Tonight: Actor Graham Abbey sees spring of Henry V in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons


Graham Abbey in the decidedly un-Shakesearean Casino Jack.

One of the spring’s more fascinating small-scale concerts could be the mix of Shakespeare and Antonio Vivaldi being presented by Talisker Players, actor Graham Abbey and his Groundling Theatre Company.

Talisker tries to mix words and music in all of its concerts, but this is a rarer instance where there are specific links where one directly influences the other.

The Talisker Players and Abbey crossed paths at Massey College, where John Fraser had brought the Canadian actor in for an annual reading of founding master Robertson Davies’ Ghost Story one year.  In the process, they discovered a shared interest in mixing the words of Shakespeare with music.

Abbey says that, for years now, he has been working on a large-scale theatre piece he calls The Breath of Kings, “an amalgamation of the first four plays in Shakespeare’s History Cycle (Richard II, the two Henry IV plays and Henry V).”

“My master plan with Groundling Theatre, the company I started, is to mount that in a small space in Toronto,” says Abbey.

As a teaser, Abbey has mixed highlights of Breath of Kings with Antonio Vivaldi’s violin concertos known as The Four Seasons. There are strong parallels to be drawn between summer, fall and winter and “the spring of Henry V,” he explains.

The performance being offered tonight and tomorrow at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, “is a remount of a version we did at Massey (College), in their upper library.” The Vivaldi has, of course, been adapted for chamber forces.

“I’ve done 13 seasons at Stratford as a Shakespearean actor, since I was 10 years old,” says Abbey. “But I never went to school for theatre or Shakespeare. But as far as Shakespeare’s language goes, I’ve always heard it as music. You can mix anything with it, if it’s done properly.”

“I was really looking for a dance between the music and the text,” he says of the Vivaldi pairing. He speaks of them moving together in a way where, at moments, the text is in the forefront and, at other, the music takes centre stage.

“There are moments in Vivaldi, of all things, so that, now that I listen to the Four Seasons, all I can think of are those moments that we put together in the histories. It’s an interesting piece,” he explains.

As for the actual, final Breath of Kings, Abbey says he is close to securing a venue for an upcoming season, involving about a dozen actors and a venue with a maximum size of 200 people.

“It’s been dancing in my head for so many years,” Abbey says, laughing. “It’s so nice to be able to get it out from there.”

The Breath of Kings/Four Seasons portion of the programme takes about 40 minutes.

The rest of the evening consists of Shakespeare evoked in song, featuring GTA mezzo Norine Burgess.

For all the details, and ticket information, click here.

John Terauds

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