So you just received an interview request…

You’re nervous. In a panic, even. (All normal, btw.) What do you do? Do you:

A – ask the writer to send you the questions in advance? Tell you in advance how the conversation is going to transpire?

B – do a bit of research about the writer’s previous work (search engines, social media, writer’s website, writer’s magazine(s)’ website(s), word of mouth, colleagues etc.) and their approach to interviewing and based on that you decide whether you trust her/him to write about you or not. You say yes, and come what may. You exercised your judgment. Or you decline. You won’t be the first or the last, par for the course.

12 hours… then 24 hours after the interview request, you still haven’t replied. Do you:

A1 – continue making up your mind until you are certain. Two, three, four days pass. You eventually reply, in your own time.

A2 – you don’t feel like doing it, or you can’t make up your mind whether you want to do it, so you don’t bother replying. You ghost the interview request. They’ll figure out on their own that it’s a no, right? If you do do the interview and you get tired of having to deal with the thing, you can ghost later on, as can your manager, when for example the editor or that same writer asks if you can provide hi-res photos which it says on your website that you can provide for the media. Always do what you feel like. Ghost away.

B – you suddenly realize the writers are working people too and that they work, that this is their work, that they plan their days, weeks and months and try to make a working schedule according to which they then work. And that freelancers juggle any number of projects at the same time, and that having one of those left hanging as a maybe won’t help with the overall planning of life and writing. If they’re freelancer, that they pitched you / your topic to the editor who assigned the piece. That they went out of their way to convince the assignment editor that you are worth writing about, and that they got assigned the deadline and are doing anything they can to meet it. You reply asap.

So you accepted the interview, but you’re still panicking. How about you invite one of your colleagues to join you for an interview? You both worked on this opera in different capacity, but closely – it’s better if both of you are talking about it. Beside, it’s only fair. (Are you a woman? Of course you are. Few men will have thoughts of that kind. But I digress.) You:

A – say to the writer (or ask your publicist to do it for you) Hey how about we invite So and So to join us? It’ll be much better.

B – do nothing. Whether you’d personally feel more comfortable with another person next to you, or you think the writer would get more information from two people rather than only you, or whatever your reason — you do nothing. It’s you who got the interview request, not you and whoever else you feel like inviting. Beside, two people interviews are a different beast than one-on-ones, in terms of format, deciding what matters and what remains on the cutting room floor, and the amount of required time to think the blob of conversation through and shape it up.

You are an artist who has a publicist — or is working with an organization that has publicists. You are still nervous about the interview, so it occurs to you that you should invite the publicist to sit in. Or–more likely–the organization for which you work has as a policy that all interviews must include a publicist present. You:

A – breathe a sigh of relief. Fabulous. There will be you, the journalist, and the publicist monitoring every word uttered. What could be better!

B – try everything you can to persuade the publicist or the organization to skip the monitoring. Writers dislike surveillance of this kind, and are known to cancel interviews when a publicist enters the equation. Again, three people in the room is different than two people. Sometimes, or so you’ve heard, the writers will do the laziest possible job on the piece as a sort of silent revenge on the publicity micromanaging from the other side. Or so you’ve heard. Entertainment journalism is so shitey precisely for this reason. Movie promotion onslaught meets compliant media. We don’t need that in other kinds of art now, do we?

So the interview is finished, over with, phew. Now you’re worried if you said something silly. (Again, all normal.) In fact, you start remembering that thing that you said that may be misconstrued or blown out of proportions if quoted verbatim. Do you:

A1- contact the writer to ask to see the finished piece so you can decide if it shows you in a good light and approve or withdraw accordingly

A2 – you ask your publicist or agent to do that for you, or to ask the writer to exclude any mention of X, Y or Z from the piece.

B – continue living your life and doing the work. Because you went over this (see under the very first B in the first question), and you’ve made a decision to trust the writer. You continue doing you and the writer will do their job, and that’s life.

Answers:
Do not do the As.

Joyce El-Khoury and Beste Kalender in recital

A few (belatedly posted) thoughts on the Joyce El-K and Beste K recent concert at the RCM, on the Wholenote website.

Art songs delivered in a full-on operatic register within a small resonant space such as Mazzoleni Hall can be hard to take, I’ve learned last Sunday.

On the program at the RCM’s intimate, chapel-like hall were French a few of the mélodies with an Orientalist flair, as well as a selection of Lebanese and Turkish folk songs in new arrangements chosen by the two singers, soprano Joyce El-Khoury and mezzo Beste Kalender. Robert Kortgaard and Rachel Andrist accompanied from the piano, and for one Ravel cycle Nora Shulman (flute) and David Hetherington (cello) joined the mezzo onstage. It was a well-programmed concert, diverse and thematically unified at the same time.

