Oct. 24, 2012 - Issue #888: Winter Guide 2012
Two companies put different spins on the big O
The first is long-established around the province, but Alberta Opera, now 29 seasons old, makes use of the O-word in name only: it's been quite a while since the company tackled traditional opera as it did in its early days, having long ago moved on to musical theatre adaptations of classic stories, and touring those through schools and theatres alike (the company's full title now includes the subhead "Musical Theatre For Young People"). Currently helmed by the artistic partnership of Farren Timoteo and composer Jeff Unger, it's been that way as long as Timoteo's been involved—he cautions that he isn't quite sure when the switch came, but thinks it was fairly early on in the company's history.
"I don't want to speak out of turn," he notes, "[but] when Garner [Butler] and Jeff formed their artistic union, and started composing and creating together, I think the rewards were pretty instant: it was fun, it was creative, it was pushing them as artists, and it felt like the right direction for Alberta Opera to go."
The company's certainly seen that shift in direction greeted warmly over the years: it played to some 75 000 students in 2011, and has plenty of Sterling nominations and wins attached to its name. Now that much-lauded artistic push is being applied to Sleeping Beauty: Timoteo and Unger have assembled a squadron of MacEwan grads to blast through 117 years of the fairy tale sleeping princess. It was the idea of toying with time, Timoteo notes, that shaped their take on the tale. Not just in what happens during the protagonist's main snooze, but also in a number of leaps in time the fairy tale offers.
"As we started looking into those, we discovered there was a whole kingdom at work here," Timoteo says. "That it wasn't just this royal family that was being affected by these changes, it might be interesting to explore how a person can make a decision, and what kind of effect that has on a whole populace of people, and how that might change over the course of years.
"Typically, in the original fairy tale, after the princess has been cursed by the evil fairy, the king or the queen bans spinning wheels," he continues. "We took that to the next level: we have the queen banning spinning wheels—spinning wheels, round everything. So we then go 16 years into the future and see how extremely that's been interpreted, and how those kinds of things change: costumes are square. We put it into the choreography, the music's in a square time signature. Things like that."
The other off-the-path take on opera, much newer to town, sticks to more traditional subject matter but veers off the beaten path to find new pefromance places. Mercury Opera, whose tagline is "Opera Where You Least Expect It," offers just that: last year, the company took over an LRT station. Now, it's the grounds of the downtown Farmer's Market.
Fiamma (Italian for "fire") will station itself (and audiences) in an "alleyway of light," and string together a selection of fiery female operatic numbers by an assembeld cast of Alberta vocal talent.
Darcia Parada, who created Mercury Opera and its unusual stagings in New York before transplanting to Edmonton, notes both the rarity and potency of seeing such powerful singers up close.
"Any performance can gain [from this]," she explains. "But maybe with Opera ... because singers are vibrating on such a high level when they're singing in that style, they're not trying to sing into a microphone, they're making big sound. The sound is around them. I don't know if you've ever gotten up close to someone who was singing opera with a big, operatic voice. I mean, in our case, it's going to be amplified, because we don't have a choice. But there is a visceral thing that happens.
"When you're in a 2500-seat house—and imagine how deep the stage is—you really don't get a sense of that at all," Parada continues. "So the closer you are, the more immediate it is, in every possible way."
Fri, Oct 26 – Sun, Nov 4
Directed by Farren Timoteo
Westbury Theatre, $12.50 – $18
Fri, Oct 26 (6 pm; show at 8 pm)
The Armstong Block,
10129 - 104 St (parlour floor), $25 – $30 vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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