Slightly unsettling: The OvercoatReview
The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring is the second opera in the Vancouver Opera Festival, and is a co-production with Tapestry Opera and Canadian Stage. This production runs in the smaller Vancouver Playhouse, rather than VO’s normal venue the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and has all the trappings of a piece that is part opera, part musical, and part dance. Those pieces add up to a quirky, off-beat modern opera that is offbeat, thought-provoking, and introspective.
The setting itself is that of 1920s Russia, but with settings and characters that are all vaguely familiar. The protagonist, Akakiy (played by baritone Geoffrey Sirett) is an accountant that is, appropriately, obsessed with numbers, though impoverished and friendless. His thoughts and story are brought to life by the mad chorus of Magali Simard-Galdes, Caitlin Wood, and Erica Iris Huang. These three were challenged with some phenomenally difficult harmonies that were executed so well. They were simultaneously heartwarming, and mildly creepy and off-putting in their interactions, and their ensembles were some of the highlights of the show. Huang was particularly charming as the tailor’s assistant Mrs. P., her voice smooth and dark, and her long-suffering attitude was funny and charming.
The trio of Keith Klassen, Aaron Durand, and Giles Tomkins as the antagonistic co-workers were cold and hostile in their menace towards Akakiy. Their ensemble pieces were such a pleasure to listen to, with harmonies that are eerie and dissonant, and added to their distasteful characters.
The women in this are also somewhat of an exaggeration - from the ultra-sexy secretary played by Meher Pavri to the hyper-sexualized Landlady played by Andrea Ludwig (who reminded me of Carol Burnett’s Miss Hannigan in Annie), the women are all a little over-the-top, to add to the feeling of this whole world being not-quite-right.
The entire piece is staged in a very hyper-realistic and slightly crazed way. Everyone’s movements are slightly exaggerated, the acting is always a little too much, and the whole show has an odd pace which, along with a frenetic, energetic score, makes the strangeness of the production and the story all the more present.
There are also movement performers (Colin Heath and Courtenay Stevens), who ostensibly move the set pieces around, but in this case added so much to the performance. While they speak and sing no lines, they interact with the cast, props, and set pieces in such dynamic and unique ways, adding even more to the mildly crazed feeling of everything. Sometimes they’ll just lay under the bed and watch the action taking place, or curl up into a corner; it is creepy and odd, but works so well for this style.
Sirett as Akakiy was spectacular, with a difficult role that nearly never leaves the stage and a huge amount of movement and choreography, he was still vocally powerful throughout. While much of the score is more speech-like in the singing quality, when he finally opens up at the end of Act I, it was phenomenal, with such a beautiful strength that sounded effortless.
The orchestra under the direction of Leslie Dala was significantly reduced from a standard opera orchestra, but the blend was flawless, and the difficult score sounded light and agile under Dala’s direction.
The Overcoat is a modern blend of different art styles that add up to something very unique, and is put together in a way that is compelling, thought-provoking, and slightly unsettling (in a good way).
The Overcoat runs through May 12. For details and tickets, click here.