Opera meets water puppetry - Metro US

Opera meets water puppetry

Up for something different? Director Robert Lepage’s staging of Nightingale & Other Fables with the Canadian Opera Company is a sort of postmodern cabaret.

It combines several of Igor Stravinsky’s mini-operas with Kabuki theatre and Vietnamese water puppetry. This show will be an equally unique experience for hardened opera veterans and first-time listeners.

The conductor’s got extra duties. “The singers are taking cues off monitors, watching me on a screen but I can’t see them. They’re in the (orchestra) pit and I’m facing the musicians and chorus on stage,” explains podium master Jonathan Darlington by phone.

He’s making his own COC debut with this performance. “This is very precise music, and in such an atmospheric production the conducting challenge is enormous.”

The puppets are manipulated by opera singers in the orchestra pit that’s flooded with water. A stream of changing chamber orchestras plays on stage. There are six vocal soloists cast (including local bass favorite Robert Pomakov) and a hundred puppets, designed by American Michael Curry, who has already worked for Cirque du Soleil, Disney, and the Royal National Theatre.

“The singers are the puppeteers so I’m not the only performer who’s being pushed hard,” says Darlington. “It takes 25 years to learn how to be a puppetmaster, and these singers have to do it in 25 days.”

Part of enjoying this production will be seeing how well the singers adapt to puppetry. Theatre’s appeal is in stagecraft and seeing how well performers absorb skills. Opera singers are called upon to do things like fence on stage, and great stagecraft can lift up a whole production. This show’s mix of risks and rarities will definitely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“So much of this music by Stravinsky is simply never performed,” says Darlington, “many lifelong listeners have never seen Nightingale or The Fox actually staged. That’s also true for the other little pieces on this program. For people who are new to opera, this production won’t be what they expect. For die-hard opera fans, this will be new.”

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