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The Bicycle Opera Project has released their tour dates for summer 2017 at long last! To see their full tour schedule, click here. As part of my ongoing collaboration with BOP I got to sit down with the cast and discuss the ins and outs of an opera company that tours on two wheels. Click the Read More link to see our discussion on polyglot performances, the garment industry, and how these artists find inspiration in day to day life.

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Cindy is wearing the Paralomis Tunic Slub in teal and the Umbellula Scarf in indigo shibori. Photo by Marc Bernhard

Cindy Won

Q: Have you had any previous experience with the Bicycle Opera Project?

A: Not in terms of performing but I’ve always been a huge fan of the company and its goal of making contemporary Canadian opera accessible to smaller communities.

Q: How long have you been performing opera?

A: Oh… not so sure I want to answer this one! I guess if my memory goes back far enough, I’ve been involved with opera on-and-off for over 20 years now.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your role?

A: I’m Worker #5; one voice among the 5-worker chorus in this piece that represents the many women who toil in appalling work conditions with unfair pay as they try to survive and take care of their families. Even when given the option of joining a union, we are caught between hope and the fear of the probable repercussions if it were to not succeed. There is also an element of rivalry amongst us as we each try to keep our job. We live with the knowledge that there will always be someone else in line willing to work and take our place; we are essentially expendable.

Q: What resonates with you about the character you portray?

A: Although my mother never worked in anything akin to sweatshop conditions, this character still makes me think of her. The Worker women in this piece have a determination about them, a resolve to do whatever they need to in order to survive. I watched for years as my mom put aside her own needs and saw her health deteriorate. She constantly worked and saved every cent she made to take care of both her children and her larger family. She would often describe it as having no other choice.

Q: How does performing a multilingual opera affect your performance? Is it important to you to perform using contemporary language?

A: I love the multilingual aspect as of this particular piece. It makes me feel more connected to it and to the other performers as well. There is a section when the workers sing about memories of home in their own ethnic language. I get to sing in Cantonese. It is a moment of intimacy….of sharing a personal part of ourselves that isn’t often heard; different languages and heritages but a common bond of family and memory. Of course, the multilingual parts of this piece are also shared in English which brings me to my answer to the next question. I think contemporary language is very important when presenting contemporary opera. Communication is key to connecting with people. We’ll be performing in some venues that have no subtitles for translations, thus making it difficult for the audience to be wholly engaged if they have to contend with the distraction of constantly looking up and down at a written explanation in a programme while also attempting to watch what’s happening on stage. It just simplifies everything if the sung words are understood immediately.

Q: This is a very ambitious and innovative project, is there anything about the performance that is brand new to you?

A: Would it be silly to say long-distance biking? Performing can be daunting enough but the thought of not being able to physically make it there is even worse. I am totally comfortable biking around the city but travelling for long stints is brand new to me. I’ve been assured and reassured that it’s do-able and even fun. I’ve also been told that it means getting to eat frequently because we’ll need the energy. I’m in!

Q: Did this production open up your eyes to the nature of the global garment industry? Has it impacted the way you view or interact with your clothes?

A: It’s an issue that I’ve been aware of for quite a while. It’s been impossible to turn a blind eye to the sweatshop disasters that have occurred worldwide including the collapse of factories in Bangladesh back in 2013. I’d love to say that as a result, I only buy eco-friendly and ethical clothing, but it isn’t financially feasible for me to do so. Until that becomes a possibility, the majority of my shopping is done at ViVi Boutique (aka Value Village) or I swap clothes with friends. At least this way, I feel like I’m not exacerbating the problem and I’m also preventing landfill.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from your performance?

A: First, I really hope they enjoy the music. Juliet and Anna have created a piece that I find quite haunting. I hope others feel the same way. Of course, I’d also like it to serve as a conversation starter or a reminder of the terrible working conditions that exist in developing countries. We really do have the ability to make great change in this world by simply deciding where we choose to spend our money.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience so far?

A: From our brief interactions so far, be it shopping for a bike or putting together a singing ‘teaser’ for Take Action F.A.S.T., I feel extremely lucky to be part of such an enthusiastic and supportive group of people. I can’t wait to start more intensive rehearsals with the entire cast in June!


