Props to comic opera

OPERA TO GO directed by Tom Diamond, musical direction by Wayne Strongman (Tapestry New Opera). Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). To Sunday (March 29), Friday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 3 pm. $20-$40. 416-973-4000. See listing. Rating: NNN


Tapestry New Opera invests a lot of time in careful nurturing, bringing creators and performers together to develop working relationships as well as productions. The system often pays off, as Tapestry’s latest Opera To Go demonstrates. It doesn’t all succeed, but there’s enough talent and entertainment in the evening’s four brief works to make an enjoyable couple of hours.

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The emphasis this year is on comedy, with three of the four pieces aiming for laughs even an added five-minute curtain-raiser in the lobby goes for them.

Too bad the program leads with the weakest of the four. One Lump Or Two? by librettist Sandy Pool and composer Glenn James presents a tea party for four bitchy women and a butler, filled with cross-dressing roles and plans for murder.

There’s a formality to James’s score that mirrors the intentionally skeletal period costumes by Julia Tribe and Jung-Hye Kim, but the action becomes silly rather than funny. Only Keith Klassen, playing the doyenne of the party with comic glee, gets some real laughs.

The longest work, Alexis Diamond and Abigail Richardson’s The Perfect Screw, is a rich story about the rivalry between screwdriver inventors Robertson (a Canadian) and Phillips (an American), competing for the favours of and a contract from Henry Ford the contrast of domination/submission versus a reliable union between equals underlies the action. Paralleling the historical story is that of a contemporary woman seeking the right tool to fix her new vanity.

Richardson’s score draws on various patriotic tunes, mechanical sounds created by percussionist Ryan Scott and the build-up of tension both dramatic and sexual. Diamond’s innuendo-filled libretto presents long, smooth shafts, easy retractability and…well, you get the point.

And you keep on getting it, unfortunately, for the piece plunges again and again into this sort of imagery. Shorter would be a whole lot better after all, it’s how you use it, not how big and long it is, that matters.

Still, director Tom Diamond and the company have a lot of fun presenting the story, with Peter McGillivray as the stoic, eventually successful Robertson, Klassen as the conniving Phillips, Sally Dibblee as the woman (wandering through a hardware store’s endless wasteland seeking her perfect instrument) and Scott Belluz as a seductive, erotically aware Ford, whose interest in the two inventors isn’t limited to their mechanical tools.

The most successful of the comedies is Taylor Graham and William Rowson’s The Virgin Charlie, which brings together a drag queen who performs as the Virgin Mary and the Lady herself, who arrives to deliver a second Annunciation. The result skillfully blends dramatic and musical tones.

Rowson’s score begins with Charlie’s performance – the melody echoes a 30s Broadway musical – and becomes more serious with the appearance of Mary in Charlie’s dressing room. Belluz and Krisztina Szabó make a great couple, delivering notes of comedy, irony and real feeling during the 15-minute piece.

On opening night it also offered the show’s best improvisation. In a moment of energetic conducting, music director Wayne Strongman’s baton sailed through the air and landed onstage. Szabó, about to lead Belluz in a song-and-dance routine, picked it up and beat time for the number.

The one serious piece on the bill, Marcia Johnson and Stephen Andrew Taylor’s My Mother’s Ring, is a mystery and psychiatric session rolled into one. A man (Klassen) talks to a therapist (Belluz) about the strange situation he’s in: strangers are masquerading as his parents in another reality, a couple (Dibblee and McGillivray) talk about their son.

Expanded from a brief work created in 2007, the show nicely intermingles the two worlds, with Taylor’s astringent score linking on an emotional level while Johnson’s text gives us hints of a jigsaw puzzle that we have to put together to come up with a complete story involving a moody young man and the concerned parents. The interweaving, intentionally done on a small, delicate scale, gives the work its power.

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