Review: Travelogue (The Toy Piano Composers and The Bicycle Opera Project)

Photo of TravelogueIn Travelogue, four contemporary mini operas dazzle Toronto audiences

I personally believe that creating contemporary opera is more risky than other artistic endeavours. The music, style, and imagination required feels staggering with plenty of room for failure.

Luckily The Toy Piano Composers in collaboration with The Bicycle Opera Project have created something unexpectedly wonderful in their brand new show Travelogue, playing at the Arts and Letters Club as part of the Curiosity Festival.

Travelogue consists of four separate mini operas: April, Road Trip, My Mouth on Your Heart, and Waterfront. Each is introduced by their respective composers through personal correspondence, diaries, and voicemail. Together, they make for a laugh out loud night of strong performances, fantastic music, and a relaxed atmosphere.

The Bicycle Opera Project has a strong ensemble with Larissa Koniuk, Marjorie Maltais, Chris Enns, and Geoffrey Sirett. I think the only fitting description is ‘wow.’

Between the four compositions, all the roles were spread evenly among the cast. This let them flex every acting and singing muscle — from their dramatic acting, to comedic timing, and of course, their vocal work. Travelogue is not your run of the mill opera and the cast is allowed to move freely, embracing theatricality in a way that traditional opera can’t always allow.

They work together so effortlessly.

And The Toy Piano Composers definitely add their own mark to the show. April by Monica Pearce is a love story that is not the ending you thought it would be. Roadtrip by Elisha Denburg is a hilarious reconnecting between two guys, even though we understand it shouldn’t be. My Mouth on Your Heart by August Murphy-King with libretto by Colleen Murphy offers Life and Death as vibrant figures that defy stereotypes. Waterfront by Tobin Stokes presents universal considerations about real estate and coffee on a mission to Mars that leads to an existential crisis.

Keira, my guest, considered the powerful My Mouth on Your Heart her favourite. I was very partial to Waterfront.

The reality is that there is such verve and originality to these pieces that it’s hard not to feel invigorated by how fresh it felt to me. I mean, this is a show that really achieved something else.

In My Mouth on Your Heart, for example, I initially side-eyed the premise: man’s love dies, he seeks death to see her again. You can’t quite anticipate where these collaborations are going and I was repeatedly surprised by fresh, unique, and good-humoured takes on material I would have said, just yesterday, I’d seen before. Without giving anything away, the ending of In My Mouth on Your Heart was right on the money with a haunting finale.

Similarly, Waterfront makes use of the absurd to full comedic advantage. Its energy comes from sudden shifts in topics, conversation, and focus that, ultimately, is as much the very funny punchline as it is the voice of the piece.

Everything about Travelogue works. Keira noted that—intentional or not—even the music, although clearly individual compositions for each segment, worked as part of the whole. I never found that the live music or the singing drowned each other out; it was so well balanced.

Travelogue is a show that everyone can like. It rewards opera fans while simultaneously giving an engaging, memorable introduction for newbies. I’d recommend you act fast and see this one, before it heads on its way.

Details

  • Travelogue plays until April 2, 2016 as part of the Curiosity Festival at the Arts and Letters Club (14 Elm Street)
  • The final performance is Saturday, April 2nd at 8pm
  • Individual tickets cost $15-$20 and can be purchased at the door or online here. Festival passes are available.

Photo of Marjorie Maltais, Chris Enns, and Larissa Koniuk in My Mouth On Your Heart by Dahlia Katz

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