Yesterday saw the 21st and final performance for this season for the Bicycle Opera Project; the conclusion of a five week, fourteen city trip around Ontario. Fittingly for an eco-opera venture it took place at the Evergreen Brickworks in a bare brick and sheet metal industrial setting.The programme consisted of seven pieces; short works or excerpts from longer ones, all by contemporary Canadian composers and scored or rescored by them for the unusual ensemble of keyboards, flute and clarinet that accompanied the singers.
First up was an excerpt from Brian Current’s Airline Icarus. They played the scene where the passengers and stewardess are expressing their hopes and, more vehemently, fears. It’s an uncomfortably funny scene and it was played here in a more broadly comedic manner than in Tim Albery’s original staging. That proved very effective as a stand alone especially with most of the audience up so close. Fine performances from all four singers with Chris Enns as an extremely angsty academic, Stephanie Tritchew flirtatiously displaying her considerable charms and some neat eye rolling from Larissa Koniuk and all anchored by Geoffrey Sirett reprising the role of the Businessman. I was reminded too what a fine score this is, even in the reduced arrangement used here.
Next up was A little rain must fall by Chris Thornborrow. I’d seen this before at Tapestry Shorts and enjoyed it. It’s a wicked little piece about a serial killer girlfriend (Stephanie) and her boyfriend victim (Geoffrey). As performed by therm it was very good fun.
Next we get an excerpt from L’homme et le ciel by Adam Scime. This is a work in progress with a French libretto. It’s an entirely serious work that I look forward to seeing in final form (probably next year at FAWN opera). Unfortunately the projected surtitles were pretty much invisible from where I was sitting which made the drama hard to follow. Strong singing from Larissa and Geoff.
The first half of the programme closed out with the Rapunzel scene from Dean Burry’s Brothers Grimm. Everybody gets a look in here and one wonders how many times Chris must have sung this in his time with The Ensemble Studio. Neat use of bicycler parts as props here.
After the interval we started with (What rhymes with) Azimuth? by Ivan Barbotin. It’s a boy meets girl piece performed by Stephanie and Geoff. Itled to a post show conversation about just how much contemporary opera is continuing to repeat classic tropes; boy meets girl, jealous lovers, handsome prince wins girl etc. Worth thinking about.
This line of thought was further fed by James Rolfe’s Rosa. This is a piece about a woman who has lost her child and run away to become a prostitute and is followed by her newly religious husband. It’s a powerful piece with a really uncomfortably violent undertone. It was performed with great intensity by Larissa and Chris.
The last piece was specially composed for the tour. It’s a piece by Tobin Stokes titled Bianchi: A Five Minute Bicycle Opera. Geoff and Chris play competitors for the favours of fellow cyclist Bianchi (Stephanie). It’s a madcap piece with a Looney Tunes flavour and a lot of bicycle puns. It’s starts with a gag about Bianchi have trouble with her handlebars which someone points out would be even worse if they were Shostakovich bars. From there it’s an unpunctured chain of ghastly double meanings.
Great support throughout from the trio of Wesley Shen – keyboard, Chelsea Shanoff – saxophone and Tristan Durie – flute. Also, much credit to stage director Liza Balkan for creating imaginative stagings with very limited resources.
Photo credits: Terry Lim