The Mysteries. (Opera in Review: Toronto)

By Citron, Paula | Opera Canada, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview
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The Mysteries. (Opera in Review: Toronto)


Citron, Paula, Opera Canada


One of the best shows of the World Stage Festival was Broomhill Opera's The Mysteries, a South African version of the medieval Chester mystery plays that was filled with imagination, humor, poign-ancy, dance and some great a capella choral singing. The original Chester Cycle was put on by the guilds to teach people the Bible stories, and this production managed to retain the innocence of street theatre. The script embraced the major South African languages, but the performers were so animated and expressive, their storytelling transcended any language barrier. Led by the charismatic Vumile Nomanyama, who played both God and Jesus, the large cast seduced the audience with an abundance of enthusiasm and warm hearts.

The performers were selected from over 2,000 auditionees, most of whom had no stage experience but had learned their singing craft in the township choirs that have given birth to the great South African vocal tradition. The idea behind this production was to reflect the new South African multi-racial reality, and the international success of The Mysteries has made the mixed-race artists great ambassadors for their post-apartheid country.

The same company also mounted Bizet's Carmen, a rough-and-ready, earthy production that would have made the composer proud, and which Opera Canada reviewed from the Spoleto Festival last year. With the compelling Pauline Mafakene again in the title role (and Nomanyama as Escamillo), these gutsy performers proved that opera is as much about theatre as it is about singing.

The World Stage Festival ended with a splash, so to speak, with Thom Sokoloski's water opera, Kafka in Love. Sokoloski is artistic director of Autumn Leaf Performance, which specializes in innovative productions of eccentric music-theatre material, and Kafka in Love fits the bill. The opera took place in the University of Toronto's Hart House swimming pool, and was a cunning mix of taped music, synchronized swimming and film. The music, both vocal and instrumental, was all found, running the gamut from mystic sephardic chants to instrumental passages by such contemporary composers as Rainer Wiens and Linda Catlin Smith, to mention but a few.

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