If you close your eyes, you can just picture it: the zaftig Valkyrie strutting about in a glittering metal breastplate, blond hair flashing in the light. Sweating and red-faced, this corpulent angel of death opens its mouth and spews forth an ear-splitting cacophony of rage and denial. Yes, Rob Ford would make a truly magnificent Brünnhilde.
Such a theatrical epiphany may never see the stage, but the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music brings us the next best thing with its one-night-only performance of Rob Ford: The Opera, premiering Sunday, Jan 22 at the MacMillan Theatre.
It’s the brainchild of the department’s resident stage director, Michael Albano, who adapts or writes an opera each year in order to showcase contributions from the faculty’s student composers. Albano generally alternates between drama and comedy for the annual production but made an exception after a visit to his local coffee shop.
“I had chosen five scenes from Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone that would be good meat for our composers,” he says. “But everybody around me at Starbucks was talking about Rob Ford. Everybody. It was right about that time with the nonsense about the libraries and the Margaret Atwood fiasco, so I thought, ‘Maybe I’m missing the boat here.’”
And so the concept was born, with a libretto that dovetailed nicely with Albano’s affection for Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett and other pioneers of the theatre of the absurd dramatic movement.
“There’s an interesting intersection between Rob Ford and the theatre of the absurd,” Albano says. “Opera tends to follow more linear stories, so I liked the idea of something that was blatantly absurdist and bizarre while being grounded in a real person.”
Certainly “absurd” and “bizarre” seem ideal adjectives for our boob of a mayor, but Albano points out that his opera isn’t simply an hour of puncturing Toronto’s easiest target.
“It’s uninteresting to just bash Rob Ford,” he says. “This opera is taking a character that, by his own efforts and speeches, has become sort of operatic and bigger-than-life.”
The plot is classic absurdist fare: Ford’s political ascent is told through a chorus of city hall protesters as the heartless mayor slashes through the city’s social programs.
Minor characters like Ford’s secretaries Nardil, Paxil and Remeron (named after the anti-depressants) pave the way for a surreal dream sequence that sees the mayor meeting up with a beatific Margaret Atwood (“Are you God?” asks Ford. “I am unsure of this myself,” answers Atwood). A mock trial follows, with Atwood, an injured cyclist and an unhappy seagull bearing witness to the hapless mayor’s many crimes.
“Once the decision to take away logic was made, it almost wrote itself,” says Albano. “This sort of thing allows us to maybe push the envelope a bit and take opera into the 21st century.
“Plus it was way more fun than Antigone.”
Sun, Jan 22 at 2:30pm
Faculty of Music’s MacMillan Theatre in the Edward Johnson building (directly behind the planetarium)