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Justine wears the Anemone Tunic Slub in teal. Photo by Marc Bernhard

Justine Owen

Q: Have you had any previous experience with the Bicycle Opera Project?

A: This is my first experience with the Bicycle Opera Project.

Q: How long have you been performing opera?

A: I have been performing opera for 5 years. I had my first opera performance at York University in the role of the Second Women from George Fredrick Handel’s “Dido and Aeneas” in 2012.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your role?

A: I am a garment seamstress who works in a factory that is not regulated. There are electrical wires everywhere. I’m lucky if I get paid 50 cents a day for the garments I sew.

Q: What resonates with you about the character you portray?

A: She continues to work hard but still holds on to a memory of home just so she doesn’t forget and knows there is life outside the sweat shop.

Q: How does performing a multilingual opera affect your performance? Is it important to perform using contemporary language?

A: Performing in a multilingual opera will affect my performance by challenging me to bring out my mother tongue language with even more pronounced diction, while also appreciating the diverse languages being sung beside me. It wakes me up to the idea that sweat shops are all over the world. It gives my character more of a challenge to keep working just so we can all be safe. Because of these reasons, it’s important to use contemporary language because we can connect to a broader audience and reach out to every women’s story associated with sweat shop work.

Q: This is a very ambitious and innovative project, is there anything about the performance that is brand new to you?

A: Singing with 9 different voices a cappella for an entire opera is brand new for me. I sing with a professional choral group called the Nathaniel Dett Choral and we perform 90% of our repertoire a capella. But I’ve never sung a contemporary opera a capella the entire way through. I’m really excited for this unique challenge.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from your performance?

A: A conscious effort to buy products that are fair trade and free of child labour and unsafe women’s labour.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add to your experience so far?

A: I’ve become a more conscious shopper just from practicing the score. It’s great to be a musician when you realize you can make a global impact. Training on my bike has also made me more environmentally conscious about how often I drive. Hopefully, through this experience I will gain the endurance to cycle to most of my destinations in the city.


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Stephanie wears the Paralomis Tunic Shibori in teal. Photo by Marc Bernhard

Stephanie Tritchew

Q: Have you had any previous experience with the Bicycle Opera Project?

A: This will be my 3rd season!

Q: How long have you been performing opera?

A: The first opera I performed in was in 2010 – so, 7 years!

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your role?

A: I am the Union Organizer – she’s pretty self-explanatory – she spends the opera trying to organize a union at the sweatshop (and also her previous sweatshop) to push for safe working conditions and fair wages.

Q: What resonates with you about the character you portray?

A: I guess she is most like a contemporary woman in today’s society. She believes that the women in the sweatshop have the right to a liveable wage, safe working conditions and an environment free of sexual harassment. Isn’t that what every woman fights for – equality and safety?

Q: How does performing a multilingual opera affect your performance? Is it important to you to perform using contemporary language?

A: Having performed in many operas, the multilingual component doesn’t really affect me at all. If I were required to sing in a different language, I would spend time coaching it and translating everything, but I get to sing in English for this project! I think using contemporary language is great because it adds to the accessibility of the work.

Q: This is a very ambitious and innovative project, is there anything about the performance that is brand new to you?

A: I’ve never sung an entirely a cappella work, wish me luck!

Q: Did this production open up your eyes to the nature of the global garment industry? Has it impacted the way you view or interact with your clothes?

A: It actually really has. I have become increasingly aware of the fast-fashion industry over the last couple of years, but since I found out about this project last summer, I’ve been making a proper effort to not support that industry. Instead, I’ve been researching ethically-made clothing companies, local designers and purchasing second-hand items. It’s not always feasible but I do my best.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from your performance?

A: I hope that from this performance, people will leave with an awareness about the fast-fashion industry. It’s not an easy change because fast-fashion is so convenient, but hopefully people will consider exploring ethical, local and second-hand industries; awareness is definitely the first step. My experience so far has been wonderful, as per usual. The Bicycle Opera Project is such a beautiful company both in mission and spirit, and I’m just itching to get back on the hills of our beautiful province.


This is only Part 1 in a three-part series I’ll be publishing on my blog. Stay tuned for the next installments!

PART 2 / PART 3 [coming soon]

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