Last night a full-house gathered at the Black Box Theatre for the third and final Musical Works in Concert performance of the 2013 SummerWorks season, Paradises Lost. Based on a science-fiction novella of the same name by Ursula K. Le Guin, Paradises Lost tells the story of the inhabitants of the spaceship Discovery as they travel from Earth towards their new planetary home. Oh, and did I mention it’s an opera? A sci-fi opera. It’s also the first operatic work staged as part of the Musical Works in Concert series. First conceived in 2009, last night was the first performance of Paradises Lost in Canada. With a cast of 17 singers, it was truly an epic undertaking.


The story begins onboard the spaceship Discovery, which left Earth (Dichew) five generations ago to seek out New Earth (Shindychew). Life onboard the Discovery is a self-contained utopia with no disease, war or pollution. It is out of this that a group of extremists called Bliss is born. Followers of Bliss (called Angels) believe that they are already living in Heaven onboard the Discovery and that their “voyage” is actually a metaphor, meaning they should continue to float in space forever with no destination. There is a divide between followers of the cult-like Bliss and its charismatic leader Patel Inbliss and those who believe they should continue the path set-out by the previous generations of Discovery travelers. When a crew engineer discovers an error which will shorten their journey and have them landing on Shindychew 41 years ahead of schedule, a decision must be made on whether or not to keep this information hidden from Bliss so that they may land without complications.


In addition to being the first opera performed as part of the Musical Works in Concert series, it was also the first performance done without amplification. And while the Black Box Theatre isn’t a tremendously large space, the thundering voices of the cast reached every ear present. The performances by the lead actors especially were both powerful and moving. Singers Xin Wang and Neema Bickersteth playing childhood friends Hsing and Rosa, divided as adults by their beliefs, were standouts with impressive vocal range and compelling chemistry. Keith Klassen in the role of Patel Inbliss gave a very effective performance as the leader of Bliss, at times singing directly into the faces of startled audience members. A very strong conclusion to the 2013 Musical Works in Concert series.

-Katharine MacNevin