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Tonight: Small-scale opera with big, smiling appeal from Toy Piano Composers

By John Terauds on January 21, 2012

"Cake," by Monica Pearce, features, Katherine Watson, flute, (offstage) and, from left, Wesley Chen, Marta Herman, Jeremy Ludwig and Maureen Batt, tonight at Heliconian Hall.

Don’t be misled by the Toy Piano Composers. They are not a one-note joke, but a cheerful, creative group of musical collaborators that embody the creativity, dynamism and enterprising nature of a new generation of Toronto artists.

Right after the Canadian Opera Company presents the opening performance of Tosca this afternoon at the Four Seasons Centre, the Toy Piano Composers present Opera Scenesters tonight at Heliconian Hall in Yorkville. It is a collection of six brand-new opera scenes, and there isn’t a toy piano in sight.

I popped by a rehearsal last night to see what Opera Scenesters is all about, and came away with a big, happy smile on my face.

The three opera scenes I saw displayed cleverness and craft from both the composers and librettists. The singers — soprano Maureen Batt, mezzo Marta Herman and baritone Jeremy Ludwig — are excellent. Pianist Wesley Chen is a great accompanist (at Heliconian Hall’s full-size Steinway grand).

The staging by director Erik Thor is rudimentary, but just enough to give each piece the right mood and motion.

I was impressed with the dynamics of everyone involved. They’re friends, they love new music and are keen to share it. Everything is being done in a cheerful spirit of collaboration that lends the project a lot of positive energy.

It helps that everyone has a great sense of humour.

As an example, take composer and librettist Fiona Ryan’s description of her opera scene, “The Best of ‘Nosy Nate’ “:

Nathan (alias Nosey Nate)
Thinks his blog is pretty great.
He shares his brilliant observations
Of other people’s conversations.
His task in this scene is retrospective;
A ‘best of’ blog is his objective.

Okay, I guess you realise Nate is fake,
But, my dear audience, make no mistake:
These quotations were actually overheard!
As the one who transcribed them, I give you my word.

Check out all the details at the Toy Composers’ website, which includes substantial audio clips of their previous work, here.

To help share a taste of what’s to come tonight, I snuck in my first iPhone video during the rehearsal. Here are the opening 90 seconds of Ludwig singing “Like a Dog,” by composer Glenn James and librettist Tamara Chandon (Batt has a mute role):

John Terauds

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