Gradually, an electronic buzzing, at first imperceptible, grows louder, like a plane taking off, as the stage is flooded with TV static. The young Simon, playing with a folded paper plane, floats offstage, to be replaced with his older counterpart. “Innocence is hard to describe,” sings the pure-toned and sweet-voiced tenor Omar Najmi. Simon is singing of his mother, but he could just easily be singing of his own fall from innocence, growing up half-Palestinian in Islamophobic Canada in the wake of 9/11.

Directed by Laine Rettmer, Adoration, which received its world premiere at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture last Friday as part of the Prototype Festival, is based on a film by Atom Egoyan. In the opera (as well as the film), the high-school aged Simon is tasked with a French translation exercise that triggers a “wave of memories.” It’s a news story about a terrorist who plants a bomb in the bag of his pregnant fiancé, who is travelling alone to Bethlehem, before she is stopped by Israeli security.

The teacher, Mademoiselle Sabine (soprano Miriam Khali) encourages Simon to write a first-person account, as if he were that unborn child. “If the bomb had gone off mid-air, as he intended,” sings Najmi angstily, “I wouldn’t be here to tell you this story.”

Throughout Adoration, we don’t know for sure what’s true, what’s symbolic, and what’s truly fabricated (though details slowly come to light.) At one point, Sabine insists, “I didn’t know that it would go this far, that he’d post it on the internet and go viral.” Her motives, however, always remain a bit murky.

Kouyoumdjian’s score — expertly played by the Silvana Quartet (Courtney Orlando, Nicole Sharlow, Gillian Gallagher, and Maria Bella Jeffers) — mixes electronics with Arabic violin melodies, arpeggiations, and cello double stops. The predominance of screens in Adoration harkens back to its film origins. (The program credits cinematographer April Goldberg and set designer Afsoon Pajoufar.)

Students arguing about capitalism and ethics on Zoom. A flashback video where Simon’s father, Sami (tenor Karim Sulayman) tells his mother, Rachel (mezzo-soprano Naomi Louisa O’Connell) that he “can feel the baby kicking.” Throughout, the charismatic Sulayman verges tenderly into countertenor range.

In another scene, a live video captures Simon’s maternal grandfather, Morris (baritone Marc Kudisch) in pajamas with IV, spewing that Simon’s father “was a killer.” He also recalls that played violin “like her fingers already knew where they lived.”

Things take a strange turn when, Sabine, disguised as a veiled Muslim woman, approaches Simon’s maternal uncle, Tom (baritone David Adam Moore) as he is setting up the Christmas crèche.

Moore’s full-bodied and beefy voice — singing “The sheep have all warped” to “What Child is This” — complements his rugged acting. When de sings the syncopated words, “that’s fucked up,” he is practically spitting.

It’s soon revealed that Sabine was married to Sami for five years before Rachel — a fact she “didn’t think was appropriate” to mention — and that Simon’s parents actually died in a car accident. “Sami had a condition with his eyes,” sings Khali. “He wasn’t supposed to drive at night”

The backstory is hard to believe. And in a production full of realistic characters — like Simon, Sami, and Tom — it felt as though Khalil was from a different opera, her convoluted side-plots verging on soap. In this regard, Royce Vavrek’s libretto borrowed, perhaps, too heavily from Egoyan’s script, when some editing might have improved it. Also out-of-place: A scene where the mother comes out playing violin and dripping blood. In a semi-nonsensical flashback, Sami (who was a luthier, it appears) attaches a new scroll to Rachel’s violin neck.

Simon remarks that he “could cut it off and it’d be just as valuable,” which he does, with questionable (Freudian?) symbolism. The climax of Adoration is a flashback to an argument between the father and grandfather, in which the latter calls Muslims “animals” who “flew into the twin towers.” The mother, who is drinking, says she’s “ready to burst” like a bomb, and asks her husband to take her on that fateful drive. Simon, chasing his younger self around the stage, realizes: “My father was innocent”

Adoration’s title, it turns out, refers not only to the nativity story, and to Simon’s feelings towards his mother (and, eventually, father), but also to the opposite of hatred.

Photos: Maria Baranova