A little Mozart, a little murder, a lot of fun

A little Mozart, a little murder, a lot of fun

Jenna Simeonov

Over the last few seasons, Joel Ivany has been pushing the limits of what it means to mess with Mozart. The Artistic Director of Against the Grain Theatre has written three new librettos, set to three “transladaptations” of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (Figaro’s Wedding), Don Giovanni (#UncleJohn), and Cos√¨ fan tutte (A Little Too Cozy); this summer at The Banff Centre, along with music director MiloŇ° Repicky, Ivany has presented No One’s Safe, a totally cool immersive theatre experience informally dubbed a “Mozart Murder Mystery Mashup”.

The premise: a dysfunctional Marshall family arrives outside an art gallery at the request of Stephen Marshall, son of Calvin. In operatic fashion, the Marshalls discover their father dead, complete with supposed murder weapon strewn nearby. As Stephen promises to call the police, the family splits up to deal with the aftermath in their own unique and scandalous ways.

The audience congregates with the Marshalls as they arrive, and they follow the family inside for the gruesome discovery. As the family goes their separate ways throughout the gallery, audience members are invited to follow specific characters along their journeys. The entire show is performed twice, giving an opportunity for listeners to follow a different character the second time around, and gain some new information on the mysterious murder.

The formula isn’t new in the world of theatre, but for opera, it’s very novel. Along with Ivany’s dialogue, the singers of No One’s Safe have their most interesting emotional outbursts through arias, duets, and ensembles from the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas. Except, that soprano aria is now sung by a guy, in another key. The text is different, and the orchestration couldn’t be farther from Mozart’s instrumentation. Arias are deconstructed to an almost unrecognizable point, and all of the numbers tell stories that are quite different from the tales originally set by Mozart. In No One’s Safe, “Dove sono” is about love gone wrong, but not the kind we expect; “Batti, batti” is a new kind of passive-aggressivity; the Count’s aria from Le nozze di Figaro is about a very different sort of re-gaining power.

Soprano Adanya Dunn in rehearsal for No One’s Safe, Walter Philips Gallery, The Banff Centre, 2016.

Fom an audience’s point of view, No One’s Safe is a theatre lover’s dream. The choose-your-own-adventure format is perfect fodder for the nosy listener, the kind who wants to interact with the characters they see, and the kind who wishes she could switch seats for Act II in order to catch new things. For those who recognize the Mozart selections, there’s a bonus layer of meaning; as a fertile ground for these new texts set to old music, Mozart-savvy listeners can take in what they see and hear, and put these stories up against the emotional journeys of the original characters in their “proper” operas.

The immersive aspect is what’s most appealing about Ivany’s latest creation. No One’s Safe, if it were revived with new casts and in new venues, is a show that would continue to morph and transform. The music, the dialogue, the character chemistry; it’s all malleable, which simply means it’s real. That kind of realness is at the heart of Against the Grain Theatre’s credo, and in this show, it’s distilled and concentrated.

The final piece of the mystery remains: will Toronto audiences get to parttake in a Mozart Mashup of their own?

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