Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: (Victoria) Marilyn Forever

Marilyn Monroe show has a happy birthday
by Morgan McPherson

Opera. Intimidating, stodgy patrons, opera glasses, and fat ladies in horns belting their hearts out? Not this opera! I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of Marilyn Forever, in all of its glorious modernity, and it was an experience unlike any I’ve had before.

Opera and I have had an interesting relationship. I have seen three operas prior to seeing Marilyn, and all of them were quite different from one another. I have seen a modern retelling of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (where I first discovered that even though the libretto is in English, it can be downright unrecognizable when sung operatically), Mozart’s The Magic Flute (light and fun, as Mozart’s works are wont to be), and Tchaikovsky‘s Eugene Onegin (a highly dramatic and stunning Russian opera based on a novel by Pushkin). As an instrumentalist of nearly 20 years, I have previously found it a struggle to stop watching the orchestra pit and pay attention to the stage.

The orchestration, however, is not to be forgotten.

This was not the case during this production, directed by Joel Ivany. I was captivated by Faroese beauty Eivor Palsdottir’s performance as Marilyn Monroe. She was beautifully styled from the curls on her head and her ruby lips down to her toes, and carried herself as the glamorous starlet with apparent ease. Her voice had a languid feel and a smooth, jazzy tone, but do not let that be mistaken for a lack of power. A brief technical difficulty left her without a microphone for a few moments, but the singer was not the least bit fazed and I still heard her words carry to where I was sitting near the back of the house. It was an unexpected treat to hear the libretto clear as day, which made the show much easier to follow. The multitalented Thomas Sandberg (who composes and is an instrumentalist himself, among his many talents) portrayed the men in Marilyn’s life with ease, switching characters between scenes with subtle costume changes to help illustrate the difference. While I have no doubt he is a very talented man, I did feel that all of the characters were much the same, and I would have loved to see a bigger difference between the characters he portrayed. Andrew Erasmus and Paul Boughen also had commendable performances as the Tritones, moving seamlessly between foreground and background, in turn singing beautifully and manipulating set pieces and props to further the narrative. All members of the cast contributed to a very soulful atmosphere into which I was all too happy to sink.

The orchestration, however, is not to be forgotten. Composed by Gavin Bryars, an accomplished English composer who splits his time between the UK and British Columbia, the score was played flawlessly by the Aventa Ensemble (who commissioned the work) and augmented by an onstage jazz trio (which included Bryars himself on double bass).  The music was well matched with a lovely libretto by Canadian writer Marilyn Bowering. There was only one set for the whole performance, designed by Camellia Khoo, which had just the right elements to evoke the feel of the period without intruding on the action.

In short, this beautiful and unique work chronicling the life of Marilyn Monroe and her relationship with love and death was a treat, and a wonderful introduction to modern opera.

Marilyn Forever has closed
read also: Joel Ivany's first-person piece on the work's creation

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