Toronto’s Canadian Children’s Opera Company has not pulled a rabbit out of its hat for this year’s Luminato festival. It’s a cow — and a charming one at that.
The country’s only full-scale children’s opera company, led by onetime Canadian Opera Company soprano Ann Cooper Gay, has a long history of commissioning new works for the stage. This year’s new opera, Laura’s Cow: The Legend of Laura Secord, is one of its most ambitious ever, clocking in at 90 minutes and, at its finale, counting 157 children and teenagers on the stage of Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre.
The tight, witty libretto by University of Toronto opera coach and director Michael Patrick Albano ostensibly tells the tale of the young woman who saved British General Isaac Brock from colonial ignominy in Queenston Heights by alerting him to the battle plans of invading Americans during the War of 1812.
But the real story is about a timid young woman who discovers hidden reserves of resolve and bravery while also realising that, yes, a single person, no matter how seemingly powerless, can help change the course of history.
Albano’s score gets a rich, equally witty store from Toronto conductor and composer Errol Gay. The tuneful, tonal, nicely layered and textured orchestration is timeless — rendered even more so by a little treasure chest of quotations from the operatic canon.
At one point, the children sing a church hymn set to the tune Albano, the composer’s little wink to his librettist.
The cow in the story is the farm animal Laura Secord uses as a foil to get past American lines. In the opera, the cow is a real cracker who can dance the Charleston (in one of several funny anachronisms) as well as inspire a young woman to do the right thing.
Cooper Gay conducts a small pit orchestra of 14 professionals, who were excellent during an impressively tight dress rehearsal at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre on Tuesday evening.
There are a lot of young people to move about the stage, representing the full range of talents and abilities. It could so easily turn into a messy affair, but this production comes from a team that has been doing this well for some time.
The children, dressed in period costumes, were not only uniformly well prepared, but there are several standout voices in the cast that are a genuine revelation.
Lending an extra dash of gravitas to the vocal proceedings is baritone John Fanning, who acts as both narrator and a British officer.
The sets are minimal, the telling of the story straightforward, the musical style accessibly conventional. But the rich tapestry of talent and inspiration on stage works its magic in no time at all.
To borrow from Albano’s libretto, Laura’s Cow is, “a victory of youth and bovine wisdom.”
Don’t miss it.
Performances, presented under the Luminato banner, start with school shows on June 6 and 7, followed by public performances on June 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m., and June 9 and 10 and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
For ticket information, click here.