David MacIntyre’s new “opera cabaret” Love in Public is an imaginative and rewarding entertainment

 

VANCOUVER — David MacIntyre’s new “opera cabaret” Love in Public is an imaginative and rewarding entertainment. The central conceit couldn’t be simpler: three couples (four singers and two dancers) present all forty-four of Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” in a minimal set that suggests a park or garden. There is no obvious dramatic scenario to the just under two hours of music, yet character and a certain emotion-centred plot are implied between the lines, as it were, by action and singularly lovely lighting.

MacIntyre defines no roles beyond The Soprano (Robyn Dreidger-Klassen), The Mezzo (Megan Morrison), The Tenor (Frédérik Robert), and The Baritone (Warren Kimmel). This knowing allusion to the operatic convention whereby certain voice types suggest stereotypical characters is part of the layered fabric.

I hear similar references in MacIntyre’s music, which begins with the piano (confidently essayed by David Boothroyd) in a sort of loosely deconstructed Schumann mode, not the only 19th-centrury resonance: the idea of an extended set of small self-contained pieces for voices and piano can’t help evoking Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes. MacIntyre long ago moved away from the tough constructs of modernist musical language. Even so, his willingness to create a dialogue between musical gestures of the past— patterns and textures suggesting music of the Romantic era juxtaposed with an affectionate recreation of idioms from contemporary music theatre—makes for some unexpected musical bedfellows.

The effects of these juxtapositions are neither naive nor random: rich layers of meaning are built up by this dialogue with multiple narratives.

None of the vocal music requires particular virtuosity, yet the presence of operatically trained singers is essential. Despite a rangey diversity, there is a consistency to the music: fairly restricted vocal lines, a consistently consonant harmonic vocabulary, and spare piano accompaniments add up to an unexpectedly strong whole. Most of the work is cast in solo segments and a handful of duets; ensemble pieces form dramatic counterpoint. The work ends in a glorious five-segment ensemble finale: expressive, poignant, and enchanting music.

Love in Public mostly succeeds in setting Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s love sonnets to music

By Janet Smith,

By David MacIntyre, from the sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. At the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodward’s on Thursday, April 19. Continues until April 29

Love in Public features (left to right) soprano Robyn Driedger-Klassen, mezzo soprano Megan Morrison, and baritone Warren Kimmel.

Beneath its pretty, romantic exterior, Love in Public is quite an audacious little exercise. Local composer David MacIntyre and his cast of opera singers have taken on the momentous task of setting every one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 44 famous love sonnets to music. The idea is to roll them into an evening that makes some vague narrative sense, and locate it all in a cabaret setting. Even MacIntyre, in his program notes, admits it’s a bold act of both honouring and desecrating the original material.

Barrett Browning wrote the poems in 1845 and 1846, publishing them in 1850 under the misleading title Sonnets From the Portuguese, in an attempt to hide the fact they tracked the achingly intimate courtship between her and fellow poet Robert Browning, six years her junior. More than a century and a half later, her odes to love are still revered, the most famous being “How Do I Love Thee?” “Let me count the ways…”

One of MacIntyre’s biggest challenges is to bring Barrett Browning’s antiquated language—“Thou hast thy calling”; “Beloved, thou hast brought me”—into a contemporary setting and put it to music that is not so much operatic as popular, drawing on everything from tango rhythms to gospel touches at times. In this, the composer (and SFU prof) known for Vancouver Opera’s The Architect and Vancouver New Music’s Sanctuary, mostly succeeds. The four singers, accompanied ably by David Boothroyd on grand piano, can pull off the archaic language, and easily scale the fluid melodies that sometimes feel more like musical theatre. Some of the songs inhabit a mesmerizing space that gets closer to the transcendent powers of Barrett Browning’s verse: mezzo Megan Morrison’s “If Thou Must Love Me” manoeuvers through a mystical chain of key changes, while Act 2 opens with hypnotic ensemble harmonizations for “When Our Two Souls”. Attempts to mix things up with, for example, the dance rhythms of “The Soul’s Rialto” don’t work as well.

