In review: Songbook VII at Tapestry OperaReview
For the last few years, one of my favourite events is the Songbook series presented by Tapestry Opera. It’s one of my favourite events because it’s something I believe we should see more of here in Toronto. As Artistic Director Michael Mori pointed out in his preamble speech, the unfortunate thing that often happens in Canada with new works is that they only get heard once.
Friday night in Toronto’s Historical Distillery District, Tapestry presented their #SongbookVII. The Songbook series is a culmination of a week of workshops where emerging artists work alongside some of the best names in the industry to present scenes and excerpts of new Canadian works - most of which were produced at Tapestry’s LibLab program, an initiative of Tapestry where writers and musicians are paired together to explore operatic creation.
Guiding the emerging artists through the exploration were tenor Keith Klassen, mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, and pianist Steven Philcox. A roster of 16 young singers and four pianists rotated through presenting some amazing new music to an enthusiastic sold-out crowd.
A few of the numbers I’ve seen at previous Songbook presentations - which is great because now I recognize them and found myself humming along and waiting to see other people’s reactions in hearing it for the first time. For instance “In This World, George is Heartbroken” has one of the funniest first lines I’ve ever heard uttered on a stage followed by one of the darkest representations of crossing a line into new experiences. This is the kind of juxtaposition we come to expect and crave from Tapestry.
Szabó and Klassen joined forces with Philcox to present a few numbers throughout the evening. They started with the poignant “Mark’s Dream” by Elisabeth Mehl Greene with a libretto by Nick Carpenter, depicting an aging father trying to explain to his adult daughter with special needs that he won’t be around forever. Klassen’s steely-voiced tenor showed a tender, intimate side that was incredibly engrossing and Szabó’s characterization and beautiful tone made the experience both tangible and other-worldly simultaneously. They closed the night with “You and Meme” by Dean Burry and librettist Nicolas Bilon. This piece was a hilarious representation of an awful first date that gets salvaged over the couple’s combined love of internet humour. I can’t express how funny this was - after a roller-coaster night of emotions it was a great way to cap off the evening.
The program was a roller-coaster ride of emotions through the night, often swinging wildly from the humourous to the poignant in the same scene. The singing was great - especially considering they were also doing another showing about 25 minutes after this one ended. I was really particularly moved by “The Blind Woman” by James Rolfe with a libretto by David Yee. Sung by soprano Nicole Dubinsky and mezzo-soprano Rebecca Gray, it tells the story of a dancer coming to terms with the loss of her sight. “Leaving” by Darren Russo with libretto by Sharon Bajer, sung by soprano Marianne Moore and baritone Micah Schroeder, tells the story of a mom leaving her newborn child due to her post-partum depression.
If you’re interested in the future of Canada’s new music, then I highly suggest you check out Tapestry Opera. They’re our home for new opera music and creation and do great work all year round. For instance coming up in may they’ll be presenting Oksana G. by Aaron Gervais with a libretto by Colleen Murphy at the end of May.
They also teased a major announcement for next season coming soon, and I know I’ll be glued to my social media feeds to make sure I’m among the first to find out what it is. All Michael Mori said was it was a collaboration with some of Canada’s amazing companies both from the theatre world and the opera world culminating with premieres in both Toronto and Vancouver.