a dramatic standout giving the Foreign Princess a somewhat feminist edge in her scenes with the Prince, while sounding terrific as well.

Stefan Kocan’s Vodnik was vocally tremendous, but again benefits from a production that lends gravitas to his every word as a kind of voice for Nature.  Elena Manistina seemed to be having a great time as Jezibaba, injecting real star power both with her solid sound & her readiness to camp it up. Every time she showed herself it felt like a party was going to break out, and come to think of it, that’s more or less what happened.  Matthew Cairns & Lauren Eberwein took over the show whenever they were onstage, playing up the comedy in their roles as the Gamekeeper & the Turnspit, and sounding terrific.

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(sitting centre) Lauren Eberwein as the Turnspit and Matthew Cairns as the Gamekeeper (photo: Michael Cooper)

I’m seeing the show again, and would suggest you do so too.  Rusalka continues at the Four Seasons Centre until October 26th.

Posted in Books & Literature, Music and musicology, Opera, Personal ruminations & essays, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amplified Opera —The Queen in Me

The title tells the story.

Night #2 in the Amplified Opera opening concert series at the Ernest Balmer Studio was The Queen in Me, a performance piece straddling the line between surreal confessional and stand-up comedy, a brilliant piece of satire for a specialized audience.

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The Queen is that badass character in The Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night, soldiering against one of the most misogynistic storylines going. Sometimes the Queen sings what’s written and sometimes she bursts out of the strait-jacket of the character, both in the mechanical sense of her costume and the subtler implications of the role written for her. She is a perfect mechanism for the exploration of the mad world of opera, the many females co-opted into rituals celebrating female subjugation: except the Queen won’t do it anymore.  She seems to be on a quest, exploring different roles as ways to articulate the feminist position, sometimes working within a role, sometimes fighting or subverting it. I can recall previous satirical pieces in different decades that were knowing nods to the audience, while more or less keeping the artform & its creators (this time Mozart & Schikaneder) on their pedestals. This time it’s more in keeping with the mission of Amplified Opera, as a site for activism and shit-disturbing, largely in fun yet with an underlying seriousness to its mission. They appear to be fearless.

Do you mind a few words about astrology?

Amplified Opera was born yesterday, October 10th. That birthday in some ways couldn’t be more perfect for this new company. 10-10, in the astrological sign Libra, the scales, which signifies balance, the symbol of judgment & justice. Yesterday we saw Aria Umezawa direct a piece with some wit & humor but mostly seriousness, followed by an intense talk-back session.

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Teiya Kasahara

Tonight it was the turn of Aria’s artistic partner Teiya Kasahara, a tour-de-force requiring brilliant singing, acting in multiple languages & several layers of irony. As I look at the two nights (and muse upon Saturday night’s program which I must miss) there is certainly a kind of balance at work between the two. It feels very much like yin & yang, the complementary sides of the operatic coin of dramaturgy and virtuosity, the director and the singer. The perfection of the symmetry whether in that 10-10 or in the balance between their personas or even their names is boggling my mind. My jaw drops as I think of what lies ahead for this intriguing company and its brilliant collaborators.

Afterwards we had another wonderful talk-back session, contemplating such things as the limits in the current operatic industry, proposing ways to break through to something new & wonderful. Watching Teiya sing parts of roles that one wouldn’t expect (thinking of the “fach” system, which categorizes the vocal requirements, and Teiya’s remarkable voice that transcends the usual limits), we went on to discuss the ways that pedagogy & the industry condition a culture resistant to change & newness. It’s breath-taking to imagine what the industry might become, especially through the injection of this new company’s creativity & politics of inclusivity.

Trevor Chartrand was a supportive presence at the piano, sometimes playing the piano part of the arias Teiya was exploring, sometimes taking us to wholly other realms –for instance in a soft & seductive reading of the Dance of the Seven Veils—in perfect partnership with Teiya. The piece was developed with Director Andrea Donaldson, a work in progress that I understand is coming back. If and when that happens don’t miss it, both for the amazing musical performances and the quirky satire.

The third night of the series (Saturday: October 12, 2019 @ 7:30 – What’s Known to Me is Endless at the Ernest Balmer Studio) concludes this brilliant launch of AMPLIFIED OPERA.

I offer Teiya & Aria my congratulations for an auspicious beginning.

Ernest Balmer Studio, 9 Trinity Street Tickets:
$25 at door, or online at http://www.amplifiedopera.com
More information: http://www.amplifiedopera.com

Posted in Music and musicology, Opera, Personal ruminations & essays, Politics, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Somewhere over the… moon?

Both works currently playing at the Canadian Opera Company feature a famous aria known by people who might otherwise not know the whole work.

In Turandot it’s “nessun dorma”, a piece associated with Luciano Pavarotti, and maybe a little bit with Aretha Franklin.

Perhaps they’re discussing it in the afterlife, …somewhere …. Up there?

Excuse me I can’t help thinking that way, because of the other opera and its big number.

The “Song to the moon” from Dvořák’s Rusalka is heard in recitals and on the radio, while the full opera, not so much. If you know the aria you may already know why I put that funny headline on this little meditation.

Suppose I play you a famous tune by Harold Arlen, that is closely associated with Judy Garland and the film The Wizard of Oz.

That opening phrase of the song, an octave leap upwards, seems to capture a wistful hope for a new life in a new place.

Arlen might have heard something like this before. Did he know Rusalka? I have no idea. But listen to the “Song to the moon” and judge for yourself.

And fortunately the soprano in this little clip happens to be the same one we’re hearing in Toronto namely Sondra Radvanovsky.

Which one do you like better? (i like both)

Today I went to the library to get a copy of the score.

I was cautioned as I took that particular score out.  There are 3 in the collection:

  • one all in Slavic languages,
  • one stiffly new meaning that the pages don’t stay open,
  • and another older one that I took…. )

I was cautioned!  A page was missing.

You only get one guess as to which page it is. Yes, the first page of the aria.

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See how the score jumps from page 44 to 47? 45 & 46 are missing in action.

Did someone rip it out? …a water-sprite unable to follow civilized rules in a library? Talk about getting into character..!

I was thinking about singing it. Yes I know, I’m a guy. But it sits in the same keys as two tenor pieces with which it might have some superficial resemblances
(…NOT like Arlen’s tune by the way!),
namely

1) “O Paradiso”– Meyerbeer

2) “O terra addio” (which is a duet not an aria…)–Verdi

 

In both cases I think the composer was trying for something gentle rather than imposingly difficult for the singer. The high notes for these (meaning the Verdi & the Meyerbeer) don’t have to be big and loud, although haha that doesn’t stop singers from turning the bel canto into can belto. But in fairness none of these operas are bel canto, they’re all grand operas.

I’ll be seeing Rusalka Saturday night, including Sondra. The librarian said the production is wonderful having seen the dress rehearsal yesterday.

Oh boy.

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