The marriage of music and words is what makes Art Song so meaningful to me. Inner thoughts on life and love from the world’s greatest poets put to music and performed in an intimate setting, give art song its unique ability to connect with my heartstrings. No matter what is blowing around in my mind, Art Song finds a way to speak to me. Sometimes it’s the words. Sometimes the music. Sometimes both. But Art Song cabaret? This is how Love in Public is billed and I really didn’t know what to expect. This new work from Composer/director David MacIntyre, who has set the love poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her beloved Robert Browning in Sonnets from the Portuguese, is a remarkable blend of traditional and contemporary. It features 4 voices, 2 dancers, a pianist…and audience members, and it connects.
The Words: there were so many phrases from Browning’s poetry that I wanted to remember, but I finally stopped trying and simply enjoyed the way they spoke to my soul in the moment. Many audience members will recognize the ‘biggies’, like: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”. But because of the music and the performance of the actor/singers, even the lesser known poems made sense.
The Music: at times the flavour was gorgeously sung traditional Art Song. At other times one could hear the edge of Broadway musical theatre trying to break out (especially in Tenor Frédérik Robert, who is known for cross-over genres). I loved the song sung by soprano Robyn Driedger-Klassen as she moves across the stage towards her ‘Robert’ with a Latin lilt to her step, which is matched by the tight, subtle rhumba movements between the two dancers off in the corner under the spruce tree. There were lighter moments to this love story too, like the wheeling around the stage of the drunken ‘Robert’ portrayed by Baritone Warren Kimmel in one of his songs. There was no great narrative arc, no ‘ending’; simply the rich story of the inner life of a life-long love relationship and all that that means.
The dancers Kaylin Metchie and Juan Carlos Villegas portrayed the pair in their young years, while it seemed the singers portrayed Robert and Elizabeth through the course of their relationship. The dancers were lovely and added raw physical sense to the words and actions of the singers. But I did find myself wanting to see them develop their interpretations; they portrayed the pair with a youthful, coy, lightness but it was very similar in both acts.
The set was simple – park benches, a few tables for two, the spruce tree in fall colours in the corner…(at least I think it was a spruce, it was referred to it as such in one of the poems). And speaking of connection, I was actually sitting on the stage, amongst the performers. Two of the tables on the stage were marked ‘reserved’, just like you’d find on a restaurant patio, and the others were open to audience members to sit in. This allowed a closeness and involvement that is not available from sitting in rows ‘watching’ a performance, even in such an intimate space.
So to soprano Robyn Driedger Klassen, who blogged about her preparation process on this site, and all the other artists and administrators involved, thank you for bringing me closer to myself and the world around me. Our world needs more of this. As Browning herself said: “…Because God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame.” This is one of them…don’t miss it! (on til Sunday April 29th).
Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning pictured left.
Jennifer Hinnell is currently finishing her graduate studies in Cognitive Linguistics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver B.C. and is an Editor at Sparks & Wiry Cries.