Review: These muses are missing their masquey mojo
My print review of Toronto Masque Theatre's Masque of the Muses in today's Star is missing online, so here it is:
Masque of the Muses
**1/2 (out of 4)
Toronto Masque Theatre. To Nov. 27. Winchester Street Theatre, 80 Winchester St. 416-410-4561 (www.torontomasquetheatre.com)
For the past seven years, Toronto violinist and singer Larry Beckwith and his merry band of musical accomplices at Toronto Masque Theatre have been mixing things up a bit.
They opened their 2010-11 season at the Winchester Street Theatre on Thursday night with a show called The Masque of the Muses. This compilation of poetry, instrumental pieces and song is less of a masque than a salon. Better yet, call it a pan-historical tableau vivant with accompaniment.
Even though the evening timed out at a snappy, intermission-free 80 minutes, it felt long. The performances weren’t bad; they lacked the party energy that is the essence of masque.
When Beckwith founded the group, he reached back to the original English masque genre, mixing 17th century singing, dancing, spoken word and instrumental revelry that would eventually be distilled into opera.
The original masques – most lost in the sands of time -- were grand variety shows for aristocratic audiences who were probably just as interested in food, drink and catching up on the latest juicy gossip with fellow guests as they were in the entertainment.
Toronto Masque Theatre devoted its first seasons to going through the semi-operas Henry Purcell left behind, doing a fine job of balancing the theatre, music and movement into entertaining, low-budget productions.
Beckwith has commissioned new work along the way, too, creatively reaching out to the 21st century as he follows the spirit of the past.
The Masque of the Muses looked good on paper: An actor declaims poetry drawn from the stories of the nine muses from Greek antiquity as the gathered musicians and dancer provide entertaining segues in front of images projected on a big screen.
The bits and pieces were fine, too.
Actor Derek Boyes was poised and polished in his readings. Soprano Teri Dunn brought an uncommon warmth and expressiveness to three vocal pieces – “Mon bien-aimé siffle si bien” (My Beloved Whistles So Well) by 20th century French composer Jacques Ibert, an aria from George Frideric Handel’s Parnasso in festa (Party on Parnassus) and the long dramatic vocal monologue La Muse de l’opéra (The Opera Muse) by Handel contemporary Louis-Nicolas Clérambault.
Flute player Alison Melville drew impressively from her vast repertoire and great technical skill, while the other four members of the ensemble – Larry Beckwith and Kathleen Kajioka on violin, cellist Margaret Gay and keyboard player Noam Krieger – were okay.
Even dancer Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière, blending her own ideas with Baroque dance practice, rarely set a foot wrong.
Gabriel Cropley’s lighting always provided the right focus and mood.
But these ingredients didn’t coalesce into a sense of occasion that transcended the individual performances. Perhaps the subject of the muses was too diffuse to generate a focused presentation. Also, there were times when the music begged for more instruments in the ensemble.
Here’s hoping that the group will recover their masquey mojo in time for the next production.
Here are the first five minutes of La Muse de l'opéra ou Les Caractères lyriques by a group that hasn't identified itself (Teri Dunn is much more pleasant to listen to):