Monday, 27 January 2014

ATOM EGOYAN’S SHIP SAILS IN



FIRST COMEDY FOR TORONTO’S FILM AND OPERA DIRECTOR
By Stephen Weir (from Huffington Post ) Photographs by Stephen Weir and George Socka
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/stephen-weir/atom-egoyan-opera_b_4674959.html#es_share_ended


It is night-time in downtown Toronto. The opera, Cosi Fan Tutte, has just ended and the subway platform is crowded. Amongst the post show murmur two names are overheard -- Atom Egoyan and Superman. The Canadian director of movies and tonight's opera is juxtaposed with the Man of Steel.


“ Egoyan takes a Superman view on facial recognition,” one 20-something woman lectures her group of friends.  “ When Superman puts on glasses everyone thinks he is Clark Kent – they just aren’t able to see the Man of Steel behind those horn rims.”

In Egoyan’s COC production of Cosi Fan Tutte, the movie producer turned opera director admits that the big challenge for this Mozart opera buffa is to make the audience forget some of the silliness of the libretto and enjoy his light, lively and mildly kinky take on an opera that was considered too immoral to be performed in North America until 1922.

It is early in the 19th century and we are with the well to dos of Naples. The opera’s plot revolves around two teenage sisters – Dorabella and Fiordiligi – who are engaged to two Naples dandies  -- Ferrando and Guglielmo. Are Dorabella and Fiordiligi truly in love, or given the opportunity, will they stray into the arms and beds of other men? Ferrando and Guglielmo accept a wager from the professor of their school to find out.  The two tell their fiancées they have been drafted into the navy and pretend to leave for the wars.  They come back moments later, thinly disguised as Albanians, and prove the fecklessness of their betrothed love by seducing each other’s girl.

“The opera asks us to believe that Dorabella and Fiordiligi won’t recognize these men  - their fiancés – if the men wear simple disguises (curly moustaches),” said Egoyan, just before the Four Seasons Centre curtain is raised on this 3-hour opera.
Albanian suitors

“Mozart also called Cosi Fan Tutte, The School For Lovers. So I had this idea why don’t we set this opera inside a school and why don’t we make this a class experiment, that way we don’t have to worry about the creditability issue so much, we just go with the story and loose ourselves in this most delightful opera”

Lorenzo Da Ponte, who also penned Figaro and Don Giovanni with Mozart, wrote the libretto.   It is thought that Mozart’s rival, Antonio Salieri, tried to compose the music to Da Ponte’s story but gave up after only a few months.  Mozart took up the score and went on to direct the orchestra twice in the 1790s before the opera was basically shelved for almost a century.  It was rarely performed during the 19th and early 20th century because it was considered too risqué.

In the early versions of the opera, this story of love, adultery and relationships, was set in a Naples garden. When Cosi was rediscovered and put into modern day opera companies repertoires, directors have had fun placing the opera in a variety of locations including restaurants, sitting rooms, and even in a hippy colony.

“ I think we are the first company to take this view of a school interpretation, “ explained the director.  The male lovers accept a bet from the school’s headmaster to test their sweetheart’s loyalty to them – the bet is played out as a classroom experiment.

The students watch as Ferrando and Guglielmo tell the distraught sisters that they have been drafted and must sail off immediately to war.  They return moments latter disguised as two rich Albanian visitors who have been poisoned. The girls save the men with a variety of tools including a magnetic rod seemingly inserted rectally into their disguised boyfriends.  The girls, probably aware of the wager, trade-off on their boyfriends and do soon succumb to their wooing – just was predicted by Alfonso, the school headmaster.

“The issue of misogyny comes up (with the traditional setting of the opera) because there is a very famous aria in the piece where one of the young lovers Gugliemo, sings about the unfaithfulness of women,” said Egoyan. “He would traditionally sing it to the audience, which would be absolutely offensive to many women in the theatre. What we have done here, because we are set in a school, is we have Gugliemo sing to his fellow classmate and they actually get to react to what he is saying – it takes the edge off  (the belittling of women).”

Egoyan’s schoolroom is filled with stuffed animals, science experiment equipment and gigantic butterflies and equally large insect pins.  The symbolism of the butterflies is not lost on the audience. Back to the subway platform critics, a young woman explains it all to her boyfriend. “The sisters are specimens, they are being hunted and collected by the headmaster. That’s why all the giant butterflies and 2 metre tall pins are on stage”

“The two women in this production are aware of the wager and in fact may be involved in a counter wager which gives them leeway in terms of their own behaviour” said Egoyan.  “ They are smart.  Remember when this was written they were supposed to be 15-years old. We address that youth, it really does feel as if they are all teenagers.”
Singers wear the departing Navy fleet in their blue wigs

“Part of the idea of the opera being set in a school is that there is a ton of props that they can use in their (love) experiments.  So in the scene when are going away to battle (five actresses walk in single file across the stave wearing large model ships in their blue wigs), this is shown as a kind of experiment using the school props.”

