Against the Grain Theatre

By Douglas, Jenna | Opera Canada, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Against the Grain Theatre


Douglas, Jenna, Opera Canada


Against the Grain Theatre closed its 2014/15 season with Death & Desire, a blending of Schubert's iconic Die schone Mullerin and Messaien's stunning Harawi. AtG is good at coming up with ideas that seem obvious in hindsight; Death & Desire, in which two works that each tell a complete and unique story are, as Artistic Director Joel Ivany puts it, "shuffled together like a deck of cards," is one of them.

The idea for Death & Desire came from AtG Music Director Christopher Mokrzewski, a great fan of Messaien. Mokrzewski took the piano for both song cycles, joined by two of today's strongest Canadian singers, bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus (Die schone Mullerin) and mezzo Krisztina Szabo (Harawi). With Ivany directing, the small ensemble told a brand new story that was incredibly specific and touching.

Presented in Neubacher Shor Contemporary, set and costume designer Michael Gianfrancesco created a minimal scene inside the acoustically sound gallery space. Hegedus was dressed in white and Szabo in black, their world visually limited to a table and two chairs, suggesting the lovers' domestic life. Two square backdrops stood upstage of the set, one taking up a full wall, a smaller one centred slightly downstage. Lighting designer Jason Hand created a visual answer to the two voices with saturated, stark colours projected onto these squares. Stark whites and passionate reds took us through the stages of romande love, and Hands use of contrast became grittier as the plot thickened. I loved that it was overwhelming, yet simple and organic.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Messaien's music began the night, setting up an ambiguous world between dream and reality. There wasn't anything jarring about hearing Messaien followed by Schubert, which was something I had wondered about before the show. Instead, the two sound palates of the songs became the voices of the man and woman, delineating their feelings about the connection between them. The dramatic arcs of each cycle allowed for a human picture of a developing relationship. The man and woman meet, become intimate, create a new life together. With the first three songs of Die Schone Mullerin, Hegedus becomes a curious and optimistic lover, an idealistic foil for Szabo's more obsessive love. …

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