Storytelling, puppetry and music combine to fairy tale effect on the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra’s website.
Taking the Stage is the latest video concert in the RDSO’s Press Play series. It features a chamber orchestra and storyteller/singer Mandy McKee tackling the vocals, as well as some imaginative puppetry.
Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat and Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer’s Beauty and the Beast are on the program. Both works incorporate theatre and view folk/fairy tales from a decidedly unsentimental, 20th Century viewpoint.
The lengthier Stravinsky piece, led by guest conductor Cosette Justo Valdés, of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, tells the story of a soldier. On his way home from the war, the young man meets the devil in disguise who tricks him into trading his fiddle for a book that will allow him to see the future and make his fortune.
The chamber players revel in performing Stravinsky’s eclectic score, which incorporates influences ranging from ragtime to Bach and Klesmer music.
But much of the magic springs from McKee, who uses abstracted puppets made of newspapers to represent the soldier and the devil.
With deft hand movements and a bell-like voice, she creates an almost hypnotic effect, making it hard to look away.
L’Histoire de Soldat, co-created with Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz, is based on a Russian folktale. It was initially described as a work that should be “read, played and danced.” While McKee’s performance only encompasses the first two, she makes her two-dimensional puppets dance across their flat background.
RDSO music director Claude Lapalme conducts Schafer’s one-act chamber opera of Beauty and the Beast, which was originally composed for contralto Maureen Forester in 1979.
McKee uses her rich operatic voice to represent five different characters. She also uses a crankie box (called a moving panorama by the Victorians who invented it), to help tell the familiar story.
By turning two cranks, a roll of paper with silhouetted characters spools across a lighted screen, advancing the tale of a girl who transforms a formidable beast through her love.
McKee, a Red Deer native, is a talented multidisciplinary artist who has worked with a variety of Calgary based theatre companies. She has also performed at puppetry festivals in France, Germany and Belgium and has performed in Swedish translated opera productions of Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck) and Gianni Schicchi (Puccini) in Sweden. This is her third appearance with Red Deer Symphony Orchestra musicians.
Emil Agopian Films shot the video, made possible with a Canada Council for the Arts grant, with audio production by Mandy’s brother, Morgan McKee.
You can watch the fascinating results at rdso.ca/taking-the-stage.