There are many reasons to go see the Luminato-hosted premiere of R. Murray Schafer's new opera The Children's Crusade.
The timely story, based on an apocryphal early 13th-century tale about love being stronger than religious strife, has been given an inventive staging inside an old factory. There are great performances from cast and orchestra. And the music emits flashes of brilliance.
I wanted this complex, 90-minute effort to succeed. But its jerky dramatic thread kept breaking the magic spell I needed to walk and stand through the seven scenes that take place in different areas of an abandoned factory at the foot of Dufferin St.
Rather than following a narrative path of revelation or salvation, audience members become part of the ropes and tugs and mad scurrying of backstage machinery.
The initial scenes are no longer than 10 minutes: God speaks to a boy about the power of love; Holy Boy starts a crusade that will unite Christians, Jews and Muslims; homeless and orphaned children follow the leader; Holy Boy is tormented in a brothel.
The final section — the crusaders arrive at the sea, expecting it to part, it doesn’t, they drown and are welcomed into heaven — is the most substantial, but there is still not enough to sustain in either Schafer’s patchwork libretto or score to create a meaningful connection.
Each scene draws on our prejudices to create a dramatic bond. For example, we are expected to feel sympathy for the boy because of age and innocence, not because he has given us a reason. We are supposed to be repelled by the red rubber-clad hookers, but we’re not told why.
Schafer dabbles in a vast palette of musical colours, but each scene is painted on a distinct canvas, further fragmenting the experience.
There are many magical moments, from the vibrating aluminium rods and singing saw that carry God’s voice, to the fantastic work of 12-year-old Jacob Abrahamse as Holy Child, Maryem Tollar as a young Muslim woman and the urchins played by members of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company.
The score blooms brightest in the ensembles, frequently evoking the sound and feel of Benjamin Britten’s best. But just as the spell begins to take hold, Schafer moves on to a new scene.
From the staging — director Tim Albert, designer Leslie Travers and lighting guru Thomas Hase — to the music, conducted by David Fallis, every step of the way shows remarkable attention to detail. The Children’s Crusade looks and sounds great.
It’s too bad that this talent, energy and application serve an imperfect work.
Today’s Luminato highlights
Many events are free, tickets for others can be purchased at 416-872-1111 or the T.O.TIX booth at Yonge Dundas Square. You can get more information and a full list of events at www.luminato.com
• Poe Cabaret: A Dream Within A Dream: Tonight 9 p.m., and again Wed. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. ($45).
• Lipsynch: Tonight, Wed. & Thurs. at 7 p.m.; more performances June 13 & 14. Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, 165 Front St. E. ($75-$125).
• Zisele by Tel Aviv’s Beit Lessin Theatre: Tonight 8 p.m.; till June 13. St. Lawrence Centre, 27 Front St. E. ($50-$60).
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