I was back last night to see Bicycle Opera Project’s Shadowbox again. This time it was in the more intimate, and highly appropriate, setting of a bicycle shop; Curbside Cycle on Bloor Street. Minus the high roof of the Davenport-Perth Community Centre it was much easier to understand the sung text which is pretty important with this show. The show is an interesting concept. It’s still a series of scenes by different composers and librettists but they are linked thematically by the common idea of memory and dramatically by the auction of objects that set up each scene The auctioneer is rather brilliantly played by Chris Enns who, curiously, seemed quite sinister at Davenport-Perth (like something out of a German Expressionist movie perhaps) but seemed quite avuncular close up.
Things kicked off with Christopher Thornborrow’s Ride of the Bicycle Bells; a piece for, well, bicycle bells. It was presented tongue in cheek with all of the customary formalities of a symphony concert under conductor Wesley Shen. Then it’s straight into Shadowbox and John Burge and Eugene Benson’s The Auction.
The first auction item is a roll of wallpaper which takes us into The Yellow Wallpaper (music: Cecilia Livingston, libretto: Nicolas Billon). This is a piece about what a young woman may or may not be seeing or hearing. Certainly no-one else does. Shades of Gaslight and The Turn of the Screw. Nicely done by Stephanie Tritchew as the woman on the edge of madness and Chris Enns as her unsympathetic physician/husband. This is also the first time for Sonja Rainey’s projections which make such an impact in a show where sets, costumes and lighting all fit in two bicycle trailers.
A Russian war medal takes us into Submission (music: Dean Burry, libretto: David Yee). This is a piece about two male lovers (Geoff Sirett and Chris Enns) about to flee persecution in a Russia of the not too distant future when one is drafted and decides his love of country overrides his hatred of the government and his fears for the future. It’s physical and visceral and pretty dark for Dean Burry.
A decorative wreath takes us to Our Lady of Esquimalt Road (music: Leila Lustig libretto: Geoff Hargreaves); a piece about religious mania. Janet, sung by Larissa Koniuk, is convinced that she has been singled out by God and is no longer quite of this world to the anger and incomprehension of her rather coarse father, sung by Geoff Sirett. Her step-mother, sung by Stephanie Tritichew tries, with limited success, to keep the piece. This is a really uncomfortable piece with delusion very evident and violence just under the surface.
One of Alexander Graham Bell’s kites takes us into the Dreaming Duet from Dean Burry and Lorna MacDonald’s new work The Bells of Baddeck. This is a completely different musical and dramatic universe from anything else in the show. It seems to be a sort of Nova Scotian Sound of Music without the Nazis and with maybe a few Disney unicorns and ponies thrown in. Geoff and Larissa give it a fair go as the revoltingly happy couple.
A watch takes us back into the darker world of What time is it now? (music: Anna Höstman, libretto: P.K. Page). Stephanie gives an outstandingly mature performance as an old woman who lost her lover when young and who is now losing her faculties. Larissa plays her younger self in a series of flashbacks while Chris Enns plays her exasperated carer. This may be the most disturbing piece in a show that isn’t short of thought provoking moments.
Ballet slippers take us into a piece with, in some ways, a similar theme; The Blind Woman (music: James Rolfe, libretto: David Yee). Here Larissa plays a dancer descending into blindness while Stephanie plays her shadow who, involuntarily, is leaving her.
The show (almost) plays out with Jocelyn Mortlock’s atmospheric piece Asylum but it really wouldn’t be a BOP show without Tobin Stokes rather specialized Bianchi: A five-minute Bicycle Opera. After all it’s become their raleighing cry.
In summary, while there are moments of humour introduced into the show by aspects Liza Balkan’s staging, overall, it’s pretty dark. Certainly much darker than BOP’s previous shows. The linking narrative is very effective and really does make the show a coherent piece rather than a random collection of sketches. All four singers give really strong performances and are very well supported by the trio of Wesley Shen on keyboards, Hana Waniuk on violin and Erika Nielsen on cello. It’s well worth seeing.
There are two more performances for this run; at the Music Gallery tonight and the Evergreen Brickworks on Sunday evening. Worth seeing if you can.