Friday, 25 March 2016

Interview: A Chat With my Musical Crush, The Bicycle Opera

Christopher Enns, Larissa Koniuk, and Stepanie Tritchew in Shadow Box
If you read my reviews for Mooney On Theatre (and if you're not regularly visiting Mooney on Theatre, you should start right now), you may remember my review of The Bicycle Opera's Shadow Box in 2015. It was my first opera, my first time seeing any sort of performance in a bicycle shop, and it was a truly unforgettable experience!

This year I was lucky enough to ask The Bicycle Opera's co-founder Larissa Koniuk a few questions about their new production, Travelogue, part of the Toy Piano Composers nine day Curiosity Festival.

Travelogue is two nights only, so get your tickets now (details at the bottom).

1. So, I’ll start with the question that I imagine is probably on many folks’ minds. Bicycles? Your entire Opera company travels only by bicycle? Even the orchestra? How is this even possible? Even as an avid cyclist myself, I find it difficult to imagine travelling such long distances with an entire opera in tow.

Haha yes, you've got it right! We typically have a cast of four singers, plus an ensemble of piano, with two additional instruments (last year, cello and violin, the year before, sax and flute) plus our designer/technician. The eight of us take turns hauling one of the three bike trailers that are packed full of props, costumes, and instruments - yes, even a cello - that weigh around 100 pounds.

I won't minimize the challenge that comes with cycle touring, especially when we are responsible for putting on a high quality opera at the same time! But, we break the schedule up by cycle day, and then show day, so generally at the end of a cycle day, we can collapse and eat lots of carbs!

Touring also comes with lots of fun though! We generally stop for road pie, play games on our way, and dip in the lakes we pass. We also get to connect with incredible individuals who put us up, and feed our hungry cyclist bellies along the way.

2. Why bicycles? What’s the longest distance your group has covered in a day? In a season?

Nadia Channa, who co-founded the project with me, and I decided to experiment with a car-free method of touring. Generally you have to drive if you want to tour, and we decided to challenge that by proving it's completely possible to tour on your own steam. The human body is remarkable and very quickly adapts to a few hours a day on the bike.

3. Can you talk about the unique challenges, obstacles, and/or advantages that cycling presents?


No really, hills are the hardest thing. When a bike trailer is weighing you down, you certainly feel them. But the good news is, what goes up, must come down. We can hit 50 km/hour coasting down some sweet hills!

In addition to that, bikes do occasionally break down. Our tenor last year had a hard time, breaking a spoke on the gear-side of his back wheel on day one in Nova Scotia. In that case, there really is nothing to do but rely on the kindness of strangers passing by.

4. Can you talk about Travelogue, and the four new operas themselves? What can audiences expect, if anything? Can you also talk about working with Toy Piano Composers on this project?

Travelogue explores travel by bicycle, car, and rocket ship by way of four brand new operas that have been written specifically for our unique ensemble. Toy Piano Composers are a Toronto-based composer collective and we've had a crush on them for a while now and programmed works by Monica Pearce and Chris Thornborrow in the past (TPC's co-founders).

When TPC approached us about being part of their inaugural festival, the Curiosity Festival, it was a no-brainer. They even casually dropped that they'd write four brand new pieces for us to premiere!

The operas are April by Monica Pearce; Road Trip by Elisha Denburg; My Mouth on Your Heart by August Murphy-King, with a libretto by Colleen Murphy; and Waterfront by guest composer Tobin Stokes. Tobin is the composer of Bianchi: a five-minute Bicycle Opera, which has become a signature favourite.

5. For anyone (like me) who’s an opera novice, can you can talk about how The Bicycle Opera differs from traditional opera, and also how its similar?

First, how it's similar: Everything is sung, and accompanied by an ensemble of instruments. In opera, the dramatic content is intensified by the music. Music is used to communicate what cannot be communicated through words alone.

What's different: We perform in English so that we can better connect to our audience, and in small venues. We want to give audiences who have never attended an opera (the chance) to be right up close to the singers, and to experience the last un-amplified musical form. We also tour on bikes, did I mention that?

Geoffrey Sirett and Christopher Enns in Shadow Box

6. Are there any specific future goals / plans for The Bicycle Opera that you can share? I heard something about cycling across Italy? If time, money, distance weren’t issues, where - ideally - would you see The Bicycle Opera going?

We'd love to tour to Europe, the birthplace of opera! Of course, everything on bicycle takes so much longer, so planning areas with little mountainous terrain and cities that are relatively close by makes the most sense! We'd also love to plan a national tour across Canada. I envision jumping on and off of the train (I love the train), and making 4 or 5 city loops at a time. Cycling across the county AND performing our show would realistically take 9 months: 3 months just cycling, multiplied by 3, which is our current rate, when factoring in rest and you know, putting on the show. Perhaps a little long for our busy group of performers ;)

7. If folks want to learn more about you, or help make your dreams and goals a reality, how could they do that / where could they find you?

We are always looking for support from donors. It takes a lot to put on what we do. We are supported by the arts councils, which is fantastic, but there's so much more we could be doing with more support. Plus, we accept roadies, hot meals on the road, and general volunteers.

Our website is and we are searchable on facebook, twitter, and instagram.

8. Is there anything you’d like to add, or would like readers to know about The Bicycle Opera Project?

Opera is alive and vibrant, and we hope you'll check out the show!

Travelogue is playing at the Arts and Letters Club (14 Elm St., Toronto)
April 1 & 2, 2016 - 8PM
For more information, or tickets, please visit the Bicycle Opera website

Photos by Kai Masaoka provided by the company

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog