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SCRUTINY | Loose Tea Music Theatre: It Sounds Like Opera But Looks Like a Play

By Michael Vincent on August 24, 2015

LT5
Loose Tea Theatre’s Dissociative Me Photo: Racheal McCaig

Dissociative Me with Kijang Wi (tenor), Michael York (baritone), Beth Hagerman (soprano), Johnathon Kirkby (baritone) and others. Loose Tea Music Theatre. August 22, at RED Nightclub.

Loose Tea Music Theatre‘s Dissociative Me is a fresh stab at the emerging opera genre known as trans-adaptation. Rather than another low-budget take on a gilded French opera, only the essence of Gounod’s Faust remains. The result is an entertaining psychological thriller that doesn’t shy away from having fun. The characters take selfies, sing Justin Beiber tunes, hang out in bars and order honey cappuccinos at Starbucks. Most interestingly, though, Dissociative Me sounds like an opera, but looks like a play.

It opens with Faustus, an Astro-Physics Ph.D., played by tenor Kijong Wi dressed in a T-shirt with the words, “Particle Physics Gives Me a Hedron.” He reads a rejection letter and ponders suicide over his failure to land a job. He is interrupted by Mephisto, a pill-bottle-shaking apparition played by baritone Michael York, who offers him an academic’s dream come true: a job, a house, and a girlfriend. The only catch is that Faustus must invite him into his life, forever, “separate but equal.” Mephisto sets him up with a foxy barista named Maggie who comes with an overly protective brother and two macho friends. One dead baby later, it ends with Faustus and Mephisto in a heap on the floor.

There is much to love here, but the clear standouts were lyric-soprano Beth Hagerman as Margarita and tenor Johnathan Kirby as her brother Stephan. Both sang with mega-watt voices and charisma to match.

Baritone Michael York’s booming Lee Mephisto was full of teasing chaff, and his voice was hard to contain. York’s complete casting opposite was tenor Fabian Arciniegas, who looked liked he was swallowing a tiny bomb every time he reached for high notes. Stephan’s other buddy, played by tenor Jonathan Sandberg, rounded out the boys’ club with a baritone-like tone on the pipes of a tenor.

One aspect that worked particularly well was the use of everyday characters. John Faustus is a University of Toronto Astro-Physics Ph.D. Maggie is a typical optimistic Millennial working a job at Starbucks. Her brother is an engineer who takes a job at the Alberta tar sands, and returns flush with money. There is a non-signing bartender/police officer played by Carl Lyons, whom the audience recognized as one of their own. “Go, Carl!”

Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. He has worked as a senior editor for over fifteen years and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
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Gounod’s music is kept intact with a piano reduction by Music Directo and Pianist Jennifer Tung, who played like she had a bottle of champagne waiting in the wings.

One minor hiccup was the sound design by Basil Kalmantis. During a scene with Margarita trying on jewelry on a park bench, the soundscape evoked the mass killing of a knot of frogs. In sound design, subtlety goes a long way.

It’s a tall task to lug a buxom French opera out of the well it’s been stuck in for the past 300 years, but they did it. Like a six-dollar combine that predicts the horses that will finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd; Faust comes in 4th after Against The Grain’s Mozart trilogy.

While it’s not always fair to compare productions between opera companies like AtG, the seed has been planted, and it is nice to see other opera companies trying it out.

In choosing suitable subjects, Faust makes a lot of sense. It is one of the few archetypes to survive antiquity and enter western mythology. It has been retold countless times from Disney movies to blues legend Robert Johnson selling his soul at the crossroads.

Thanks to the wonderful vision of Artistic Director, Alaina Viau, it was a fun prance through the land of Mephistopheles. If this is any indication of the direction of Loose Tea in the future – you’ll want to see what they come up with next.

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Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. He has worked as a senior editor for over fifteen years and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
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