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Lauren Pearl in Tapestry Opera's 2022 production of Gould's Wall.DAHLIA KATZ

  • Title: Gould’s Wall
  • Written by: Brian Current (score) and Liza Balkan (libretto)
  • Director: Philip Akin
  • Singers: Lauren Pearl, Roger Honeywell
  • Company: Tapestry Opera
  • City: Toronto
  • Year: Runs to Aug. 12
  • COVID-19 measures: Masks and proof of vaccination not required.

In the new contemporary opera Gould’s Wall, a soprano in climbing gear navigates an 18-metre rock wall while her mentor, the peculiar superstar pianist Glenn Gould, watches and encourages from below. It’s an allusion to the unsteady pursuit of artistic perfection and the mental and physical ascents that come with it.

There are scales, and then there are scales.

Gould’s Wall, from Toronto’s intrepid Tapestry Opera, is the final production of Koerner Hall’s 2021-22 season and the closing event of the Royal Conservatory of Music’s 21C Music Festival. It is presented in the glass-enclosed atrium of the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, with the original 19th-century exterior of the Royal Conservatory building on one side and the much more recently built Koerner Hall on the other.

The aerialist soprano (Canadian-American interdisciplinary artist Lauren Pearl) is the protagonist musician trying for mastery. She is held by a harness suspended from the steel beams that connect the old and new buildings. It serves both as metaphor and a practical rigging solution.

The aerialist soprano Pearl is held by a harness suspended from the steel beams that connect the original 19th-century exterior of the Royal Conservatory building on one side and the much more recently built Koerner Hall on the other.DAHLIA KATZ

The chamber orchestra and five pianists (including students from the RCM’s Taylor Academy) work on the atrium floor. Close by, audience members sit in Muskoka chairs that allow them to look up at the action on the wall without craning their necks. Other seats (and standing-room space) are offered on a mezzanine that more or less rests level with the climbing singer.

Gould’s Wall was postponed because of COVID-19; some patrons have had tickets since 2019. Among its themes is perseverance. Welcome to the world of performing arts in 2022.

The wait was worth it. The site-specific charmer is a meditation on the rigour of artistic creation, set to a nimble, dynamic score by Brian Current that empathizes, dazzles and sometimes threatens vertigo. Woodwind enthusiasts in particular will not be disappointed.

The libretto from Liza Balkan is inquisitive, with occasional moments of whimsy. We see a young musician on a quest, manoeuvring the wall’s challenges one ledge and finger grip at a time. Along her climb, cast members from inside the building pop out of windows. Imagine Batman from the original television series scaling the Metropolitan Opera building.

Below, in cap, trench coat and fingerless gloves, is the brooding presence of Gould, capably sang by Canadian tenor Roger Honeywell. He represents inspiration and, perhaps, the RCM itself. The great classical pianist studied in the building beginning in the 1940s – an era represented in this production.

The site-specific charmer is a meditation on the rigour of artistic creation, set to a nimble, dynamic score by Brian Current that empathizes, dazzles and sometimes threatens vertigo.DAHLIA KATZ

Gould – or possibly the ghost of Gould – offers advice. He notes the “inner ear of the imagination” as a harbour and a haven. Many of Gould’s own words are woven into the libretto. From him: “By the year 2000, the public concert as we know it will be dead, anyway.”

That may have been wishful thinking by Gould, but Tapestry Opera, for its part, endeavours to move opera forward. Gould’s Wall, lucidly staged by director Philip Akin, is an untraditional spectacle that celebrates an icon while bridging past and present. From an opera staged 18 metres in the air, the encouraging message on artistic endeavours is that skies are the only limits.

Gould’s Wall plays at the Atrium of the Royal Conservatory of Music, 273 Bloor St. W., to Aug. 12. Performances are sold out; waiting list information at tickets@rcmusic.ca or 1-888-408-0208.

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