Joyce El-Khoury (c) Fay FoxEl-Khoury, Lebanese-Canadian soprano highly in-demand internationally as Violetta and Mimi, is a singer of exceptional glamour and stage presence. Her voice is opulent, with a beautiful upper top, but it did not seem like El-Khoury recalibrated it for the more contained, subtle and withholding recital genre. Most of the singing, whether that was the intention or not, came through as fairly loud—and I was seated in the last row. On that level, Ravel’s ‘Asie’ from Shéhérazade sounds almost irate. ‘Île inconnu’ from Berlioz and Gautier’s masterwork Les nuits d’été was a very loud statement, rather than a cheery invitation to voyage that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. But things changed in part two of the concert, in El-Khoury’s program of Lebanese songs which she introduced and which are personally meaningful to her. As if by a magic wand, there it was: the real song intimacy. As if a camera zoomed in to a private moment between friends. This was an entirely different singer, very much capable of pianissimi, full of thoughtful inwardness, implicit rather than explicit, and generous.

Beste Kalender. Photo by Codrut ToleaMezzo Beste Kalender was more consistent. A fine French diction and rich dark timbre enhanced every song. Seductive and mischievous in ‘Les roses d’Ispahan’ by Fauré, Kalender added some wicked castanets playing to her gamut in Ravel’s ‘Zaïde: Boléro’. She was particularly memorable in Ravel’s Chansons madécasses, alongside the flute and the cello. ‘Nahandove’ is unusually sensuous, even for a French song, and it would be fair to describe it as, in fact, sexual (‘Arrête, ou je vais mourir / Meurt-on de volupté’). It, and the third song ‘Il est doux’, are voiced by a male narrator. He greets the female lover in the first, and orders female servants gently about in the third, but the middle song ‘Awa!’ is an outburst and a warning against such men. ‘Do not trust the white men’ is its refrain, and the verses explain what will happen when they arrive on distant shores and settle.

In part two, Kalender presented a selection of Turkish songs. One among them, ‘My Nightingale is in a Golden Cage’, she explained, was Kemal Ataturk’s favourite, so she would sing it in homage to the Turkish statesman—the modernizer and secularizer of Turkey after the end of Ottoman Empire and the republic’s first president. *

The two women finished the program with Delibes’ mega hit from opera Lakmé, The Flower Duet.

. . . . . . . . . .

*which I thought was interesting, bc he wasn’t exactly a democrat. What is Ataturk’s status currently, in the Turkey of Erdogan?

What are the land acknowledgements for

Due to an impending cold, I had to leave the TSO’s Britten Requiem today barely 20 min in, but I did stay long enough to hear the conductor read a land acknowledgement before saying a few words about the piece we were about to hear.

I have never heard a land acknowledgement from the TSO podium before. Will all visiting TSO conductors now have to rattle it off, be they Japanese, Hispanic, East European or Canadian?

The acknowledgements that we are on “traditional lands” of this or that First Nation or a mix of Nations is spreading among Toronto’s arts organizations faster than you can say “performative wokeness”. It’s already obligatory in the public school system and in many corners of higher education. I haven’t been to many party political events lately, but I expect they’re heard there as well.

I am, on principle, against the mandatory “land acknowledgements” before arts events, because:

