Bicycle Opera wheels into rural Ontario

Rather than berate his audience for the foolishness of car culture, composer Tobin Stokes wrote a comic opera called Bianchi about the bicycle. Tobin calls it “five minutes of silliness”. 

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British Columbia connection

Victoria-based composer Tobin Stokes (who’s new opera, Pauline, was premiered at the York Theatre in early June) was inspired by the concept of Bicycle Opera both by their dedication to cycling and to new Canadian opera. “When I came across their website and call for scores”, Tobin said, “I immediately wanted to be involved”. Tobin is also passionate about environmental issues particularly the pervasiveness of car culture. “My own feeling is that cars are ridiculous”, he said adding, “Even more ridiculous is a ferry full of cars”.

Tobin Stokes with bicycle

2014 - Tobin Stokes, Victoria-based composer is an avid cyclist himself. Photo courtesy: Tobin Stokes

Tobin is an avid cyclist in Victoria and has even worked on advisory transportation committees with Victoria and Oak Bay. “Since most of our cities have been planned with the car in mind”, he said, “alternate forms of transportation can be difficult to incorporate. And the personal automobile is still so subsidized, on so many levels, it's crazy”.

Rather than berate his audience about the foolishness of car culture though, Tobin wrote a light-hearted comic opera called Bianchi about the bicycle. “Bianchi is a five-minute comic opera that uses every bad bicycle pun I could think of”, said Tobin. He referred to it as “five minutes of silliness”. Silly yes, but his sincerity goes deeper, “I'm involved because I'm inspired to see performers travelling community to community by bicycle. Anyone doing that is a true leader.” 

Sing (and cycle) against the machine

Larissa is optimistic about the growth of Bicycle Opera. “We’re a young company and we’re getting more support”, she said adding, “And the quality is growing and we’re attracting great artists”. When I visited them in May, I met their tenor, Chris Enns, who had just finished his debut with Opera Atelier in the title role of Persée (Perseus). He’s passionate about Bicycle Opera in part because he sees it as a “reaction against globalization”. “It’s not just about getting around on bikes”, Chris said adding, "Small local productions push back against the prevailing mass culture".

Geoffrey Sirett, baritone and coproducer powering up the bike generator for the

2014 - Geoffrey Sirett, baritone and coproducer powering up the bike generator for the show at Harwood Estate Vinyard near Belleville.  Photo courtesy Bicycle Opera

I prodded Larissa to reveal her deep environmental roots, but she remained fairly sanguine about her simple love of cycling and singing. Then she added, “If someone writes a Tar Sands opera, we’ll be all over it”.

Kingston to Bloomfield, Ontario. Photo courtesy Bicycle Opera

2013 - Kingston to Bloomfield, Ontario. Photo courtesy Bicycle Opera

Back by popular demand, Bicycle Opera will be rolling into Bayfield and a score of other southern Ontario communities this summer. If you want to support cycling, the environment, local communities, entrepreneurship, and of course the arts—all in one shot­—check out Bicycle Opera’s 2014 Itinerary.

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