In the days before television - which sometimes seems around the time of the mastodons - there was a radio series called The Shadow, whose tag line was "The Shadow knows." A kind of hypnotist/crime-fighter, the Shadow "knew" what evil lurked in the heart of men.
Well, it's not evil that's at the heart of The Shadow, a new opera by librettist Alex Poch-Goldin and composer Omar Daniel, but rather, well, heart. I saw a workshop of the piece last weekend, staged by Tapestry New Opera Works, and while the show still needs some tweaking, it already has a striking theatricality, wonderful music and great performances.
Set in turn-of-the-century Barcelona, the romantic piece focuses on Raoul (Alexander Dobson), an overworked mailman who falls for Allegra (Carla Huhtanen) the daughter of a wealthy man (Giles Tomkins) and takes on a masked disguise to woo her. But in finagling to get the funds to win her affections, money he can't easily repay, he unwittingly conjures up the title character (Daniel Taylor), a figure of retribution who won't stop needling Raoul's conscience.
Poch-Goldin's libretto is intentionally slimmer than his plays like the recent and sharply written Cringeworthy, in part because he has Daniel's music to make a lot of the subtextual points. And happily, the score is a witty, warm evocation of Barcelona, with its sensuality and echoes of Spanish melodies. Tapestry's Wayne Strongman and the seven-member chamber orchestra conjured up all sorts of evocative musical colours.
Under director Tom Diamond, the cast was strong, too, with Huhtanen as impressive an actor as she is a singer and the charismatic Keith Klassen (one of NOW's 10 best theatre artists of 2006) rounding out the cast in a tongue-in-cheek role as a self-impressed tenor who knows he's only appearing in two scenes and intends making the most of them.
But the real treat was watching Taylor, an internationally renowned countertenor who rarely appears on Toronto opera stages; I remember him in the Canadian Opera Company's production of Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) several years ago. An intelligent singing actor, he played the mysterious Shadow -- who often appeared in that silhouette form, behind a backlit white curtain, though we could certainly see the twinkle in his eye when he was onstage -- using both his falsetto range and a deeper tenor tone, playing with the two to give the Shadow a dual nature that echoed that Raoul's more comic split identity.
This is the kind of show that should have a full production. And soon.