Shadow Box (the bicycle opera project)

Photo of The Bicycle Opera provided by the companyBicycle Opera brings Shadow Box to Toronto

As I locked my bicycle to a pole outside of Curbside Cycle, the venue hosting tonight’s performance of The Bicycle Opera’s Shadow Box it occurred to me: I’ve never seen an opera before! This show, about memories – happy, tragic, sad – and our relationships to them, was an excellent first experience.

We begin the “collection of eight contemporary opera scenes” with The Ride of The Bicycle Bells, a delightfully charming “operatic overture” scored for bicycle bells (and one horn). At this point I was expecting a more bicycle-centric performance: it was anything but.

One of the most surprising – and wonderful – things about this show was how serious and emotional parts of it were, given the whimsical nature of the opening and some of the dialogue. Hearing the performers sing about crackers and ginger ale for breakfast (in the hilarious “Our Lady of Esquimalt Road”), only to be brought almost to tears (I’m a bit emo) during other operas (“Submission” in particular) was incredible.

My companion Nadine said that the surprising depth – along with the improvisation, and excellent use of lighting and incredibly basic props in such a tiny space – was her favourite aspect of this production. Indeed, the fact that this company tours from Cape Breton to Toronto and beyond ON BICYCLES is incredibly impressive. I’m sure the cyclists reading this can appreciate the strength and dedication required to cycle thousands of kilometres across three provinces, with all of your production gear in tow. That they seem to always be performing in different venues – and this was their first time in a bicycle shop – is even more astonishing.

The orchestra was small – with only a cellist, a violinist, and a pianist who doubled as conductor – but totally effective. Even though I was seated literally two feet from them, they were non-obtrusive yet powerful: creating feelings of joy, terror, excitement, sadness, and more.

As for negatives, I have none. My companion, however, did make a good point about the female roles. Baritone and co-producer Geoffrey Sirett promised a contemporary and non-typical operatic experience, but most of the operas featured women in what she felt were fairly typical opera roles: losing their minds, losing their lovers, losing their youth, or losing something (absent: murder and betrayal). The brilliant cast, all of whom killed it (pun intended), along with the orchestra and the amazing crew, made it all work for me – though I do agree with her observation.

The show ended with my absolute favourite part, though one I feel would be mostly lost on a non-cyclist: “Bianchi: A Five-Minute Bicycle Opera”. It was chock-full of bicycle puns, WD-40, and it made me snort laughter far more than I like to do in public. I laughed ’til I cried, and continued laughing for at least half of the bike ride home.

The only people I’d suggest skip this show are those who hate opera, hate cyclists, or hate both. For me, it was a fantastic show that charmed my spokes off.

Just kidding, my spokes are all intact.


  • The Bicycle Opera is playing until September 6: September 5 at Music Gallery (197 John St); and on September 6 at Evergreen Brick Works (550 Bayview Ave)
  • Remaining showtimes are: Saturday, September 5 at 8PM; And Sunday, September 6 at 7:30PM
  • Ticket prices range from $17 reg/$15 for Music Gallery members on Saturday, with PWYC on Sunday, and are available online

Photo of The Bicycle Opera provided by the company

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