Six-Women Show Pushes the Envelope

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Six-Women Show Pushes the Envelope
by Joseph So / June 20, 2000
Leaving the theatre after the premiere of Sirens/Sirenes on Thursday evening, I overheard a woman whispering to her companion: “this sure isn’t your typical opera!”
She is right, but then the show doesn’t pretend to be opera. Billed as “a bilingual, a cappella, choreographed music theatre spectacle”, it has the same power as its more classical cousin. Depending on your mindset, Sirens may bedazzle, amuse, intrigue, or move you, or it may leave you befuddled and bewildered. What it is not capable of is to leave you indifferent.
Sirens/Sirenes
Front (l to r) Barbara Hannigan, Laura Whalen
Back (l to r) Krisztina Szabo, Allyson McHardy
Photographer: Cylla von TiedemannDirected by Alisa Palmer and choreographed by Marie-Josee Chartier, with musical direction by Queen of Puddings’ John Hess and Dairine Ni Mheadhra, it stars sopranos Jane Archibald, Barbara Hannigan, Tamara Hummel, Laura Whalen and mezzos Allyson McHardy and Krisztina Szabo. The show, lasting a bit over an hour is made up of pieces that explore the extremes of the female voice, through conventional singing, speaking, as well as “unvoiced consonants and vowels.” It also runs the stylistic gamut, from poking fun at Canadian foibles as in Eh! , or a poignant yet amusing look at Quebec separation in Je t’aime, Me neither, to a darker exploration of the emotional landscape in Fire by composer James Rolfe.
Typically in a collection such as this, some pieces are more accessible and stronger than others. Metamorphosis, a reference to the evolution of the Canadian landscape, is a nice idea, but it moves along about as slowly as the Canadian glaciers, especially in its rather interminable wordless utterings in the beginning. Though the pieces are only loosely connected thematically, the transitions are seamless and fluid, achieved through clever lighting and deft choreographic movements. In typical theatrical fashion, the final piece Sirens has all the glamour and panache one would want, bringing the evening to a fitting climax.
In a show that places great demands on the performers vocally and physically, my kudos to the six budding divas for their brilliant vocalism and total commitment. All classically trained, it was brave of them to use their voices in some of the more adventurous musical writings, without the benefit of accompaniment. In the small venue of the du Maurier Theatre, the voices come across as very powerful, at times overwhelmingly so. If one were to quibble, Sirens would have benefited from a short post-curtain roundtable, where the producers and performers could explain the genesis of their work, and maybe take questions from the floor. Given its short length, it would be entirely feasible and would certainly illuminate meanings of the work and the creators’ intentions for the audience.
The show continues on June 16, 17, 18 at the du Maurier Theatre Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto. Phone: 416-973-4000.
 
Sirens/Sirenes
Eh! – Doug Schmidt
Marginal way – Michael Oesterle
Sorry But – Doug Schmidt
Je t’aime, Me neither – Marie Pelletier
Fire – James Rolfe
Metamorphosis (Dream of Becoming) – Juhan Puhm
Six Voices for Sirens/Six Voix pour Sirenes – Ana Sokolovic
Director – Alisa Palmer
Choreography – Marie-Josee Chartier
Music Direction – Dairine Ni Mheadhra and John Hess
Costume Design – Charlotte Dean
Lighting Design – Paul Mathiesen
Producer – Leslie Lester

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About Author

Joseph K. So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, but his first love is music, which he studied as an undergraduate student at the State University of New York. Since seeing his first live opera – La Gioconda with Renata Tebaldi at the Met in 1967, the singing voice became his lifelong favourite instrument. In addition to his longtime contributions to La Scena Musicale and The Music Scene, he is Associate Editor of Opera Canada and a frequent contributor to Musical Toronto.

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