Even though it’s a little late, I guess you could call the opera opening in Toronto on May 28, 2022 a 100th anniversary celebration of the word ‘robot’. Introduced in 1920 by Czech playwright Karel Čapek in his play, R.U.R., which stands for ‘Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti’ or, in English, ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’, the word was first coined by Čapek’s brother, Josef (see more about the play and the word in the R.U.R. Wikipedia entry).
The opera, R.U.R. A Torrent of Light, is scheduled to open at 8 pm ET on Saturday, May 28, 2022 (after being rescheduled due to a COVID case in the cast) at OCAD University’s (formerly the Ontario College of Art and Design) The Great Hall.
I have more about tickets prices, dates, and location later in this post but first, here’s more about the opera and the people who’ve created it from the Tapestry Opera’s ‘R.U.R. A Torrent of Light’ performance webpage,
This stunning new opera combines dance, beautiful multimedia design, a chamber orchestra including 100 instruments creating a unique electronica-classical sound, and wearable technology [emphasis mine] created with OCAD University’s Social Body Lab, to create an immersive and unforgettable science-fiction experience.
As for the opera’s story,
The fictional tech company R.U.R., founded by couple Helena and Dom, dominates the A.I. software market and powers the now-ubiquitous androids that serve their human owners.
As Dom becomes more focused on growing R.U.R’s profits, Helena’s creative research leads to an unexpected technological breakthrough that pits the couples’ visions squarely against each other. They’ve reached a turning point for humanity, but is humanity ready?
Inspired by Karel Čapek’s 1920’s science-fiction play Rossum’s Universal Robots (which introduced the word “robot” to the English language), composer Nicole Lizée’s and writer Nicolas Billon’s R.U.R. A Torrent of Light grapples with one of our generation’s most fascinating questions. [emphasis mine]
So, what is the fascinating question? The answer is here in a March 7, 2022 OCAD news release,
Last Wednesday [March 2, 2022], OCAD U’s Great Hall at 100 McCaul St. was filled with all manner of sound making objects. Drum kits, gongs, chimes, typewriters and most exceptionally, a cello bow that produces bird sounds when glided across any surface were being played while musicians, dancers and opera singers moved among them.
All were abuzz preparing for Tapestry Opera’s new production, R.U.R. A Torrent of Light, which will be presented this spring in collaboration with OCAD University.
An immersive, site-specific experience, the new chamber opera explores humanity’s relationship to technology. [emphasis mine] Inspired by Karel Čapek’s 1920s science-fiction play Rossum’s Universal Robots, this latest version is set 20 years in the future when artificial intelligence (AI) has become fully sewn into our everyday lives and is set in the offices of a fictional tech company.
Čapek’s original script brought the word robot into the English language and begins in a factory that manufactures artificial people. Eventually these entities revolt and render humanity extinct.
The innovative adaptation will be a unique addition to Tapestry Opera’s more than 40-year history of producing operatic stage performances. It is the only company in the country dedicated solely to the creation and performance of original Canadian opera.
The March 7, 2022 OCAD news release goes on to describe the Social Body Lab’s involvement,
OCAD U’s Social Body Lab, whose mandate is to question the relationship between humans and technology, is helping to bring Tapestry’s vision of the not-so-distant future to the stage. Director of the Lab and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts & Science, Kate Hartman, along with Digital Futures Associate Professors Nick Puckett and Dr. Adam Tindale have developed wearable technology prototypes that will be integrated into the performers’ costumes. They have collaborated closely with the opera’s creative team to embrace the possibilities innovative technologies can bring to live performance.
“This collaboration with Tapestry Opera has been incredibly unique and productive. Working in dialogue with their designers has enabled us to translate their ideas into cutting edge technological objects that we would have never arrived at individually,” notes Professor Puckett.
The uncanny bow that was being tested last week is one of the futuristic devices that will be featured in the performance and is the invention of Dr. Tindale, who is himself a classically trained musician. He has also developed a set of wearable speakers for R.U.R. A Torrent of Light that when donned by the dancers will allow sound to travel across the stage in step with their choreography.
Hartman and Puckett, along with the production’s costume, light and sound designers, have developed an LED-based prototype that will be worn around the necks of the actors who play robots and will be activated using WIFI. These collar pieces will function as visual indicators to the audience of various plot points, including the moments when the robots receive software updates.
“Despite current stereotypes, opera was historically a launchpad for all kinds of applied design technologies. [emphasis mine] Having the opportunity to collaborate with OCAD U faculty is an invigorating way to reconnect to that tradition and foster connections between art, music and design,” comments the production’s Director Michael Hidetoshi Mori, who is also Tapestry Opera’s Artistic Director.
“New music and theatre are perfect canvases for iterative experimentation. We look forward to the unique fruits of this collaboration and future ones,” he continues.
Unfortunately, I cannot find a preview but there is this video highlighting the technology being used in the opera (there are three other videos highlighting the choreography, the music, and the story, respectively, if you scroll about 40% down this page),
As I promised, here are the logistics,
100 McCaul Street,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5T 1W1
The Great Hall at OCAD University
Level 2, beside the Anniversary Gallery
The following seating sections are available for this performance. Tickets are from $10 to $100. All tickets are subject to a $5 transaction fee.
Balcony (standing room)
May 28 at 8:00 pm
May 29 at 4:00 pm
June 01 at 8:00 pm
June 02 at 8:00 pm
June 03 at 8:00 pm
June 04 at 8:00 pm
June 05 at 4:00 pm
Tapestry Opera’s ‘R.U.R. A Torrent of Light’ performance webpage offers a link to buy tickets but it lands on a page that doesn’t seem to be functioning properly. I have contacted (as of Tuesday, May 24, 2022 at about 10:30 am PT) the Tapestry Opera folks to let them know about the problem. Hopefully soon, I will be able to update this page when they’ve handled the issue.
ETA May 30, 2022: You can buy tickets here. There are tickets available for only two of the performances left, Thursday, June 2, 2022 at 8 pm and Sunday, June 5, 2022 at 4 pm.