Second Nature delights young and old audiences alike, now on stage in Toronto
For quite some time, my six-year-old has been very curious about opera. He’s attended every other kind of performance I can think of offhand, but opera has remained a great unknown — until the wonderful folks at Canadian Opera Company presented a single day of their touring children’s opera, Second Nature.
He LOVED it, and is now campaigning to see The Magic Flute when it plays in the wintertime (even after being told it’s three hours long).
Second Nature, written by American wunderkind Matthew Aucoin, is presented with an engaging, bare-bones staging and in modern English. The opera is set in a near-future dystopian landscape, where a series of natural disasters has prompted a group of Midwesterners to seal themselves in a fortress to remain protected from her intemperate wrath.
After 28 years of this, and the increasingly inflexible rule of Elder Constance (a satisfyingly awful Megan Quick), the inmates have started to get restless. Constance tells them horror stories about what will surely befall anyone who so much as peeks through a window to the outside, but the children of the fortress are yearning, curious, and a little mischievous.
The kids of the show, played with great energy by Emily D’Angelo (Lydia) and Charles Sy (Jake), make the performance (and I found it pleasing to enjoy the memorable winners of two Centre Stage Competitions in the same show). Their acting skills are great, and their voices clear and smooth enough to eat with a spoon, even in the great old unmediated rehearsal hall.
My six-year-old companion, who sat transfixed by the goings on, was so pleased by them and very worried about their safety and wellness in the face of Elder Constance’s stern disapproval. I worried that Six would find the story slow or the singing hard to follow, but that didn’t turn out to be the case at all — on the contrary, he found it all quite delightful. Also delightful: the post-performance Q&A session, during which the cast and music director cheerfully fielded questions about the show, the process, and the prop trees on the stage.
The afternoon also included a fun set of craft activities for the kids to complete before watching the opera, including a chance to plant flower seeds in a plastic bottle. The environmental theme was a cheerful throughline, and all of the kids in attendance seemed very pleased with it.
Overall, we spent just under two hours and had a marvelous opportunity to introduce our first-grader to opera in a portion he could understand and enjoy. At $15 for adults and $10 for children, the cost for entry was also low enough that if he’d been miserable or restless we could have quietly excused ourselves without the financial pain of leaving a proper production. But instead, we were all quite delighted by Second Nature. I hope COC will consider giving it a longer run in Toronto in the future — there’s much to enjoy here and more people should get to enjoy it.
- Second Nature played for one performance on 27 November.
Photo of the author and his child by Gaetz Photography.