Gooding, Wayne, Opera Canada
Opera has been largely missing in action at Toronto's Luminato Festival, but this June's edition had intriguing and entertaining music theatre. Tapestry New Opera Works launched the festival with performances of Dark Star Requiem, a critical history of AIDS in 14 movements by composer Andrew Staniland to a dense, poetic libretto by Jill Battson. It's perhaps best characterized as a dramatic cantata, engagingly staged by the ever-resourceful Tom Diamond. Working with inventive designs and projections by Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson, Diamond succeeded in crafting an intricate theatrical veneer on a concert piece.
Tapestry's Wayne Strongman conduced an ensemble that consisted of the excellent Gryphon Trio and two full batteries of percussion (Ryan Scott and Mark Duggan) set like stereo speakers on either side of the stage. The quartet of soloists--soprano Neema Bickersteth, mezzo Krisztina Szabo, baritone Peter McGillivray and bass-baritone Marcus Nance--and a chorus of 20 sang and acted their way around the musicians. Staniland's score is complex in tone, texture, color and genre, but the singers handled it all with panache. If Battson's libretto is too terse at times and too wordy at others, it nevertheless covers a dark and difficult subject thoughtfully, provocatively and even with some humor.
It's difficult to classify The Infernal Comedy: Confessons of a Serial Killer, though its creator, Michael Sturminger, calls it "a stage-play for Baroque Orchestra, two sopranos and one actor." Staged by Muzikkonzept, Vienna with that city's Ronacher Theatre, the piece is really an elaborate conceit, a show within in a show in which Jack Unterweger (a real-life serial killer, played here by John Malkovich) reflects on his life and crimes on a book-promotion tour. As he thinks back, episodes take life on stage and Unterweger/Malkovich interacts with two sopranos who sing selections from Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and von Weber. The period-instrument Vienna Academy Orchestra, conducted by Martin Haselbock, was onstage throughout. Sopranos Bernarda Bobro and Marie Arnet handled the varied music very well, and, together with Malkovich, created some good dramatic tension. …