The Canadians loved it - Poul Ruders' Handmaid's Tale was a great success in Toronto.
12th October 2004
Fantastic reviews in all the newspapers in Canada, full houses with more than 17,000 tickets sold, and standing ovations every evening all tell us the same story: Poul Ruders' opera has been a huge success in Toronto.
It took the opera four years to come to Canada, the country of Margaret Atwood, who created the story. However, artistic director and conductor Richard Bradshaw never had any doubts that this opera was going to Toronto when he saw it in Copenhagen in 2000. The question was how and when. Having seen it in London he decided that The Handmaid's Tale would open the 2004-05 season, bringing from London Stephanie Marshall, who performed the main character there, and Phyllida Loyd, the director from both Copenhagen and London. The rest of the singers were from the Canadian Opera Company. He made small cuts to the first act and the result in Toronto was a totally gripping opera, where the audience was absorbed into the opera and its cruel story.
Margaret Atwood was present at several of the performances, and she said that this opera had become even more relevant than in Copenhagen - three yeas after September 11 and after a right-wing religious ideology had taken over in the White House. The reviewer Tamara Bernstein from National Post took this as a point of departure in her review. "It is rare enough to attend an opera production where all the elements - story, libretto, acting, sets, costume, lighting - come together in crackling synergy that holds you in a vice-grip from beginning to end. But how often do you get to sit in an opera house knowing that the piece unfolding on stage really matters - right now, in our own world ... The opera gives us something no novel can: the force of communal experience. It's one thing to read a novel, quite another to experience Atwood's vision with thousands of others”.
All of the reviews praised Poul Ruders' music. Carl Morey wrote in Time: "...in opera, no matter how fine the libretto or the production, it is the music that counts. The strength of The Handmaid's Tale lies in Ruders' direct, emotional confrontation of the audience through his score." Tamara Bernstein wrote: "Ruders conjures a bleak, oppressed society without subjecting the audience to a bleak evening. The score is lively and colourful; an undercurrent of dread keeps the tension high".
The opera had its last performance on 9 October, but Richard Bradshaw has already announced that he will come to Copenhagen when the Royal Theatre premieres Poul Ruders' new opera Kafka's Trial on 12 March 2005.
Poul Ruders' opera has made a difference in Canada. That is the tale of the opera!