The classroom is a powerful space for its connections to knowledge, growth, and freedom. In Dances of Passion, the Song Company uses the classroom as an arena for youthful innocence, or ignorance, and the students’ engagement with critical lessons on life and love in three composers’ works.
Director Robert Macfarlane received the brief for a dramatised performance of three quite different composers across three centuries and he decided to spin a narrative that centred the fresh youthfulness of the four performers as students learning about themselves and each other through song. With Musical Direction from Francis Greep as well as piano with Antony Pitts, Dances of Passion moves through lovers’ quarrels on the streets of Madrid to French fables reimagined by Juliana Hall and all the way back to 19th century Germany and the seemingly supernatural connection between the heart and nature.
In the first song sequence, the four performers soprano Roberta Diamond, mezzo soprano Janine Harris, tenor Ethan Taylor, and baritone Hayden Barrington traded off verses of Fernando Periquet’s poetry with Enrique Granados’s composition titled Colleccion de Tonadillas. The nine songs recount the successes and failures in the love lives of generic Spanish figures of men and women. In Macfarlane’s dramatisation, the men and women formed a love triangle that fell apart over the course of the piece until the final duet “Las Currutacas Modestas” where Taylor and Barrington decided they’re better off as bachelors anyway.
The first piece showed off the singers’ technical skill but the second piece Fables for a Prince composed by Juliana Hall with lyrics from Marianne Moore’s translation of Jean de la Fontaine, allows the performers’ personalities to shine for a more rounded experience. Across the six songs, the students use their mature aged peer as a prop to act out a series of fables about flattery, greed, selfishness, and optimism. In particular the first song titled “To His Royal Highness the Dauphin” took on an eerie quality of the four singers forming a fairy chorus with distorted cadence and intimidating grandeur. This tone continued even as they adopted the physicality of foxes, crows, chickens, and horses.
It was in the final piece that the fun and beauty of the performers’ talents culminated in a silly, joyous ode to life and love. “Liebeslieder Waltzer Opus 52” composed by Johannes Brahms with lyrics from Polydora by Georg Friedrich Daumer is a Romantic series of songs connecting soaring feelings of love with natural phenomena like the wind, rivers, and sunsets. Here, the singers continued to act out the lyrics but with a more abstract interpretation that was light and childlike.
Stand-out songs from this cycle included the gendered duets of “O die Frauen, o die Frauen” with the disparity in Barrington and Taylor’s ranges evening out into clear harmony and “Wie des Abends schöne Röte” which was a dramatic and romantic meeting between Diamond and Harris’s voices. “Ein kleiner, hübscher Vogel” was a crowd favourite for its upbeat rhythm and Taylor’s depiction of a small bird feeding and in flight. Then, other songs like “Nein, es ist nicht auszukommen” and “Ein dunkeler Schacht ist Liebe” added a darker colouring to the quartet’s emotional range, rounding out the performance as a complete demonstration of their skills.
Overall, the program provided a wide variety of opportunity to explore the singers’ ranges from Barrington’s deep drama, to Diamond’s crystalline tone, and from Harris’s emotionality to Taylor’s impressive adaptability. The added dramatisation then increases the audience’s ability to connect with the music and its themes and narratives, especially when sung in foreign languages. Dances of Passion was about the many joys available in life and love and the pleasure to be taken in singing about them.
Dances of Passion was performed at the Cellblock Theatre on March 19th
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