High expectations and opera + rock climbing in Gould's WallReview
Sorry this guy is so delayed! I got carried away making my directorial debut, but more on that later. Let’s talk about this super cool show I saw!
Growing up tagged as one of the “advanced” students academically, I existed in a world of high expectations. Expectations from others and myself. Meeting them wasn’t enough either. They always had to be exceeded. In that, I can totally empathize with that aspect of the eponymous hero of the show I’m going to talk about. In other ways, it was an interesting examination of struggle, determination, and the overwhelming pressure of other people’s expectations.
Gould’s Wall, by Brian Current with a libretto by Liza Balkan, has been delayed basically since the very beginning of the pandemic. Through it all, Tapestry Opera and Maniac Star managed to produce this work. Presented by The Royal Conservatory of Music in collaboration with Toronto Summer Music and The Glenn Gould School, the show is quite the experience.
Telling the story of a gifted young artist on her journey climbing to new heights in her career – we get opera plus rock climbing. The site specific piece uses a wall in the modern atrium, which, prior to the renovations and additions, was the outside wall of the old conservatory. A rough stone wall with brick accents and trim stands lofty and imposing over both levels of the atrium.
Our artist, Louise, invokes Canadian classical music icon Glenn Gould (namesake of the aforementioned school) to guide her as she climbs to the apex. Interspersed with her journey we are offered a glimpse inside Gould’s mind through a series of memories.
Combining a mixture of rock climbing and aerialism, soprano Lauren Pearl was enthralling. Their incredible singing was in no way impeded by the harness nor the physical feats being performed. Pearl was able to to find the perfect balance between the relaxed, free core to produce singing of that calibre and the strong, fully-engaged core needed to swing oneself over the heads of the audience over 20 (30?) feet in the air.
Singing the role of the eponymous pianist is tenor Roger Honeywell. His sleek vocals married well with Current’s score, at times delicate and intimate and other times steely and full, Honeywell’s actual physicalization of Gould was quite nuanced, made large enough for the stage but never venturing anywhere close to caricature. Honeywell and Pearl’s voices blended together excellently, easily dancing around each other through Currents tricky score.
Filling out the cast was baritone Justin Welsh as Louise’s strict yet caring teacher. Cleverly infusing the piano lesson fingering language with the actual act of using their fingers in climbing, Welsh and Pearl had a wonderful musical dance. As The Mother Andrea Nadine Ludwig sang with a long, clean legato while Caitlin Wood as The Housewife brought her signature brightness and twinkle. Finishing off a fabulous quartet was Keith Klassen and his virile tenor as The Celebrity. The four sang in a tight ensemble while dangling out of four windows in Gould’s Wall. Their music was intricate and interesting. As The Girl Alice Malahkov, of the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus, sang with a promising voice and I look forward to a lot more from her.
The score was dazzling. Five pianos in the orchestra, which I don’t think needs to be explained, was really cool. Philip Akin’s staging was unique and fresh and managed to work quite well in the rather narrow depth of the performing space.
I didn’t read along with the libretto provided in the program. The acoustics of that space are quite active and even with the singers being amplified (smart choice!) some of the diction was a little hard to catch - understandably. A space like that just gobbles consonants up. I still however got all of the story and intentions of the players, even if a syllable was lost here or there.
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another three years to see this. I know it takes performers with a very specific skill set, but they’re out there.
As we have just so witnessed.