Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A Synonym for 4 Stars: NOW Magazine's 4N Review

NOW Magazine's Jon Kaplan weighs in on A Synonym for Love with a 4N review. Here are the highlights:

John Kaplan

Tracy Smith Bessette (Clori)
photo by John Lauener
You've probably never had a cardio workout when listening to opera, unless you're plugged into an iPod recording while on the treadmill. But A Synonym for Love, a striking Underground/Opera production presented by Volcano Theatre and Classical Music Consort, will have you running from room to room and up and down stairs at the Gladstone Hotel....


The production, directed by Ross Manson and conducted by Ashiq Aziz, is an exhilarating one, and not just because of the exercise involved. The three singers are emotionally and dramatically committed to their roles...Manson's direction is often inventive...

A Synonym for Love is Handel for today, a love story without a resolution, told with a modern sensibility and gorgeous melodies. It's the most original show in town.

Read the full review here.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Blogroll!! A Synonym for Love Online

To kick off week two of A Synonym for Love, we suggest you take a break on this rainy Monday to indulge in some insightful writing from the blogosphere. Our thanks to all the reviewers who've come out so far!

"Manson's eyes danced when I asked him if this experience had whetted his interest to direct more opera, so, with any luck, Toronto will soon have another regular, keen experimenter working in this artform of endless possibilities."

Read John's full take on our preview performance here

STAGE DOOR - Christopher Hoile
"Pearson's new libretto actually hews quite closely to the twists of the original plot...[her] libretto may be modern and include the odd four-letter word, but part of the humour of the piece is to see how human expressions of love, betrayal and remorse have changed so little even with the change in time and setting from bucolic to urban."

Read the full 4 Star review here

"There's a sense, as A Synonym for Love progresses, that we've gone back a bit in time. Not because we're at an opera written in 1707, but because everything's so stylish and clever and fresh. I would not have predicted that mixing a lost Handel cantata with Kiss Me, Kate (which is itself mixed with Taming of the Shrew) and setting the whole business in the Gladstone Hotel with a fourteen-piece baroque ensemble (including a theorbo) - well, it could have been a mess. But instead, it was a marvel."

Read the full review here

"The singing and acting was uniformly good. I particularly liked Atkinson's rather dark toned, almost mezzoish, soprano and she really threw herself into the role as the "betrayed lover" (as she sees it) with abandon...The band, eleven players on period instruments, under the direction of Ashiq Aziz was excellent. It was great to have something other than just keyboards for a venture of this type."

Read the full review here.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Side Note: Handel & Hendrix

It's our day off and everyone's checked out, so today's post is only vaguely relevant to the show...

two dapper musicians

Did you know that Handel and Jimi Hendrix were housemates? Separated by a few centuries, of course.

Both Handel and Hendrix were residents of 23 and 25 Brook Street in London, once separate buildings that are now interconnected.

The Guardian ran a story on this musical dwelling in 2010 for the 40th anniversary of Hendrix's death:

"Many assume that Hendrix knew nothing of the Handel connection: in fact he was charmed when he learned of it, and bought recordings including The Messiah and The Water Music. Some have even claimed to detect Handel riffs in the thunderous guitar chords of later Hendrix recordings."

A neat real estate connection to think about, particularly given our venue's history with artists coming in and out of Toronto. Who knows what small-world coincidences there are between the A Synonym for Love team and Gladstone visitors throughout the hotel's long history?

Read the full article on The Guardian here.

Friday, 24 August 2012

#operathatmoves / #twittertalk

We're tweeting #operathatmoves to keep the Twitterverse up to speed on A Synonym for Love each night. Here's what some of our audiences (and a few out-of-towners) have had to say about the project:

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Listen in on the CMC Orchestra

No press clipping or iPhone photo is every going to convey just how amazingly talented the Classical Music Consort orchestra is, so here's a little sample of what this incredible group of stair-climbing musicians sounds like:

Classical Music Consort Orchestra
Conducted by Ashiq Aziz

Violin I: Paul Zevenhuizen (leader), Sarah Titterington Ibbett
Violin II: John Corban, Marcin Swoboda
Viola: Elizabeth Loewen Andrews
Oboe/Recorder: Mary Ann Shore, Graham St. Laurent
Continuo: Mary-Katherine Finch (cello), Mateusz Swboda (cello), Anthony Bacon (cello), Joelle Morton (double bass), Lucas Harris (archlute), Sara-Anne Churchill (harpsichord)

Recorded at the Heliconian Club on August 12, 2012 by Frank Lockwood.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Backstage With an iPhone

A few shots captured during the preview and opening night performances of A Synonym for Love:

Production Manager Doug Morum and the Classical Music Consort
orchestra warming up the ballroom

Becky, Veronica and Alex: 3 of our amazing armada of volunteers

Tracy about to make her first entrance

The audience on the move in the "Love Nest"

Hmm...what happened here, I wonder?

