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A mad operatic mashup

Storage Shed, 128 Sterling Road
08/22/2010 -  and August 23*, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 2010
Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire
George Frideric Handel Orlando (excerpts)

Carla Huhtanen (Soprano), Scott Belluz (Counter-tenor)
The Classical Music Consort, Asiq Aziz (Conductor)
Patrick Eakin Young (Producer, Director, Designer), Heidi Ackerman (Costume Designer), Burke Brown (Lighting Designer), Nina Barnett (Video Animation), Remongton North (Techincal Director)

S. Belluz (© Tavishe Coulson)

Opera Erratica’s latest production focuses on madness with a self-described opera mashup. Two highly contrasted works are involved. One is Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire of 1912 composed for a voice (usually a soprano) using sprechstimme, a technique requiring words to be spoken at set pitches. The production contains the entirety of Pierrot Lunaire, all 21 poems, performed in the set order. They are interrupted, however, by sections from Handel’s 1733 opera, Orlando.

Pierrot Lunaire doesn’t really tell a story, but recounts a situation: the commedia dell' arte character Pierrot is sad because his beloved Columbine prefers Arlecchino. The plot of Orlando has no connection with these characters at all, but is also concerned with madness deriving from thwarted love, in this case the madness of the title character.

Patrick Eakin Young is thus using the Handel selections to enlarge upon the Schoenberg monodrama. Translations are projected on the stage scrim as part of the design (performers are sometimes in front of it, sometimes behind it) as well as parenthetical asides (Mr. Eakin Young’s I presume) to help give the work a bit of plot.

I can’t imagine Pierrot Lunaire being presented any better. Carla Huhtanen recites with intelligent expressiveness. The Schoenberg work lacks tonal variety (by design) and 21 poems all in the key of neurasthenic angst can get monotonous. The Handel interjections provide welcome contrast. Scott Belluz matches Ms Huhtanen in intensity. He starts out singing Handel, but after awhile they each get a chance at performing both works. At times his voice swoops down into his baritone register. At one point he gets to portray the elusive Columbine.

The style of the production is that of German expressionism from early last century, a style that remains resolutely avant garde going on a century later. (And let’s face it, sprechstimme has never really caught on.) Heidi Ackerman’s costumes are perfect. While this is a fitting way to put on the Schoenberg work, it would also work well for a full production of Handel’s opera seria.

Ashiq Aziz’s Classical Music Consort is small and each instrument tends to stand out, giving the group a rather gutsy character. Mr Aziz conducts from the harpsichord. Some players supplement the Consort for the Schoenberg, notably pianist Peter Longworth.

Please note the venue: storage shed. It is not a former industrial building turned into a performance venue (the city has lots of those), but an actual storage shed with metal walls and roof. There is seating for about 160 people facing a narrow performance platform; behind it (and behind the scrim) is where the 16-member orchestra sits. It works pretty well, and the place is not devoid of amenities. Outside there is a bar, plus a portable toilet for the men. (Women have use of an indoor facility in a neighbouring building.) The intrigued audience (a full house on a Monday evening in August!) gets to have a bit of an adventure.

Michael Johnson



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