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Rare treasures

The Extension Room
03/02/2013 -  & March 2, 2013
György Kurtág: Kafka-Fragmente, Opus 24
Leos Janácek: The Diary of One who Disappeared

Jacqueline Woodley (soprano), Colin Ainsworth (Tenor), Lauren Segal (Zefka), Leslie Bouza, Sarah Halmerson, Eugenia Dermentzis (Three women), Kerry DuWors (Violin), Christopher Mokrzewski (Piano)
Joel Ivany (Director), Michael Gianfrancesco (Designer)

J. Woodley & K. DuWors (© Darryl Block)

Against the Grain Theatre has yet again presented an absorbing evening of musical drama in a non-traditional venue, in this case The Extension Room which is a yoga studio. The space gives plenty of room for the performers, seating for an audience of 120, plus a mix-and-mingle space by the all-important bar.

György Kurtág’s Kafka-Fragments, composed 1985-86, is a setting of 40 short writings of Franz Kafka set for soprano and violin. “Short” is the operative word: one fragment consists of a single word “Ruhelos” (restless). The whole work is just over 50 minutes long; the shortest fragment lasts just 10 seconds, the longest (the final one) over six minutes.

It is quite the amazing feat for the singer. Each piece is a distinctly separate number expressing the content/meaning of the words. The vocal style is reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. The violin doesn’t accompany the vocal lines as provide its own illustrative response to what is expressed.

A sample lyric: “Once I broke my leg; it was the most wonderful experience of my life.” This bit is also described as a Hassidic dance. (Yes, it’s Kafka.)

Jacqueline Woodley gave a committed performance full of expressiveness. There’s a lot of movement - a sort of semi-choreography at times. She had a score at hand (very wise) but was not wedded to it. Each piece was enacted, sometimes exaggeratedly, and there was a degree of byplay between her and violinist Kerry DuWors. The performing space was backed by a mirrored wall, a scenic element put to good use.

The length of the piece would probably be fatiguing for the audience unless they follow the words which we were happily able to do thanks to lyric sheets provided. The work comes across as a major (good) surprise.

L. Segal & C. Ainsworth (© Darryl Block)

Leos Janácek completed his 35-minute work The Diary if One who Disappeared in 1920 at the age of 66, just prior to the five operas that occupied him the last seven years of his life. The text is a set of poems published anonymously in a newspaper. The work is in 22 linked sections and is basically an extended scena for the tenor narrator, although there are four sections for the mezzo-soprano solo and three brief, atmospheric sections for a Greek chorus of three women.

Janácek obviously identified with the experience of a surprising, illicit love as he had carried on a passionate affair with a woman other than his wife.

The work amounts to a tour de force for the tenor and Colin Ainsworth really seized the moment. The narrator is a farm boy who falls in love with a gypsy girl, the alluring Zefka. He realizes that this throws him into conflict with the expectations of his family and community (it isn’t fully articulated, but obviously it is impossible to even consider that she would join him in the settled rural life laid out for him.). “Everything’s upended” he exclaims. He tries to talk himself out of his infatuation for her but it is hopeless. They simply must run off together.

Lauren Segal’s luscious voice grows richer every time I hear her. She is the perfect choice for the alluring Zefka.

Pianist Christopher Mokrzewski matches the expressiveness of the vocal parts with Janácek's distinctive instrumental colours.

The venue was rearranged for the Janácek work, with the audience flanking the performing area and its sinuous pile of (fake) dirt. The three commenting women moved slowly around the perimeter of the space in behind the audience. In both works director Joel Ivany and designer Michael Gianfrancesco managed to achieve maximum impact with minimal means.

Michael Johnson



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