On Tuesday night I attended the third and final production of this year’s Musical Works in Concert series at SummerWorks; the science-fiction opera Paradises Lost by composer Stephen Andrew Taylor and Librettist Marcia Johnson based on a novella of the same title by Ursula K. Le Guin.
The performance also marked the first time an opera was featured in the series and the performers sang unamplified to the piano accompaniment.
Paradises Lost is a work of science fiction. It’s set in the distant future and tells the story of a society of pioneers voyaging on massive spaceship to colonize a new world. The journey will take several generations and we join the society between the fifth and sixth generation of voyagers who have never known life on earth.
Like the works of most great science fiction writers like Gene Roddenberry, Paradises Lost uses the form for social commentary. The utopian society of the ship is put in peril when a dangerous religious sect forms and threatens to change the ship’s destiny. The work is an allegory for the battle of blind faith, superstition and religion versus science, logic and reason.
The story centers on the character of Hsing (Xin Wang), a brilliant, young navigator and her childhood best friend Rosa (Neema Bickersteth) an increasingly fervent believer of the Bliss cult.
The opera is written in a way so that it is basically a play set to music. It consists entirely of recitative (talk-singing) and characters don’t pause to perform arias. While the music is composed to be performed in an operatic style of voice it’s void of the repetition you find in many operas. It is basically all sung-dialogue which forces the listener to really pay attention for fear of missing a salient plot point.
I think the concept is really fascinating; science fiction is a genre that’s rife for exploration in an operatic form. However, I still think the script needs a bit of work before it’s ready for full-production. I would like to see more character development in the piece. Further developing the relationships between the characters would give the piece more dramatic weight. I also didn’t think the piece resolved the religion versus reason conflict in a satisfying way.
Those kinks aside, it’s a fascinating concept that would lend itself brilliantly to a full production. Throughout the evening I kept imagining what the piece might look like in the hands of a skillful director and a talented production designer. It shows a lot of promise and I hope I get the chance to see it in full production in the future.
- Paradises Lost played The Black Box Theatre (1087 Queen Street West) on Tues. August 13 at 7:30 PM
- For other SummerWorks performances tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth (located at 100A Ossington Avenue, first floor) Aug. 6-18 10AM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows