He said/she said: Tap:Ex Metallurgy
Contributor Greg Finney and I went to Tapestry Opera's opening of Tap:Ex Metallurgy last night. It was one of those shows where one review didn't seem to do it justice. So, here's our She said/He said account of one of the coolest operatic events we'd ever seen.
Jenna: Tapestry Opera has my vote for crossover project of the year. They opened Tap:Ex Metallurgy last night, which put Canadian opera favourites Krisztina Szabó and David Pomeroy on the stage with Jonah Falco and Mike Haliechuk, Canadian punk favourites of Fucked Up. With guest librettist David James Brock, Jonah Falco and Mike Haliechuk wrote two original pieces for this show, entitled Metallurgy A and B. On top of Fucked Up members Falco, Haliechuk, and Josh Zuker, they collected an orchestra of strings and keys, including violinists Yoobin Ahn and Boris Kupesic, cellists Cory Latkovich and Blanche Israël (who also writes for Schmopera!), Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg on sythesizer/drum/piano, and pianist, Music Director, and Tapestry conductor-in-residence, Jordan de Souza.
Tapestry's studio in the Distillery District had new white walls, but a familiar bar at the back; Michael Mori, Tapestry Artistic Director and mind behind the Tap:Ex series, introduced the night simply, adding, "we know that good libations make art better." I had lots of enthusiasm about this show, but almost zero info about what I was going to hear. "In writing our piece for 'Metallurgy,'" says Falco in his notes, "all of the same ideas about narrative connection in our music and words held up remarkably under the pressure of being transplanted to the form of opera." He told me that he and Haliechuk had never used musical notation in this level of detail before, and that he gave himself a crash course in how to use Sibelius in order to get a score made for their work.
The whole night had a crazy feeling of naturalism about it, heightened by the awesome lighting design (kudos to production designer David DeGrow), flashing saturated colours that felt retro in a great way. Metallurgy A is the story of a couple dealing with the loss of a child; they grieve, argue, and they miss their daughter. It's all the stuff of opera, of course, plus a few microphones and more guitars. Falco and Haliechuk must have been inspired by the sounds of Szabó and Pomeroy; they wrote heroic lines for both of them to sing, using the most exciting parts of their voices. Pomeroy's stuff could have been out of Otello or Werther, and Szabó was playing the dramatic soprano for the night. It seemed like this music was the culmination of imagination and major skill; punk rockers aren't known for their acoustic vocal power, and I could hear their reverence of what these opera singers could do.
Metallurgy A had a timeless, earthy sound to it, with a smart musical arc throughout. One by one, orchestra members stopped playing and calmly left the studio. At the end, Szabó was left with violinist Yoobin Ahn, a picture of a mother and her ghostly daughter. It was thoughtful stuff, but more importantly, it was viscerally affecting. It sounds silly, but the sound of an electric guitar can be nostalgic like nothing else. The same goes for singing with microphones, oddly enough. Pomeroy and Szabó used the mics well, including on the soft end; it felt more real, and more familiar. Listening to it was a series of lightbulb moments in how to solve those pesky questions about opera's relevance.
Metallurgy B is by David James Brock and composer Ivan Barbotin, and I thought it was wicked. The program says it's a story of "Love 'at first sight' to a lifetime of ups and downs in 15 minutes." It starts with a sexy 80s rockstar chord when they first lock eyes, and then the music lives up to its description. We get their first date, first fight, make up sex, anniversaries, marriage, kids, and we hear them constantly questioning all of it. "How did we get so old?" was a favourite line of mine. It had a feel of Jason Robert Brown, with a bonus moment of mid-argument, aggressive guitar-playing by Pomeroy himself (earning himself some actual whoops and cheers). I loved it, and I think I was far from the only one.
It was such a touching show. It was polished and thoughtful, but at the same time it was totally vulnerable and endearing, almost fallible. I really hope this isn't the last we hear of this stuff.
I'm off to go listen to some Fucked Up, now.
Greg: HOLY CRAP WHAT A COOL NIGHT!
That's my review, thanks for checking in!
Okay, fine, I'll go into more detail.
Tapestry Opera Artistic Director Michael Mori does it yet again with this instalment at the Ernest Balmer Theatre in the Distillery District. Fresh new white walls and an electricity in the air definitely put me in the right mood for this amazing show. Seriously, pause reading this and book a ticket now, then come back to me. Got your ticket booked? Good... let's continue.
We were greeted by the Tapestry family as we arrived, and brought to our seats conveniently located by the bar. The crowd was definitely not your typical Thursday night opera crowd, which only added to the excitement in the air. The room was set up with a modest stage at one end and before you knew it it was loaded with a team of incredibly attractive musicians.
