Why me, why BOP, and why we should have started blogging before day 12…
By Geoffrey Sirett
Why me and why BOP? I suspect that, like all of you, my love for biking began far earlier than my love for opera. It takes a while to acquire a taste for opera, but a child’s love for biking is immediate. To this day, there’s something so instinctually nostalgic about the experience: from wheeling my bike onto the street, taking that first pedal, and yielding to the intense discipline of the bike seat (and yes, mom, putting my helmet on too…) I have lots of amazing memories of family bike rides as a child. I remember we rented some bikes (check out this page if this interests you!) on a vacation once and I had a great time. I was only young but I remember we biked for miles and miles that day. Bikes are such a huge part of my life!
A little over a year ago I was recommended by a colleague to perform for a whacky (hate to break it to you, Larissa) new opera company. Biking and singing seemed strange, but the reality is that I’ve done much stranger for far less money, so it was worth a shot. Although I was passionate for both opera and cycling, separately, I must admit that I was still quite skeptical about how they would fit together.
After a few weeks rehearsals and the Toronto shows, both super fun, I still had no idea what to expect and the bike-opera union was still unexplored. Then we finally hit the road… and I was sold. Blessed with great weather and superb company, tour cycling and being in nature is one of the most refreshing ways to clear your head and contemplate art. It truly felt like heaven. The only complaint, and it’s a small one at that, is that I just wish that I’d decided to take my friend up on that offer of a coupon and promo code for Nike, (https://www.raise.com/coupons/nike) because I could’ve done with some more activewear. At least the clothing that I had on was comfortable enough for this journey, but I think I’ll have to update my choice of clothing soon anyway, so I’ll be sure to use it. The most important thing is that I’m having fun. After only a few days I decided that I would love to do this annually, and only a really incredible opportunity would prevent me. No such fantasy gig came up, so here I am again, back on the road. This time as a co-producer as well as a singer.
The exciting potential of this young company compelled me to team up with Larissa on the admin side, and build this exciting season together. The inspiration to take on a bigger role comes from the many opportunities for innovation within the project. In a challenging climate for opera, young companies are on the rise, creating opportunities for emerging artists, and paving new paths to keep the art form alive. Each is looking for the niche that makes them unique. What’s attractive about BOP are the many different angles that make it unique. Obviously biking is the big one, but it’s really the means to a larger purpose, that is demythologizing opera and opera singers. We are all bound by traditions and stereotypes that are hard to break, and there’s something about the juxtaposition between cycling and opera that immediately breaks down barriers and challenges peoples perceptions of what “opera” really is. In addition, working in English, in intimate spaces, with all-Canadian talent, with contemporary dramatic themes and musical vocabulary, all ultimately end up working towards the same goal, and the reception has been outstanding.
But now, time to get everyone up to speed, cuz we really slacked on the blog updates…
2014 season summary
DAY 1: Kingston was the start of our journey. An extremely enthusiastic crowd at Sydenham St United Church. A particularly exciting show for me, returning to my home town and celebrating the tour commencement amongst friends and family that have followed my career (and seen it culminate in such an unusual project).
DAY 2: Our first full day of cycling. 76km isn’t exactly easing our way into it, but was a flat, beautiful ride from Kingston to Prince Edward County. We arrived in the evening, fresh groceries in tow, to be greeted by the folks at the Bloomfield Bicycle Company. Rick and Katie are avid cyclists who run the shop, and frequently open their home to cyclists looking for a place to crash. Their generosity extended to the next morning when they gave us some spot-check tune-ups and extra gear for the road.
DAY 3: Early in the morning we set out for a 25km ride to Harwood Estates Winery. I contacted a number of PEC wineries a few months ago about their interested in presenting our show. I quickly received an enthusiastic response from Harwood, Ontario’s solar powered winery. As if the serendipity of getting to do a “green” show at a “green” venue wasn’t enough, it turned out that one of their staff, Allison Brant, was an opera singer! We invited Allison to start the program with a great rendition of the Habanera, and continued with an exciting performance to a sold-out house!
DAY 4: A day off in Wellington Ontario, used primarily muscular recuperation and caloric remuneration! We stayed at Fields-on-West-Lake (in a coach house right beside the performance venue) so we were able to set up early, address the very important task of perfecting our frisbee skills, and get some practicing in, too.
DAY 5: The heavens let loose! The din under the tin roof was almost deafening but, one hour before curtain, the skies cleared up so that we could have another successful show.
DAY 6: We hit the road early to give ourselves time to bike to Belleville, and perform another show that evening. The show was at Maranatha Church. Built recently, Maranatha is highly equipped with several performance spaces, complete with A/V and all the accoutrements that make the church fully functional for all kinds of different events. Sometimes the best shows are for the smallest crowds. It helps remind ourselves, as performers, of our purpose to communicate and perform with the same intensity and conviction no matter how small the audience – an enthusiastic dozen still does the trick! Intimate audiences also tend to give you permission as an artist to explore new territory and set new artistic challenges for yourself.
DAY 7: This was a long but leisurely ride from Belleville to Campbellford. It was quite hilly, but for the most part we were all keen to get a bit of practice in for the daunting Niagara escarpment that was awaited us for the following week. We were greeted by fantastic billets that were so incredibly generous over the course of our 4-day stay. Shout out to John & Judy and Diane for their amazing company, food, and butter-tarts – oh wait that’s food too – and world cup #NextYearMessi
DAY 8: Day off – not much more to say. Lots of food, lots of rest (minimal practising, to be perfectly honest!). And attended a concert by the Arrogant Worms in the evening, who mentioned BOP several times throughout the show. They must be pretty desperate for gigs if they’re threatening to slash our tires. But don’t worry, everything’s amiable now that we’re twitter friends.
DAY 9: First of two shows with the Westben Festival, in Campbellford, and they could not have crammed anymore people into the clock tower! The din of laughter throughout the show was so exhilarating – so much so, that tempi got slower and slower to account for the “audience participation”! What a great experience.
DAY 10: An equally exciting show, number two with Westben, but this time 16 extremely wet kms down the road to Warkworth. The rain prevented us from the scheduled outdoor show, but we moved inside to the town hall that proved a wonderful venue for the show.
DAY 11: An extremely hilly 60km down to Cobourg, and thus completes the eastern portion of the BOP 2014 show. 5 shows down, and only… 16 to go! Yikes!
Stay tuned for the next entry: Chris’s BOP food blog. #whatchrisate