Probably the last thing you'd expect to find in the midst of the alternative shows that make up most of the Fringe is opera.
But two of this year's strongest productions are just that, and in theory they couldn't be further apart. I caught them both the same day, and while on the surface their stories exist in different universes -- Handel's 1718 opera Acis And Galatea is a pastoral masque, composer David Ogborn's 2008 Opera On The Rocks, (text by Leanna Brodie, Dave Carley, Lisa Codrington and Krista Dalby) is set in a sports/karaoke bar -- they share the theme of love, searched for and ultimately unfulfilled.
The Classical Music Consort's Acis, directed and designed by Patrick Young, with musical direction by Ashiq Aziz, adds projections to Handel's gorgeous score. The story of the nymph Galatea, the shepherd Acis and the bullying giant Polyphemus who spoils their pleasures is splendidly performed by a troupe of young singers led by Thomas Macleay and Rosie Coad in the title roles.
Young's projections, one image sometimes placed on top of another, combine classical art and filmed images; they're often intriguing commentaries on the narrative and the music. For example, Galatea, a water nymph, becomes a mannequin washed over by blue waves. At times we see the figures in silhouette, at other times we watch parts of bodies, emphasizing the score's sensual nature. I could do without the projections of the text, but even they have their artful side.
Later that night I saw Opera On The Rocks, a BYOV at Pauper's, where you can eat and drink during a show whose brief numbers touch on everything from bar pick-ups to last call, the Leafs (and other hockey teams) to an increasingly drunk patron who uses the same routine on every woman he meets.
Director Liza Balkan moves the action skilfully around the bar and the audience, getting all the comedy the material calls for, and her cast -- Neil Aronoff, Neema Bickersteth, Keith Klassen and Jessica Lloyd -- know how to act as well as sing. Bickersteth's the unexpected surprise here, a singer with a great voice and as strong a stage presence.
Today's the last chance you can see Acis -- 7:30 pm at the Factory Mainspace -- but get there early; it's been doing really well as the box office, as has the Ambient Opera Society's show at Pauper's. You can actually bookend the two operas, since there's a performance of Opera On The Rocks at 4 pm (and a final show Sunday at 9).