Fado, the Saddest Music in the World Hits High Notes at the 2018 Victoria Fringe Festival

White Eagle Polish Hall
90 Dock Street
Victoria, BC

Aug 26, 28-31 8:00pm
Sept 01 8:00pm

One style of folk music from Portugal has a rich and very colourful history. Fado rose out of the political climate of the mid-19th century, and it was not until the 1970s when it came into wider acceptance. The New Statesman has a terrific overview of this history, and despite its auspicious beginnings, today’s generation embraced it and it became the song of a nation. Puente Theatre took on the challenge of dispelling the myths and explaining the generational divide in Fado, the Saddest Music in the World. This task did not go unnoticed when I went their opening night show at the Victoria Fringe Festival.

Luisa (Finn Letourneau) is out to rediscover her past. When she heads back to the old country to reconnect, she gets a little more than she bargained for. She has a dissertation she’s working on (this music’s relationship to kitsch) and she thought by staying academic, she can regain a little of her past. Her parents fled to Canada and made a new life. However, the calling is there, and the young lady seek answers. Music is sweetly interwoven in this play to reveal what her and mama (played by Cyllene Richmond) are going through. The story is cinema-style at its best, and the woes are not revealed until the finale.

This play is about expressing the pains which comes from the heart and soul. Life experiences make up a significant part of why Fado is loved. The scholar in me loved the comparisons to other musical genres, especially with how it relates to others like the Delta Blues. And the preamble to Amália Rodrigues‘ (The Queen of Fado) life story fits in. Her spirit lingers during this play. Sara Marreiros plays this character with subtlety as she lingers on the stage throughout the show. Her musical performances are like those title cards you see in a silent film, explaining a few details (sadly, I do not comprehend Portuguese). If only I had Babel Fish, to translate the songs into English can only enhance my understanding. No translation is fully needed though. Being present is enough to understand the emotional depth of the performance. [update: I received song translations from the director, and the words are very personal to each singer. Common themes include mariner and home life. Variations exist with even one song, like Black (Sail)boat.]

Besides the leading female cast, a poet and a curator of Rodrigues museum round out the ensemble. Both have secrets to hide, and whether they let those skeletons out of the closet can be telling.

This show uses live music to complement the tale. The sombre melancholy is at times energetic, and other times tearful. This show is worth looking at, and while the studio has no plans to tour at time of writing, (the backing by the BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts & the Vancouver Foundation can only go so far), a plan to visit Portugal may well be on order to further my study of “sad” music. Failing that, I feel it’s time to watch Macross: Love, Do You Remember? and the 1986 film Crossroads again.

5 Stars out of 5

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

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