In review: Tap:Ex Tables Turned, or Go See This Show
Well, Tapestry Opera did it again. I go and see one of their shows, I come away wanting to tell everyone how they should run to the Distillery District to see it, and I'm stuck to find the words to explain why. Last night was the first of two performances of Tapestry's 2nd annual Tap:Ex (Tapestry Explorations/Experimentations), this time the program is Tables Turned, featuring the music of Montréal-based composer and turn table artist Nicole Lizée, with percussionist Ben Reimer and the spectacular soprano Carla Huhtanen. Lizée's music was in two parts, the first nodding heavily towards iconic films and filmmakers, like Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. The second half was centred on Maria Callas, and the roles of icons in the lives of aspiring artists.
It was a jarring effect at first, to hear acoustic and electronic instruments, but Lizée uses each respective sound world in an organic way. In this first set, entitled The Criterion Collection, Lizée pieces together clips of music and film, and isolates small moments using glitch loops, and deconstructs the audio and video. In the first set, Carla is seen in comfy clothes, sitting down to watch her favourite movies. Lizée focuses on a word or a physical gesture in the film, repeating it over and over at different speeds. Small moments from The Shining, "Come play with us, Danny," and Danny's facial expressions, are slowed down and pulled apart. Lizée even adds the image of herself, sitting beside Doris Day at the piano in The Man Who Knew Too Much. The last section of The Criterion Collection is made up of moments from The Sound Of Music, like when the kids' new stepmother-to-be plays ball with them ("Baroness Plays Ball"), when Maria teaches the kids the do-re-mi song ("Solfège 101"), when they all get caught singing and dancing about their favourite things ("Dog Bites Canticle"), and the singing of the nuns ("A Clowder of Nuns"). What Lizée does with the nuns' music was pretty extraordinary, one of my favourite moments from the set.
I found Lizée's work fascinating to watch and listen to, and Carla's part in this set helped connect Lizée's music to the motivation behind its creation. I heard Lizée as someone near my age, who grew up watching a lot of the same movies as I did; just like me, Lizée had her favourite moments of all time in those movies, and she was almost embodied in Carla's movie-loving character. When those favourite moments were shared, like when the Baroness winces, thinking she's going to get hit with the ball, I really did feel like I had something in common with all the art in the room. I wasn't the only one who felt included with this nod to a shared culture. I heard people reacting all around me, nervously laughing when those twins from The Shining appeared onstage. With this program, I finally understood the level of cultural relevance that Tapestry's Artistic Director Michael Mori calls for in today's opera scene. To have people in the audience, reacting vocally to what they see and hear, and empathizing with the Carla's live character in front of us, is a simple and profound moment of relevance for which most opera houses strive.
The second set, entitled La Callas Fantasie, featured Carla more prominently. She plays a singer, one of the many opera singers that idolizes Maria Callas. Over the piece, we see Carla practicing her difficult arias, struggling with coloratura and sound quality, and trying to emulate La Divina. Lizée uses a few quintessential arias recorded by Callas, to punctuate a singer's journey of frustration and self-doubt and over-analysis, trying to find her own voice. Carla sang fragmented, frustrated bits of that tricky coloratura in "Non più mesta" from La Cenerentola, which Lizée splits up between the voices of Carla and Callas. Lizée does the same, in longer, more desperate-sounding fragments of "Una voce poco fa" from Il barbiere di Siviglia. I thought it was a perfect capturing of an artist whose progress is stunted by the unrealistic, overbearing presence of their idol. Carla went from determined, to frustrated, to trying to be someone she's not. At this point, Lizée introduces clips from interviews Maria Callas gave with Lord Harewood; Lizée continues to deconstruct and isolate certain words Callas says, like "recitativo", and "Bellini is very different than Donizetti," and "I am not an idol, I am human." From this point, Carla's character gathers confidence, with Callas' recording of the Habanera from Carmen; I like to think Lizée was telling artists that their idols are important, but they don't signify a "right path to success." Carla's final notes of _La Callas Fantasie _were full and rich and satisfying, and she sang with a sound that was reserved for when her character finds her own voice. I kept thinking of the term, "swan song", but she wasn't dying. I loved that an artist used other artists to tell even more artists that they are truly artists.
So, when I say I don't know how to describe what happened, it's because a lot of it was new to me. I don't trust my turntable terminology, for one, but my lack of descriptors comes from the fact that Nicole and Carla made great art that demanded a reaction from the audience. _Tables Turned _was good art by great artists, and as complicated as it probably was, the over-arching cultural references weren't hard for the audience to grasp. Seems like a simple recipe for good theatre, and it was. Tap:Ex Tables Turned plays for one more show tonight, at 8pm in the Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District. Go if you can