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OPERA TO GO

Tapestry Theatre

At the Enwave Theatre

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In Toronto on Thursday

Tapestry Theatre calls its annual airing of new mini operas, nurtured in its own laboratories, Opera to Go. Accompanied by graphics invoking takeout food, the title neutralizes the aura of menace associated with new music and reflects the productions' minimal sets. But it also implies the weightier question: Where might opera go in the 21st century? Tapestry's artistic director, Wayne Strongman, is clearly pumping for farce.

Victorian women (most of them cross-dressing men) out to poison their husbands; a male Virgin Mary impersonator who becomes pregnant with the Second Coming; the battle between the square-holed screw, invented by Canadian Peter Robertson, and the Phillips head (American Henry Phillips) - these are the comedic themes which occupy most of the evening, with varying rates of success.

The sole work to attempt depth is My Mother's Ring by Marcia Johnson and Stephen Andrew Taylor. It's about a young man who believes his parents are imposters; he has a bona fide psychiatric disorder (Capgras syndrome) that provides a convenient metaphor for familial alienation.

This is promising material, and My Mother's Ring is a very promising piece, though it doesn't yet tap the theme's full emotional potential. Taylor skillfully lets the chamber ensemble express the repressed violence behind the young man's account to the psychiatrist (well-sung by tenor Keith Klassen and countertenor Scott Belluz, respectively), and deftly uses music to link the patient-psychiatrist scenes with the other half of a split staging, where the man's mother (Sally Dibblee) sings a poignant, postlapsarian lullaby that gently fails as she flashes back to her son's childhood.

The Perfect Screw, by librettist Alexis Diamond and composer Abigail Richardson, delivers the full Freudian menace of its title. As Robertson and Phillips race to get Ford Motors to adopt their newly invented screws, the sophomoric innuendos, hammered in by Tom Diamond's staging, were relentless. Yet this was the one piece of the evening that really flew.

The scene where the contemporary Amalia (Dibblee) pushes the orange shopping cart of a well-known hardware chain through imaginary aisles, poignantly singing of "wandering endlessly," was priceless. And the opera's climax slyly subverts its own over-the-top phallicism: When Robertson magically witnesses the modern-day triumph of his screw, it's clear the real turn-on for Amalia is her newfound power as a handywoman. Like all good metaphors, the story spoke to people on its nuts-and-bolts level. Richardson's well-paced score leapt agilely from thought to thought, and included several satisfying ensemble numbers.

Bravo to the evening's outstanding singers, who also included baritone Peter McGillivray and mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo. Their talents were put to sorry use in the tediously camp The Virgin Charlie (Taylor Graham and William Rowson) and the trite One Lump or Two (Sandy Pool and Glenn James). Strongman, managing artistic director of Tapestry, conducted an excellent chamber ensemble.

The show continues through

tomorrow (416-973-4000).

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