Dr. Dawg

Smiles of a summer night

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Opera undressed.jpg

Ah, summers in Ottawa, so much to see and do these days. There are times I love this place—in fact most times, except for the five-month winter.

Last night my good friend and I went off to a performance that she rightly compared to a ’60s “happening”: opera and body-painting on the same stage—“opera undressed.” And somehow it worked.

The performance took place in a former chapel, and earlier in the evening I saw a poster advertising a slow-dance Pride event at a local Legion hall, so we’ve all come a long way, methinks, in this unjustly-maligned capital city of ours.

I expected the place to be filled after a plug in the Ottawa Sun noted the topless women angle, but it was probably too arty a scene for οἱ πολλοί, and there were maybe forty people or so in attendance. Tant pis.

Let me set the scene. To our left (we took front-row seats, natch) was a grand piano, upon which pianist Roland Graham performed admirably, accompanied by the delightfully pneumatic mezzo-soprano Noosa Alsaraj, who in her other life does country music with her band, Noosa Mae and the Lovebirds. On the back wall were three projected images from old-fashioned slide projectors.

In front of the largest one three semi-nude artist’s models arranged themselves in a living triptych, gracefully changing positions from time to time. A fourth woman, local artist Ariane Beauchamp, proceeded to draw intricate designs upon their bodies, and once in awhile she gave herself a stripe as well. She had to run from projector to projector to change, adjust or superimpose slides, however, which was a little distracting, at least to begin with.

During the first session—entitled “The Tortured Soul”—we heard some Mozart, Bach and Schubert, and Beauchamp decorated the three models using paintbrushes and spray-cans. At first I wasn’t sure this was all coming off: was there one performance here, or two disconnected ones jammed together, maybe a little reminiscent of this? But whether the groups of performers jelled, or whether we in the audience allowed our apperceptions to develop, everything clicked by the second session.

“Dreamy French Art Songs” (you need a sense of irony to follow along here) gave us three works by Gabriel Faure. We enjoyed this description of Tristesse from the program: “a rollicking tune with melodramatic verses.” At this point the music and spectacle joined: the women seemed part of the projected painting behind them, the designs grew ever more intricate, their occasional synchronized movements blended with the music. The tincture of eroticism was only one of many streams flowing before us. The two groups became one: the music was both background and foreground, and the visual performance was as well.

By the third session, we were all in the groove (well, I did mention the ’60s “happening” scene). “Digital enchantment” featured Scriabin, Schumann and two original works by the pianist himself. Another short drink break, and then the final set: “Italian Masquerades and False Appearances.”

Here we had delicious bits of Verdi, Mozart, Rossini, and, as an encore, Bizet. Alsaraj had been steadily shedding clothes as the evening went on, but only, alas, from formal to casual. The three woodland nymphs (for so they appeared at this point) left the painting and frolicked around the stage, striking poses from time to time, just enjoying themselves.

As did we. Thoroughly memorable. Smiles of a summer night in Ottawa, 2011.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on August 6, 2011 11:44 AM.

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