12 March 2017

Another Notch in Their Belt

I might be going out on a limb here, but I suspect that there were a lot of actual Pink Floyd fans at the opera this evening for the world premiere of Another Brick in the Wall, the opera. It might have been the rather lower age of the audience or the unfamiliar faces (although as an “extra” opera in the season and one with more performances than most the unfamiliar faces might be par for the course), but it really was the spontaneous standing ovation before the opera even began when it was pointed out that Roger Waters was in the audience. All before a single note had been played or sung.

To my usual caveat (of not being an expert in opera) let me add another: not a big Pink Floyd fan. But as a person of a certain age, “The Wall” is very familiar. It was ubiquitous in my youth, released at the start of my second year in university. It seems that, as I age, I get more generous with the category of “youth”. But I digress…

I really have to start with the multimedia expertise that the Opéra de Montréal has incorporated into its productions. It’s funny that I had been thinking it was much less present this season, but they were obviously gearing up for the flood of projection, light and sound that took us to a crowded concert, into war, to school and to a place of ghostly memories, among others. Three real stand-outs for me: with soldiers on stage and war on the screen, a rush of sound and a sweep of lights put us right under a passing warplane; the almost psychedelic projected corridors and shapes that led us into infinity without moving a muscle; and the looming memory of a lost love showing through a wall become frosted window, one hand print at a time. Extremely well done.

And for the projection of all this creativity? Another very simple and very effective set, basically two wall-like structures that pivoted and came together and apart and, more importantly, became whatever they needed to be. At one point, they were turned around and became a fire escape-like structure, full of people and eventually armed soldiers training their guns on us. Small furniture moved about, added and taken away, by the players.

Oh, and the players! There was a huge and omnipresent chorus that really evoked for me a “famous person” reality of never being able to be without an audience, even when alone. Just to situate the size of this chorus, the program tells us there are 46 choristers, plus 20 extras who weren’t singing. And while there weren’t as many soaring arias as there are in many operas, Montréal’s own Étienne Dupuis sang beautifully and acted well, too! I don’t know the name of the young boy who played Pink as a child, but he acquitted himself with aplomb.

Let’s have a nod to the choreography, too. Everything from the stylized slo-mo concert goers, including a body surf to the stage, to soldiers at war, protesters and riot police in the streets, and kids rebelling in the classroom. I’m not even doing it justice here, and it might have been because of the large number of people on the stage almost all the time, but I really felt this production stood out as being more thoroughly and noticeably choreographed than so many others. A real treat.

The second act was definitely the more emotionally powerful, as Pink is revisited by the notable figures of his past. There were two elements after the intermission that I found either confusing or bizarre. I don’t know if I was projecting today’s politics onto the content, but I felt like the whole fascist-looking force complete with torture and a wall might have been ripped from the headlines of today’s papers (or tomorrow’s). I also couldn’t tell whether the chorus was repeating “Run” or “Trump”. Apparently my hearing is not what it used to be.

Also, the wacky feathered costumes were just odd. For me, they brought back an opera memory, as there used to be a woman sitting near my seats who often wore a most lovely feather collar to the performances. She subsequently moved further to the front and off to the side, then seems to have disappeared altogether (or stopped wearing the feather collar). Anyway, that was a digression, just like the feather costumes were for the performance.

When it was over, a very quick and very long standing ovation. It started from the first bow by the chorus and the extras, built with the arrival of each more major singer, and then stepped up yet another notch when Roger Waters walked on stage. That’s almost too bad, as I really thought the stars and perhaps the composer ought to have been more celebrated than the inspiration of the piece. But there was an amusing moment in the curtain calls, too, as one of the extras bowed with the stars, then realized that she had made a faux pas, then just kept doing it until everyone joined in. A nice little laugh at the end.

There are nine more presentations of this opera coming up, and I would recommend seeing it for any of the reasons above. If you’re a Pink Floyd fan, get a taste of opera. If you’re an opera fan, try out something original and thoroughly steeped in multimedia magnificence.

What you probably won’t get is Roger Waters in the audience and then on the stage. We got that opening night.

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