It’s not often I can say I’m going to see a new opera, certainly not one composed by an artist in his 20s. Calypso is a retelling of Odysseus’s fateful stay on Calypso’s island. Evan Lawson, Artistic Director of Forest Collective, composed and conducted the opera, with Libretto written by Samuel Yeo. The opera beautifully catches Calypso’s mournful wish for Odysseus to awake, and her brittle dreams that he might stay and love her.
Opening with almost dirge-like intensity, Calypso transports us to the eerie quiet of an island lost at sea. The evening light filtering through the windows of the Abbotsford Convent’s Rosina Auditorium plays well against the simmering music and the quiet entrance of the singers, who are pleasingly barefoot. Daniel Todd’s voice is strong and clear as he opens the opera, embodying Odysseus with a tense focus in his shoulders and face.
Todd’s sister and fellow opera singer, Janet Todd, sings with equal grace as Athena, her voice soaring easily atop moments of gentle calm in Lawson’s composition. Careful dissonance creeps into the music as we are introduced to the rich tones of Lotte Betts-Dean’s Calypso.
At times, the setting of the text was disjointed and the orchestral arrangement confused, but this was balanced by periods of transcendent musical focus and clarity. Lawson’s composition was at its most beautiful and successful in moments of calm, where individual voices and melodies shone. A lovely interlude with J. Todd singing against the backdrop of Hannah Lane’s harp was a good example of this, as was J. Todd and Betts-Dean’s beautifully sung duet.
Though the orchestra only occasionally achieved their potential on the night of the preview, when they were in sync, they played with power and coherence, the music melting into the voices of the singers. These moments were an exciting taste of more to come from Lawson.
The opera closes on an excellently unsettling and ambiguous tone, leaving the audience leaning forward for more. Calypso does not end in despair in Lawson’s opera, and nor do we. For a moment I thought this lovely ending was only a short break; I could have listened for much longer.
For a full cast list see the Forest Collective website.