I’ve seen some amazing musical performances and captivating art exhibits in my life, but it’s rare that I get to see them together at the same time. I had the opportunity last weekend to attend an artistic event that sits in its own category, entirely unique in terms of genre and style.
People often misjudge Ottawa for lacking in innovation when it comes to art and culture. It may not have the flair of Montreal or the metropolitan presence of Toronto but in its quiet cafes, tiny galleries and re-purposed art spaces there is a great deal of experimentation going on.
“Love, Dear Love” tells the tragic story of three women and the love they have towards the men in their lives, a love which eventually leads to their undoing. This multi-disciplinary performance interweaves two of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, King Lear and Othello, by bringing to the forefront the voices of Cordelia, Desdemona and her friend Emilia.
Rebecca Gray originally composed the music and vocals for “Love, Dear Love” as a piece for her music composition class at the University of Ottawa. She took the words from Shakespeare and rearranged them to create monologues for each of the women, finishing off the piece with a duet between Desdemona and Emilia.
Rebecca is heading off to the University of Toronto to do her Master in Music and this performance of “Love, Dear Love” was something of a triumphant finale to her undergrad. Trained as an operatic singer, Rebecca sang soprano, giving life to the story of Cordelia with long mournful notes and mounting emotion.
Her friend, and fellow University of Ottawa graduate, Susan Brown sang soprano as the doomed Desdemona, infusing the story with a passion that gave the performance a chilling quality. A strings quartet, comprised of Christina Deaville, Emma Gauthier-Mamaril, Jaya Paquette-Jager, and Jaeyong Chong, filled out the vocals with haunting music.
The event was held in a small modest venue — a garage converted into an art venue — and it became stuffy as the audience crowded in. But as soon as the show began, the amazing music and vocals filled every square inch of the room. People often use the cliché of goosebumps to describe the feeling one gets from a beautiful voice, but what else is there that is so accurate?
As a musical performance it was beautifully executed, but what made it even more striking were the visual elements that accompanied the show. Rachel Gray, Rebecca’s sister, had been inspired by the idea of resurrecting Shakespeare’s tragic women after hearing her sister’s piece for the first time. They decided to put their artistic talents together and collaborate on bringing this vision to its final stage.
Rachel is currently finishing up her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Ottawa, and for “Love, Dear Love” she created a set of tall black and white paintings on long rolls of canvas. These hung the full height of the room from ceiling to floor, surrounding the stage like tapestries.
The paintings echoed the mood of the music, sombre yet majestic in their imagery, full of movement and chaos. Bodies and faces partially buried in a mess of criss-crossing overlapping lines evoked the desperation and darkness of the music.
Throughout the performance, lights were projected onto the walls, flickering over the walls like sunlight passing through tree tops. The light shifted with the music, growing brighter with the rise of crescendos and dimming when it faded. This video was the work of Matthieu Hallé, who was also responsible for opening the show and setting the mood with a short silent film, showing two young women wandering through a natural landscape.
This combination of music, literature, art and film was a very interesting approach to material that has been interpreted so many different ways already. “Love, Dear Love” aimed to take more classical art forms, like opera and fine art, and make it accessible to the average viewer, said Rachel.
As far as I’m concerned, the only downside of the whole performance was that it only happened once. But even something fleeting can have long-lasting effects. Rachel has said she hopes to be able to pursue more collaborative art projects in the future, alongside other artists, musicians, dancers, and art enthusiasts.