  • it’s an empty gesture that produces a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings in a whole lot of people, but does not improve material conditions of life of a single Native person. I suspect it’s getting so extremely popular because it makes the acknowledger look good while costing them precisely nothing, and meaning as much. Disproportionate poverty among Native Canadians? Inadequate infrastructure such as water supply? Access to education, broadband and medical care? Access to parliamentary representation? Facility of travel? Unsustainable resource extraction next to or on the majority Native territories? Reserve governance? Nevermind all that. What’s more pressing is that we ceremoniously utter certain words about who was first on the “lands”.
  • it’s historically inaccurate in that glosses over, well, the history of contentious claims over the territory among First Nations themselves. For denser locales with layers of history, like say Toronto, things get complicated. As a York U historian put it in this look at the L.A. by Stephen Marche for TNY, “Haudenosaunee people, some of them, don’t want to recognize that the Anishnabe took control and were here historically. Some Anishnabe people will not recognize that the Haudenosaunee people were here. And both those people sometimes want to erase the Wendat.” We also seem to forget that the this or that nation of the First Nations formed alliances with the French and the British in the course of the country’s settling history, and that the story of the omnipotent colonizer and the powerless colonized is far from neat and linear.
  • it’s historically, anthropologically and politically inaccurate in that no race, no people, has a pure and primordial relation to the land in this Canada of ours, AD 2018 (nor ever, really; but that’s a longer essay). We are all modern, we are all of 2018. We are all affected by the capital and the global communications and technology and medical developments and the bloody unavoidable Americans. All races (an unscientific concept that the left, it seems, now insists on as much as the right) and all ethnicities jostling north of 49th are equally close or equally far from the “land”. And yes, that means the Inuit too, who hunt seal for sustenance and send representatives to advocate before international bodies and use social media for mobilization. To presume that somehow the Native component of the hodge-podge that is Canada retains some sort of special contact to the land and nature is an ideology that’s had some unfortunate consequences in other historical periods around the world. No blood and belonging, please.
  • it’s politically naive in that while pretending to address an issue (of cultural inclusion of Native cultures into the Canadiana) it in fact masks many more. How many nations are we, one or multiple? What is the we in the Canadian project? Are its first nations and later waves of nations including today’s very new comers to forever remain separate quantities? What is the chance in hell that some of us who came here in, say, 1999, will ever belong? Will First Nations end up fully developing their own legal and medical systems? Is it possible to imagine this country whole, rather than a bunch of component parts? More than 50 percent of Torontonians were born in another country. I’m sure I’m not the only immigrant who’s ever thought Hang on a sec, if we are now to understand the life of this country as an ongoing settling and colonization, maybe I shouldn’t have come over and joined in the horror show? How do we indeed propose to wed this notion of indigeneity with the waves of immigration into Canada?

I grew up in a communist country where every public event had to include the prominently placed images of the Yugoslav leader Tito and (all or combination of) Marx, Engels and Lenin. There were also concepts that the officials, while speechifying for this or that occasion, had to give a nod to (for ex the people’s liberation struggle, the proletariat, the brotherhood and the unity, and post-1974 the self-government). Now I do love much about my old, now unfortunately non-existent country, and I miss it, but this kind of compelled speech during public events, and the other side of the same coin, the forbidden speech, is not something I miss. Is there any kind of compelled speech circulating about in the high income, free speech country like Canada? Is wearing poppies around Nov 11 it? Can you say no to reading a land acknowledgment–as an individual or as an organization? I sincerely hope my apprehension is baseless and my parallel exaggerated. And that those who’re not entirely sure about this public wokeness ritual that the LA is becoming can choose to skip it.

New songsters on the block

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Anna Theodosakis photo by Dahlia Katz

A whole bunch of us missed the Muse 9 staging of Dominick Argento’s song cycle From the Diary of Virginia Woolf because it took place on the night of the Nightingale premiere at the COC. There’s a chance to see the same cast in a more or less concert version of the piece coming up at the RBA on November 13. I talked with the director Anna Theodosakis (pictured above) about what the Muse 9 Productions is, and how they ended up working on this particular piece. She’s one of the bright young things in Toronto’s opera world that give me great hope. Read the profile here.

Another new thing that piqued my interest, as you’ll see in the Wholenote article, is the recently created song series The Linden Project, based in Hamilton. Singer-spouses Julie and Jeremy Ludwig have announced the inaugural two-concert series, and have expansion plans and some really good ideas about the presentation and *purpose* of song recitals. The first concert took place earlier in the month, the second one is booked for early spring.

And here are my Quick Picks for November. The endemic Toronto problem of people not publicizing (deciding on) the program until close to the performance day persists, so I’m not sure what’s going to be heard in some of these, but the blurb copy sounds intriguing enough.

Animula vagula blandula

Anima Vagula Blandula in Hadrian’s Mausoleum

I first visited Rome in 2006 and for a long while before and after it was my favourite city of all actual and possible cities. I had read the Yourcenar novel about the Emperor Hadrian especially before the trip and enjoyed it much more than I enjoy the memory of it now. Then, I thought it was a terribly sophisticated, subterranean investigation of a “good” emperor’s public and (verrrrry subtly) private life. Now I find Yourcenar’s académicienne sentence a bore, and the multiply veiled story coy (the way exciting literature usually isn’t): a writer writing from deep within the closet.

At any rate, I of course went to Hadrian’s Mausoleum and loved it. The only picture I seem to have taken is this one above, with Hadrian’s poetry chiseled fairly recently onto a stone plate and placed high up (or was it low down? I forget) on a wall inside the mausoleum. There’s a modern-day Italian intro at the top: “Words from the dying Emperor Hadrian to his soul”.

Hadrian likely wrote more, but as far as I know only this poem remains, & has been translated in multiple versions. Yourcenar amplified further its importance in the novel.

