Jonah Falco and Mike Haliechuk have kept a dark secret. Until now. By day, Falco and Haliechuk are members of Fucked Up, a Polaris Music Prize-winning punk rock group, brimming with the high energy, high desperation and high volume that come with the punk territory.
But underneath all that rage and power lies another musical personality, one that is softer, more lyrical, more nuanced. One is tempted to say more beautiful. And thanks to Michael Mori and his Tapestry Opera group, Falco and Haliechuk's secret is now public knowledge. They wrote basically a mini-opera for Tapestry, part of that group's Ex (for Exploration) series, and it's a big winner.
Simply titled Metallurgy A, Falco's score and Haliechuk's libretto (which he co-wrote with David James Brock) trace the story of couple struggling to come to terms with the loss of their child. Backed by two violins, two cellos, a piano, and Halco and Haliechuk themselves on synthesizer and guitar, the 30-minute scene unfolds in a series of unison chordal figures, lyrical melodies and dramatic moments of tension, remarkably familiar musical territory.
We can forget that pop music is very traditional musically, so that when a pop composer is freed from the tyranny of the three-minute song, he or she is actually on familiar classical ground, using many of the techniques of old-fashioned tonal music. Falco's score was imaginative, lyrical and very effective as he experimented with a new form.
It's fascinating these days to see how much gas is left in the opera tank. The combination of longer-form works, music that can develop in new ways and a story upon which to build a structure continues to engage artists of all kinds. High marks to Tapestry for engaging in this experimentation.
Of course, Falco and Haliechuk had an enormous advantage in that tenor David Pomeroy and mezzo/soprano Krisztina Szabo were interpreting their works. They were both captivating and superb. Pomeroy's voice was clear and focused throughout, capable of a range of emotion, grabbing our attention at every moment. And what is there left to say about the truly remarkable Szabo? The beauty of the sound that she makes is overwhelming sometimes, although it's one thing to hear her on the stage of the cavernous Four Seasons Centre, and another to come face to face with that musical power at a distance of a few feet. Her control over her instrument is complete; the range of sound and emotion she portrays is immensely attractive and compelling. Michael Mori's direction of the piece was simple but effective, with one after another of the players leaving the stage as the work progressed, leaving finally a sole violin to end the piece. Sort of a Haydn Farewell Symphony, except with tragedy rather than humour at its heart. Jordan de Souza led the mini-orchestra with fine care.
Pomeroy and Szabo were back for the second half of the evening, with a work written by Ivan Barbotin, with libretto again by David James Brock. Metallurgy B was a portrait of a couple's meeting, coupling, love, hate, resignation and repose, all condensed into a series of tiny vignettes. This might have been the couple, it occurred to me, that was grieving the loss of their child in the first part of the evening, but whether that was intended or not, the second piece allowed both Pomeroy and Szabo to let loose their acting chops as well as their musical excellence. All I can say about that is – on the basis of her performance, you probably don't want to get Krisztina Szabo angry at you.
The true test of the success of Tapestry's Ex: Metallurgy was that its experimental, adventurous nature was lost in the enjoyment of a solid evening of musical drama. The experiment itself of joining two musical worlds would have been admirable – as it turned out, we almost forgot it was happening. We just absorbed two fine works on their own merits.