Toronto Consort: The Play of Daniel at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Saturday, May 23.
The ever resourceful artistic director of the Toronto Consort, David Fallis, has outdone himself with this engaging production of the liturgical drama, The Play of Daniel. This 13th-century masterpiece is rarely performed, so it was with a sense of anticipation and curiosity that I attended this new production at Trinity St. Paul’s United Church this past weekend.
But with the music of Verdi’s Requiem still resonating in my ear (from the previous evening’s unforgettable concert with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis), I was concerned that it would be difficult to cleanse one’s ear in order to fully appreciate the music of the 13th century. But as the houselights darkened, and the sound of four, ethereal, fresh-voiced young choristers began to sing, I was instantly hooked and the weight of the intervening centuries evaporated.
The Play of Daniel, or Ludus Danielis, tells the famous biblical stories of King Belshazzar’s Feast and his downfall, the handwriting on the wall, and the casting of Daniel into the den of lions. And at slightly over 60 minutes, it makes for a short – but satisfying – evening.
The large cast of singers, dancers, actors, musicians – both professional and amateur – acquitted themselves with ease and style. The talented young Canadian tenor, Kevin Skelton brought a calm presence and unassuming dignity to the role of Daniel while his soft, gentle, mellifluous tenor is well suited to the part.
Although David Fallis prepared a new English singing edition of the play, clarity of text was intermittent.
Director Alex Follis (David Fallis’ brother) made use of all the entrance and exit points in Jeanne Lamon Hall as well as the central and side aisles, and the upper balcony in his staging of the work. As a result, there was always movement and rhythm in the hall, but it was never fussy. The lighting by Glenn Davidson was warm and imaginative while Michelle Bailey’s varied and colourful costumes enlivened the production.
As the play ended with a Te Deum, the participants formed a circle around the hall. As the lights darkened, a mystical pealing of bells, cymbals and chimes (played by all performers) seemed to take light in the darkness.