In review: The Seven Deadly Sins at TSO

In review: The Seven Deadly Sins at TSO

l-r: Stephen Hegedus, Geoff Sirett, IsaiahBell, Own McCausland, Wallis Giunta, & Jennifer Nichols. Photo: Jag Gundu.

Wednesday night was a fab night for music in Toronto with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Andrew Balfour's delightful Kiwetin-acahkos (North Star): Sesquie for Canada’s 150th, a TSO première/TSO co-commission started the evening. Arranged for string orchestra and featuring one oboe and two French horns, the piece evoked images of misty mountains coming awake under the aurora.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has been presenting what Artistic Director Peter Oundjian called the Decades Project, which is currently examining 1930 to 1939. Last night we were smack-dab right in the middle of the 1930s. While the world witnessed the Great Depression, artists kicked into overdrive in creating beautiful works that distracted the masses from the current state of affairs - while not forgetting the reason they needed the distraction in the first place. The soundscapes are lush but still tonically accessible.

Barber's masterpiece, Adagio For Strings, with all its delicious suspensions and dissonance resolving into sublime harmony, was the highlight of the first half. The performance by the TSO was stirring and emotional, which is why it's often chosen for end-of-life life celebrations, most notably President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Oundjian's tempo felt a tad rushed at the outset, but settled into a brisker (for lack of a better word) Adagio then we're used to, but I altogether loved. It added an undertone of urgency while not neglecting the stateliness inherent in the piece. When all the players swung up to the apogee before the reiterating of the A theme, Oundjian had to stop the audience from breaking into thunderous applause - and rightfully so, it was a thrilling moment of masterful music making.

TSO closed the first half with Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. This four-movement work depicted clearly the bleakness of the state of affairs in the 30s, but driven with and underlying sense of defiance and determination. Played expertly by everyone onstage, my only qualm was in the second movement when the orchestra seemed to get away from Oundjian's baton. This may not have been the case of what actually happened as Bartók's score is full of mayhem and silliness surrounded by moments of heightened Romantic lyricism.

And then after the intermission...

Peter Oundjian, Wallis Giunta (centre), and Jennifer Nichols in Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins, TSO. Photo: Jag Gundu.

Kurt Weill's music has been a favourite of classical singers from get-go. His theatrical scores and use of melody and voice-leading lend themselves exquisitely to a classical approach while still allowing the singers to feel jazzy and sexy.

Die Sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins) is no exception.

Originally conceived by Weill for George Balanchine as a "sung ballet", Joel Ivany directs this show in the same spirit. The show was work shopped at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity as part of Theatre Arts Residency; he teams up again in Toronto with choreographer and dancer Jennifer Nichols ( AtG's Messiah, Opera Atelier, TV's Reign) to bring us a powerful staging. The singers were mic'd (great idea) and with the help of Jason Hand's lights, Krista Dowson's costumes, and video presentations directed by Nichols and Chris Monette (fantastically shot by Monette), the TSO audience was taken on a ride they don't normally go on.

I do, though. And it was thrilling to be there.

Composed in 1933 with a libretto by Bertolt Brecht, Die Seben Todsünden tells the story of two sisters, both named Anna, who set off around the US to perform and make money to send back to their family on order to buy a house in Louisiana. The notes provided in the program detail its production history and its basis in satire criticizing capitalism, and they talk about the differences between the two Annas.

Ivany seems to take a different tack with their relationship. It almost seems this time around as though Anna I (the singer) is actually part of Anna II's (the dancer) demise. She seems to be the one encouraging her sister to indulge in the seven sins in order to make their money. #CouPIMPgh.

Presented with the orchestra (who played flawlessly) onstage, the action took place along the front half of the Roy Thomson Hall stage with Wallis Giunta singing Anna I, and Nichols dancing as Anna II, both telling their story. Their family was portrayed by a group of strapping men: tenors Isaiah Bell (Father) and Owen McCausland (Brother), baritone Geoffrey Sirett (Brother). and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus (Mother). The men did double duty representing the family and shifting seamlessly into the faceless men whom the Annas use as they go from city to city.

Jennifer Nichols (centre) and Wallis Giunta in Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins, TSO. Photo: Jag Gundu.

This is possibly the best I've ever heard Giunta. I may have said that before, but I mean it this time too. I feel like she has found her niche and I believe she has a lot more tricks up her sleeve. She brought Anna to life, in living colour, while using every tool Weill provides. As her counterpart, Nichols was the perfect match for Giunta. They reminded me of sirens as the show progressed. Beautiful, yet devastating.

The four men sang so well together, I regularly had to double-take to see who was singing; Hegedus and Sirett's power proved a perfectly solid base (pardon the pun) for Bell and McCausland to sail over. Their ensemble was on point and they handled some rather complex choreography incredibly well (#lifts), while losing none of their high quality of singing.

The show left the audience momentarily stunned - both from the beauty and the interpretation.

P.S. - thank you for closing your dramatic envelope so clearly

P.P.S. - love the somewhat Shyamalanian (did I just coin a word?) twist.

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Written by

Greg Finney

Greg Finney

Gregory Finney is a Toronto-based baritone, with experience as a singer, actor and dancer. He is a frequent contributor for Schmopera.com. He's a graduate of Acadia University in Voice Performance, Music Theatre & Dance, and he's one of Toronto's busiest singers.

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