A ‘Messiah’ for the Multitudes, Freed From History’s Bonds


A homosexual Chinese-Canadian tenor struts by the streets of Vancouver, joyously proclaiming that “ev’ry valley shall be exalted” as the digital camera focuses in on his six-inch-high stiletto heels.

A Tunisian-Canadian mezzo-soprano reimagines Jesus as a Muslim lady in a head scarf.

In Yukon, an Indigenous singer praises the distant snow-covered panorama in Southern Tutchone, the language of her ancestors.

“This is not your grandparents’ ‘Messiah,’” Spencer Britten, the tenor in heels, stated in an interview. He and the different performers are a part of “Messiah/Complex,” an iconoclastic new manufacturing of Handel’s traditional oratorio, which pulls on biblical texts to kind a stylized narrative of struggling, hope and redemption.

An 80-minute movie that includes a dozen soloists from all corners of the nation, this unabashed celebration of Canadian multiculturalism has recast the work as a sequence of deeply private video narratives. (The efficiency will probably be streaming through Jan. 7.)

The brainchild of Joel Ivany, a Broadway-loving son of pastors, and his Toronto indie opera company, Against the Grain Theater, in collaboration with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, “Messiah/Complex” seeks to revamp a Christmas favorite for a world upended by a pandemic and a renewed consciousness about the rights of Black people and other minorities.

It mixes the sacred and profane as it journeys from Canada’s Far North to an urban hockey ring, engaging in a bit of high camp and translating passages into six languages, including Arabic, French, Dene and Inuttitut. The text Mr. Britten sings has been retooled as a coming-out anthem for a young man confronting his conservative Chinese relatives.

The production may send some purists running. One comment on YouTube called it “blasphemy.” But the critical reception has been more enthusiastic; The Globe and Mail, a leading national newspaper, lauded a “daring interpretation” that nevertheless “might get a rise out of the ‘Hallelujah’ people.” (The stalwart “Hallelujah” chorus, by the way, is performed by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, whose members came together to record the vocals in a space divided into makeshift booths with shower curtains to observe pandemic health protocols. The group was later filmed lip-syncing it — socially distanced — in downtown Toronto.)

At a time when opera houses and concert halls around the globe have been shuttered by the coronavirus and are battling to remain relevant, Mr. Ivany said he wanted to create a “Messiah” befitting the moment. He added that he hoped the online production, initially conceived for Toronto’s Winter Garden Theater, would attract a younger audience that didn’t usually come to the opera.

Half of the 12 soloists in “Messiah/Complex” are Indigenous. Diyet van Lieshout, the mezzo-soprano from Yukon, is filmed traipsing through the snow in her traditional mukluk boots. She said that translating her aria, “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” into Southern Tutchone, her First Nations language, with her help of her 91-year-old grandmother had been nothing less than a way to “decolonize myself.”

In the 1960s, she said, her mother, like other Indigenous children, had been taken from her family at the age of 5 and sent to a government-sponsored residential school run by the church, where she was forbidden to speak her language. (In 2015, a government commission said that such schools, which were in operation for over a century, “can best be described as ‘cultural genocide.’”)

Ms. van Lieshout said she had struggled to reconcile her love of church music with the suffering her mother had endured. She said that singing “O thou that tellest” in her native tongue had “given me a reason to like Handel again.”

Deantha Edmunds, an Inuk soprano who translated her part into her native Inuttitut, said showcasing Indigenous opera divas would also help combat the stereotype that people like her were more likely to be seen hunting than singing arias. In fact, she said, classical music had been brought to Inuit communities in her native Labrador, on Canada’s Atlantic coast, by European missionaries from Moravia about 250 years ago. She recalled how her father used to serenade the family over Christmas by singing “Silent Night” in English, German and Inuttitut.



Source link Nytimes.com

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