While director Larry Weinstein was making the documentary Inside Hana’s Suitcase in 2009, he was secretly working on a film of a different kind – a political comic opera about the trials and tribulations of Canada’s 18th prime minister, Brian Mulroney.
From left are Stephanie Anne Mills (Mila Mulroney), Mark Breslin (priest) and Rick Miller (Brian Mulroney). [Rhombus Media photo] (video)
“It was secretive because the subject is very explosive and political,” Weinstein said over lunch at a Bloor Street café.
“If Brian Mulroney got hold of it before – or some of the people who were featured in the film – they may have done things to stop it. But also because the genre is so unheard of – nobody gets it when we say we are doing a political comic satirical opera about Mulroney. People can’t figure it out because they’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Mulroney: The Opera premières with a matinée on April 16 and an encore screening on April 27 at select theatres across the country.
This movie is not the first comic opera Weinstein has created with writer Dan Redican and composer Alexina Louie. They collaborated on the Bravo!FACT (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent) shorts, Toothpaste (2002), about a couple arguing over who left the cap off the toothpaste tube, and Burnt Toast (2005), a series of comic mini-operas about romantic relationships. Both films received critical acclaim.
“What I love about opera is taking something as mundane as in Toothpaste and Burnt Toast and elevating it to opera,” explains Weinstein, whose films have garnered almost every award possible.
“In the case of Mulroney: The Opera, what is fascinating is that politicians are already larger than life – like Mulroney with his baritone voice. They kind of act as they project. And there’s something about the humour of taking these people’s lives and putting it into operatic form that’s so much fun, and it’s crazy.”
And crazy it is! Mulroney: The Opera is an ingenious parody. Mulroney, seen as misguided and egotistical, is portrayed by Rick Miller (former host of the Just for Laughs TV show) and voiced by bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch. The film exposes scandals involving Mulroney’s cabinet ministers – for example, defence minister Robert Coates’ (Sean Cullen) visit to a German strip club.
In a ridiculously witty scene with a stripper, Coates sings, “Who can blame me? Can you blame me?”
To satirize John Fraser’s (Dan Lett) “Tunagate” fiasco, the minister of fisheries sings, “I let them sell the tainted fish… stinky, stinky, stinky fish… I meant well… sorry for the stinky smell.”
Weinstein, Redican and Louie masterfully marry satire and art, turning Mulroney’s Tories into babbling idiots.
Other actors include Stephanie Anne Mills as Mulroney’s wife, Mila, Colin Mochrie as Jean Chretien and Wayne Best as Pierre Trudeau.
Many cast members lip-synch lyrics while opera singers like soprano Zorana Sadiq, tenor Martin Houtman and baritone Joel Katz voice their parts. Houtman and Katz also appear on screen as the angel and the devil, respectively, offering Mulroney advice, but give up, chanting, “Good luck, pal, you’re on your own!”
In keeping with Weinstein’s style, the movie is set in esthetically striking locations. Mulroney and Trudeau “tango” in Casa Loma (over Meech Lake) to Habanera from Carmen; Pioneer Village is transformed into Baie-Comeau, Mulroney’s picturesque hometown; and the Leslie Street Spit creates a wonderful backdrop for Brian and Mila’s romantic beach scene reminiscent of From Here to Eternity until Karlheinz Schreiber of the Airbus scandal appears and slips Mulroney an envelope.
Is Weinstein secretly scripting another opera? Maybe the Royals will be his next subject – with William and Kate’s wedding a few weeks away, there’s plenty of folly there!
For tickets and screening information, go to www.mulroneytheopera.ca.