In review: Fawn Opera's L'homme et le ciel

In review: Fawn Opera's L'homme et le ciel

Jenna Simeonov

Friday night, I went to a workshop presentation given by Fawn Opera & New Music. They presented three excerpts from their latest operatic project, L’homme et le ciel by Canadian composer Adam Scime, with text by Ian Koiter with a French translation by Eric Démoré. The libretto is based on the 2nd-century Christian literary text, “The Shepherd of Hermas”; Hermas is a Roman slave who realizes he has feelings for Rhoda, his mistress. I liked how Fawn Opera put it on the program: “A classic tale of one man’s struggle to live righteously.”

I loved the music. It was eery and primordial, and for all the mysterious sounds Scime devised, you could always “hear through it”. The score was always in a comfortable motion, similar to the wavy feeling of Pelléas et Mélisande. Scime used acoustic and electronic sounds that jived together in a surprisingly natural way; maybe it was because the acoustic instruments often used their respective extended techniques (read: cool sound effect), so the limits of traditional instruments were already blurred. His writing for the voice seemed well-informed and organic, including his French text-setting, and I heard moments that reminded me of Debussy, Messiaen and Saariaho. It’s significant that Fawn Opera & New Music presented a Canadian opera in French, I think it’s the first Canadian piece I’ve seen in a while that’s really got legs. I’m really looking forward to seeing the whole opera.

Scime also wrote well for the singers, giving Hermas pensive, understated lines as well as stretchy, yearning phrases for any baritone to enjoy. For the women, Scime wrote some juicy dissonances and winding duets, blurring the distinction between voices and evoking a dream beautifully. It all felt like one of those dreams that wasn’t quite a nightmare, but was certainly unsettling. I loved it.

The cast was small but mighty, featuring three young and promising singers. Baritone Giovanni Maria Spanu beautifully sang the role of Hermas, the Roman slave; his voice has a way of drawing you towards him, and I thought the French libretto suited his sound well. Larissa Koniuk was ethereal and sporadically eerie as Rhoda, the object of Hermas’ desire. She sang with a clear and bright sound, and it made me remember Krisztina Szabò as Pèlerin in Saariaho’s  L’amour de loin at the Canadian Opera Company. Finally, soprano Adanya Dunn (and Fawn Opera collaborating artist) was awesome and powerful as the Messenger, filling the performance space with exciting sound. Her first sounds came from behind hanging, translucent panels that filled the stage, and the result gave me goosebumps.

The orchestra deserves a hand: music director, pianist and conductor Patrick Murray led the Thin Edge New Music Collective through a night of very cool sounds. Kudos go especially for Cheryl Duvall for her inside-the-piano fun.

Stage director and Fawn Opera Artistic Director Amanda Smith made a little go a long way with this presentation. Her simple set worked in tandem with multimedia projections by Brady Bothwell; the projections showed up on the hanging panels I mentioned earlier, so they appeared to change colour and texture. It suited the affect of the music beautifully. It’s something that I noticed about L’homme et le ciel, and that’s that everyone was on the same aesthetic page. The music, the singers’ performance, the set design, they were all congruent. I think that’s quite rare, and it’s probably what made L’homme jive for me.

Also, fun fact: I went to Western University (née the University of Western Ontario) with Adam Scime, Ian Koiter and Eric Démoré. Western, makin’ waves.

Did you catch Fawn Opera’s L’homme et le ciel? Let us know what you thought in the comments below!

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