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Pandora's Locker: Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory.

There's a relatively large literature of opera geared to children, but little written for mid-and late-teen audiences. Newfoundland-born, Toronto-based composer Dean Burry, who has made a specialty of music theatre for young people, has helped fill that gap with the premiere of Pandora's Locker, a commission of the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory. Based on the Greek myth of Pandora's Box, in which the eponymous heroine's curiosity unleashes all manner of unwelcome things on the world, Burry's piece "is set mainly in a high school. Pandora is a confused teen hesitantly looking to connect with her absentee father while making some sense of her place in the bewildering and seemingly hostile world around her. Burry, who as usual served as his own librettist, succeeds in presenting the story from a teen's point of view, traversing such issues as sexuality, peer pressure and the generation gap in language that is as gritty as it is frank. This is surely one of the few operas that sets the "f" word to music, though, like it or not, the schoolyard profanity seems natural and no more shocking than writing club scratch (ably produced by DJ/Scratch Artist Fields McQueen) into a more classical score for piano and strings. Judging from the spiritedly critical response of a group of high-school students in a post-performance Q&A with the artists (most of them not much older), I'd say Burry's tightly constructed oneacter succeeds very well at connecting musically and dramatically with an age group that is likely skeptical about the validity of opera in general and its relevance to their issues and concerns in particular.


Conducted by Brian Current and staged simply but directly by Jennifer Parr, students of the Conservatory's Glenn Gould School and Young Artists Performance Academy (the instrumentalists from the GGS New Music Ensemble) brought an energy, urgency and panache to music that was as engaging as it was challenging. In the demanding title role, mezzo Wallis Giunta etched the troubled teen authentically and with confidence, well supported by a strong ensemble in a piece that requires some doubling in numerous small named parts. Creating other main roles were Sean Catheroy (the Janitor, who becomes Pandora's father figure in the dream sequences), Ryan Allen (Alex, her boyfriend) and Michelle Danese and Taylor Strande (her best friends, Calli and Diana). Dealing as it does with some troubling but real issues for young people, Pandora's Locker deserves a wider audience. It also proves a splendid exemplar of how ancient myth can reveal its truth in the most contemporary setting.--Wayne Gooding
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Publication:Opera Canada
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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