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R. Murray Schafer

Ambitious Crusade

Diego Matamoros and Jacob Abrahamse in <i>The Children's Crusade</i> (photo by Steve Wilkie).

Diego Matamoros and Jacob Abrahamse in The Children's Crusade (photo by Steve Wilkie).

Upon arriving at the derelict warehouse that plays host to The Children’s Crusade, audience members are shepherded into a curtained-off area that functions as a makeshift lobby. You stand, and as showtime nears and the crowd swells, so does the excitement. You begin to feel as all performers must, waiting in the wings of the “theatre,” full of anticipation.

A new opera by renowned Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer with direction by Tim Albery, The Children’s Crusade receives its world premiere in a six-show run as part of Luminato. Inspired by medieval legend, it chronicles the travels and travails of a young “holy child” (boy soprano Jacob Abrahamse) on a mission from God to unite Christians, Jews and Muslims through love, where force has previously failed. To this end, Schafer’s libretto embraces the ideas of childhood innocence, purity and passion, and asks how they are able to withstand the cruelty and cynicism of the older, allegedly wiser world.

Staged in a “found” space—a vast warehouse in downtown Toronto’s west end—this crusade involves more than 100 performers, including the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, musicians from the Toronto Consort playing an array of period instruments, and well-known theatre actor Diego Matamoros. The ranks grow much larger when one considers that each member of the audience is also, in essence, a player in this epic show. The crowd becomes a part of the holy child’s entourage, joining his trek to Jerusalem, moving around the warehouse space and bearing witness as he convinces other orphans and street urchins of his quest, endures the comic scorn of the French king, is enticed by the sins of the flesh and finally reaches the sea, which, he hopes, will bear him to the Holy Land. Audience members are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes, to make the 90-minute journey less taxing. (If your legs are worn out by the end of the performance, consider it a further layer of the performance. You can now empathize further with those children who walked across a continent, tired and hungry, but spurred by their belief in the goodness of humanity.)

Schafer’s score is somewhat minimalist–recitative-heavy vocal performances punctuated by burst of brass, sinuous arpeggios from the zither, and even the occasional eerie melody played on a saw–and surprisingly populist, encompassing everything madrigals to burlesque-style music and shored up by identifiable motifs. But it’s the staging that is truly the star of this show. The warehouse space is huge, yet almost every corner of it is utilized. By this writer’s count there are eight major movements engaged in by the performers and audience; the amount of coordination necessary to pull them off is extremely high. That it is so successful is a testament to the scope of director Albery’s vision and talent. It also means that, even in a festival packed with works that could be described as “unique,” “innovative” and “ambitious,” The Children’s Crusade stands out.

June 5, 6, 8 to 11. 153 Dufferin St., 8 p.m., $40. Visit Ticketmaster or the T.O. Tix booth at Yonge-Dundas Square to purchase tickets.

Luminato To-Do, Day Two

Luminato’s opening weekend continues with music, dance, art and much more.

Jacob Abrahamse as Stephen, the holy child, in <i>The Children's Crusade</i> (photo by Steve Wilkie).

Jacob Abrahamse as Stephen, the holy child, in The Children's Crusade (photo by Steve Wilkie).

SATURDAY JUNE 6

The Children’s Crusade
Marvel at the world premiere of a Luminato-commissioned opera renowned composer R. Murray Schafer. Based on a horrific (and historically disputed) 13th-century escapade when thousands of children are said to have joined an ill-fated journey to the Holy Land, the show features a cast of more than 100, including many members of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company. Performed before a standing audience in a warehouse “theatre,” this is a musical crusade you won’t want to miss.
153 Dufferin St., 8 p.m., $40.

Family Dance Party
Are there any budding guitarists in your family? Why not take them to Yonge-Dundas Square for the Family Dance Party, a free event celebrating guitar music. Show off your shredding skills during air guitar lessons, or partake in some guitar-inspired craftmaking. Rock on!
Yonge-Dundas Square, 11 a.m., free.

Tony Oursler
One of North America’s preeminent multimedia artists, Tony Oursler, has taken over Grange Park with a fascinating—and potentially disturbing—installation. His latest public piece deals with modes of communication and the ways in which we connect through mass culture, among other things.
Grange Park (McCaul & Dundas streets, just south of the Art Gallery of Ontario), for the duration of Luminato, free.

The Great Canadian Tune
Visit the festival’s hub to witness—or better yet, be a part of—Guiness World Record history. Here, guitarists from far and wide are invited to assemble and strum Neil Young’s classic “Helpless,” in what may turn out to be the world’s biggest jam session; only 1,803 players are needed to beat the current record-holder, Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany. Win or lose, it’s bound to be a great time.
Yonge-Dundas Square, 2 p.m., free.