On July 14, 2021, I saw my first live performance since February 2020. Given that I saw my first musical at age 6, this represents the longest absence from live performance to date. I would have been excited to see just about anything. But Box Concerts by Tapestry Opera isn’t just anything. It’s an innovative way to safely bring live performance back to the city as we find our sea legs in the new normal.
As the title of the concert series suggests, the “stage” is a box on wheels with a wooden cutout of a proscenium arch and curtains mounted onto it. The set consisted of vintage valises. I would describe the performance space as a “found venue”. The concert took place on the concrete between Simon Apartments Retirement Home and an alley. If that doesn’t sound glamourous, that’s because it wasn’t. It’s a far cry from a much-missed Elgin Theatre or Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, but the whole scene was rich with plucky and ingenious charm and pregnant with the possibility of a post-pandemic mental shift.
This concert was performed by Asitha Tennekoon, an exceptional tenor well known to Tapestry audiences. His voice is plummy, bright, and full. Just right for sweeping away the cobwebs of the last year and a half.
The program is eclectic, with a mix of new opera, musical theatre, and a dash of 19th-century aria. Musically, it was very easy listening, with something to suit most tastes over the course of an hour. Put together, the songs tell the story of a wandering traveler who recently returned home with life lessons learned to share. The original libretto is by Donna Michelle St. Bernard, Tapestry Lib Lab alumna.
Tennekoon sang his heart out and gave a captivating performance across styles. Still, I felt his voice was most at home with the operatic repertoire rather than the musical theatre selections, although that could easily be my own bias. The new songs by Benton Roark and the selection from Massenet’s Werther were charming vehicles for this voice. Prospective show-goers who are new to new opera would find Roark’s melodic, fluid style a very gentle introduction to new music.
Opera singers don’t usually sing into microphones. Given the found, outdoor location with urban noise as its backdrop, a microphone was necessary. In the performance I saw, something about Tennekoon’s relationship with the microphone felt awkward, as though right now the technological device is an unwanted companion on stage. There were moments where hands on the microphone blocked his face and during certain gestures, the presence of the microphone looked unexpected. No doubt a more comfortable relationship with the microphone will develop.
There has been a delay in publishing this review due to unforeseen wrist tendonitis on my part. No doubt there is already greater ease in this show.
Box Concerts run until September 12, so there is still one more month to see a box concert. The production can be booked for private outdoor gatherings for a very reasonable price of $250!
Especially if you’re not yet ready to rub elbows indoors to see a show, find or make an opportunity to see Box Concerts while they’re still on.
Photo of Asitha Tennekoon by Dahlia Katz