* Notes *
I was so pleased to be able to hear Opera Parallèle's latest offering, Sophia's Forest by Lembit Beecher, yesterday evening at Grace Cathedral. This 2017 chamber opera deals with the trauma of a nine-year-old immigrant child and features some very beautiful singing and creepy sound sculptures made from wine glasses and bicycle wheels.
Conductor Nicole Paiement had the Del Sol Quartet, plus percussionist Divesh Karamchandani and composer Beecher electronically controlling his nine sound sculptures all well in hand. The playing was taut and impeccable.
The set was on the ground level of the cathedral along with all of the musicians, with the audience seated on three sides. This gave the performance an intense immediacy. The background of menacing trees along with the incredible venue, lighting, and a few props were enough to create the right atmosphere for this harrowing story.
The narrative is revealed retrospectively by an adult Sophia, played by soprano Maggie Finnegan. Her voice is crystalline and ethereal, without a hint of harshness. Her child counterpart, Charlotte Fanvu, does not sing but is clearly a talented actor and is convincing. I was relieved to read that she is twelve and not nine in real life.
Girl soprano Samantha Fung-Lee sounded bright and clean as Sophia's sister Emma and likewise baritone Bradley Kynard (Wes) had a pleasant, light sound. Kynard was sympathetic as Sophia's mom's boyfriend in the States, he didn't have many lines but seemed kindly. Mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich (Emma, Sophia's mother) gave us some contrast with her very warm and deep voice. It was moving when Scharich sings "She's always been the same" about her daughter, and we got to see many different sides of this character, even in the spare 60 minutes of this piece.
Opera Parallèle was sent detailed instructions on what to expect as far as Covid-19 protocols and parking, so I was careful to get to the performance an hour ahead of curtain. I knew I had to show my proof of vaccination and identification, and waited until the line had dissipated before heading inside. This gave me time to wander on the outdoor labyrinth for about ten minutes, which was very soothing.
I really like that I don't have to print out my ticket and can simply bring it up on my phone, but the problem is I have to switch from my digital vaccine record to the ticket and this takes a bit of time. A man at the door mistook my pause doing this and noting that the restrooms are downstairs as a sign of confusion, when truly I was trying to avoid having an awkward time of going into the venue, having to come back out to go to use the restrooms, and not having all my ticket ready to be scanned again. Anyway, he let me know the cathedral was not simply open to the public and that I would have to leave if I wasn't attending the opera, but was apologetic once I explained that I did have a ticket and was trying to make sure it was ready.
The audience was pretty quiet and there weren't any noticeable electronic interruptions. The man next to me did take off his mask several times throughout the performance to blow his nose. He wasn't loud, at least. I have seasonal allergies and still feel shame about being scolded by at least two different women at the gym for working out in public when having symptoms, and that was pre-pandemic. I find it unnerving how much more comfortable other people can be out in the world, seemingly unself-conscious and unafraid of being reprimanded by strangers.