In Review: Love in the Age of AutoCorrect

In Review: Love in the Age of AutoCorrect

Jenna Simeonov

Last night I went to the opening of Loose TEA Music Theatre’s new production, Love in the Age of AutoCorrect. It was a double bill of updated takes on Stravinsky’s Mavra and Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne, this time entitled Andrew and Andrea. It was out on the pretty terrace of Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu, with a friendly-looking bar to create a beautiful night of outdoor theatre. Rosemarie Umetsu also provided some costume items for the production, in addition to costumes by Maureen Russell. The double bill is the work of Loose TEA’s artistic director, Alaina Viau, and GM, Markus Kopp. She adapted these two short operas into a present-day context, allowing smartphones and Facebook feeds to play central roles in what became a night of social commentary. Alaina conducted the pieces as well, tucked away beside Assistant Music Director and pianist Jennifer Tung.

Mavra was first on the program, and it reminded me of the cacophony that Stravinsky often creates. It was like The Rake’s Progress meets Cheryomushki, with bizarre ensembles and cleverly featured outbursts from all the characters. The world of Mavra felt surreal, and Stravinsky’s writing for the voice was similar in way’s to Britten’s conversational style, but everything here was slightly askew. It made for fascinating scenes of idle small talk, or comedy-sized moments of mistaken identity. The two determined lovers were sung by soprano Morgan Strickland and tenor Justin Stolz. I thought they sang well together, each with clear and easy sound and promising technique.

Morgan had more than a few tricky-sounding lines and she sang them bravely and easily. Justin filled the space with lots of power and bite to his sound. At times, Justin and Morgan seemed a bit caught up in the difficulties of the piece itself, meaning we got a little less conviction in their text and we lost a bit of their onstage ease. Keenan Viau was chipper and charming as the Neighbour; his background is split between opera and musical theatre, and his presence onstage was something he showed off in this role. Keenan was a recent addition to the Mavra cast, stepping in for tenor Daniel Wheeler, who had to withdraw from the performances due to illness. As the curmudgeonly Parent, baritone Gregory Finney (my buddy, and frequent Schmopera contributor) was grumbly and hilariously inconvenienced by the recent death of his maid. I liked his balance between apathy and exaggerated comic tragedy. I’d never heard Mavra before tonight, and it seems like it’s a hidden beast to sing. I applaud the cast (and of course, Jennifer at the keys!) for pulling off a serious musical task with this piece.

Next up was Andrew and Andrea, the new face of Mozart’s one-act about lovers who don’t communicate. This was another show I’d never seen before, let alone in its new LooseTEA form; I’m glad that was the case with both of these operas, since I got the chance to see Alaina’s adaptations like an eager blank slate. I thought something about Andrew and Andrea clicked for the cast; I definitely got more of everyone’s honest side in the Mozart. Morgan Strickland showed her funny side, and I got to really hear her polished singing. While she made Mozart sound easy, I heard her personality, both as a singer and an actor. Keenan had a more central role in this show, and his part let me hear that he has a sweet voice that sits fairly high; he sang with perhaps too much of a musical theatre sound, and I only complain because I think it limited what he could have done with the role. It suited him well, and I liked seeing him act like a gold-digging stud; he even got to throw in a Toronto-friendly “drunken stupor” reference that earned its guffaws. As Andrew and Andrea’s friend, Mark Zuckerberg (!!), Greg Finney sang warmly and clearly, while playing a double-agent-type between the fighting couple, and while sporting the worst/best pair of jeans I’ve ever seen. They were so roomy. The closest real-life example I can offer is this one. He also had a fun moment of being like the Mad Hacker, tapping away on an iPad with creepy excitement in his eyes.

There’s plenty to enjoy in AutoCorrect. It’s a beautiful outdoor setting, the cast is versatile and entertaining, and you can grab a drink to enjoy before each of the reasonably-timed shows. The translations of both Mavra and A&A were written by Loose TEA’s Alaina Viau and Markus Kopp which must have been no small task. Stravinsky tends to feel awkward in several languages, and conversely, Mozart’s librettos are intricately tied to the music, making the language a difficult element to alter. The librettos by Alaina included words like “Facebook status”, “sext”, and a few F-bombs; it certainly was a new thing for me to hear these words sung by opera singers. There were a few moments in the Mozart where I felt a few rhythmic changes could have better accommodated the English translation; maybe it feels like a crass thing to do, but I feel like Mozart would have been alright that.

Love in the Age of AutoCorrect continues until Sunday afternoon. Click here for details and to purchase tickets.

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