Cellist Anthony Bacon serenades the FreshCo
atop The Gladstone's green roof

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Fab Review from fab Magazine

Our friends at fab Magazine had a great time at A Synonym for Love last night. Here are some highlights from Drew Rowsome's take on the festivities:

Opera checks into the Gladstone Hotel and both benefit from the sexy experience
Drew Rowsome

Emily Atkinson as the "plucky lesbian" Teresa
The finale is the only time that critical faculties kick in - it has just been too much fun and the vocals are intoxicating. Countertenor Scott Belluz, given an unfortunate - but very apropos for the Gladstone - hipster look, has a stunning voice that resonates extraordinarily. Atkinson is already so endearing in her anguish that judgement is impossible but for the first time I marvel at being so close to such a powerfully emotive sound - the stereotypical little girl with a big voice but pushed to the nth degree. Opera is the Olympics of singing and all three are medal winners, especially for making it look easy. By the time Atkinson and Tracy Smith Bessette are facing off in a catfight to rival Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in Johnny Guitar the audience is absorbed in the action and rooting for their favourite. I admit I did guffaw when Atkinson sang, in peerless ringing tones, "Heartless bitch!" but then opera is heightened emotions and often teeters on the edge of farce - credit to the cast and creators for keeping A Synonym for Love emotionally real while also transporting the audience into a heightened state of musical passion.

Each audience member will have a slightly different experience - partner in crime and opera virgin Phil Villeneuve followed Belluz and has a totally different take on the story but experienced similar rapturous enjoyment (but then he spent more time in the bedroom with Belluz). It will not be his last opera, A Synonym for Love has proven to be a gateway drug to high art. As fond as I now am of my plucky lesbian I would tackle a different character if I were lucky enough to re-attend - but I would sure hate to miss the melodious sounds of the sweet aria, "You're evil, you're evil, screw you slut."

Read the full review here.

4 Stars from The Star

A Synonym for Love opened last night, and the reviews are already rolling in. The Star's Richard Ouzounian had a "delicious" time with our love triangle. Check out the highlights from his 4 star review:

Richard Ouzounian

Countertenor Scott Belluz as Phil
There's a lovely word that's fallen out of fashion: louche. It means "disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way" and it's a perfect description of both The Gladstone Hotel and the sexy, stylish production of A Synonym for Love which opened there Monday night.


It wasn't long before we were upstairs, in an overdressed boudoir, complete with chamber ensemble, dildos and whips. The scene built in passion, proving Manson hasn't lost any physical heat while labouring in the fields of activist theatre...


All throughout, the music was authentically delectable, the singers filled with contemporary passion and the staging filled with distinctive and clever touches.

The end result is a show that I can recommend to anyone in search of a unique evening, even if you're not a fan of Handel, a practising bisexual, or a regular at The Gladstone Hotel.

Read the full review here. A Synonym for Love runs until August 31.

Xtra! On Our Queer Operatic Triangle

Xtra! sat down with Ross and Ashiq to chat A Synonym for Love, modernizing Baroque opera, and the timeless mystery of romance:

A Synonym for Love highlights the timeless mystery of romance
Lydia Perovic

Emily Atkinson (Theresa) Photo John Lauener
"I am amazed at the opera voice and what it does to an audience," says [Ross] Manson during a break in rehearsals. "But sometimes I see traditional operatic productions and get bored. Maybe it's the recits in foreign language, which you have to read closely to follow the plot. Sometimes it's the staging." The most attractive productions, in his view, combine the music of opera with experimental staging and innovation in text - just the kind of work that the Underground / Opera series programmed by Aziz presents.


Although the score occasionally mirrors the rustic nature of the original libretto, with woodwinds delivering brooks, birds and rustling foliage, [Ashiq] Aziz will show how Handel's music acquires a whole different life in this urban and present-day setting. "Deborah's libretto is fully independent from the Clori, Tirsi e Fileno text. And today's audience won't automatically think of a bird when they hear a recorder - those associations have not survived." Some of the almost onomatopoeic sections like the early Nightingale aria remain the same musically, but "will mean in this context something very different."

