Review: Tapestry Briefs: Winter Shorts (Tapestry Opera)

Winter Shorts is an exciting tasting menu of what’s new and up-coming in Toronto opera

Tapestry Brief’s: Winter Shorts is like a flight of operatic amuse bouche, accompanied by wine pairings. Tapestry Opera’s program of shorts is a showcase of new works by composers and librettists that emerged from their 2016 Opera Lib Lab. The Composer-Librettist Laboratory pairs rising talent in an intensive workshop where works are developed “in a crucible” as Artistic Director Michael Mori puts it.

These short, standalone scenes are born from an intuitive process that can lead to unexpected results. The works cover topics ranging from orphaned children from war-torn lands to the ennui of marriage. One work movingly explored the guilt of a man’s choice to leave the love of his life to pursue personal freedom in Canada. The memorable closing piece was based on the true story of a man who took voyeurism to a literal whole other level.

Listening to the pieces that come out of Lib Lab does in fact have all of the excitement of watching an experiment of uncertain outcome. In each work, the composer and librettist are testing a hypothesis about how they can approach their own process and collaboration, while pushing the boundaries of the operatic form. Some of the experiments land, others do not. Even if one piece doesn’t land for you, it’s over quickly. The overall experience is inevitably captivating.

There was a whole section of the program devoted to exploring the use opera to talk about the mundane rather than the melodramatic. This 21st century innovation of using opera to understand everyday life is no small disruption to the conventions of the form. The tradition is steeped in larger than life situations far more vibrant and intense than the ups and downs of mere mortals.

The everyday scenes were impactful because the seasoned performers captured the melodramatic quality that these small moments have from the perspective of the people living the scene. All of the scenes were performed by a team of four cast members: Alexander Dobson (Baritone), Erica Iris (Mezzo-Soprano), Keith Klassen (Tenor), and Jacqueline Woodley (Soprano). All of the singers were exceptionally confident at navigating the unexpected intricacies of new music.

Staging for this sampler platter performance is minimalistic. With no spectacular sets to rely upon, the simple props and street clothes costumes all become part of the experiment. Winter Shorts is a test of the hypothesis that there is no better basis for creative exploration than the social, political and personal crossroads we find ourselves in right now.

I highly recommend Winter Shorts as the perfect introduction to new opera. In a whirlwind two hours the listener is exposed to the full gamut of vocal, instrumental and dramatic possibilities for opera in the modern age. If the program awakens a thirst for more new music, this thirst can be slaked at the tantalizing offerings coming up next for Tapestry. Their next production, Forbidden, premiering in February is a collaboration between Lib Lab composer Afarin Mansouri and Librettist Donna-Michelle St. Bernard.


  • Winter Shorts plays until December 3, 2017 at Dancemakers Studio (Studio 313, 9 Trinity Street Toronto, Ontario)
  • Showtimes are at 4:00 PM on December 2 & 3, and 8 PM on December 2.
  • Ticket prices  are $45 for general admission, $25 for students.
  • Tickets can be purchased online.

Photo of Alexander Dobson and Erica Iris by Dahlia Katz