With opera companies under financial pressure around the world.
Thematically, the piece is based on the classic Greek fertility myth of Persephone. Demeter and Hades, which also embodies the ancient world's explanation of seasonal change. There are a number of versions of the myth in which Hades abducts Persephone to the Underworld, after which her grieving mother, Demeter, stops nourishing the earth and the people go hungry. The resolution of the myth has Persephone spending some time in the Underworld and the rest above, restoring some balance to the earth. Having established the legend, the opera takes the theme to explore ideas about climate change. If Persephone were held in the Underworld forever because of a drive to make money that desecrates the natural world, there would never be another spring and chaos would result.
The pivotal role in the opera is that of Demeter, whose reaction to the loss of her daughter when H ades' servant Cerberus, abducts her moves the entire action. Mezzo Audrey Bissett created a passionate archetype of mother and goddess. With a warm, resonant timbre and fine dynamic control, she dominated her every scene. As Cerberus, baritone Kevin Armstrong came home to add another riveting part to his extensive European experience. As protagonist, his role begins as a servant, albeit a servant with issues, but he slowly morphs into a mafia-style leader who eclipses Hades, Lord of the Underworld. As Hades begins to confront him, calling him "dog," the shadow of Cerberus as the dog who guarded the river Styx looms large. Armstrong made an effective transformation vocally with his rich tone, powerful projection and focused confidence.
As the centre of all the controversy, Persephone, sensitively sung by soprano Allison Girvan, epitomized the young teenager caught up in conflicting emotions. She manages to win the sympathy of her husband, though not that of the Underworld chorus who tie her up to prevent her return to the world of her mother. Roger Ley marshaled a well-honed tenor to create a sympathetic Lord of the Underworld, whose love for Persephone cost him control of Cerberus and the eventual destruction of the world.
Three comprimario roles of Persephone's friend, Adrianna (soprano Kathleen Neudorf), and lesser gods Hekate (alto Bessie Wapp) and Helios (tenor Christoph Martens) were well cast and well sung. Dancer Hiromoto Ida was wrenching as he agonized his way through a depiction of the death of the world.
Effective sets (Thomas Loh), costumes (Lam Blackman) and lighting (Sharon Huizinga) all contributed to the magic of this allegory of a gloomy impending future for the world.
By Don Macdonald and Nicola Harwood/Nelson, B.C.