Rocking Horse Winner Brings Another Win for Crow’s Theatre: REVIEW

Asitha Tennekoon and Keith Klassen in Tapestry Opera's Rocking Horse Winner, photo Dahlia Katz
Asitha Tennekoon and Keith Klassen in Tapestry Opera's Rocking Horse Winner, photo Dahlia Katz

Rocking Horse Winner, a Tapestry Opera production in association with Crow’s Theatre, opened at Streetcar Crowsnest on November 1, 2023. Adapted from the short story by D.H. Lawrence, the opera is written by Gareth Williams and directed by Michael Hidetoshi Mori.

The story centers on Ava, an unhappily married woman who bemoans her financial circumstances, which she attributes to her “unlucky” husband. Ava’s obsession about her lack of money is so great that even their house has absorbed her unhappiness and whispers that there isn’t enough money. Her son Paul feels responsible for his mother’s unhappiness and rides his rocking horse in the belief that it will tell him the name of the winning horse at the horse races. Accompanied by his uncle, Oscar, and their gardener, Bassett, Paul places a bet at the races. When he gives his mother his initial winnings, she blows it on extravagances that quickly lose their appeal. It is easy to see that Ava’s problems run much deeper than money – she possesses a victim mentality and a contagious gloominess about life that infects those around her.

Asitha Tennekoon and Keith Klassen in Tapestry Opera's Rocking Horse Winner, photo Dahlia Katz
Asitha Tennekoon and Keith Klassen in Tapestry Opera’s Rocking Horse Winner, photo Dahlia Katz

The more Ava slips into darkness, the more intensely Paul rides his rocking horse. In fact, his frenzied riding can be viewed through a Freudian lens as desired sexual intercourse with his mother. Further, Paul’s attempt to become the household’s breadwinner, thus replacing his weak father, smacks of an Oedipus complex.

Asitha Tennekoon is charming as Paul, not only capturing the character’s naiveté and pure desire to help his mother, but showcasing a wildly expressive tenor voice (Tennekoon won the Dora for Outstanding Male Performance in a previous production of Rocking Horse Winner.)

I wish that Peter McGillivray as the gardener Bassett had a larger singing part to showcase his magnificent baritone voice. Whenever he sang, I eagerly awaited his gorgeous and powerful lyrical delivery.

Jawon Kang’s set is visually stunning as well as practical. Pianist Stephane Mayer plays (wonderfully, I might add) on the grand piano centre stage while the winding staircase on stage left takes us up to Paul’s bedroom, which also acts as the viewing platform for the horse race. Further stage left is the superlative string quartet (Aysel Taghi-Zada on violin, Tanya Charles Iveniuk on violin, Brenna McLane on viola and Sybil Shanahan on cello), that was especially effective performing discordant passages that emphasized the chaotic riding scene.

Tapestry Opera’s production is perfect for the neophyte opera-goer due to its short length and audience-friendly teleprompter, which displays the actors’ lines.

Despite invoking dark themes of anxiety and dysfunctional familial relationships, Rocking Horse Winner executes it all gloriously.

Tapestry Opera’s Rocking Horse Winner is a sumptuous indulgence of the senses!

Run time is 60 minutes with no intermission.

Tapestry Opera’s Rocking Horse Winner at Crow’s Theatre runs until November 12, 2023. Purchase tickets online or at Streetcar Crowsnest Box Office. Streetcar Crowsnest is located at 345 Carlaw Avenue.

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