For their part, the singers are up to the onerous memorization and mood changes. Baritone Warren Kimmel owns pieces like the powerful “Accuse Me Not”, yet is quietly moving in other songs; tenor Frédérik Robert pours his heart out for “My Letters!”; and soprano Robyn Driedger-Klassen and mezzo Morrison give voice to the sweetness, confusion, and doubt in Barrett Browning’s words.

The intimacy of the work is heightened by the fact the audience sits on three sides of the stage, and the playing area is bathed in dappled, often sepia light, with sets consisting of an autumn-orange tree, Italianate benches, and cabaret tables. Director Peter Jorgensen manages to move the performers in a way that hints at relationships between different pairs of singers, though it would be hard to describe the piece as “narrative”.

About the only element that feels forced and out of place is the dance. This is no comment on the abilities of the expressive Kaylin Metchie and Juan Carlos Villegas; it’s just that their choreography is so earnestly literal—at one point he gives her a box with a flower in it—when Barrett Browning’s poems are not. And often they’re left with little to do amid the singing.

There is so much material here, with 44 sonnets, that adding more elements takes away from Barrett Browning’s gemlike simplicity. Still, seeing this show will probably send you hunting for her book of sonnets.

LOVE IN PUBLIC IS AN ENCHANTMENT

By Max Wyman, Web Review, April 27, 2012

If you’re looking for a Vancouver date night out tonight or tomorrow, Love in Public, at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodwards, is an enchantment: touching and beautiful and delighting and soul-affirming. You’ll leave holding hands and smiling.

Composer David MacIntyre calls it an opera-cabaret – a musical setting of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 44 Sonnets from the Portu guese, for four singers (known simply as The Soprano, The Mezzo, The Tenor and The Baritone) and a pair of dancers. Opera because the writing calls for operatically-trained voices; cabaret because of the structure of the piece and the style of presentation.

Warm, evening light: we’re in a glade in a garden, curved benches under a red-gold tree, tables for two scattered about (some of them are open for audience seating, and you can’t get much closer to the action than that: at one point, the mezzo and I were sitting so close that I could have taken her hand in mine, and was so caught up in the emotional flow that, wanting to comfort her, I almost did).

The sonnets (with introductory lines here by Robert Browning, and slightly reshuffled) cover the period leading up to the poet’s marriage to Browning. MacIntyre talks of the poems as “the stuff of contemporary times. Personal life becomes public art.” Certainly, it’s heart on sleeve displayed for public consumption, albeit expressed in language that’s a touch more insightful, expressive and reverberant than your average tweet.

There’s no actual plot, but true love never did run smooth, and the emotional ups and downs in the poems are caught and reflected in the subtle bits of staging by director Peter Jorgenson (he never lets anyone simply stand there and sing at us) and in the deft and tender little encounters between the dancers.

No movement experiments here: just a gentle underlining, by real young people in real time, of the sweet discoveries and setbacks of new love that animate the sonnets and the music. It’s like The Fantasticks without the kitsch.

Actually, that reference to musical theatre is not at all out of place. MacIntyre the composer has a lovely confidence, in himself and in music for voice in general, that allows him to infuse his predominantly Romantic modernism with melodies and harmonies that irresistibly suggest the modern musical stage.

It brings assured and heartfelt performances, kind and human and clear, from his singers, soprano Robin Driedger-Klassen, mezzo Megan Morrison, tenor Fredrik Robert and baritone Warren Kimmel, all supported with unobtrusive authority by David Boothroyd at the piano.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Do go."

