Review: Songbook (Tapestry)

Introducing new audiences to contemporary opera, Tapestry hosted Songbook in Toronto

On February 1, Tapestry hosted Songbook, a program of operatic excerpts and shorts. Tapestry is an opera company devoted the performance of new works. Pieces on this program were written within the last fifteen years. Songbook is the culmination of New Opera 101, a training program offered by Tapestry that provides emerging singers and collaborative pianists the opportunity to work with some of the leading experts in the field of contemporary opera. Participants in this year’s two-day intensive worked with Kristina Szabό, Dr. Christopher Foley and Michael Mori.

I am very interested in emerging compositional and operatic talent in Canada so I am always happy to be in the audience at a Tapestry show. The talent assembled in this year’s program was impressive. At times, some of the technical difficulties frequently experienced by young singers were apparent. Nevertheless, the performers in this review demonstrated a professionalism and commitment to their craft that was magnificent to behold.

A program of excerpts from new works faces a challenge that a program of excerpts from the standard repertoire does not. At a performance of traditional excerpts, the assumption that many audience members will be familiar with the opera is relied on to effect audience engagement. Numbers on such a program are usually ones we’ve all heard in a commercial or movie soundtrack at some point. Clearly Tapestry cannot rely on the element of familiarity in this show; although having attended Tapestry’s superb 2011-2012 production of Pub Operas, I did recognize and appreciate “Chopin’s Ghost” from that opera.

I also very much enjoyed the shorts on this program. In particular, Golden Boy and Hotel Lobby stand out for me. Golden Boy is a snapshot of the dinner conversation between a mother and the child of an absentee father. Hotel Lobby is an explosive, raw, and hilarious fight between an ex couple. Examples such as these epitomize the joy of new opera: melodrama that resonates with contemporary experience.

I was heartily impressed by all the singers and pianists in this program. Golden Boy and “Chopin’s Ghost” featured the singing of soprano Erin Lawson. Ms. Lawson’s voice has an exceptionally strong core and a colour that brings to mind luscious red fruit. Her stage presence is also commendable and I especially appreciated the sensitivity with which she interpreted the stunningly beautiful homophonic passage at the end of “Chopin’s Ghosts”.

Mezzo-Soprano Heather Molloy performed in the shorts Miss Quickly and Merk’s Dream. I was engaged by Ms. Molloy’s dramatic flair as well as her warm sound that possesses a subtle and appealing edge. I will also be keeping an eye out for baritone Giovanni Spanu. In addition to a robust and crisp instrument, Mr. Spanu possess a vulnerability and sincerity on stage that is highly captivating.

The program closed with “Zoo Aria” from Sanctuary Song performed by soprano Danielle Buonaiuto. The aria was a haunting finale to the program and Ms. Buonaiuto sang the piece with an intensity and freedom of sound that captured its tone beautifully.

All the performers in this performance deserve to be congratulated for what they achieved over the course of two days. This show was a great opportunity to be exposed to new works with a wide range of style and content. The best thing about a program of excerpts and shorts is that even if something is not to your liking, it is over quickly and the program will inevitably contain something that suits your taste.