The only way to stay at the cutting edge of anything for 40 years, as Tapestry Opera has done, is to zigzag with the changing times – to go big when opportunity knocks, to hunker down when danger threatens, and, most important, to be able to recognize the difference between the two scenarios. 

TAP:EX is Tapestry Opera’s instrument for just that – figuring out when to go for broke and when to duck and cover. The name is short for Tapestry Explorations and TAP:EX Augmented Opera, presented this past November 20 to 23 at Sidewalk Labs, was its fifth iteration since its founding in 2014 by Michael Hidetoshi Mori, Tapestry’s artistic director. 

TAP:EX’s stated goal is to redefine the “elemental bounds of opera by challenging its notions of tradition, legacy, and purity, emphasizing emotional and artistic power over rules and norms.” Each of the four iterations so far has been different from the ones that preceded it: exploring the limits of the voice’s resistance to extreme physical exertion; probing the intersections between turntablism, film, soundscape and opera; inviting “local hard-core heroes F*cked Up to help frame a work that asked punk to look at opera and opera to look at punk”; and most recently, in 2018, bringing together Iranian composer Afarin Mansouri with emcee, playright, librettist, agitator Donna-Michelle St. Bernard “in a conversation with the devil.”

With Augmented Opera, Tapestry again heads out into uncharted and potentially dangerous territory, both literally and figuratively. Sidewalk Labs, at 307 Lakeshore Blvd. E., where the opera was mounted, is a self-described “sister company” of Google spearheading the effort to “imagine, design, and develop” Toronto’s eastern waterfront as a neighbourhood of the future. Their proposal is based in part on bringing cutting-edge technologies to bear on finding scalable solutions to profound issues relating to sustainable urban living. One example: the massive pillars and beams of the one-story Sidewalk Lab building are fabricated from “sustainable mass timber” (compressed jack pine) and could support a future 10-to-15 storey building on the site. Fundamental to their vision is also almost unrestricted aggregation of personal digital data, from people buying in to the vision. 

The imaginative reach of the proposal, manifested everywhere one looks in the space, is staggering both in scale and fineness of detail – as well worth a visit as any Museum of Contemporary Art could be. The implications of the proposal are equally staggering, in both their social and ethical implications, dividing participants in the ongoing consultation into camps and houses as plagued as any in the grandest of operas. The premise of Augmented Opera, might be fanciful elsewhere. Here (comfortably or uncomfortably, depending on your point of view), it fits right in.

Soprano Lauren Segal (centre) as Eurydice with mezzo Lyndsay Promane (right) and soprano Vanessa Oude-Reimerink (left). Photo by Dahlia Katz (Dahlia Katz Photography)The premise is that we, the audience, have walked into a Silicon Valley-style product launch, where we will be offered the opportunity to become early adopters of Elysium, “a new cloud-based technology that re-imagines the afterlife as a perfect curation of our best memories.” Debi Wong is co-director of the show (and founding director of Tapestry’s key partner in this project, Vancouver-based re:Naissance Opera). Playing the role of CEO of Elysium, she calls for volunteers to test the technology; mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal, in the role of Eurydice, leaps up from the audience and puts the virtual reality hood over her head before the rest of us can figure out whether participating would be likely to result in embarrassment. And it’s chocks away! 

Segal is joined vocally in exploring composer Benton Roark’s intriguing vocal score by two “memory Eurydices” (mezzo Lyndsay Promane and soprano Vanessa Oude-Reimerink), as she revisits younger and older memories of key life events that she will have to choose between in constructing her ideal afterlife. Roark’s intricate score is delivered by the composer himself on synth, guitar and Lumatone, along with Michael Shannon, Tapestry’s music director, on piano and keyboard. As audience members we don black masks for the first while – a kind of sympathetic sensory deprivation, only removing them on instruction at a certain point in the narrative.

I came away from the event with a strong sense of the towering thing Augmented Opera might potentially turn out to be (a bit like the potential of the sustainable mass-timber ground floor of the space the event took place in). But equally with a sense that in its present state it was annoyingly less than the sum of its considerable parts, because of inattention to one of the “rules and norms” of legacy opera that, from a purely pragmatic perspective doesn’t deserve to be ditched – namely that sopranos singing in English need surtitles, especially in a space where acoustics are an afterthought. As I sat with my Elysium sleeping mask on, straining to hear any of the words, let alone follow the plot, I kept myself going by imagining that when I took the mask off, everything that had been sung would be there, in all its mundanity and/or glory, on the giant screens at the back of the stage, and would, from that point on, become part of the construct of the show itself: the intersection between virtual and analogue reality. No such luck.

That the work had the incipient power to make me care enough to be pissed off about its deficiencies is a big deal though, speaking to the importance of the exploratory work the company is continuing to do. All the remaining shows in this remarkable 40th season speak to how learning from exploration is in Tapestry’s DNA. No reason this show should be any different. 

Against the Grain: Figaro’s Wedding, 2014. Photo by ATG Theatre.And quickly

Against the Grain: Hard on the heels of the triumphal cross-country ten-year- anniversary pub crawl of their version of their La bohème, Against the Grain remounts another of their landmark shows, Figaro’s Wedding (music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Joel Ivany, with new string quartet arrangement). Staged as a real wedding with audience members attending as guests, it runs at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse (itself an occasional wedding venue) from December 3 to 20. Writing about the original 2013 production for the blog Musical Toronto, critic John Terauds said: “Stage director Joel Ivany and music director Christopher Mokrzewski have fashioned an all-new English-language libretto that rollicks along at a brisk clip. There is plenty to entertain an opera newbie – and a steady volley of inside-joke material to keep opera diehards chuckling from beginning to end.” For details, see our music theatre listings or visit

Toronto Operetta Theatre: Starting December 28, for a five-show run that leapfrogs into the new year, Toronto Operetta Theatre continues its successful tradition of being just about the only show in town to offer significant musical escapism during the Christmas-to-New Year artistic doldrums. This year it’s The Gypsy Baron by Johann Strauss II. Derek Bate, conducts; Guillermo Silva-Marin, stage director, will as always make the most of the cosy confines of the Jane Mallett Theatre, with the music itself as the star of the show. 

And if operetta is your thing: Starting January 31 and continuing February 1,7, 8 and 9, at the Don Wright Faculty of Music in London, Opera at Western offers up The Mikado in the Paul Davenport Theatre, Talbot College, Western University. See our Beyond the GTA listings for details. And on January 24, St. Anne’s Music and Drama Society, the foremost community proponent of the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan in these parts, commences a seven-performance run of Patience in the St. Anne’s Parish Hall, 651 Dufferin St. 

Salute to Vienna: Twenty-five winters ago, Attila and Marion Glatz took the plunge. The previous year they had acted on a hunch and rented the George Weston Recital Hall in North York for a New Year’s Day performance of “Salute to Vienna” (the “salute” of the title being a nod to the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert from the Golden Hall in Vienna’s Musikverein). The cautionary wise had told the Glatzes they were crazy – that attempting to get Torontonians to go out to such a thing on New Year’s Day was folly. So they switched from the 1,100-seat George Weston to the 2,500-seat Roy Thomson Hall, at 2:30pm on New Year’s Day, and the rest, as they say, is history! For details on this year’s Salute to Vienna, and its New Year’s Eve sister show, Bravissimo! Opera’s Greatest Hits, see the listings or visit 

David Pelman can be reached at

Pin It
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

Back to top