 

Canadian and International Press / various projects (1979 - 2015)

  • "an attractive piece by David K. MacIntyre entitled Even in our Sleep, filled with vivid harmonic writing..." The Calgary Herald
  • "David MacIntyre's Ave Maria possesses beguiling syncopation and hypnotic rhythms of great power and urgency.” The New Amsterdam Singers of New York
  • "David MacIntyre's vibrantly original Ave Maria seems predestined to become a standard choral work... it is deeply fascinating – and beautiful.” Goran Forsling, Sweden’s International Concert Review
  • "David MacIntyre understands the heart's search for such a still point in the world, and creates one, in an astonishingly dramatic new work of musical art. Sanctuary, his piece for string orchestra, conductor and boy soprano, is born of the composer's concern that orchestral music has lost its ability to prick the emotions. By taking his musicians down from the platform and moving them from place to place in the recital hall, MacIntyre gets us thinking about the space we're in, about the physical world around us. Suddenly, though, it's no longer just the Vancouver East Cultural Centre we're thinking about, but the larger world outside - the darkness beyond the light of the campfire." Michael Scott, Vancouver Sun
  • "His restless music continually jogs the imagination. What begins with the grief-stained sighs of the 19th century, suddenly bends and dances out in the step-hop-step of a folk dance. Episodes flash past, scores of them - pairs and trios and sextets. Often the music ascends and descends in long phrases, as if it were drawing breath. Some of MacIntyre's most exquisite music (in Sanctuary) rests with his double trio of three cellos and three basses. Ranged across the back of the stage, beyond a scrim, when we first see them, their long ascending sighs seem to yearn up out of Gustav Mahler's pallette. At another point, a songlike melody from a solo violin is taken up by six others, who transform it into an ocean wave rolling into a beach and then receding. MacIntyre plays games with the ear, too, luring it deeper and deeper into patterns where the resoving cadence never quite comes. At the appearance of boy soprano Scott Shymko, optimism enters the music. And then chaos presses in. Grinding, growling chromatics summon up a nightmare jungle. A locomotive streaks past. But MacIntyre refuses to abandon us to the night. A habanera winds out of the low strings, beguiling, irresistible. The players gather at last in a large circle, facing in toward one another like the shamans MacIntyre intends them to be. They create a sacred space between them - the sanctuary we all crave." Michael Scott, Vancouver Sun.

  •  At the centre of the performing space at (The Cultch) are 16 chairs, 16 music stands. But at the opening of Sanctuary, David MacIntyre's new performance piece for string orchestra, conductor (Owen Underhill) and boy soprano (Scott Shymko), the orchestra that eventually comes to occupy this setting has been exploded, player by player, to the far reaches of the auditorium. We get to know them, instrument by instrument, from this corner and that. The device tunes our ears, and gives transparency to the music that follows. For the 75 minutes of Sanctuary's duration, we are inside the music, wrapped in (to use MacIntyre's own words) a giant resonator...offering us refuge (in music that seems a prism for much of the 20th Century modernism itself) from the sonic panic of modern music and modern life... though never letting us forget it exists. And offering (since MacIntyre is also a fine themesmith) the humanistic, non-denominational solace and sanctuary that is uniquely the gift of music, in a broad, wise, ultimately affirmative conclusion of Mahlerian sweep and majesty." Max Wyman, Vancouver Province.

