Saturday, October 3, 2009

"The Nightingale" Opera. With Puppets. In Water.

There's a new opera about to debut on October 17th in Toronto called "The Nightingale and Other Short Fables". The creator is Robert Lepage (a well known and honored 'theater artist' in Canada) and while an opera based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Nightingale" is no great surprise (the story was,after all, inspired by opera singer Jenny Lind), this production is a little different.

From The Canadian Press:
...Lepage plans to fill a partially raised orchestra pit at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts with roughly 30 tonnes of water. His singers will wade in, waist-deep, to manipulate puppets while they perform. The orchestra will play onstage behind them. (Ed. FTNH: Michael Curry, the Puppet Master for the production explains in the video shown near the end of the post, that while the majority of the puppets will be operated by the completely visible singers themselves there will also be black costumed puppeteers manipulating other pieces throughout too.)
...Its unconventional features include acrobats, shadow play and Asian puppetry, all woven into a program of pieces by composer Igor Stravinsky.
Lepage says he has been interested in the idea of combining opera and puppetry since he saw a production of "Oedipus Rex" by JulieTaymor (Creator of Disney's award winning Broadway production of "The Lion King") who's well known for her use of puppets, and the puppeteer Michael Curry who helped him execute his vision for a puppetry-opera meld, and believes he's found the right subject in Hans Christian Andersen's "Nightingale". He's using a libretto written by Stepan Mitussov in 1914 and, because the tale is a short one, is including other small 'animal subject' pieces by composer Stravinsky to round out the program.

Lepage said he especially enjoys working with puppets, which he says is drawing a totally different sort of performance out of his singers.

"It's a pity we can't do all operas like this," he said.

You can see a video of Lepage talking about his inspiration and the making of "The Nightingale and Other Short Fables" below. It's very interesting as he discusses HCA's story construction and storytelling, specifically with regard to puppetry, around the world:

You can see a demonstration of Michael Curry's puppetry for the opera below (this video is a little longer - almost 10 minutes):

The opera sounds very ambitious for both the performers and from a technical standpoint, not to mention quite intriguing. I'm curious to see if it's a success and is staged elsewhere. You can read the rest of the article on the opera and Lepage's philosophy and thoughts on creating the multimedia production HERE.

"The Nightingale & Other Short Fables" will play at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts from October 17 to November 5, 2009.

The lovely paintings in this post are by multi-faceted Canadian artist and illustrator Deborah Morriss (who also, incidentally, is involved in opera, though not at all related to this production. You can find more of her work, which includes other fairy tale illustrations HERE.)

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