Mozart a Little, Mozart a Lot by Beat Rice, Editor
#UncleJohn is the title character of Against The Grain Theatre’s modern translation/adaptation of Mozart’s Don Juan. The well-known story of the womanizer who causes trouble and eventually pays for it in the end, has had its libretto re-written in English by Joel Ivany. Ivany, who is also the stage director, has envisioned the opera to take place in the here and now-literally, in the Black Box theatre, on Queen West in Toronto, the day before a winter wedding. Mozart’s complex score, with new musical arrangement by Stephen Hargreaves, generally remains the same, with a few hilarious pop culture interludes in the second act. The characters and the story also do not veer far from the original, sharing the same Italian names and relationships. Uncle John (Cameron McPhail) arrives to crash the wedding of young couple Zerlina (Sharleen Joynt) and Masetto (Aaron Durand) with his wingman Leporello (Neil Craighead), and runs into two ex-lovers, Elvira (Miriam Khalil) and Anna (Betty Waynnne Allison). Sexual tension, miscommunication, and chaos ensue.
The main floor area is beautifully set up for wedding, with tables and chairs covered in white cloth, for guests who enter from the balcony. The interior design of the show fits perfectly with the natural architecture of the space. Set and Costume designer Patrick Du Wors, has created a modern and inviting atmosphere, which, together with fashionable costumes and new libretto make this opera truly accessible to contemporary audiences. The staging is inventive and also uses what the space already has to offer, to the maximum; performers employ the use of several doors, stairways, the entire floor, balcony and even traverse on top of, and under set pieces. #UncleJohn runs at two and a half hours but never stops moving.
The second act provides several stand out opportunities for solos that show us how much these singers' voices can be pushed. There is something incredibly amazing about being close to an opera singer at full voice. The only noticeable thing that did not seem to work for the performance is the fact that musical director and pianist, Milos Repicky, would often raise him arms to conduct at the tops and tails of pieces, but would not be seen by the singers, as he was up in the balcony with the orchestra. As a result, there were a few moments where the orchestra and the singers were not quite together, which is noticeable in Mozart’s fast paced music.
Against the Grain Theatre has successfully produced an opera that is engaging, hilarious, modern and accessible; all the while maintaining the mastery of Mozart’s composition.