  • "Although it is not usual to think of Yorkton, Saskatchewan as a flourishing centre of cultural activity, this small community nevertheless attracts some international attention every year with a commendable film festival. Now, it may have further claim to attention in David MacIntyre, a composer born there in 1952. A resident of Vancouver since 1979, MacIntyre is a candid individual with an enviable mop of curly hair, deep-set eyes that gleam behind spectacles, a kindly sense of humour, and a gift of the musical gab... After hearing his piece, I formed my own notion that his Sanctuary represents a sanctuary for the protection of live music - and of live music-making - now facing a huge challenge, perhaps even a huge threat, from the electronic industry... So there, Mr. David MacIntyre of Yorkton, Saskatchewan, you did not fail at all." E. Douglas Hughes, Georgia Straight.
  • "... the effect is magical: Where Sandra, The Architect of the title, arrives at her office, chirruping 'Are we brilliant today?' to her employees, for instance, or the rich moment where Sandra (sung by US mezzo-soprano Gloria Parker) and her second-in-command (soprano Valdine Anderson) laugh off a young designer's mistake by dismissing his generation as "smelling of television"; or the erotically charged tension between Sandra and her lover (baritone John Fanning) as she leans across their dinner table to ask 'Have you ever been cut'. In moment's like these, the natural response is to lean in close, drawn into the intimacy of the proceedings, like a co-conspirator, with MacIntyre's music swirling and pooling gently beneath. In a brilliant exchange between Sandra and her beachcombing guru/friend Even (tenor Andre Clouthier), they comment on the tiny bells that form part of her earrings, "dead bells", and a child's time capsule, made from a tennis ball can, they find buried in the sand. The music is susurrant, rustling, restless, a boat tugging at its mooring, anxious to be off with the tide." - Michael Scott, Vancouver Sun
  •  "... it came from the very world of Tom Cone and David MacIntyre's remarkable collaboration. That the opera succeeds as it does is a testamonial as much to their talent as to their perspicacity in hammering out a unified vision. It was the pair's stated intention to write an opera dealing with contemporary isues in an accessible style. To create their penetrating exploration of the malaise - fear, greed, and apathy - rampant in today's society... MacIntyre has made the music of that malaise supremely attractive and, with imagination and finesse, has succeeded in wringing an amazing amount of mileage out of his ostinato-driven score. The music underpinning the close of "The Architect's Office", for instance, is potently seductive as Madeline (Sandra's business associate) and the staff anesthetize Sandra's concerns with their surreal lullaby, yet the covert malevolence within that seduction is truly eerie... Using accessible language and music, The Architect tells us something new about ourselves and the times in which we live,... it is a powerful and relevant statement that speaks directly to the heart." Robert Jordan, The Georgia Straight


