That is where Michael Patrick Albano was one afternoon this summer when the inspiration hit him. Stage director in the University of Toronto Faculty of Music Opera training program, Albano was at the time working on an adaptation of Sophocles' Antigone, but could not help but overhear a common thread in the surrounding conversations. “All around me, everybody is talking about Rob Ford. Everybody,” he said with a grin. “I just thought to myself, I think I’m missing the boat here. This course, which is supposed to drag opera—kicking and screaming by it’s heels.. into the 21st century, we should perhaps be doing something a bit more topical,” he said. And Rob Ford: The Opera, was born.
Albano was not alone in the effort to combine an often inaccessible medium with Toronto’s most-talked about citizen; he worked with Masters and PhD student composers at the University to write the production. “It’s amazing that the basic issues which I tackled when I first wrote the piece in the summer are still very much valid, even more visible than perhaps they were,” Albano noted.
Audience members expecting an opera as over dramatic, as over sized, and as offensive as its lead character (visions of Ford in a traditional Valkyrie costume, perhaps?) are not catered to. “I realize that Mr. Ford is quite unpopular with many Torontonians, but I wasn’t interested at all in trashing him; that’s not very theatrically interesting,” said Albano.
Instead, he aimed to take on a more surreal tone. “I’ve always been a huge fan of theatre of the absurd; and that sort of approach has never really found its way into opera,” he continued, referencing a dream sequence in which Magaret Atwood may or may not be God. “When you take the parameters that far, then you have a tremendous opportunity for more theatrical richness and humour... One always wants to avoid what Aaron Sorkin called ‘eat your vegetables’ writing. That never works in theatre; theatre is still a place of irreverence,” Albano observed.
While it seems unlikely that the mayor will add the namesake performance to his repertoire of appearances, Albano remains optimistic. “I think it would be a tremendous gesture of goodwill...I think his presence would be very much appreciated and I think he might enjoy the piece,” he said. Equally exciting—or perhaps more so—is the rumour that Atwood will be in attendance.
Rob Ford: The Opera will be staged 2:30PM Sunday, January 22, at Macmillan Theatre in the Edward Johnson Building. Admission is free.