In review: shadow box

In review: shadow box

Jenna Simeonov

Last night I went with conductor, pianist, and man of Against the Grain Theatre Topher Mokrzewski to hear The Bicycle Opera Project, at, well, a bike shop. Curbside Cycle on Bloor West was the first Toronto stop along Bike Opera’s tour of Nova Scotia and Ontario. Prior to the tour, the team held a residency in Cape Breton, presenting the new opera The Bells of Baddeck, by Dean Burry and Lorna MacDonald.

l-r: Ilana Waniuk, violin, Erika Nielsen, Cello, Wesley Shen, piano, Geoffrey Sirett, baritone & co-producer, Stephanie Tritchew, mezzo, Chris Enns, tenor, Sonja Rainey, production designer, Larissa Koniuk, soprano & artistic director. Credit: Graham Smith

The production they’ve brought across eastern Canada is shadow box, a collection of scenes and excerpts by living Canadian composers. Outside of Tapestry Opera, Canada’s largest hub for new opera, I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to hear so much Canadian opera in one spot. There was no apologizing for the lack of Puccini in their program, no qualifying of the scenes; instead, there were strong singers that told us complete stories, short as they were. Last night’s performance was one of the last in the shadow box tour, but instead of the scenes getting tired or watered-down, there was a comforting amount of confidence and chemistry among the cast. I could tell they had taken advantage of the repitition and gotten serious about saying something true.

After a now-standard introduction of the whole team by way of Christopher Thornborrow’s Ride of the Bicycle Bells, tenor Christopher Enns took on the role of Auctioneer/Emcee with the Prologue from John Burge’s The Auction. The Auctioneer became a recurring theme, serving as transitions between scenes. I thought it helped keep a great flow.

Larissa Koniuk and Christopher Enns in The Auction. Photo credit: Sonja Rainey.

shadow box is not to be missed, and I’ll tell you about a few of my highlights. Cecilia Livingston’s The Yellow Wallpaper is an eerie story of a woman’s struggle with mental illness, and her husband who struggles to understand her. Mezzo Stephanie Tritchew was beautifully tragic and not-quite-right, and we were immediately “on her side.” Chris Enns, as the husband, was a great foil, exasperated and benevolently ignorant, confident his tough love is helping. Soprano (and Bike Opera’s Artistic Director) Larissa Koniuk was the voice behind the wallpaper, totally terrifying.

Submission, by Dean Burry and David Yee, featured Chris Enns and baritone Geoffrey Sirett. I had seen this performed before at a Tap:Ex event with Tapestry Opera, and I remember it had me on the edge of my seat. Enns and Sirett were both beautiful actors in this story of two lovers, one set on starting a safe life together, the other caught between love and duty to his country. This was one of the scenes that I would have liked to see over the course of Bike Opera’s tour; it seemed very malleable, but still packed a punch.

I can’t resist a shout-out of Bianchi: A Five-Minute Bicycle Opera by Tobin Stokes. I had heard this and a few other scenes at the shadow box preview in May, at the Royal Conservatory’s 21C festival, and I was secretly looking forward to hearing it again. The whole piece is a 5-minute bike pun, and I do love a good pun. I think I heard 3 more puns than last time, so, baby steps.

L to R: Larissa’s shoe, Chris’ arms, awful mean snappidy bike chain, Geoffrey Sirett Credit: Ilana Waniuk.

For the first time in my opera-going life, I realized I was getting to hear some of these Canadian scenes for the second, even third time. How about that?

shadow box has two more performances in Toronto, tonight at the Music Gallery, 8pm, and tomorrow at Evergreen Brick Works, 7:30pm. It’s an engrossing show with serious talent, and I think Bike Opera will start an important trend of getting Canadian opera lots and lots of performance time. Bravi to the team; almost time to rest your weary legs!

For details and ticket information, follow the box office links below.

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