Bandits in the Valley opened yesterday at Todmorden Mills. It’s a site specific comic opera with words by Julie Tepperman and music by Benton Roark. The time is 1880. Sir George Taylor is the owner of the most productive paper mill in the British Empire but he wants more. Specifically he wants to convert the entire Don Valley to paper thus depriving the pesky bandits thereof of cover. He also wants Lily Pollard, the comely soprano lead of the travelling company he has engaged to stage The Pirates of Penzance as part of the mill’s 25th anniversary celebrations. He’s not the only one after Lily. She’s also the target of the female head of the troupe, Henri, and of Jeremiah, the bandit chief who is trying to obtain his inheritance. He in turn is pursued by the house maid (and his cousin) Birgitta and, in a purely brotherly way of course, another bandit, Freddy. In proper comic opera fashion a birthmark, naturally enough on Jeremiah’s buttock, is involved. Mayhem ensues.
Yesterday I finally managed to do something bike related in conjunction with Bicycle Opera Project’s current tour of Sweat. I got an early train out to Aldershot, biked to Hamilton and joined up with the bike tour of historic Hamilton organised by the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre to complement the opera, before seeing the afternoon performance of Sweat at WAHC. I’ll add some bikey/historical observations at the end but since this is an opera blog let’s cut to the chase.
I’ve seen opera in a lot of venues in Toronto, including several pubs, but last night was my first time at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club; the occasion being the first pub night hosted by Against the Grain Theatre. There was a pretty decent crowd and, somewhat to my surprise, a couple of decent beers on tap. There was also singing with Topher Mokrzewski at the keyboard of a piano almost as grotty as the one he made his AtG debut on. Perhaps unsurprisingly the line up was pretty impressive; Clarence Frazer, Stephanie Tritchew, Aaron Durand, Cait Wood and John Brancy plus a bonus drop in by no less than Krisztina Szabó. Rossini, Puccini, Donizetti, Bernstein and others all got a look in. It was loud, it was fun and the audience, not all of whom I suspect knew what they were in for, stayed. Further sessions are planned for the first Thursdays in November and December at the same venue.
Two announcements from MY Opera at their fundraiser yesterday. First, they have rebranded from Metro Youth Opera to MY Opera. I guess everybody is getting a little older! More exciting, their spring 2016 production will be Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia which is a definite departure into much darker territory for this company and a chance to see a work that isn’t performed too often. Dates and casting TBA.
The fundraiser itself was fun with some fine singing from, among others, Stephanie Tritchew, Lyndsay Promane, Asitha Tennekoon and Kelsey Vicary with Natasha Fransblow on keyboards. There was beer and silly hats and a vast quantity of rather good chicken wings. There was also a raffle and a photo booth thingy. And did I remember to mention the chicken wings.
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.
Last night’s late, late concert at the Conservatory was basically a preview of Bicycle Opera Project’s 2015 season. It’s a bit hard to say what the final show will be like as we got mainly excerpts last night and it just feels really different to be in a formal concert hall compared with the usual venues for BOP.
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. Continue reading →