Fun and accessible opera takes to the Toronto stage
I have always been a little intimidated by opera. I don’t know a lot about music. It’s often in a language I don’t speak, I have a hard time following the plot, and tickets are often very expensive. But Bandits in the Valley—Tapestry Opera’s new whimsical short opera being performed the Todmorden Mills Historic Site–was a fun, accessible, and free way to experience the art form in a lovely and novel setting.
Bandits in the Valley is loosely based on the history of the Don Valley as a haven for smugglers and bandits in the late 1800s. It has two intertwined story lines: one features George Taylor, who is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his paper mill with a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance by a group of travelling performers. The other focuses on Jeremiah, the leader of the local gang of bandits who’s trying to break into Taylor’s house and prove a secret about his own identity.
The production takes place in and around the various buildings of Todmorden Mills, which really was a paper mill owned by the Taylor family in the late 1800s.
After a brief introductory scene outside welcoming us to the anniversary celebration, the audience was split into two groups. Each group moved from building to building, following the two different storylines and coming together for final scene. Volunteers dressed in period costumes helped guide the groups from one location to the next. I thought this worked very well. The production made good use of the unique historical settings and props. Plus, we were really up close to the performers.
Julie Tepperman’s libretto is funny and frothy with plenty of puns, anachronisms, and Gilbert and Sullivan-style patter. Composer Benton Roark’s music incorporates multiple 19th-century musical styles into a score that feels both fresh and familiar.
And though the plot was light-hearted, the performances were definitely not light-weight. The cast were all strong singers, actors, and musicians. Jennifer Taverner as Lily Pollard, the star of the troupe and the love interest of several other characters, was a standout. She was tender but no-nonsense as they battled for her affections. I also particularly liked Jacques Arsenault as Freddy, Jeremiah’s accordion-playing sidekick. His affection for his friend was both believable and surprisingly moving.
Even if you think opera is not for you, give Bandits in the Valley a try. My companion was a thirteen-year-old who had never seen an opera before, and she loved it. It was a great way to spend an hour in the fall sunshine surrounded by beautiful scenery and beautiful music.
- Bandits in the Valley is being performed September 2-30, 2017 at Todmorden Mills Historic Site (67 Pottery Road)
- Show times are Saturdays at 12 noon, 1:20pm, 3:40pm (no final show on Sept. 23) and Sundays at 1:30pm and 3:00pm (no shows September 17.)
- Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance online here.
- Todmorden Mills trails involve some slopes and some locations of the action are only accessible by stairs. Please contact Tapestry Opera if you have questions about accessibility.
Photo of Stephanie Tritchew, Jacques Arsenault, and Keith Klassen provided by Tapestry Opera