The Sonic City
Review: The Tapestry Opera World Premiere of M’dea Undone
Upon learning of Evergreen Brick Works, I was rather fascinated by not only its aesthetics, but also its function as performative space. I’ve enjoyed quite a few traditional operatic performances over the years, but at the same time, I’ve often found the most interesting works to to be those which break with tradition in one way or another. When I heard that the production of M’dea Undone was to take place at this venue, I felt that it would be a rare opportunity to experience a performance come to life in an ideal setting.
Written by Scottish composer John Harris with librettist Majorie Chan and directed by Tim Albery, M’dea Undone features the powerful cast of Lauren Segal, Peter Barrett, James McLean, Jacqueline Woodley, and Elishka Roux. As a commission of The Tapestry Opera and Scottish Opera, M’dea Undone had its world premiere at The Evergreen Brick Works on May 26th, 2015 which I was lucky enough to attend.
As a type of bridge between past and present M’dea Undone draws inspiration from the original Medea of Greek mythology to generate a work that creates the troubling notion of a normal human becoming a modern day monster. By initiating an intense struggle centered around the politics of power and gender, a story unfolds with a pathology of love so intense and violent that it effectively blurs the lines of good and evil; toying with our emotions and concepts of sympathy, even when such notions are rather uncomfortable ones to rationalize.
The cast’s interpretation of the work was stellar, and their strong performances created an effective environment for Segal to portray M’dea with an unparalleled level of emotion that really brought the struggles of her character into vivid fruition. Of course such a gripping story would not be complete without the right instrumental elements, and the commanding vocal performances were effectively complemented by the accompanying string section. Conducted by Jordan de Souza, the several instrumentalists situated in the middle of the set merged seamlessly into the dramatic performances, augmenting the raw emotional scenes with a jarring dissonant sonic landscape that even Bernard Herrmann would have found moving.
This creative concept embodying a postmodern past-present fusion was effectively enhanced by the performance space itself, which was amongst one of the most fascinating that I have seen. Living up to its name, The Evergreen Brick Works is one the greenest, most organic settings I’ve come across, not just by mere location, but also in relation to its architectural design and its sustainability. The evening’s performance took place in the Holcim Galley; a large weathered open industrial setting with a small stage area set to a backdrop of graffiti-adorned brick walls. The open-concept visible scaffolding and set design were also interesting as one was not immediately aware of which aspects were part of the building architecture, and which were of the performative ‘stage’ area. Attention was directed to various areas spanning the space, which not only kept the progression lively, but also lent an element of unpredictability to the scenes.
Though a re-purposed space, the venue had surprisingly good acoustics this evening with the vocal and instrumental performances resonating loud and clear. Unlike some concert halls, the feel of this evening was incredibly intimate. Though I was seated in the seventh row, I was immersed in the action and dramatic sequences, and also felt much more connected than in numerous other traditional spaces that I had encountered in the past. The space also infused the performance with the ambient textures of the outdoors; everything from the wind, to traffic, to the birds passing by. While such a setting may not be for the traditionalist, there is something to be said of the element of realism that such a setting adds; one must really experience it to fully understand.
Some may believe that performing an opera in such a space might be somewhat unusual, but earlier figures of the avant-garde argued for similar venues of artistic practice. John Cage desired to move the performing arts out of the concert halls and into the everyday settings of life, and the politically charged socialist composer Luigi Nono even advocated to have performances of his works carried out in the very factories of its workers. The beauty of this performance in the Holcim Gallery was that it managed to combine these ideas of music beyond traditional spaces effectively without any particular element being overbearing or distracting from the flow and progression of the performances.
M’dea Undone at The Evergreen Brick Works is definitely a performance that you don’t want to miss. It’s without a doubt, one of the most interesting performances that I have seen in quite some time, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. It is also a work that has something for everyone; the powerful performances of the cast are sure to please the most seasoned of opera-goers, while the creativity behind the performances and artistic direction of Michael Hidetoshi Mori are sure to impress those looking for something different from the evening at the opera their parents were accustomed to. This is a very limited run of only three evenings, however, so be sure to purchase tickets for either tonight or tomorrow’s performances in the links below!
About the Author
Casey Robertson is a genderqueer human rights activist, musician ,composer, and graduate student researching musicology and cultural theory. In recent years he has been involved with the committees of LGBTQA projects such as the Durham Pride Prom, Allies for Equality, and Queerstock Canada. He also served as a member of the board of directors for PFLAG Durham Region from 2012-2014, where he was a member of the peer2peer support team and a facilitator for monthly sharing evenings. Casey currently resides in the Church-Wellesley Village of Toronto and enjoys spending his free time scoring independent film projects and playing with his band Liberty Street, while on the constant search to discover new artists of all expressive forms. Follow Casey on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at CaseyRobertson.net