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October 2000 - Nr. 10


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Views and Reviews

by Alidë Kohlhaas

Alidë Kohlhaas

Fr. Mark Curtis is a musical performer in a class all of his own. He opened the fall music season with the release of his latest CD, "the bridge to us all" at a gala that celebrated his 25th anniversary at music making, and raised funds for the future Rose Cherry’s Home (a children’s hospice). Fr. Mark, who writes and composes all of his own songs and sings them with a fine lyric tenor, can be called a balladeer in the old sense. In "the bridge to us all" he returns to his spiritual roots, yet at the same time these latest songs are also very much about earthly love, and all tell a story to anyone willing to listen closely.010AK-V Curtis.jpg (49345 bytes)

Among those accompanying him on this new CD are Canada’s three-time fiddle champion Scott Woods on violin, Shawn O’Brien on acoustic guitar, pianist Christabel Pinto, Bill McKinlay on harp, and the St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn Junior School Choir. Their combined efforts coalesce into a perfect backdrop to Fr. Mark’s gentle, yet highly expressive voice and the lyrics, which speak to us all. Wood’s violin has a sweet, emotionally charged timbre, which complements the voice to perfection, but never more so than in Be By My Side, one of 14 songs on the album. "the bridge to us all" is 41:21 minutes long, and is produced by WordSong Communications Inc. It is available on CD or tape, and is sold at various locations in Milton or by calling (905)876-3379.

A joined performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir is in itself not an unusual event, but to appear together in front of a movie screen, is. The TSO and the choir, along with the outstanding contralto Ewa (sic) Podle_, performed overshadowed by a screen at Massey Hall to present Sergei Prokofiev’s music for Alexander Nevsky, a film by Sergei M. Eisenstein. This mixed-media event can be viewed as the climax of the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival. The film is a cult icon of the left, who declares it Eisenstein’s masterpiece.

The score, which has come down to us as a symphonic cantata, has long been among my favourite Prokofiev works. To hear it broken up in pieces, as it necessarily had to be to accompany the film, robbed it of some of its force. Yet, the TSO, directed by Michael Lankester, the Mendelssohn Choir, and Ewa Podle_’s sublimely coloured voice met the challenge well to create a whole from the parts. The music drives the film and helps one over the contrivances of Soviet Social Realism with its wooden acting, its excessive heroic style, and unrealistic images.

For today’s viewer, the film is not only dated in style, but compares poorly to the technology of western films of the same period. Alexander Nevsky was made in 1938, and after the 1941 invasion of Russia by Hitler, was the perfect propaganda tool against the invaders. Nevsky, a Russian national hero and saint, was the only historic figure acceptable to the Soviets. He won a victory over the Swedes in 1240 and in April, 1242 defeated the Teutonic Knights in a battle on the ice of Lake Peipus, Estonia. The knights, in their metal armour and on horse, proved too heavy for the ice and drowned when it cracked beneath them; one of those historic lessons not learned by later invaders of Russia. Nevsky, however, must be seen as a strange hero since he collaborated with the Mongol invaders, who in 1246 made him grand prince of Kiev, and five years later prince of Vladimir by deposing Alexander’s brother Andrei, who had inherited the state following their father’s death in 1246.

William Shakespeare knew well how to use brotherly conflicts and betrayals in his plots. He did so in a most amusing and charming way in As You Like It, which runs at Stratford until Nov. 4. This production, pared down to its essence on a simple, but effective set, stars Donald Carrier as Orlando and Lucy Peacock as Rosalind. While their performances captivate us, it is Brian Tree as Touchstone, the court fool, who creates some of the most memorable moments in this production. His portrayal of the fool is well complemented by Juan Chioran’s Jaques (sic), the melancholy philosopher, who gave us these famous lines, "All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

Novelist, playwrite, poet Oscar WildeSince this year is the 100th anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s death, Stratford has presented a whole series of plays by and about him. The final in this series was Maxim Mazundar’s Oscar Remembered, an outstanding one-man show starring Michael Therriault. In it, Lord Alfred Douglas, or Bosie, as he liked to be called, tells his side of the story of the relationship between him and Wilde. Douglas, of course, was the downfall of Wilde. The play is entirely Mazundar’s take on the relationship. Whether or not one agrees with it, is quite immaterial, for the playwright outlined a fascinating picture, and William Hutt, who directed it, created a fitting frame for it. Most of all, Therriault, who displayed great maturity in the role, added the required colour to complete the picture.

Gerhard P. Bassler is a history professor at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. His latest book, Alfred Valdmanis and the Politics of Survival, combines in erudite fashion a piece of Canadian/Newfoundland history with that of Nazi and post-war Germany, and Latvia through the person of Alfred Valdmanis. This man, who had an instinct for survival under several autocratic and totalitarian governments, finally foundered on the rock of Newfoundland, and perhaps, the unfamiliar ways of democracy.

Joey Smallwood thought highly of the man, and then turned against him when he was charged with defrauding the Newfoundland government. Underneath all this lies the possibility that Smallwood used Valdmanis to fill the coffers of Newfoundland’s Liberal Party. Bassler draws on considerable sources to tell the strange tale of a most enigmatic personality. At the same time we see most unflattering images of Smallwood emerging through written accounts, and in photographs taken in Germany, where he was wined and dined by industrialists, whose operations he wanted to entice to Newfoundland. [Alfred Valdmanis and the Politics of Survival, University of Toronto Press, 472 pages, $50.00]

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