The show started with a piece created with the members of art-punk band Fucked Up! (the band whose frontman, Damian Abraham, moderated our Toronto Mayor's Arts debate during the "Fall of the Fords" with astounding success). Members Mike Haliechuck, Josh Zucker and Jonah Falco (all three earn a resounding #tripleswoontimesinfinity) worked with Michael Mori to create a rather beautiful, lyric piece. The voices of David Pomeroy and Krisztina Szabó suited the colour palette perfectly. There were delicious washes of colour and sound, and probably the most intelligent use of synthesizer in classical music that I've seen yet.
Coming in at around 30 minutes long, the piece plays almost as sort of a concept album in front of you, with musicians straight-up taking their instruments and leaving the stage during the denouement of the piece. It didn't have a clearly delineated narrative, but I was okay with that. The poetry was a little abstract, but it lent itself wonderfully to the sounds and colours created by these two great singers. The boys in Fucked Up really dove headlong first into this foray and were wildly successful. I'm definitely left thinking there should be WAY more electric guitar in today's opera.
The second half was a piece composed by one of my local favourites Ivan Barbotin with text by David James Brock. It was an examination of a love affair in full passing by in 15 minutes. The score reminds me of some of the interesting, emotion driven points of Jason Robert Brown's music, but written for the operatic delivery. It was incredibly effective and moving and I hope to keep seeing more from Barbotin. His palette is one of the most interesting (And beautiful and gasp Singable) I've heard from a new composer. There was some fantastic singing in this piece as well. Pomeroy and Szabó were charming, believable and nuanced in their presentation. Their presentation of an argument between the two was decidedly true and electrifying. "Don't you dare play that f*cking guitar!!" Spoiler alert: Pomeroy can totally shred.
As always, Szabó blew my mind. Her instrument is one-of-a-kind and she has cemented herself as a darling of Canadian experimental music and opera, and we really couldn't be luckier. Her sensibility and sensitivity to the material is truly inspiring, and even though she claimed to be under the weather, still sang like a goddess from Seventh Heaven. David Pomeroy, in my opinion a seriously under-rated singer here in town, sang with a free open tone that was both relaxing and invigorating. His command of his middle register, which is always something I watch for with higher voices, was on point. He sang the whole night incredibly well, and I hope he's as stoked about his performance as I was. Bravo, signor.
Conductor Jordan De Souza, currently showing up everywhere in the media and totally crushing it this year, led the night with a steady hand and a sensitivity to the marriage of both of these art forms. While I wouldn't necessarily classify this show fully in the opera category, it was definitely an amazing concert of some really dramatic art-song work. The first half feeling like I was at a friend's house who had unearthed this awesome LP and was sharing it with me for the first time and the second feeling a little more fleshed out dramatically, and possibly a little more accessible in it's execution.
The white room was light with vibrant washes of LED colour cycling through a very vivid palette which led me to ask if Siminovitch-Prize-Winner Jason Hand had been involved. It was vivid, and lush and was very similar in execution and effect to the work Hand did in AtG's Death and Desire.
The only qualm I had was some of the diction was quite muddled due to the use of microphones in a small space. I get that it was totally necessary to balance the sonic scape of the whole piece (I've sung un-miked with electric instruments before and it's not something I would recommend doing or hearing) but there is such a thing as mic technique and it's something we RARELY get the chance to practice and can sometimes make or break you in a situation like this. The unclarity (it's a word now, deal with it) of text wasn't prevalent enough to take you out of the performance, just something logistic to think about when adding the use of those pesky, yet helpful little devils.
All in all, it's a great night of music, and since you booked your ticket several paragraphs ago, you're going to get to see it too! It runs the rest of the weekend.
Nota bene: The Toronto Christmas Market opens in the Distillery District on Friday, November 20th. So go early and check out the vendors.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I LOVE CHRISTMAS.
Tap:Ex Metallurgy plays for three more shows, 8pm on November 20th 8pm AND 10pm on November 21st, at the Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District. For details and tickets, follow the box office links below.
Punk and operatic virtuosity collide in Tapestry’s latest exploration of opera evolution. Committed to experimentation and innovation, the annual Tap:Ex series explores modes through which opera might assume a twenty-first century rebirth. In its third year, Tapestry is collaborating with members of members of F-ed Up, the Polaris Prize-winning punk provocateurs, and two of Canada’s most masterful and versatile opera singers, mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó and tenor David Pomeroy.