June 2005

The Midnight Court
Libretto by Paul Bentley • Music by Ana Sokolovic
June 22, 2005 Harbourfront Theatre Toronto
The premiere production of this Chamber Opera staged brilliantly at Harbourfront Theatre by the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre ended recently on a very successful note — an invitation to appear at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.

The current production has a libretto by Paul Bentley who wrote the libretto for the new opera, The Handmaid’s Tale, based on a novel by Margaret Atwood. Bentley’s version is based on an 18th Century Irish poem by Brian Merriman a.k.a Mac Giolla Meidhre. Merriman’s poem is in the form of an ‘aisling’ — an early Gaelic literary genre associated with the themes of love and sovereignty in which the poet wanders forth and meets a fairy woman who engages him in a dialogue. This theme and form, which are also found in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, establish forcefully in our current production that sovereignty in love belongs to women.

The music by the Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic is free and liberating in its playfulness. The orchestral and vocal parts blend in a satisfying musicality that never lapses. To find comparable pleasures one would have to go to the Weill/Brecht partnership and German language productions of The Seven Deadly Sins, and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The direction and design team work of Michael Cavanaugh and Michael Gianfrancesco is always wakeful, and even the curtain gets into the opening act as it’s wiggled by faeries to attract the dreaming poet, or acts as the screen on which monstrous shadow figures cavort to intimidate him.

The singing is gorgeous, and the enormous acting demands of this intimate chamber opera form are well met by the cast that features Shannon Mercer, Krisztina Szabó and Alexander Dobson. The overall effect of this work in its present form merits closer examination than we have space for here. If such a space ever presented itself, I would have to begin by examining how the combination of dream form and faerie locale combine with free mantric vocals to produce a trancelike state in this audience member.
We welcome your comments and feedback
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Report by Stanley Fefferman
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for The Live Music Report

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