The Shadow Shines

By Meghan Hubley
I have never seen an opera. Not one that hasn’t been billed as a musical, or operetta anyway (I’ve seen ‘The Phantom Of…’ and sang baritone…yes, baritone…in ‘The Pirates of Penzance” when I was 17…) But that didn’t put me at ease as I stepped into the beautiful Berkley Street Theatre on my way to Tapestry’s THE SHADOW. Outside of the theatre were many interesting articles about Old Barcelona, where the story of The Shadow (written by Alex Poch-Goldin and composed by Omar Daniel,) takes place, on Jungian theories of the shadow archetype, and on Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia. But don’t worry, TWISI readers, I became less intimidated upon learning that Poch-Goldin has never written an opera before, and discovering a screen hanging above the orchestra stage right that would show the lyrics the singers preformed. I felt like, maybe the composer and I were in this together, and that if needed to I could make like I was watching a silent film.
There were two particular pieces of writing that struck a chord with me both personally and as the story unfolded. The first was about the two concepts of shadows the show tackles… the Carl Jung energy he believed we all have, a dark yet moral-less part of our psyche that does what it needs to survive without thought or care. The other ‘shadow’ is a famous character in Spain who, dressed to the nines, would haunt folks who did not repay borrowed money on time, taunting and ridiculing the subject until the debt was paid back. The second article was about people’s function versus their individuality…if all we do is strive to be good at our job, our daily tasks then our heart and soul will suffer. On the flip side, if our passion and character takes precedence over giving back to society, we become useless. What if a man was self-aware enough to know he was useless? What lengths would he go to to become the vibrant individual he wished he were?
THE SHADOW begins in spring in Barcelona where we meet Allegra, (soprano Carla Huhtanen) a bored and beautiful young lady who knows nothing of her city as she is a kept close to home by her wealthy and over-bearing father (baritone Theodore Baerg, who also plays the Don.) Allegra has captured the heart of the mail man -el cartero en espagnol- Raoul (baritone Peter MacGillvary.) Raoul believes “there is so much more that [he] could be” if only Allegra would love him, but feels because of his mundane life she never could. The inciting incident of the play happens fast and as the playful xylophone and excitable horns ignite the house, Raoul decides to feign a second existence as a handsome, rich man about town.
The plot thickens, and certain instances feel as familiar as inside jokes. Huhtanen hits a note higher than I have ever heard and the sound of glass shattering is heard from back stage. The waiter at the fanciest restraunts in Barcelona (tenor Keith Klassen) shows off for the audience, his charm and humour stronger than any fourth wall. Actors waltz and run through the house and out to the lobby. The conductor (the amazing Wayne Strongman) is even acknowledged by a character at one point. There were many a little surprise to keep me captivated, gleeful, and comfortable watching a piece so outside my genre. Allegra and Hernando (Raoul’s alter-ego who woos the young chica) finish dining and he receives the horrifically expensive bill, it is a moment so brutal I felt my cheeks turn red. Moments land on MacGillvary so refined, each beat and note is supple with emotion and candor. He is in agony over the bill, he is in agony over how poor he is and how much he loves Allegra. Unfortunately Allegra has fallen for Hernando, not Raoul. In his desire to keep her he borrows money from the Don, and when he cannot pay back the massive fee in time, the Shadow (countertenor Scott Belluz who’s high notes will blow your mind, I swear) is sent to follow el cartero and expose Allegra to the truth.
The actors and musicians triumph in their task of whizzing from panic to romance to terror to joy at break-neck speed. The plain and relatable lyrics sit nicely overtop gorgeous, complex music and Spanish decorates the text to give us a taste of the city. There is an orchestra of alarms, violins, chimes, and even a sack of coins! Shadows are used in many ways throughout the show by lighting designer Robert Thomson, whose work is as much a masterpiece as the opera itself. If you love opera, you need to go. If you’ve always wanted to see an opera, this is the perfect one to start. Artistically victorious and touchingly relevant (themes such as money keeping us from our dreams, or a desire to mask who we are…) THE SHADOW will thrill you and grasp at any open heart who sees it.Tapestry New Opera’s The Shadow plays at the Berkeley Downstairs (26 Berkeley Street) theatre until May 31st, 2009. For more information visit the website and for tickets call 416 368-3110 or or

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