Review: TAP:Ex Augmented Opera (Tapestry Opera/re:Naissance Opera)

Tap:EX blends opera with new age technology in their new Augmented Opera experience

TAP:EX Augmented Opera, Tapestry Opera’s latest installment of its Tap:EX series, unites form and content to explore the impact of technology on experience and memory. As my companion put it, Augmented Opera is like an operatic episode of Black Mirror, but the jury is hung on whether the technology is friend or foe.

We are participants in a Silicon Valley product unveiling session for Elysium, a cloud-based virtual reality technology that creates a customized afterlife where you exist within your best memories for eternity. To curate this tailored afterlife, the device must plumb the depths of your memories and experiences. A “random volunteer” from the audience, who introduces herself as Eurydice (Lauren Segal), is the first test subject.

The audience is blindfolded for the first half of the memory exploration that follows. The memories are enacted by three singers, each representing different aspects of Eurydice. The form of the work is somewhere between an opera and an oratorio with the performers singing a mix of solo and ensemble numbers that are not really acted out. Staging is suggested with minimal sets which included beds from which Vanessa Oude-Reimerink, soprano, and Lyndsay Promane, mezzo soprano, arose, a chair for the “volunteer” to sit in, and the Elysium device. Consistent with the mixed media, mixed reality themes of the piece, projection is also an integral component, used to create a dream-like atmosphere within Sidewalks Labs’ bespoke industrial headquarters.

As is often true with our actual memories, the specifics of Eurydice’s memories are difficult to discern. While my reaction to the storytelling was neutral, I found composer Benton Roark’s music and the singing by Lauren Segal, Vanessa Oude-Reimerink and Lyndsay Promane highly engaging.

The singers are accompanied by an electronic soundtrack rich with dense harmonies and other-worldly timbres. The melodies we hear against that are largely tonal and span the full scope of each singer’s range. The piece is divided into different sections with moods shifting between confused and chaotic, overwhelmed, and ethereal. The listener, like Eurydice when she arrives in her customized afterlife, is left somewhat unsettled and uncertain.

The singers execute the fusion of classical technique and electronic sounds deftly. Tapestry patrons will remember mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal from her stunning performance in the title role of M’dea Undone. Segal has a divinely warm and colourful instrument with impressive agility and lyricism. If Eurydice is the metaphoric “conscious mind” of the piece, soprano Vanessa Oude-Reimerink can be likened to its superconscious mind and Promane its subconscious. Oude-Reimerink’s voice is reminiscent of luminescent gossamer wire with deceptive strength. Promane’s voice is round and sombre, with an earthy lower register. Timbrally, the two singers create a perfect light-dark contrast. Together, the three singers weave a layered and at times conflicting tapestry of the past to create an artificial reality future for Eurydice.

I must confess, I missed the cue to remove my blindfold and a kind stranger seated next to me had to whisper in my ear. I was not the only one, I heard one audience member say that they had kept their blindfold on the entire time. The audience gets to keep the sleep mask printed with “Elysium” and it is pretty decent swag.

Under the co-direction of Michael Hidetoshi Mori and Debi Wong, there are multiple forms of experimentation at work in TAP:EX Augmented Opera. Everything from the venue, the form of the piece, and the fusion of classical and electronic musical styles shifts and manipulates the conventions of traditional opera. Completely apart from the new music, Augmented Opera is something quite different from the usual three-act play set to music. Definitely of interest for anyone interested in where opera could go in the 21st century and beyond. It is also a great opportunity to tour Sidewalk Labs and learn more about the project at the source.

Details:

  • TAP:EX Augmented Opera is playing until November 23, 2019 at Sidewalk Labs (307 Lakeshore Blvd East)
  • Show times are 7:30 PM on November 20, 21, 22 and 23. Guests are invited to arrive at 7:00 PM for a guided tour of Sidewalk Labs
  • Ticket prices are $40.
  • Tickets are available online.

Photo of Vanessa Oude-Reimerink, Lauren Segal, and Lyndsay Promane by Dahlia Katz

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