The Creation of Ines (3); Queen on Puddings Sets the Cast and Finds a New Leading Lady in Lisbon

Article excerpt

Immediately after last May's five-day workshop of Ines, Toronto-based Queen of Puddings Music Theatre's new opera from composer James Rolfe and librettist Paul Bentley, the creative team held a post-mortem to assess progress. QofP co-artistic directors Dairine Ni Mheadhra and John Hess sat with Rolfe and stage director Jennifer Tarver in Toronto, while the London, England-based bentley, who had a CD of the complete run-through of the piece that concluded the workshop, contributed online.

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Overall, everyone was positive, and the result happily confirmed plans to stage they world premiere next February in Toronto. Some fine-tuning of the libretto meant Rolfe would have to look at his music again to make sure it suited the stresses sounds of any new language, but otherwise he was almost finished with the piano/vocal composition and ready to orchestrate it this fall. Tarver and QofP, meanwhile, could put together the full production team and start planning strategy and tactics for the non-musical elements--design, logistics, marketing--necessary to bring an opera to the stage.

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At the post-mortem, though, there was one critical musical question. For a number of reasons, the cast sang the May workshop wasn't the same as the one that had performed the first complete run-through last December. Now, with only about nine months to go to the premiere, it was necessary to make major changes.

Based on an iconic episode in medieval Portuguese history, though set in late 20th century Toronto and Lisbon, Ines involves a classic love triangle that encompasses Pedro, an army medic who immigrates to Canada after deserting from the Portuguese army during its 1960s action in Angola, his wife, Constanca, and Ines, the beautiful Fado singer he falls in love with in Toronto. Rounding out the cast are Pedro's parents: the proper and possessive mother who ends up murdering Ines and her husband, an army general shamed by his son's desertion. While baritone Giles Tomkins, who has sung the role of Pedro since the outset of the project, and bass-baritone Thomas Goerz, who sang the father in the May workshop, will create their roles at the premiere, they will be singing alongside three new female principals.

Soprano Laura Albino, who had sung Constanca, won a place in the Canadian Opera Company's Ensemble Studio, which meant she would not be available for the five weeks of rehearsals and preparation leading up to the premiere. Meanwhile, after singing Pedro's mother in the workshop, soprano Laura Whalen was first to recommend that the role was better suited to a mezzo. Finally, Catarina Cardeal, the Torontobased fado singer who had sung Ines, was unable to continue with the project. Filling the first two roles was relatively easy, says Ni Mheadhra, who assigned Constanca to soprano Shannon Mercer and the mother to mezzo Elizabeth Turnbull. "The idea of assigning the role of Ines to an opera singer was broached, but rejected because fado has its own distinctive color and language that set it far apart from opera."

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Fado is unique to Portugal, a genre of popular music that's like blues in its emphasis on love, longing and loss. In Ines, Rolfe has woven fado-inflected threads through his musical fabric, especially for the title character. It needs a classically trained voice and a feel for such music to meet all the demands of the role convincingly. "The biggest question after the postmortem was, 'Where do we get the fado singer?"' says Ni Mheadhra. "The obvious answer seemed to be, 'Go to Lisbon."'

Over the four-year gestation of Ines and frequent trips to Portugal, Ni Mheadhra had come to love the country, especially Lisbon and the old capital of Coimbra, where the historical Ines drama played out. Earlier this year, she took Hess for his first visit, and they dropeped by the fado museum in Lisbon. As he leafed through music in the store, she struck up a conversation with the museum's co-director, Ana Rodrigues. …