The Shadow by Tapestry

The Shadow a Cautionary Tale for Our Times

Don't mess with The Shadow.

The Shadow is a new opera by composer Omar Daniel and librettist Alex Poch-Goldin about intrigue, desire and deception in Old Barcelona. It centers around Raoul, a postman who woos a young lady, lives beyond his means trying to impress her and gets chased down by his shadow.

The Shadow is more than just a metaphor in this case. It has been a tradition in old Barcelona to have a man exceptionally dressed follow around, or shadow, those who don't pay their debts, shaming them into paying up, or exposing their secrets and making their lives miserable as recompense. In some cases, this practice still exists in Barcelona today, with an El Cobrador del Frac (The Debt Collector in Top Hat and Tails).

The opera, directed by Tom Diamond, isn't your typical lavish, melodramatic production and it's more pleasurable as a result. The intimate Berkely Street Theatre houses this show and most of the story sung in English. There's a small flat-panel TV suspended above the left side of the stage, hovering over the seven-piece stage "pit orchestra" ensemble. It subtly provides translation surtitles to the Spanish-sung passages. In such a small venue, it's a delight to see up close the facial expressions of the performers.

The Tapestry production is top-notch, with especially strong voices from Peter McGillivray (baritone) as Raoul, Carla Huhtanen (soprano) Allegra, his love interest and Scott Belluz (countertenor) as the Shadow. Theodore Baerg (baritone) impresses in dual roles as the Don and Allegra's father as well.

At the fancy restaurant Raoul takes Allegra to on their first date, they are served by a waiter, played by Keith Klasses (tenor) who serves cheeky, colourful commentary alongside the feast, poking fun at his small role in the production.

There's some irony in that, here in Canada, posties now get paid quite a decent wage. But in Old Barcelona, this particular postman is obviously just getting by, but likes to think otherwise. When he's caught out of pocket he's haunted by the Shadow.

Raoul firmly believes that "secrets make a man into a myth," but that's soon proven false.

"Money's the curse. Money's the problem. Money's the cancer. Money's the answer!" sings Raoul, as he finds himself further and further over his head after pursuing his gold-digging wife-to-be with lavish dinners and jewelry. Funny how some courting rituals never change.

He soon finds out the hard way the consequences of his overspending. Raoul tries to hide and run away, but the Shadow vows "I'll wear out my shoes looking for you," and proves there's no escape to his debts.

Debt and our current troubled economic times are very much on our minds these days. Margaret Atwood's latest book is entitled Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Weath. This opera serves well as a warning, but in an entertaining way.

I pictured the Shadow character to be more of an ominous debt collector. But in this case, he appears as more of a dandy, fairy-like character in a high voice. Although he still manages to be creepy and sinister all the same.

The simple, yet effective stage design (by Camellia Koo) is inspired by Gaudi architecture. As is the music -- provided by trumpet, clarinet, violin, cello, keyboards and percussion -- which keeps the pace of the 90-minute production moving along with never a dull moment.

Tonight's your last chance to see this show, unless it gets a remounted production, which it rightfully deserves. Let's hope The Shadow never dies.

The Shadow plays tonight at 8 p.m. at the Berkeley Street Theatre. Tickets are $49 ($20 students, $24.50 rush one hour prior to performance). 416-368-3110 or at CanStage's website.

Photo by Michael Cooper.

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