The program notes describe Tirsi/Theresa, the lesbian lover, as a firebrand, a sure sign that Tirsi's original mad passionate arias will remain equally madly passionate. In many ways Pearson's libretto is very much the Toronto of today, not the least thanks to the pan-sexual love intrigue with a same-sex couple at its centre.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Snapshots of a Love Triangle

Some great shots of A Synonym for Love from John Lauener!

Tracy Smith Bessette (Clori)
Emily Atkinson (Theresa)
Tracy Smith Bessette (Clori) and Scott Belluz (Phil)
Tracy Smith Bessette (Clori)
Scott Belluz (Phil) and Tracy Smith Bessette (Clori)
Scott Belluz (Phil)
Tracy Smith Bessette (Clori)
Emily Atkinson (Theresa)
Emily Atkinson (Theresa)

NOW Magazine on Love & Librettos

NOW Magazine sat down with A Synonym for Love librettist Deborah Pearson to chat about love, librettos, and the near-algebraic equations that brought it all together at The Gladstone:

John Kaplan

Debbie workshopping with
countertenor Scott Belluz
"There seems to be a major ideological rift in North American culture about sexual relationships, between those dedicated to conventional monogamy and those who believe in open relationships. The fact is, neither side is necessarily right and both models are problematic. In love, you always have two tenets, sexuality and romance; people are both possessive and attracted to others. In the monogamous model, you're told to ignore your attraction to another and stay faithful; in the open model, you're told to eradicate any sense of possessiveness you feel. No matter which side you believe in, everyone involved has to be onboard and accept whatever ground rules are established."


"At first I worked slowly, having to adjust to the rhythms and keep in mind the Italianate sounds, too; there aren't as many English words ending in 'o' or 'io' as there are in Italian. I used a rhyming dictionary at the beginning. At the first workshop, I discovered that the stresses in many of the lines were in the wrong places, so I had to do a major rewrite. It was like running a marathon at the beginning, but I realized by the end of the process that I'd gotten better and faster."

Read the full article here.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

A Globe and Mail Preview

Pick up a copy of today's Globe and Mail for a great preview of A Synonym for Love from Kate Taylor:


Deborah Baic/Globe and Mail
Soprano Tracy Smith Bessette is lying on a bed at the Gladstone Hotel, caressing a whip, a gag and a dildo. To be sure, she's preparing to play a lover in a hotel-room tryst, but she is also about to start singing a song that Handel originally wrote for gamboling shepherds and shepherdesses.


"I love the fact it's completely different from what we normally expect from Handel," [Ashiq] Aziz said this week during a break in rehearsals. "We are breaking all sorts of rules," [Ross] Manson added. "Handel purists will not be happy."

Read the full article here. A Synonym for Love opens Monday, August 20.

Friday, 17 August 2012

More Instagramming, More Teasing

A few more iPhone shots from our move-in days at The Gladstone. Just a little tease of Julie Fox's incredible venue transformation...

peeking in on Ross in the ballroom

the beginnings of a very glamourous destination on the 2nd floor

saucy boudoir accessories

bringing the outside in...


our audience guides fooling around in the secret room
(only a third of the audience gets to visit this space!)

huge instrument

our home for the next two weeks

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Little Tease...

Here you go...our first teaser of A Synonym for Love!

*audio captured via hand-held recorder at an early voice rehearsal at Dovercourt House.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Instagramming Behind the Scenes

A few shots snapped behind the scenes from rehearsals and load ins...

new fangled tuner for an old fangled instrument.

carpet install...such a sickly shade of pink

impromptu flyer display in Kensington Market

production manager Doug Morum surveys legs on ladders

first day of rehearsal: maquettes and a harpsichord

glamourous new digs for our orchestra

last year for Volcano it was White Rabbit, Red Rabbit...
this year: white sheets, purple rabbit dildo....

Marjorie Chan and Derek Kwan, two sweaty audience Handel-ers
(for some reason, that pun hasn't caught on...yet)

an underground / orchestra

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Staging Baroque: What is Correct?

A scene from Hippolyte et Aricie at Opera de Paris
Photo Agathe Poupeney/Opera National de Paris
In a recent article for The New York Times, Zachary Woolfe takes a look at recent restagings of Baroque operas and asks some very big questions about the decisions artists make when they put these classics onstage.

Perhaps the hardest question to answer: was this production correct?

The Baroque repertory, Woolfe writes, is defined by its precision and stylistic rigor (its correctness). But executing that today without a point of reference is a huge challenge for contemporary opera artists.

