Tapestry Opera stages new opera M’Dea Undone at Toronto’s Evergreen Brickworks
Despite several trips to Brickworks for attractions such as the Farmer’s Market and the Children’s Garden, I had never been in the space that sets the scene for Tapestry Opera’s 2015 production of M’Dea Undone by composer John Harris and librettist Marjorie Chan. While the narrative has its roots in classical Greek mythology, this opera was completed this year and is a modern story about timeless themes – betrayal, desperation, vengeance, love, and above all the ambiguities of good versus evil.
While the narrative bears an unmistakable archetypal similarity to several other operas, many of the conventions of the genre were subverted. The villainess, played by a light-voiced soprano, is also a tragic figure. The sympathetic heroine, played by a mezzo-soprano, is also a murderer. Since this work is so successful at finding grey area within traditional archetypes, it was fitting that is also strayed from some of the operatic conventions of vocal type-casting.
While this is certainly not true in every case, in many operas, female villains are played by mezzos, while the roles of charming ingénues are played by sopranos with light, agile voices. Tenors typically take the role of the romantic lead, be he saint or sinner, while hearty voiced baritones are by times sympathetic sidekicks or dastardly villains depending on whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy.
But this is 2015 and modern audiences seem to be fascinated with the gray area. There are any number of pop culture examples – Dexter, Nurse Jackie and pretty much everyone on Game of Thrones. This opera did an exceptionally clever job of using the characteristics of each voice type to find gray area within the roles.
Jacqueline Woodley, instead of exploiting the sweet quality of the soubrette fach, played up the voice type’s inherently shrill quality to clearly convey the modern archetype of the spoiled, rich girl, accustomed to getting her own way through manipulation. Lauren Segal used her natural mezzo-soprano warmth to be maternal and passionate; however took advantage of the dark quality that is also native to the mezzo instrument to be convincing as a desperate woman on the edge. Peter Barrett is so successful at taking advantage of both the affable and menacing qualities of the baritone voice, that we understand immediately why M’dea believes Jason’s lies.
I also loved the orchestration of this work. Conducted by Jordan de Souza, a simple string septet maintained a creepy, foreboding dramatic tension throughout the piece that was an unmistakable harbinger of impending doom.
The venue was also a memorable feature of this production. The creative team took advantage of the long, industrial, unfinished space, to create multiple fixed sets in different areas of the stage. The removal of the need for traditional set changes allowed action to take place seamlessly, and at times overlap.
M’dea Undone reveals the possibilities of new opera on a number of levels. My companion was new to new opera and thoroughly engaged by this production that was simultaneously familiar and boundary-breaking.
- M’Dea Undone is playing until May 29 at Holcim Gallery, Evergreen Brickworks (550 Bayview Avenue)
- Show times are 8:30 PM on May 27, 28 & 29 .
- Ticket prices range from $50 – $95. Students can purchase tickets for $35.
- Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-537-6066 x 243
Photo of Lauren Segal in M’dea Undone by Dahlia Katz