Taptoo! ensemble at the Jane Mallett Theatre

Don’t think for a minute that it’s fun to write a scathing review of a new Canadian opera, especially when I firmly believe that this country desperately needs more indigenous new works.

But there is only one way to honestly describe the production of Taptoo! unveiled by Toronto Operetta Theatre at the Jane Mallett Theatre on Friday night: It’s a mess.

Written by Toronto composer John Beckwith and the late playwright James Reaney several years ago, and left untouched following a University of Toronto student production, Taptoo! rides the rift between Britain and the American colonies from the time of the Declaration of Independence to the founding of Upper Canada and the city of York, which would later become Toronto.

To be fair, Beckwith has crafted a beguiling score that blends a modern sensibility with historical and folk references. His clever orchestration is a textbook example of how to use each instrument for maximum colour and effect. The music provides drive, as well as atmosphere.

The production contributes some fine singing from many of the soloists, as well as the whole ensemble. Conductor Larry Beckwith keeps the whole thing going with crisp efficiency.

The rest of Taptoo! — with two acts that stretch to nearly 3 hours, with intermission — is a shambles, starting with a plot that can’t decide whether it wants to be War and Peace or Cavalleria Rusticana.

Soldiers come and go, parents worry about children, Major John Graves Simcoe struts and frets upon the Jane Mallett Theatre stage, flags fly and drums beat, all to no coherent purpose.

One of the joys of seeing opera in English is being able to follow every detail of what’s going on. But, in this case, Reaney’s unpoetic and unmusical libretto, imperfect elocution from many members of the cast, an occasionally overpowering orchestra and a lack of surtitles conspired to make the words unintelligible much of the time.

Combined with frequent scene changes and an ever-mobile cast — directed, costumed and lit with no apparent cohesion or larger vision by company artistic director Guillermo Silva-Marin — the ongoing flurry repeatedly left me scratching my head about who these people are, and what they are doing on stage.

Perhaps with careful workshopping, Taptoo! could be re-written and whittled down into some sort of coherence, because it seems a shame to waste the fine music it contains.

But the more practical thing to do would be to quietly drop Taptoo! into time’s bottomless drawer of nobly failed artistic projects, so that it can quietly turn to dust.

There are repeat performances on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. For details, visit www.stlc.com.

John Terauds

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5 Responses to Review: Toronto Operetta Theatre’s Taptoo! an unfortunate shambles

  1. bob says:

    beguiling score? What opera where you listening to?

  2. Taptoo was enjoyable musically. The score uses many post-Wagnerian harmonies which may grate upon the ear accustomed to Pucinni. I found the musical performance quite good except for the synthesized accordion. I agree the text was often unintelligible.

    The movements of the chorus seemed ill-rehearsed and unmartial. This may have been due to budgetary constraints.

    Reaney’s libretto is certainly flawed. It is more of a history lesson than a dramatic work. Rather than ending with the soprano doing something dramatic like leaping from a parapet, there is an insipid plea for a stronger naval force on Lake Ontario.

  3. Seth (as a man) says:

    As someone with both the perspective of observer and performer as it relates to this “work”, I can honestly say that the performers and audience members exposed to this drivel (past and present) deserve a T-Shirt proclaiming “I survived Taptoo!”.

    This piece was already extensively explored in the workshop setting, and in performance in two of Canada’s largest cities (as well as in Potsdam, NY), and the consensus seems largely unanimous – Taptoo! should never be performed again.

  4. carolfarkas says:

    feb 26th 2pm having the story begin with a boy soprano in competition with a too loud orchestra drowning out his message was unfortunate…( having him carrier of the story was a mistake, could not hear or understand him often) the audience .needed a road map…too bad as the cast tried hard to define by singing what was happening, but the orchestra continued to drown them out. spoken word may have helped….

  5. Guillermo Silva-Marin directed me to this review of Taptoo by Christopher Hoile.
    Mr Hoile is speaks well of the production but has problems with Reaney’s libretto.