Throughout the performance students wear skimpy white British public school uniforms, overtop of sporty black panties, which are often flashed to patrons in the front row. Ferrando and Guglielmo are not averse to looking up dresses and snatching quick feels of each other’s girlfriend whenever possible.

Cosi Fan Tutte is sung in two acts – the first act set in the school, the second beneath a huge framed painting.  A large Freda Kahlo self-portrait Las dos Fridas dominates the second half of Cosi Fan Tutte.
Kahlo self-portrait dominates the stage 
“The painting is very important because it is Freda Khalo’s reflection on the amazing shift that happened in her own life,” said Atom Egoyan. “It was painted at a time when she was going through a divorce with Diego Rivera. She really felt that Rivera was in love with another woman, another version of her… This is what this opera is ultimately about, how people can change and what that means in terms of how people are in love with one version of oneself and maybe how that shifts  (over time)”

The cast, aside from an aging Sir Thomas Allen as Don Alfonso, are the young bright lights in Canada’s opera scene. Layla Claire and Wallis Giunta brought the full dress rehearsal audience to its feet when they first sang together. Robert Gleadow’s Guglielmo defines the word cad while his partner Paul Appleby is the perfect-cuckolded tenor.

Directing young singers in a comedy is an extreme change for the Canadian director.  On a week when both his Canadian Opera Company production opened  and his latest film, Devil’s Knot (the true story of the Memphis Three killings) opened in Canada, Egoyan admits that the Opera is a real departure.

“ This is all different for me because it is the first time I have done comedy. My work is pretty dark; this has been a real delight”


Videographer George Socka any myself interviewed Atom Egoyan in the wig room of the Four Seasons Theatre in downtown Toronto.  Watch Atom Egoyan talk about his newest COC production at http://youtu.be/QWRoXiLeR0Q

More photographs from the dress rehearsal can be seen at:
http://www.stephenweir.com/gallery1/index.php/Atom-Egoyan-Mozart-Opera 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

JANUARY - FREEZING OUTSIDE, THEATRES HOT INSIDE

Three Major Cultural Events Staged On Just One (Very Cold) Day In Toronto
(Culled From Popular Weir Social Media Posts)

MORNING, JANUARY 21st. Carlton Theatres, downtown Toronto


Fabienne Colas
Colas' advice to Toronto? Buy tickets early (like today)

Award winning-actress, director, producer and film festival founder Fabienne Colas advises film lovers to buy tickets to her Toronto Black Film Festival as soon as possible.  " Like today! Don't be disappointed, these are great films and will sell out fast"
Colas hosted a morning press briefing at the Carlton Cinema to introduce the line up to this year's festival.  33 films from around the world will be shown at the Festival between February 11th and 16th at the downtown Toronto Carlton Cinemas, the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre and the Al Green Theatre.

Keynote films include From Above (starring Danny Glover), Grigris (Chad's choice for the Oscar's Best Foreign Film category) and director Chris Eska's Civil War drama, The Retrieval.

AFTERNOON, JANUARY 21st, York University. My Data Bag Radio Show



Talking Books. Talking the RBC Taylor Prize with William Doyle-Marshall!

William Doyle-Marshall (pictured at right), long-time radio host of My Data Bag on CHYR-fm talked about this year's short-list prize this afternoon. He aired an interview with ViJay Parmar, president of RBC PH&N Investment Council who talked about RBC's support of Canada's most prestigious literary non-fiction award.

Doyle-Marshall is holding the book, The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King. The non-fiction book is on the short-list for this year's RBC Taylor Prize.  The My Data Bag host will be talking about the book next Tuesday!

EVENING, Four Season's Theatre. Canadian Opera Company. Live on Stage!

Director Atom Egoyan's ship came in on stage at the  COC dress rehearsal for his take on Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte opera. 

The singers wore model ships in their wigs to demonstrate how two of the characters in the comedic opera were supposedly drafted and had to go to sea with the Italian Navy.  Photograph by George Socka.

Two Albanians have swelled heads when appearing in Atom Egoyan's new take on Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte opera. Guglielmo and Ferrando are two Venetian gentleman who want to check on the faithfulness of their fiancees ... so they show up at their girlfriends home disguised as weirdly looking Albanians. COC dress rehearsal last night at the Four Seasons Opera House. Canadian Opera Company, Toronto.
Two Albanians - Photo by Stephen Weir