The mayor of Toronto meets the author Margaret Atwood on the astral plane this Sunday, Jan. 22, some time after 2:30 p.m. That’s when a free, one-time performance of Rob Ford, the Opera will take place at U of T’s MacMillan Theatre. The surrealist opera is in English, runs about an hour, and features about 50 students in the cast.
In the opera, Ford falls asleep at his desk, meets Atwood in a dream and mistakes her for God. He is also judged by Toronto librarians. But librettist Michael Patrick Albano says the work is “not a bombastic attack on Rob Ford” — which wouldn’t be theatrically interesting. “I’m a great fan of the theatre of the absurd. It releases you from the pressure of logic, and you can write extraordinary things,” he says. “But that does not mean it’s a free-for-all.”
Albano is the opera training program’s resident stage director at U of T’s Faculty of Music. He wrote Rob Ford, the Opera for the Student Composer Collective, now in its 15th year. The collective started as a workshop and became a graduate course, allowing students to gain experience in writing and staging a performance.
Master’s and PhD students contributed music to the opera. The goal is to experiment so that students learn to develop their own voice, Albano says. “Four composers are passing the reins to each other and it has an interesting musical continuity. The moods change when the scenes change.”
Originally, Albano was working on an adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone. But while writing at Starbucks in the summer, he decided to change track. “Everyone around me was talking about Rob Ford,” he says. “And this is a course where we’re supposed to be pushing the boundaries, dragging the art form into the 21st century.”
He notes that classic operas often deal with then-contemporary and contentious issues. For example, Verdi’s works ran into trouble when they portrayed prostitutes or royalty. “Some opera premiers were delayed because of censorship from the state — Verdi had a dream where he moved to colonial America to get around the censors,” Albano says.
Toronto’s mayor may be a controversial figure, but he’s welcome at the show. Albano sent a handwritten note inviting Ford to attend Sunday’s performance. No response yet, but as Albano says, “The week is young.”