I was surprised after I’ve read Daniel MacIvor’s libretto for Hadrian, his and Rufus Wainwright’s operatic child which just premiered at the COC, that he did not include this famous bit of Hadriana in the text. All the same, it’s a decent libretto, and a functioning (if clunkily) opera which has alas been given a commercial theatre-type production. Why nobody said at any point Waiiit that’s just too many bare bottoms mixed in with the extras from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, I don’t know.

Here’s my Opera Canada review.

I think it’s a touch of (devious gay) genius that Antinous tops the Emperor in their very detailed and leisurely sex scene. If any of you have read Alan Hollingurst’s The Swimming Pool Library, the brilliant last sex scene in that book comes to mind. You know, the one where the wealthy English aristocratic narrator who’s been topping everybody in the book finally gets bottomed–and totally naturally and ordinarily, with no words exchanged on the topic–by a working class guy of Middle Eastern origin. Hollinghurst has this incredibly poetic, uber-stylish way of describing the filthiest sex between men, and he doesn’t disappoint here. “He fucked him with leisurely vehemence”, he writes of the guy topping Will the aristocratic narrator. Leisurely vehemence! A phrase to make you guffaw and blush at the same time. Well yes. Quite. There was some leisurely vehemence in evidence in that Hadrian-Antinous encounter.

 

Onegin!

So the Carsen Onegin is twenty years young and just opened the COC’s 18/19 season. My review is up on Opera Canada.

I’ve been going through some recordings in preparation and in the process discovered a glorious 1955 mono from the Bolshoi with Galina Vishnyevskaya. This chorus gets me every time, but this rendition in particular:

Loved that Carsen introduced an Orthodox priest into the scene — there are indeed shades of Orthodox chanting in this chorus, and it all went beautifully together with the autumn leaves strewn across the stage, the peasants coming back from the harvest, the women peeling fruit and veg and kibitzing.

There are brilliant moments in every scene in this Carsen, and I thought there is a touch of genius in how Lensky’s death is bridged with the next scene, the famous polonaise at the Prince Gremin’s ball.

Anybody seen any other Onegin productions, live or on video? There are bits of Kasper Holten’s ROH Onegin on the internet, and various Bolshoi clips of varying vintage. I can’t remember which director turned it into the Onegin & Lensky forbidden love type story? There’s been at least one of those about.

Live-streaming: why are Canadian opera productions missing from the worldwide phenomenon?

I’d love you to give this a read, as it’s an issue that’s been on the Canadian opera radar for a while now. http://operacanada.ca/live-streaming-opera-canada/ Why are there no Canadian operatic productions online or DVD? I talked to a CultureBox exec, media people from the Bavarian State Opera and Komische Oper Berlin, Stratford Festival’s ED, COC’s ED, Equity’s ED, TSO’s former digital initiatives man Michael Morreale, and CBC’s classical music producer Denise Ball.

TL; DR? Canadian situation is a cluster-fuck of unfortunate elements: the CBC is not interested (bless their hockey and crime reporting soul), opera companies can’t afford to do it themselves, the unions want their members to be paid for this extra usage (and that’s not an unreasonable request), and Canada Council’s Digital Fund won’t fund the streaming or digital archives because they consider it all marketing and therefore going under existing operating grants, for those orgs that get them.

But do give it a read and tell me what you think.

A question for another article though: are streaming and VOD going to put paid to proper DVD recordings that you buy and take home, like music streaming put paid to CD recordings, and CD recordings to LPs? I think that would be a terrible development, because we can’t count on Medici and OperaVision to work as the historical performance archives. Are they going to keep those videos in perpetuity on their servers? I’d guess they’re more likely to do so than the Spotify corporation is, and probably less likely than CultureBox, owned by France’s public television channels, which have the mandate to do so. As the CBC did once, long time ago: recorded and preserved the best of nation’s performing arts.

Altogether another question is: is this era of digital transmission of performing arts here to stay, or is it a temporary trend? Are people going to lose interest in internet VOD of opera in, say, 20 years–because the experience definitely cannot compare to the Real Thang? Or is it, gasp, going to eat into the live audience, like Met in HD does in some regions?

Can you talk about me without me

As many of you locals know by now, the Theatre du Soleil’s play on the making of Canada–early days, so La Nouvelle France and the First Nations, I presume they won’t go as far into the era after the British takeover–is going to go ahead after all in the TdS’s Paris HQ, with a diminished budget and only Robert Lepage’s nominal engagement / blessing. The NYC co-producer pulled out due to the controversy in the North American media, social media and among activists national and cultural. Which erupted after it was learned that Lepage & Ex Machina did not engage any actors or creatives of Native origin for the play that was to have quite a few scenes involving Native people.

