My trip to Stratford is over, but the cycling singers of the Bicycle Opera Project are still there. By the time I post this they’ll have finished Saturday afternoon’s show. A pair of performances remain Sunday at Revel Caffè presented under the auspices of Stratford Summer Music, followed by other performances elsewhere over the next couple of weeks.
The conversation around bold opera ventures such as this one usually mentions the precarious health of opera. For example, Peter Gelb has just threatened to lock out the various unions of the Metropolitan Opera, and opera fans are holding their collective breath. The passing of tenor great Carlo Bergonzi could be mistaken for news from another century. We remember a career that ended in the 20th century, in an art-form that goes back even further. As we read of civilians dying in various theaters of war, the wars staged or sung inside actual theaters seem especially poignant right now. Yet we need them more than ever, however irrelevant they may sometimes seem. Opera will not stop global warming or cure cancer. But in the meantime we go on living, never more vividly than in our performing arts culture.
For all the laughs I experienced at BOP’s Program A Friday morning, Program B did not leave me laughing quite so much. I wonder if that’s because of where I sat? whereas my experience yesterday was to be immersed in the show seated at the front with singers right in my face, today I was at the back of the stage, staring at the serious and verklempt expressions on Stratford faces surprised by grand passions while they sipped their morning coffee. How could I laugh (even if there were several funny moments)?
We began with the romance of (What rhymes with) Azimuth, music composed by Ivan Barbotin with libretto by Liza Balkan (who is BOP’s stage director). A man and woman (played by Stephanie Tritchew, mezzo-soprano, and Geoffrey Sirett, baritone) who explore two very different discursive pathways, find meaning and a connection.
The second work is an excerpt from Airline Icarus, music composed by Brian Current and libretto by Anton Piatigorsky.
This opera premiered by Soundstreams in June. The café becomes part of a jet, complete with a flight attendant bringing around refreshments, in a realm poised on the edge between laughter and tears.
Third was Rosa, with music composed by James Rolfe and libretto by Camyar Chai, a powerful scene between two people that was also the most intensely sung. I wish I could say I know what it was about, although I don’t care (?). The specifics of who Rosa is, and why the two people are arguing and later reconciling in sobs are details that are less important than that Larissa Koniuk and Chris Enns were very good in the indecently intimate space in which they were forced to perform, and that they made me care about them and believe in their commitment to the performance.
We concluded with Bianchi the short bicycle opera with words and music by Tobin Stokes that also finished yesterday’s program A. Here at last was a place where laughter filled the space.
The Bicycle Opera Project may be riding into your town, as they continue their performances into August.