S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

A handful of days: Wicked, TSO

The paper I've been working on (again) for the past week or two is in fairly good shape, I'm happy to report. A few more hours of work and I think it'll be ready to go. If it meets with approval, this will eventually become my first serious publication!

Meanwhile, I have spent my evenings gadding about the town in the company of pittenweem. We began on Tuesday with the touring production of Wicked which is currently in town. The musical tells the story of what happened to the witches of Oz before Dorothy came along, and is based on the book of the same name by Gregory Maguire.

She's a big fan, while I went in complete ignorance of plot and music. From the moment I sat down, the production looked promising: a large dragon spread its wings over the stage, a map full of cities and landscape made up the curtain. The set was full of mechanical devices, gears and clocks silhouetted like oversized clockwork against the play's various backdrops. Even better was the lighting - I'm not sure I've ever seen such gorgeous use of light in a stage production, particularly in the final song of the first act.

The musical itself delighted me. My favorite musicals (Les Miserables, Bollywood Dreams) are full of strong melodic lines and densely plotted. Too little plot (Hairspray, Cats) can never make up any amount of well-written songs and good singers, however much I may like the songs. Wicked was just what a musical ought to be, and with good singers to back up its tunes. Glinda was largely incomprehensible to me in her opening number, a product of singing over the crowd and in a very high register. If she was having sound issues, they were fixed by the next time she sang, thank goodness, since the songs were integral to the plot (another good feature in a musical). Stephanie Block, who sang Elphaba, was solid throughout. I loved the Glinda-Elphaba dynamic.

pittenweem tells me that the musical plays up its interactions with The Wizard of Oz more than the book does. Visually, the play incorporated a variety of elements from the movie, and verbally, a smaller number of references to other Oz books. ("I'll be back in a Tick-Tock") And it was a whole lot of fun.

The next night, we met up again to attend a concert of new music performed (and, in one instance, commissioned) by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Thanks in part to the TSO's strike my first year in Toronto, I had failed to attend any of their concerts, or visit Roy Thomson Hall, until this week. Thus this was partially a touristic expedition on my part.

Attending new music concerts is always a hit-and-miss prospect. Happily, this one was a hit. The music was all melodic enough to be interesting to me. Much of it was grandly cataclysmic in its use of the orchestra, and complicated, grand, multi-part music is one of a symphony orchestra's strengths. The highlight was Behzad Ranjbaran's Violin Concerto, written for and performed by Joshua Bell, a young, talented violinist who throws his whole being into his music. He was good, but the music was even better, a whirlwind of sound and tune inspired by Persian legends of djinns. The other pieces were by Jacque Hétu, Henri Dutilleux, and Kelly-Marie Murphy. All four composers were in the audience; several of them introduced their pieces.

The Dutilleux piece, Corresponances for Voice and Orchestra, was a striking piece arranged around a soprano, Barbara Hannigan, singing a series of poems and letters written by Soljenitzen, Rilke, and Vincent van Gogh. It was beautifully effective. Also, I cover the singer's dress, a tasteful ballgown-like confection made from a heavy pseudo-leather fabric.

Finally, the two of us met up yet again to spend time at the pub on Thursday, along with assorted other medievalists, most of whom were in an end-of-semester, after-the-last-class phase of semi-collapse. I left her among the Carolingian scholars to go off and spend my first evening of the week without her company, off at the First Thursday SF pub night.

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