In review: The Seven Deadly SinsReview
I’m always excited by Kurt Weill. Ever since my first exposure to Mahagonny and Down in the Valley (one of his American musicals) I’ve been fascinated by his work with Bertolt Brecht. On Friday, September 25th I got to re-hear one of my favourites presented by The Friends of Gravity.
Over at St. Bartholomew’s near Dundas and Parliament, in an area of Regent Park enjoying a serious revitalization, we were ushered into a dark wood-and-plaster church that still had a tiny whiff of incense floating around.
The stage was set in a claustrophobic bedroom scene with a shocking red sheet on the bed that was central to an otherwise fairly bland colour scheme so your eyes were immediately drawn to the performers.
A projection screen upstage obscured the cleverly arranged orchestra, and provided what would turn out to be some of my favourite visuals that I’ve seen in a projection since Opera Erratica’s production of Dido and Aeneas years ago. We’ll talk about them more in a bit.
Die sieben Totsünden tells the story of two sisters, both named Anna, who travel their way across the US for seven years while they work and raise money to send home to their mother and three brothers to build “a little house in Louisiana.” Their travails are examined next to the seven deadly sins as laid out in the Catholic Bible.
I’ll save you the Google search, they are: Lust, Pride, Envy, Wrath (Anger), Avarice (Greed), Sloth, and Gluttony.
Stephanie Conn is mesmerizing as Anna. Her approach to cabaret song styling is genuine, intelligent, and nuanced. I found her expressive strength lay in the stillness and monotony of her movements. Sharp, angular movements that inspired thoughts of clockwork and marionettes. I found her sometimes hard to hear, though, but I don’t think it’s a technique thing, I feel the placing of the orchestra further upstage gave them a bandshell effect that was hard to balance with Conn as she spent all of her time in front of the “proscenium” they had created. The look was stunning, but you can only make an accordion go so quiet…
The orchestra was great though. The arrangements by Scott Gabriel - Artistic Director and conductor - were perfect to match with Conn’s vocals and the silent film played behind her - wonderfully shot by Mr. Gabriel himself.
The video was a mixture of surtitle translations and various vignettes in black and white that illustrated and supported what was happening on stage, rather than detract from it. #wellplayed
This production is different for us at Schmopera as it isn’t presented as an opera in the sense of our colloquial definition and expectations, but definitely aligns itself with what I like to call Lyric Theatre. It’s spellbinding. Her physicalization of Anna was reminiscent of German expressionist theatre, a movement which is parallel to the Cabaret form we often think of today.
The family sung by four men are three brothers and a mother - she, in true Weill/Brecht fashion, is sung by the bass of the quartet William Lewans.
Alongside Lewans were, baritone Bryan Martin and tenors Christopher Wattam and Charles Fowler. Their music is tricky, luscious, and creative and the gentlemen sang it beautifully. Invoking images of a madrigal quartet for a bygone era their sound was evenly matched and remarkably together. Along with Lewans, Wattam is a standout. A bright young sound that with a little more maturity is going to attract a lot of well-deserved attention.
This is a fantastic outing for this new company, daring, entertaining, polished and engaging. I’m #stokedissimo to see what they show us next.
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