Free is a big word at Luminato, as the Toronto festival prepares for a 2013 season that features free outdoor concerts by the likes of Laurie Anderson, Rosanne Cash and k-os, as well as ticketed performances by the Mark Morris Dance Group, a new dramatic work conceived by Robert Wilson and a contemporary Chinese opera directed by Atom Egoyan.
But the full schedule for the 10-day June arts festival lacks the kind of large-scale commissioned creations that Luminato management says are essential to its mandate.
"We want to make Luminato a home for the creation of new pieces," said artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt, speaking on the phone from London, where he witnessed the English National Opera premiere last week of Sunken Garden, a co-commissioned multimedia opera by Dutch composer Michel van der Aa, which Luminato will present next year. Weisbrodt also said that apart from the Mark Morris performances, this year's lineup was all settled after he arrived in January, 2012, and that "a year is not a lot of time to put together a larger scale collaboration."
The complete calendar, revealed yesterday after piecemeal announcements this past winter, includes a new one-man work by puppet-master Ronnie Burkett that will feature short scripts by 10 Canadian playwrights; a multiartist collaboration spun off from a year-long exhibition of Canadian art at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA); and several ancillary events related to a Wilson-directed stage work about a Serbian performance artist best known for an iron-pants museum marathon documented in the 2012 film, Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present.
The lineup also features three events by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, including a late-night show with pianist Yuja Wang; a two-night Joni Mitchell tribute featuring Rufus Wainwright, drummer Brian Blade and others; a turntable-driven headphone event by Kid Koala; and a nightly revue by Jason Collett that Weisbrodt said would include drop-ins by many musicians performing at the festival. Daily free open-air concerts at David Pecaut Square – the Hub, in Luminato parlance – will include sets by Serena Ryder, Patrick Watson, Danny Michel and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and there will be dozens of free literary readings and artists' talks.
The extent of the free offerings is apt, given Luminato's extraordinary level of public funding. According to figures from the Canada Revenue Agency, 50 per cent of Luminato's 2012 revenue of $9.7-million came from government grants. The norm for large cultural organizations is much lower, from about 25 per cent for the TSO to a mere 8 per cent for the Stratford Festival. In 2010, Luminato received a rare and coveted multiyear commitment of $15-million from the Ontario government, though the amounts for the third and final years were reduced substantially during budget cuts last year.
Weisbrodt said that the festival's Joni Mitchell tribute was not necessarily of a piece with last year's tribute to Kate McGarrigle, also led by his spouse, Rufus Wainwright. Organizing the Mitchell event cost Weisbrodt "about three months of talking to everyone who's worked or slept with her in the past 20 years," as he tried to make contact with the reclusive musician. Eventually, he got her involved in the planning and hopes she will appear at the events, though she notoriously skipped a 2006 Carnegie Hall tribute at the last minute because of a sick cat.
The Mark Morris Dance Group and Tafelmusik will perform L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, a 1988 piece reckoned a classic by the American choreographer's fans. But Luminato missed out on Morris's new, much-anticipated centenary version of The Rite of Spring, which made its debut at the Ojai North festival in California two days before Luminato opens. Weisbrodt described Feng Yi Ting, a Chinese contemporary opera written by Guo Wenjing and directed by Atom Egoyan, as "the anti-Einstein on the Beach," because unlike that sprawling epic from last year's festival, it lasts only 45 minutes. "But when I saw the piece, it was a full, satisfying experience," Weisbrodt said. "I couldn't imagine putting something else with it."
Luminato's 2013 run, which begins on June 14 and ends on June 23, coincides with a relatively quiet time in Toronto's busy cultural life. But it overlaps with three days of the North By Northeast festival and four days of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, and the opening night concert at the Hub, featuring Ryder and k-os, is the same day as a free outdoor NXNE show at Dundas Square by the American indie rock band the National.