Fiddle and Drum Is Given its American premiere at the Paramount

By R.M. Campbell

Joni Mitchell, who made her name in the late 1960s and 1970’s as a folk singer, has spent most of her career in the United States. However, she was born in Canada and is still recognized as a Canadian artist. A few years ago Jean Grand-Maitre, artistic director of Alberta Ballet, approached Mitchell with the idea of setting a ballet on some of her songs. After some negotiations between the two, songs from the 1980’s were selected by Mitchell, most of which, she writes in the program “were poorly received in the 1980’s.” To that collection, she added a trio of songs, two of which have texts not by Mitchell — Rudyard Kipling and William Butler Yeats. In addition, the decor is a series of primarily abstract images created by Mitchell that are replicated on a disc suspended over the stage.

Tuesday night’s performance at the Paramount was the production’s American premiere.

There is a reason why those songs were poorly received. They are blown-up versions of folksy material, almost down to the last one completely mediocre. Thirty minutes was more than enough, with nearly two hours beyond the pale. One should note the capacity audience loved them all, or so it seemed. They were blasted over the Paramount’s amplification system, distorting the Mitchell’s slender soprano and collection of various instruments. There are whole genres of music that call for this kind of brash loudness. Mitchell’s songs and style do not. The volume is merely an assault on the ears.

Mitchell’s songs “continue “to question our modern world’s values,” Grand-Maitre asserts in the program. That is a portentous mission statement on the ballet. In fact, they are bland and over-reaching. It would have been helpful to have texts printed since they were smudged in blare of the amplification. The music had to tell the tale, and it did, to no one’s benefit. The audience took it as entertainment, which in fact it was. but not very good entertainment.

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