"Most can agree that there are elements that should be present in Baroque opera, broad principles that should be observed, like the tension between restraint and release, the exhilaration of spectacle, both embrace of artifice and depth of feeling. But there is no agreement about how to observe them. It took many decades and the arduous work of Baroque opera's advocates to insert the works of the period firmly in the contemporary repertory. They won. Now what?"

"Baroque style was about illusion and extravagance, and opera - then a new medium, multidimensional and multisensory - was perhaps its ideal form. Yet it is nearly impossible now to imagine the stimulation provided by theatrical performance in a world far more visually and sonically muted than our own, just as it is hard to imagine the impact Beethoven's symphonies had when they were the loudest sounds their listeners heard all year....Should performances of Baroque opera seek to recapture the dazzling impact these works once had? If so, how? The same effects wouldn't astonish in the same way now, so should it involve reinvention? Or should the goal of productions be a kind of scrupulous conservation, a presentation of the operas as they were that lets audiences fill in the difference?"

You can read Woolfe's full article here. As you ponder what correct means to you, enjoy this video from CMC's last Underground/Opera: Orlando/Lunaire. If you don't think it was correct, bring it up with Ashiq :)

Orlando/Lunaire Distilled from Patrick Eakin Young on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Love Your Venue: Volcano @ The Gladstone

Volcano and The Gladstone have romanced a bit in the past...

In January 2004, Volcano in association with BMH Shift and The Art of Time Ensemble filled The Gladstone Hotel with the music of Argentinian/German composer Mauricio Kagel in a vaudeville performance featuring dance, acrobatics, contortion, burlesque, clowning, and poetry.

Wendy Akerboom, Erin Bouvy, Kathleen Le Roux
Photo by Kenneth Grey
Directed by Ross Manson, the production was hailed as a "landmark interdisciplinary collaboration" by The National Post. You can read a preview of the show from NOW Magazine here.

Bamako in Toronto
In a co-presentation with Ryerson Gallery and Research Centre, Luminato, Autograph ABP, and The Gladstone Hotel, Volcano presented an exhibition of a new generation of photographers capturing a contemporary Africa, which coincided with the world premiere of The Africa Trilogy.

The event took its name from Rencontres de Bamako, one of Africa's largest and most compelling photography exhibitions. Curated by Mark Sealy, Director of London's Autograph ABP Agency, Bamako in Toronto featured an exquisite sampling of images from photographers Zanele Muholi (South Africa), Uche Okpa-Iroha (Nigeria), and Saidou Dicko (Burkina Faso).

On a sad but related note, Zanele Muholi was in the news recently when year's worth of photography and equipment was stolen from her flat in Cape Town. Zanele's photography documents the lives of queer Africans, and there is little doubt that it was a targeted attack.

Zanele was the winner of the AitP Short Program award with her film Difficult Love. You can watch an interview of Zanele discussing the film, and the difficulties faced by Black lesbians in South Africa today on YouTube:

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Side Note: The Great Toronto Opera Houses

In our last post we looked at how The Gladstone once hosted Vaudeville performers on their way out of town. On a related note, we thought we'd share this article from The Bulletin about Toronto's historic opera houses, which thrived in the downtown core until Vaudeville put them out of business.

The article starts in the early 1800s when most theatre in Toronto was played in taverns, the performances considered amateurish by international standards, and the scene in desperate need of modernization and infrastructure to be internationally competitive.

The Grand Opera House in Toronto
(from the Canadian Illustrated News)
The first major step forward was the opening of The Royal Lyceum in 1848 (which stood where the TD Centre is today), followed in 1873 by perhaps the most famous: the Grand Opera House at Adelaide and Yonge, a 1750 seat palace that hosted some of the world's greatest performers and some truly spectacular shows:

"Unlike today when going to the opera is going to the Opera with a capital-O, 150 years ago a night at the opera might also have included comics singing the popular songs of the day, musical interludes, poetry readings and novelty acts. It mixed together.... for an enjoyable night out that ended with a rousing chorus of Rule Britannia. The age of the Music Hall had arrived."

Sadly for the Grand, Toronto in the 1800s was prone to catching fire...read the full article here.

Side note to this side note:
The Grand Opera House was also home to one of the Canadian art world's greatest mysteries when its owner, theatre magnate Ambrose Small, went missing after depositing a cheque for $1 million in a nearby bank. The case caught the attention of mystery lovers around the world, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the very public investigation would reveal that Small kept a secret sex room at the Grand Opera House where he entertained his numerous mistresses. His Wikipedia page is definitely worth a read.

A great shot of Yonge and Adelaide
circa 1907 and 2010 from Toronto Before