THE MIDNIGHT COURT OPERA music by Ana Sokolovic, text by Paul Bentley, directed by Michael Cavanagh, musical direction by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and John Hess, with Laura Albino, Alexander Dobson, John Kriter, Shannon Mercer and Krisztina Szabó. Presented by Queen of Puddings in association with Harbourfront Centre at Harbourfront Theatre Centre (231 Queens Quay West). June 16 and 18 at 8 pm. $45. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Think feminist concerns about sexuality only go as far back as 60s books like Our Bodies, Our Selves? Check out the premiere of The Midnight Court Opera , adapted from Brian Merriman's 1780 Gaelic poem about a woman's right to sex and marriage.
Drawing on Frank O'Connor's English translation of Merriman, composer Ana Sokolovic and librettist Paul Bentley's one-act chamber opera plays up the poem's erotic and scabrous qualities. Merryman, an unmarried country teacher, falls asleep in the woods and, in a dream, is dragged to the fairy queen's court to stand trial for bachelorhood - that is, contributing to the sorrowful frustration of unwed women.
Grace, a young woman, offers the argument for the prosecution, while an irate old cuckold named Snarlygob ( John Kriter ) presents a misogynist defence. Merryman's punishment is swift, but there's time enough for him to discover what it's like to be a woman.
Under the musical direction of Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and John Hess , the lightly scored piece is attractive to listen to and to watch. Director Michael Cavanagh , working with a group of opera-trained performers who understand that characterization is as important as singing, gives the production a strong theatricality.
As Merryman (happy because he's not wed?), Alexander Dobson instantly draws us in with an a cappella opening, singing a playful vocal line that turns him into a one-man percussive band. Shannon Mercer 's Grace can make a point with the curve of her mouth as well as the impressive use of a coloratura voice, while Krisztina Szabó 's imperious queen and Laura Albino as Snarlygob's understandably vinegary wife play up the work's drama.
Occasionally, some episodes go on too long, and sometimes the high voices don't communicate the text clearly, but this Midnight Court, handsomely designed by Michael Gianfrancesco and Paul Mathiesen , is worth a journey to the Harbourfront docks.
And the Court will be sitting again next spring in London, England. The show's been invited to the prestigious Royal Opera at Covent Garden.