The way the thing was covered and debated in Canada’s English language media (and what made it into the US coverage) left much to be desired. The falsehood that this is Lepage doing an all-white play in Paris about First Nations became a currency and swiftly moved from one outraged take to another. It did not help  that Lepage just came out of another controversy (see under SLAV) and people were ready to pounce along these lines again. It did not help that Lepage did not give any interviews to the English language media, and gave only one to Radio Canada (this one). It did not help either that apparently nobody who is paid to opine or report on these things in our big media actually reads French, or consults any non-English sources. Due to the years of editorial and publisher neglect, we don’t really have actual arts journalism in this town any longer–people who do in-depth research, speak other languages (or at least French), read a lot within and without their beat, follow foreign media and don’t base their opinion columns on their emotions solely.

What nobody cared to report on was that: 1) Theatre du Soleil has its own ensemble–multinational and multiracial, with a lot of refugees who’ve moved to France, people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Togo, etc. It’s people like that who would be playing characters from Canadian history. An Iraqi was to play the King of England, for example; 2) TdS has its own esthetic: workerist-egalitarian, internationalist, large-scale, epic sometimes (see this TNY profile); physical, with elements of mime (Mnouchkine trained in Lecoq method; for local echoes of that kind of theatre, see Mouthpiece coproduced by Buddies and Nightwood Theatre), collectivist way of creating a play. Was Lepage to insist on introducing a few Canadian actors into the ensemble, they’d have to undergo a crash course on TdS method/approach. 3) related – Lepage says in that interview with RC that he had no say in casting. He was, he says, invited to co-direct an already formed ensemble. If this is true, what he would have to have done then, and what Canadian pundits apparently have wanted him to do, is to say Wait, I’ll replace THESE FIVE PEOPLE because um they belong to the wrong races for these roles, and I’ll put in THESE OTHER FIVE PEOPLE in their stead.

At which point you may–and Stephan Bureau in that linked RC interview indeed did–ask, But wait, you are Robert Lepage, you are co-directing, you can do anything you want, at any stage, even before you were presented with a fully formed ensemble? No, he says. He was brought before the fully formed ensemble. To want to replace people based on their ethnic origin would be extremely bizarre.

While the scandal was raging and churnalism was churning outrage, the TdS, the Ex-Machina, Lepage and Mnouchkine met in July with several Native Canadian organizations and had a long conversation–a symposium, in a way–and parted ways on friendly terms but with no agreed solution. Soon after the Park Armory withdrew its funding, and Lepage threw in the towel.

Until Mnouchkine decided the show will after all go on, by the TdS for Parisian audiences, with no formal or financial involvement from any North American producer.

All this by way of intro to this: the other day, Telerama, a culture magazine from Paris, dedicated a special dossier to this story, and tweeted out their interview with Mnouchkine. Since it was in the subs section of the magazine only, I asked around and a friend from Lyon who has access logged on, got the PDF of the relevant pages and mailed them to me. Here they are. There’s the Mnouchkine interview, and the longer piece which includes conflicting views on the issue of the so-called cultural appropriation and what it might entail. I have to say although I disagree with some of what he argues, David Bobee makes some beautiful points there (“Je n’ai pas de leçon à donner, mais je pense que ça n’aurait pas été compliqué d’enrichir la troupe du Soleil de quelques artistes et penseurs directement concernés par le sujet. Nous devons tous apprendre à décentrer nos regards, nos pratiques, nos imaginaires.” It’s exactly what Lepage says was very complicated to do indeed, logistics-wise. I tend to believe him, but Bobee sounds perfectly reasonable as well.)

The piece concludes with the grim diagnosis of the state of discourse on these topics — it’s worrisome that the loudest, crudest voices dominate these conversations for everybody else and shut things down, rather than let actual hard dialogue take place and from it, change–in representation, in practices, in, as Bobee says, imaginations.

This new/old Kanata will take place from December through mid-February in TdS HQ La Cartoucherie, a repurposed factory.

Truth-telling

Every now and again, I get to do an interview where there’s no BS, where what you hear is just about all straight-up truth-telling. When that happens, you try to do your best to do the encounter justice. I hope I managed to do that in this interview with Erin Wall who talked to me last month about how she is trying to balance medical treatment and its demands, with having a busy singing career and a family.

Wall will sing (with Carolyn Maule on piano) the following program in Picton, Prince Edward County, on Sept 14:

More info and tickets: http://www.pecmusicfestival.com/erin-wall/