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Canadian Children’s Opera Company

Ambitious Crusade

Diego Matamoros and Jacob Abrahamse in <i>The Children's Crusade</i> (photo by Steve Wilkie).

Diego Matamoros and Jacob Abrahamse in The Children's Crusade (photo by Steve Wilkie).

Upon arriving at the derelict warehouse that plays host to The Children’s Crusade, audience members are shepherded into a curtained-off area that functions as a makeshift lobby. You stand, and as showtime nears and the crowd swells, so does the excitement. You begin to feel as all performers must, waiting in the wings of the “theatre,” full of anticipation.

A new opera by renowned Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer with direction by Tim Albery, The Children’s Crusade receives its world premiere in a six-show run as part of Luminato. Inspired by medieval legend, it chronicles the travels and travails of a young “holy child” (boy soprano Jacob Abrahamse) on a mission from God to unite Christians, Jews and Muslims through love, where force has previously failed. To this end, Schafer’s libretto embraces the ideas of childhood innocence, purity and passion, and asks how they are able to withstand the cruelty and cynicism of the older, allegedly wiser world.

Staged in a “found” space—a vast warehouse in downtown Toronto’s west end—this crusade involves more than 100 performers, including the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, musicians from the Toronto Consort playing an array of period instruments, and well-known theatre actor Diego Matamoros. The ranks grow much larger when one considers that each member of the audience is also, in essence, a player in this epic show. The crowd becomes a part of the holy child’s entourage, joining his trek to Jerusalem, moving around the warehouse space and bearing witness as he convinces other orphans and street urchins of his quest, endures the comic scorn of the French king, is enticed by the sins of the flesh and finally reaches the sea, which, he hopes, will bear him to the Holy Land. Audience members are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes, to make the 90-minute journey less taxing. (If your legs are worn out by the end of the performance, consider it a further layer of the performance. You can now empathize further with those children who walked across a continent, tired and hungry, but spurred by their belief in the goodness of humanity.)

Schafer’s score is somewhat minimalist–recitative-heavy vocal performances punctuated by burst of brass, sinuous arpeggios from the zither, and even the occasional eerie melody played on a saw–and surprisingly populist, encompassing everything madrigals to burlesque-style music and shored up by identifiable motifs. But it’s the staging that is truly the star of this show. The warehouse space is huge, yet almost every corner of it is utilized. By this writer’s count there are eight major movements engaged in by the performers and audience; the amount of coordination necessary to pull them off is extremely high. That it is so successful is a testament to the scope of director Albery’s vision and talent. It also means that, even in a festival packed with works that could be described as “unique,” “innovative” and “ambitious,” The Children’s Crusade stands out.

June 5, 6, 8 to 11. 153 Dufferin St., 8 p.m., $40. Visit Ticketmaster or the T.O. Tix booth at Yonge-Dundas Square to purchase tickets.

Weekend Roundup, May 29 to 31

The weekend arrives once again. Enjoy it!

Friday: Embrujo Flamenco's paella festival

Friday: Embrujo Flamenco's paella festival

Friday, May 29
Explore how the shape of a garment communicates cultural beliefs and outlooks in The Cutting Edge, a feature exhibition at the Textile Museum of Canada.

Savour the exotic flavours of Embrujo Flamenco’s paella festival, featuring various takes on the filling, authentically Spanish dish. A gazpacho starter, one of four daily paellas like the arroz negro—black rice and seafood cooked in squid ink—and dessert are just $49.

Sing along to the roots-rock hits of eclectic British band Gomez as they storm the Pheonix Concert Theatre stage.

Saturday: Sommelier Taylor Thompson offers wine expertise at Reds (photo by Daniel Shipp).

Saturday: Sommelier Taylor Thompson offers wine expertise at Reds (photo by Daniel Shipp).

Saturday, May 30
Spend the day discovering the art of food-and-wine pairing by participating in historic Campbell House Museum’s Global Wine Tour: Fundamentals of Food and Wine course.

Combine food and fashion while celebrating South-Asian music and culture at DesiFest.

Marvel at the poise of performers from the Canadian Children’s Opera Company as they stage Hansel and Gretel Go Into the Woods: A Fairy Tale.

Choose your favourite tipple from more than 90 wines available by the glass at Reds Bistro & Wine Bar—or, seek the advice of Taylor Thompson, the restaurant’s expert sommelier.

Tuck into brunch at the Drake Hotel's eclectic Corner Café

Sunday: Tuck into brunch at the Drake Hotel's eclectic Corner Café

Sunday, May 31
Relax at The Rex with enough jazz, blues and beer to keep you occupied between lunch and dinner.

Take in the Drake Hotel’s trendy ambience as you chomp down on a hearty breakfast burrito from its lauded brunch menu.

Catch the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox—or perhaps even a foul ball—as these Major League Baseball rivals do battle at Rogers Centre.