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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Opus 8 Choir Revels In The Bawdier Side Of Song At Heliconian Hall

By John Terauds on February 4, 2018

Opus 8 with Robert Busakiewicz (conductor) at Heliconian Hall, Toronto. (Photo: John Terauds)
Opus 8 with Robert Busakiewicz (conductor) at Heliconian Hall, Toronto. (Photo: John Terauds)

After Dark. Opus 8. Robert Busakiewicz, conductor. Heliconian Hall. February 3. www.Opus8choir.com

We all know that the real fun begins after dark. And that’s the effect Toronto’s recently formed Opus 8 choir was looking for in a concert for a packed house at Heliconian Hall on Saturday night.

Opus 8 is something special for Toronto. The city has an abundance of fine choirs, but no small ones offering just one or two voices per part  — something like England’s The King’s Singers (an all-male sextet) or the Nylons (a male quartet), but featuring women as well as men – singing a cappella. It’s the ultimate portable show.

This, in itself, is cause for celebration. Opus 8 is in its second year of offering a small concert season in a variety of venues and featuring a variety of musical styles. The singers have already released a calling-card first album, Melancholy & Mirth, which is an excellent showcase of their fine craft.

Most of the singers are associated with the choir at Toronto’s St James Cathedral, where Opus 8’s conductor, Robert Busiakiewicz, is also the music director.

The program tantalizingly offered risqué songs from the Renaissance to the Spice Girls, splitting the pre-19th-century material into the first half of the 90-minute program (including intermission) and the contemporary stuff into the second half.

The 19th century was conspicuously absent from the bill. But, then again, the 19th century wasn’t known for being amorously adventurous in public. I wonder how a Victorian audience might have reacted to the evening’s opening song, which translates as “Lick My Ass,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Most of the other ancient amorous exclamations and exhortations — by Palestrina, Monteverdi, Tomkins, Schütz, des Prez and l’Héritier – were a bit more circumspect, but lust was never far from the surface. It was no different in the English-language second half of the concert, which ranged from Gary Turner’s “Tequila Samba” to Busiakewicz’s own arrangement of a Spice Girls’ medley cheekily titled “Canticum Puella Spicies.”

The octet sound quite good, in a red-blooded, full-throated way. Busiakewicz has worked the details, and it shows. The program was neatly arranged, and the conductor’s commentary between songs added just the right dose of humour. The audience loved every minute — especially when the songs were in English.

But there was a strange disconnect in the overall feel of the concert. We sat in the formal, traditional way, in neat rows facing the tiny Heliconian Hall stage. The singers stood in a taut semicircle with their music stands. But the music was of the sort that should have been sung around a crackling fire, with alcoholic libations flowing freely.

It was also strange that the polyphonies of the older music could just as well have been conveying an august sacred text – and that this went unacknowledged in spoken word on in the printed program.

Perhaps like the woman being sung about in one of the evening’s songs, the whole setup needed “a sip of Tequila,” to “reveal a spirit dancing joyously for the sky.”

LUDWIG VAN TORONTO

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John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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