  • "The most memorable cultural event of the year for me was The Architect [a Vancouver Opera production], and not just because my husband is an architect. It showed me that the city had really grown up; every aspect of it was created in Vancouver. That was really impressive, to see it happen here rather than in some place like New York." Councillor Lynne Kennedy, quoted in The Georgia Straight.
  • "The saxophonists were marvelously integrated into the performance... Certainly the score by David MacIntyre, a composer from Vancouver, British Columbia, worked to perfection in its fragmentary structure. Separate phrases (not always melodic) were often played by soloists but also by all 10 instrumentalists, creating rich overlapping textures... "Piazza" has a resolution however. A high point was the moment when the saxophonists were all visible, strung out in a horizontal line with the male and female dancers at their feet. Music soothes the savage breast - the final image was of multiple duets in which tenderness among couples wiped out the anxiety of the past hour." Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times
  • "Perhaps the reason that... "Piazza" has quotes around it is that the piazza in question is half-imagined, nowhere in actual sight... But the 24 dancers who gradually enter to stud the space look decidedly urban... David MacIntyre's music, coming from behind distant trees, is made by 10 saxophones (two sopranos, two altos, two tenors, two baritones, two basses) - nightlife-in-the-city instruments... At one marvelous moment, the saxophonists, now invisible, seems to have surrounded us, and MacIntyre's quite spare and delicate score becomes acutely polyphonic: we hear each separate voice as if we were in the midst of a 19th Century hunting party with several quarries being sighted at once. "Piazza", sensitively constructed and perfomed, simple but rich to the eye..." Deborah Jowitt, The Village Voice, New York
  • "You could say they met through the New York Times. Picture this: Here is Tom Cone, a New York-based playwright, vacationing in Vancouver for the summer. He, like all good New Yorkers, picks up the Times whereever he goes, and one morning he reads about David MacIntyre, a Vancouver-based composer who has just received rave reviews for a new work performed at the First New York Interntional Festival of the Arts. A few days later, David MacIntyre is back in Vancouver having a drink with a friend at the Arts Club bar on Granville Island. Tom Cone is also there and comes over to say hello to the friend. Tom meet David. David, Tom. And so began a working friendship, as that very night the two discussed each other's work and dreamed aloud of collaborating on an opera for which Cone would write the libretto and MacIntyre would compose the music." Jillian Hull, Western Living
  • "The manner in which David MacIntyre's musical score (for Piazza) - at times lyrical, at times percussive, echoed mysteriously into the gatherine night: All of it added up to a palpable mood" Stephen Greco, Dance Magazine
  • "Vancouver Opera's world premiere on June 11 of The Architect gave the too-rare pleasure of a new opera fully mounted and set forth with assurance. With music by David MacIntyre and text by Tom Cone, it also had the distinction of originating with city-based artists. The intense concentration of the packed Playhouse and highly appreciative applause at the end was a reassuring signal that the company's gamble of resources and talent to broaden the spectrum of what for many is a museum art had paid off unquestionably...The libretto flowed absolutely naturally as did David MacIntyre's attractively approachable score which gave pinpoint precision to the satiric moments and broad, singable lyric expansion to the characters' wide diversity of emotions... The Architect is a stimulating alternative to mega-musical theatre." Floyd St. Clair, Opera in Canada
  • "A few of us were standing outside Vancouver Playhouse during the interval of David MacIntyre and Tom Cone's The Architect, the first new work ever commissioned by Vancouver Opera... Brian Tate, a noteworthy local composer, loved it. He mentioned the music's diminished seventh chords, which reminded him of Stravinsky, and there was some Stephen Sondheim in there too, but it wasn't a pastiche or an imitation, he said. It had it's own quality. This was true. In addition to gorgeious vocal lines, it did seem to inhale Stravinsky's fresh athletic air. There were even bits of Philip Glass and Latin syncopated beats that gave it a certain chic. We agreed that it was 'a very modern opera.'...By commissioning a new work and attempting to ensure that we don't bury our own age, the architects of Vancouver Opera were bravely responsible in their duties." Lloyd Dykk, Vancouver Sun
  •  "Every now and then, a movie comes along that's so touching it sticks with you for awhile. The same can be said for dance - and such was the case with Squeeze: A Duet for Musician and Dancer, which turned out to be one of those performances that replay in my mind days after I saw them. Created by David MacIntyre, who composed the score for solo concertina, and Catherine Lubinsky, who choreographed the piece's varied movement... What unfolded was a moving story about life's ups and downs that combined a dynamic score, powerful dance, flashes of humour, and even some heartfelt, if at times campy, singing. Together, these elements illustrated how life exists in a state of flux, constantly spinning from joy to sorrow." Gail Johnson, The Georgia Straight.
  • "David MacIntyre, an SFU educator and prolific composer of music for theatre, opera and choir has collaborated with his wife and partner, Catherine Lubinsky in the creation of Squeeze, a duet for solo dancer and a musician playing the concertina, or squeeze box. Thankfully, this innovative, odd-ball piece takes its cues from popular street theatre rather than polka parties. The 70 minute work... makes the push and pull of the concertina its driving metaphor. Squeeze is at its best when the duo assume the raw and rough energy of street performers pulling liberally from various folk traditons to create a vibrant little gumbo of stripped-down dance and music. MacIntyre's score uses repetitive harmonic bursts, a now familiar signature of modern composition. But the sparse acoustic backdrop is layered and softened with snippets of original songs delivered cabaret style... In a clear, soaring tenor, MacIntyre sings about life in the downtown eastside, overheard conversations and his lover... According to its creators, Squeeze has undergone numerous drafts and revisions, yet the show retains the sprightly improvisational feel of a late-night jam session or a curbside performance." Amanda Gibbs, Vancouver Sun
  •  "The score by David MacIntyre (for Highway 86 Event) for eight saxophones and percussion, at once a cry and a song, is a work of art in itself." Aline Gelinas, La Presse, Montreal
  • "Refrains - An Opera by David MacIntyre and Jean-Pierre Perreault was an intriguing and eloquent commentary on our lives..." Ruby Mercer, Opera Canada
  • "Calliope - for six dancers playing thirteen harmonicas - was certainly an extraordinarily well-defined and entertaining piece... It was engaging and outrageous and I understood, as though for the first time, the meaning of mouth organ." Burf Kay, Dance in Canada
  • "The integration of dance and music in Calliope is ingenious." Stephen Godfrey, Globe and Mail
  • "MacIntyre's tuneful (Humulus the Mute) score is as witty and charming as the libretto without being cute or obvious. I wouldn't be surprised to find David MacIntyre established as an important composer in the years to come." Richard Todd, Monday Magazine