In review: When the Sun Comes Out
This is a review by guest contributor and baritone Gregory Finney. I was sad to miss what looks like a fantastic show. Bravo to the cast and crew, and a big thanks to Greg for the wise words. Feature photo credit: Greg's Instagram.
Thursday, June 25th, I made my way to the healthily air-conditioned Ernest Balmer Studio, home of Tapestry New Opera to see the Toronto Concert Premiere of Leslie Uyeda's opera When the Sun Comes Out. #WorldPride2014. Originally produced in Vancouver on August 5, 2013 and commissioned by the Queer Arts Festival, When the Sun Comes Out tells the heart-wrenching story of what happens to those unfortunate enough to live where they can't love freely. It tells a poignant story of Solana, a young lesbian from Montréal who has shunned society's edicts on what a woman is, should be, and how she should behave. We find her as she's seeking out her one lost love, Lilah. The opera lends credibility to the fictional country where the action takes place by making Solana from an actual city here in Canada - that happens to be one of my favourites, even if I'm yet to have a cronut. The piece is actually in a dystopian country called Fundamentalia - which is exactly what it sounds like. Deviation from patriarchal/antiquated gender roles is one of many things apparently punishable by death.
We hear of the love between Lilah and Solana, sung respectively by sopranos Stephanie Yelovich and Teiya Kasahara, their separation and then their reunion. A beautiful, sensuous reunion of two genuine amantes, that is sharply interrupted and violently challenged by the arrival of Lilah's husband Javan - who's got secrets of his own.
If you have not heard Teiya Kasahara sing, you are missing out. I mean this. Go now. Don't wait. Run, don't walk. An alumna of the COC Ensemble Studio, Teiya uses her unique voice (I'm remiss to use that word because it really doesn't describe its rarity) to bring us a Solana that's textured, layered, and passionate. Within the first 3 minutes of the opera during which Kasahara gives a clinic on what I would like to call Dramatic Coloratura. There was Verdi in her voice just as there was Monteverdi. She carries this show easily and never fails to thrill.
Stephanie Yelovich, a voice with which I'm not familiar (and a situation I intend to rectify), did a great job at portraying the struggle between her love for Solana and her duty to her husband and child - not to mention the consequences should their love be discovered. This is not an easy journey for any actor. The voice is full, dark and loaded with potential. Her treatment and navigation of the vocal lines was top-drawer, I feel like she may have less experience on stage in her CV as sometimes I found her physicality to be a bit on the demonstrative side. Yet there are moments of brilliance as in the scene where she actually begins to succumb to her feelings and she sings with Solana for the first time, and demontrativeness in your acting is something that will disappear with experience. You can see the longing in her eyes, hear it in her voice but most importantly, you can feel it in her breath. She's a soprano to watch - for sure.
The voice I'm most familiar with, and the most surprised by, came out of baritone Keith Lam: a spritely little chap with a deceptively suave, masculine, sizeable tone. A dramatic entrance filled with rage sends him to the top of his range, which he continually navigates through the majority of the piece. This time around, Lam employed more facets of his voice to produce a new palette of colours I'm not used to hearing from him. His past few years' work with Tafelmusik and Opera Atelier have really released an extra level of expressive quality, bringing out falsetto, broadway, straight tones, all mixed and matched with a full-throated romantic baritone-claw-worthy lyric vocalism that really helped to colour Javan and build for him the pathos with the audience his character desperately needs.
Uyeda's composition of a libretto by poet Rachel Rose is finessed, lush when it needs to be and utilizes consonant harmonies sparingly to highlight the underlying angst of the characters caught in an oppressive regime, and to really showcase the moments of true happiness. I loved the feeling of "Is this the right decision?" that the postlude left in the audience. Uyeda's vocal lines were melodious, musical, and above all SINGABLE! The pitfall for a lot of contemporary works (and I've sung and staged my fair share) is that in an effort to create the perfect musical landscape, the composer often is quite insensitive to the limitations of the human voice. Not Uyeda. Her understanding of fach, range and even vowel selection shows a deft hand that understands both the needs of the singer and the needs of the audience.
The story is relevant, poignant, and transferrable to any community I see in the news. The struggles the characters face are real, and the stakes are high. I can relate to this show on a thousand personal levels, as I'm sure everyone else in the room did, and as I'm sure anyone else who hears it will.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Although this was a very small and intimate performance, the diction in this show is incredible. Even with the sopranos working their magic in their upper ends, any vowel modification is forgiven by the complete understanding of every consonant uttered. Bravi!
When the Sun Comes Out plays once more tonight. Catch it, you must. Details and tickets here.