The Bicycle Opera Project (The Bicycle Opera Project) Toronto Fringe 2012 Review

If you find yourself traveling along the 401 in the upcoming week, you had better take heed. Not only must you keep your eyes peeled for death defying critter crossings, but you should also be aware of a new pack that has taken to our roadways. Individually, they go by many names. But as a group, this “tour de wheel” is called The Bicycle Opera Project.

That’s right! A posse of instrument slinging, bicycle-wheeling artists will be barreling across this land, sending out their operatic warning that music moves! They are united by a single desire: to make contemporary Canadian opera accessible to new audiences. With that goal in mind, they will be pedaling their operatic mosaic to numerous towns along Lake Ontario.

This great adventure started on Saturday June 30th, at Toronto’s Rustic Owl. This intimate café space allowed a more personalized experience for the viewers. By selecting a sociable, everyday environment audiences were encouraged to consider if opera could actually have a place in our daily lives.

The Bicycle Opera Project is facing generations of stereotypes, and the assumption that opera is a dead art form. For anyone who is not a regular patron of the opera, you might enter wondering when the fat lady is supposed to sing, or how this project could possibly make this classically styled music connect with contemporary situations.

To start with, there are no evening gowns in sight. Instead, the group uses minimalistic costuming choices to represent their characters. Not only will this make their commute undoubtedly more manageable, but it also promotes the idea that opera isn’t “just for rich people”.

The costuming makes no attempt to disguise the fact that each performer is singing numerous roles. In fact, this workshop-style forum makes it clear that the group is giving their audiences the chance to experience multiple works, rather than seeing complete productions.

However, it was the pieces that had the most obvious costuming choices that seemed to allow the audience to connect with the characters. The easier it was to recognize the scene, by its characters and props, the more accessible and enjoyable the music became. In those select instances, the production evolved from being a concert, to being a performance.

When many people talk about opera, they are thinking about the music itself, rather than a style akin to the Broadway musical. As elements of entertainment and theatricality were added to some of the scenes, the audience seemed to become more engaged in the musical storyline.

The audience erupted in giggles when they recognized the characters interacting in a contemporary, down to earth manner. It was in those few moments that the human side of this prestigious art form allowed me to connect with the scene.

This was most obvious in the performance that capped off the evening. The performers captured the childlike energy of their youthful characters as they hunted for pirates and teddy bears in their bedtime adventure. If The Bicycle Opera Project continues to strive to produce scenes with that level of performance energy and scene development, they may very well prove that opera is far from dead.

All of these artists are dedicated to this accessibility mandate, which is vital for the survival of opera. It was wonderful to see the composer of each opera come out to support this project. With such musically talented performers and dedicated composers on board, it will be interesting to watch this project develop.

Are you feeling disappointed that you missed out on this opportunity? Well, you should not fret yet! You can follow The Bicycle Opera Project along the 401.

So, grab your wheels, and head to the roads! The tour has begun!

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