Against The Grain does Kurtág and Janáček

Against The Grain does Kurtág and Janáček

Jacqueline Woodley, Kerry DuWorsAgainst the Grain TheatreKafka/Janáček/Kurtág. Seen on March 1, 2013; the remaining performance tonight, March 2.

Jacqueline Woodley is fantastic in Kurtág’s Kafka-Fragments, and has an equal partner in violinist Kerry DuWors. It’s one of the longest works by Kurtág, almost an hour straight, consisting of epigrams and bits of correspondence and diaries  that Kafka left behind, sparsely accompanied by one violin. It’s an extraordinary work, recordings and performances of which are always deserving of our attention. The instrument is not as much accompanying as doing its own thing against the voice. This tug-of-war only rarely subsides into mutual toleration. The text fragments are enigmatic and moving throughout. Kafka speaks through a woman’s voice, which pleasantly complexifies things. (“We are all Kafka”, told me a lady I met at the intermission. She has a point. Had the work been written for a dude, it would have been a lesser work.)

The Fragments depend entirely on the acting talent of the soprano to keep propelling it for the long hour, and we had that in spades. With nothing but the mirror behind her, the music stands, her (anti-)accompanist, some theatrical smoke and a lot of movement, Woodley played out each fragment as a mini scene. Some of the longer ones felt like stand-alone miniature dramas. “Too late. The sweetness of sorrow and of love. To be smiled by her in a rowing boat. That was the most wonderful of all…” was probably among the rare unequivocally sensuous ones and saw Woodley finishing by lying on the floor, arm outstretched against the mirror, in dazed yearning. Superb.

Lauren Segal looking at Colin AinsworthFor Part Two, the room was rearranged around a river snaking across the studio, along which the tenor (Colin Ainsworth) walks, telling the tale of his love for the Gypsy girl. Composers use strangest stuff as inspiration for new work, and Janáček came across the anonymous verses about a peasant boy’s amorous adventures in a newspaper. He fuelled the work with his own infatuation for a younger, unavailable woman. (It’s 1917, First World War raging, but Janáček has other worries.) So there is some seduction to-and-fro between the angsty tenor and the alto lass (well, hel-lo, the sexed-up version of Lauren Segal! Where have you been?), there’s a chorus of the three female voices partaking in the narration and disappearing, after which the attraction is consummated and the boy elopes with the Gypsy. The text has many familiar tropes and is nothing to write home about, but the music is sure to keep you interested. Christopher Mokrzewski at the piano adds a lot of flesh to the underwhelming text, and the vocal lines are attractive and diverse. The Czech pronunciation sounded okay to this remotely related Slav.

If in town, catch the one remaining show tonight. I hope that the AtG performances and seasons grow in the years to come; with Opera Erratica folded and its artistic director Ashiq Aziz dropping Baroque for law school, and Queen of Puddings Music Theatre gone by the end of the year, they’re one of the few companies left in town that pair contemporary vocal music and smart low-budget staging in unusual locations.

Photos: Darryl Block. AtG Theatre’s Kafka/Janáček/Kurtág, 2013

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