A well-executed mashup: Tap:Ex Forbidden
What do you get when you write an opera for traditional Middle Eastern instruments that incorporates operatic elements, creative theatre, and a universal storyline then add a dash of transgendered rap in there? Tap:Ex Forbidden.
Led by the fearless Michael Hidetoshi Mori, Tapestry Opera presented their winter show - and it was a doozy. Forbidden tells the story of a young boy placed in solitary confinement for certain transgressions and is made to study, by rote, his religious teachings. During the process, Iblis (better known as Lucifer) shows up and asks the child, "why?" He shows the boy so many examples of how these books lead people astray. The show is an examination of human nature coupled with power and temptation.
"There are some things I am not supposed to know." Afarin Mansouri's score and Donna-Michell St. Bernard's libretto examine the forbidden through the eyes of a child's indignation at the word "no." The score uses a Tar (kind of an Iranian sitar) and Ney (A Middle-Eastern flute) and percussion (this guy was on FIRE) to create a wide variety of soundscapes, switching seamlessly from free-time soaring washes of what felt like plainsong to driving, rhythmic melodies that infused a pulse into the whole show. Mori's direction made excellent use of the limited space, with the use of two tables and two chairs the cast were able to manipulate it easily and create a wide variety of locations.
Singing the role of "the Child", Neema Bickersteth was incredible. Her awkward physical demeanour was a study in physical characterization and her voice sounded free and dramatic. Watching Bickersteth work on stage is a treat and I truly feel that she is one of Toronto's stage gems. Singing the role of Lucifer, and various other unsavoury characters, was Baritone Alexander Hajek. He played the various less than savoury characters with a confident swagger and a great sound. He sang a variety of styles very well and all while moving around quite a bit - trust me, I know how hard this is. Shirin Eskandani covered a wide variety of roles, most notably playing victim to Hajek, the whole while singing with a full, brilliant tone that covered a remarkable range - both melodically and dynamically. Definitely the most intriguing addition to the cast is that of transgender Iranian rapper Säye Sky. Sky flitted around the scenes and acted almost as an echo of Hajek's Lucifer through the conscience of each character. That, coupled with a dramatic performance as a young child terrorist dreaming of the rewards he'll be given, made it chilling and powerful.
I have to say that the addition of rap to opera was nothing short of invigorating. It felt current and cutting-edge without feeling like it was a send-up. It was a truly well-executed mashup of two very disparate styles of music-making and it left me craving more. Tapestry is always at the forefront of bringing us great, new, Canadian works and Forbidden is no exception. It makes me very excited to see their upcoming co-production with Canadian Stage, The Overcoat by James Rolfe and Morris Panych, which opens on March 27.