FACING SOUTH music by Linda Catlin Smith, libretto by Don Hannah, directed by Joanna McIntyre, conducted by Wayne Strongman, with Gregory Dahl, Jean Stilwell, James Martin and Sung Taek Chung. Presented by Tapestry New Opera Works at the Factory (33 Villiers). April 10 at 8 pm. $49.50. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Navigating slick ice and mounds of snow to get to the Factory at Cherry Beach Sound becomes the perfect mood-setter for Tapestry's Facing South, an opera about American explorer Robert E. Peary's quest to "find" the North Pole. There's lots to admire in the piece, but ultimately this premiere production is too distanced and emotionally wintry to succeed.Don Hannah's poetic, 10-scene libretto involves not only Peary (a resonant Gregory Dahl), but also his wife Henrietta (Jean Stilwell), his black assistant Henson (James Martin) and Minik (Sung Taek Chung), an Inuit from Greenland he brings back to New York as both a trophy and part of a fundraising exhibit.
The design by Dany Lyne and Pierre Lavoie captures -- often with theatrical surprise -- the feel of the far north and the various betrayals that are central to the story, and the performers are committed to the work. But Linda Catlin Smith's score -- accessible and well played by the 18-member orchestra under Wayne Strongman -- is forever neutral and emotionally low-key.
That stately, ritualistic feel is matched by Joanna McIntyre's direction, which has everyone moving in a slow, dreamlike stupor.
The work's emotional pulse is as cool and faraway as a snowy rise on the horizon, without even a touch of subtextual passion. That's too bad. There's too much going on in this story for it all to be unfelt.