Archive for June, 2009

LUMINATO’S “A Poe Cabaret” reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Monday, June 9, 2009, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto.

The opening night crowd of glitterati cramming the lobby flowed like uncorked bubbly into the theatre (arranged like a cabaret) and gathered in congenial groups at cloth covered tables to rubberneck and drink till the lights went out.

The Art of Time Ensemble’s Andrew Burashko and friends had a table beside Esprit Orchestra’s conductor Alex Pauk with his wife Alexina Louie, one of the evening’s featured composers, and their family. Roman Borys, cellist with The Gryphon Trio (Music Director of the Ottawa Chambermusic Festival) moved around the room chatting. Various ‘Luminaries’—the well heeled sponsors in attendance—were thanked by Luminato CEO Janice Price for helping to make this the third largest multimedia festival in the world.

Ms. Price reminded us that Luminato is about making exciting discoveries. My discovery of the evening was an innovative work by a sadly overlooked French composer, brilliantly performed by the Penderecki Quartet and virtuoso harpist Lori Gemmel.

Andre Caplet (1878-1925) is known, if at all, as the arranger of some of Claude Debussy’s compositions. If not for the ‘Poe theme’ of this Cabaret, we would not likely have discovered his Conte fantastique for harp and string quartet (1908), based on Poe’s story The Masque of the Red Death. The rippling arpeggio’s and distinctive timbres of the harp infused the texture of Penderecki’s strings and entranced the mind to imagine without actors, singers or words, Poe’s parable of ubiquitous plague death entering a place of entertainment somewhat parallel to our own situation this evening.

Again, thanks to Poe, we got to enjoy another performance of music for harp and strings as The Penderecki and Ms. Gemmel performed Alexina Louie’s The Raven, co-commissioned by Luminato and the Ottawa Chamber Music Society. Tom Allen’s earnest reading  made  Poe’s ‘gothic’ post-traumatic love poem sound like Dr. Seuss. The good of it was I had to focus on appreciating the magnetizing drama of Ms. Louie’s music and the wakeful combination of harp and strings.

Beyond seeing the Poe Cabaret as a vehicle for introducing music for string quartet and harp, I can’t say much good for the rest of the evening. First off, Poe is so Vincent Price. Then, the archaic English of his poetry, declaimed in a Canadian accent in the broad manner of Stratford or The Shaw Festival, well, I just couldn’t get into it.

It’s always nice to see and hear Patricia O’Callaghan, that’s for sure. There were promising moments in the musical monologue as Mark Campbell’s libretto based on Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart was ably sung by Tenor Sean Robert Clark to subtly discordant music composed and performed by Lance Horn. Mike Ross as Master of Ceremonies, Director Lorenzo Savoini and his crew went all out to find ways of putting this show across.

But for the music, it was a Poe show. The audience (to quote Bob Dylan) “Started out so fine, but left looking just like a ghost.”

LUMINATO presents Robert Lepage’s LIPSYNCH reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009, Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto.

“Ain’t that a kick in the head!” I said to myself after witnessing the first act of Robert Lepage’s mindblowing epic Lipsynch.

Co-commissioned by Luminato, Lepage’s multimedia/polygenric, theatrical-musical multilingual head-kicking moral entertainment currently touring world capitols blazed through the 9 hours of its Canadian debut at the Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto last night.

The audience kept up a high frequency buzz during the four intermissions and dinner break, ending the evening shouting, clapping, and stamping their joy through four curtain calls.

Think “Lady Madonna.” In front of a red curtained set, the sad music of Gorecki’s Third Symphony plays while a darkened monumental female figure sings a hymn to her child.

The curtains part to reveal the interior of an aircraft flying from Frankfurt to Montreal. While the flight attendant dispenses drinks, a baby cries in the lap of a teenaged female who never moves, because she is dead. Another passenger, an operatic contralto played by Rebecca Blankenship (who sang the opening Gorecki aria), cradles the baby until the flight lands.

As the story progresses through an awe-inspiring series of tableaux, the ‘opera singer’ finds the baby, adopts him, names him Jeremy, raises him to young manhood, and endures his cruel rejection of her.

Jeremy’s search for the truth about his ‘birth’ mother, the fictional film version of that truth we see him making, his marriage to the film star who resembles his birth mother, and the birth of their child, lead Jeremy (played by Rick Miller) back to his adoptive mother, Ada.

