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Off the Wall

Contemporary opera at the Buxton Festival,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Truman is a film director who falls in love with a chair, making his dog jealous. Well, no, A Chair in Love is not your average rom-com. Instead composer John Metcalf and librettist Larry Tremblay have created a wry, quirky little fable about love, dreams, illusions and reality (Buxton Festival, Buxton, UK, 16 July 2008).

A collaboration between the aptly-named Quebec-based company Le Chien Qui Chante and Swansea's Taliesin Arts Centre, it plays like a live-action cartoon, as the three main characters try to come to terms with the ensuing emotional upheaval. Truman decides his next film will be a love story starring The Chair. The Chair -- Charlotte Ellett in radiant voice -- is reluctant to let Truman sit on her, but she longs to be able to dream like him. Her wish comes true when he makes the film, but it is declared a disaster by Ashley Prescott, 'the pope of film critics'.

Truman and The Dog both seek expert help for their condition. Mireille Lebel, as both Dogtor and Doctor, is every inch the knowing professional, diagnosing Toysickness in the case of The Dog, and prescribing the new wonder drug Lovekiller for Truman.

Truman kills The Dog and is sent to the electric chair, but then discovers that this was a hallucination. In the end he gets a postcard from The Chair; she will not forget him, but she has gone away on a cruise -- with Ashley Prescott who, it's hinted, was also the Dogtor/Doctor. Truman and The Dog are left, sadder and wiser, with each other.

Michael Douglas Jones gives a touching portrait of canine loyalty, while Pierre-Étienne Bergeron conveys both Truman's self-obsession and his bewilderment.

Metcalf's score, in the hands of Montreal-based wind quintet Pentaèdre, who move around the stage as the action proceeds, chatters away amiably. Allied to a vocal style that tends more towards heightened recitative than expansive lyricism, its relative anonymity holds the action at arm's length, distancing us from any overt emotional involvement but allowing the tale to make its points simply.

An amusing little one-acter, lasting about an hour and a quarter, and not as inconsequential as it first appears. Something so completely off the wall can't help but stick in the memory.

Copyright © 23 July 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK




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