Ada then gives Jeremy a documentary film in which Lupe, his Nicaraguan teenaged mother (played by Nuria Garcia) is given a voice and tells the story (of her sexual enslavement arranged by her uncle and a German pimp) to the French Canadian indie lesbian documentary film-maker who put her on the plane. This is a telling of “Lady Madonna” redeemed from chaos by the love given to the child of her misfortune.

My original “Ain’t that a kick in the head!” feeling came from the awesome virtuosity of the production. Actors switch fluidly from flawless English to German to Spanish and French (accented a la France et Québec). Subtitles appear or not, as needed. All sorts of cool digital enhancements abound.

The sets and scene-changes are unimaginable until you witness them and are uplifted by the imagination that created them. A plane becomes a train becomes a subway car that you step out of into a dining room. Previously invisible stage-hands appear to intrude on one scene then come into the open as the next set morphs into the setup of a movie set where they belong and are managed by a miked stage manager with a Brit accent.

This team’s actors can deliver stunning vocal peformances—Frédéricke Bédard’s free jazz “April in Paris”, Rick Miller’s screaming version of Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast.” Even Sarah Kemp’s low key but flawless lipsynch of “Do You Know the Way to San José?” opens our understanding of how artspeech in the mouth of an ‘ordinary’ person can raise a moment of life closer to an ideal state.

Lipsynch is from a mind in which all boundaries are defining but also are endowed with transparency, flexibility, permeability. It is a questioning, or doubting mind that does not need to be stuck in any category in order to feel real.  Tragic scenes are constructed to crack open into hysterical laughter that engulfs actors and audience alike. The schizoid background buzz of mental patient Michelle’s mind transforms into a voice of sanity that contains affirmative poetry uplifting herself, the other characters in her bookstore, and the audience that is moved to applaud ‘performances’ in the story.

The energy of the laughter released by the audience in this production purges the sadness and bitterness out of the dark truths revealed and leaves us feeling free to enjoy the display of creative talent that is Lipsynch.

And, not all the truths are dark. In the bigger picture, which this 9 hour experience provides, our separate lives are intertwined, are familiar, are part of a family. There are no foreigners, no foreign languages in the world of Lipsynch.

On this stage, the familiar scenes of our life, through repetition, become not boring but ritualized, and therefore sacred. Especially the sounds we make in our speech and our songs connect us through love, and are also sacred. Our lost ancestral voices are present in our own voices.

In a way, everything we say to each other is just us lipsynching the past we loved and thought we lost. Not to worry.

The production continues June 9-11, 13 & 14. Details here.

Eve Egoyan Plays Ann Southam’s SIMPLE LINES OF ENQUIRY reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Saturday, May 30, 2009. Enwave Theatre, Toronto

Being in the concert hall while Eve Egoyan plays the 12 movements of Ann Southam’s Simple Lines of Enquiry for solo piano is like being in an art gallery where 12 abstract canvases hang on white walls. The 12 movements of Simple Lines ‘depict’ slight-to-subtle variations of seemingly similar musical lines, hues and tonal materials. And, just as the experience of visual art occurs in a silent gallery, so the experience of this musical event, these sound paintings generate an atmosphere of silence.

Southam’s composition is atonal, minimalist, serial. Typically, you hear Ms. Egoyan play a cluster of 5-10 notes which are allowed to hang in the air, mingle their overtones, and fade away into near silence before she resumes her attack on the next cluster. These tone rows vibrating from the box of the fabulous Fazioli piano are like beads of different sizes, threaded at varying intervals along a continuity of overtones that seems to emerge as a principle subject of the music—a simple line of enquiry.

The melodies, such as they are, involve much repetition, like a lullaby. The end effect is to focus the mind and relax it at the same time, creating a steady state that binds the attack and flux of each note and each cluster together as a thing itself. This results in a kind of melting of the affections, as if Ms. Egoyan’s concentrated discipline develops a musical posture that enables a sense of fluidity to flow towards relaxation and the possibility of bliss.

The initial movements of Southam’s composition takes place more in the middle toward the high end of the keyboard. The later movements move the energy toward the deep end and facilitate that melting. As the piece progresses, there seems to emerge out the monochromatic subtleties of the tone rows, hints of romanticism. Out of the abstract purity of the music, nuances of narrative, passionate and dramatic arise as fleetingly glimpses, then subside into the coolness of abstraction.

As the in title Ms.Southam gave her work, this was the performance of an ‘Enquiry’, rather than a statement of anything. Her openness, and Ms. Egoyan’s daring presentation of the simple black and white of the music, remain appealing and memorable in my mind.

For more information about the Centrediscs recording of Ms. Egoyan’s performance of SIMPLE LINES OF ENQUIRY, please goto