A second look at Shanawdithit

We went back last night for a second look at Shanawdithit.  We were sitting up much closer to the stage area this time and that did bring out some things I hadn’t noticed so much before.  It also made the role of the chorus much clearer.  That said I don’t think I’d write anything much different to my original review if I were doing so again.  But there are some additional thoughts that I want to share:


  • From close up, certain details of the staging are much more apparent.  I’m thinking of things like the sacred circle that encloses Shanawdithit at the beginning and the way William Cormac isn’t in the final scene with the ancestors.
  • First time up I wondered whether the piece was still, to some extent, Cormac’s story rather than Shanawdithit’s.  I don’t now.  I actually think the way her story is reclaimed as her story is very well done.  There’s a lot of Cormac to be sure but I do think it’s always as a foil to her story telling.
  • I heard stuff in the music that I didn’t notice so much first time.  I think all good scores are like that.  Shanawdithit’s aria, “What song can I sing to descendants I will never have”, is very cleverly constructed.  There’s also a really interesting passage when the tepee is brought on stage.  It’s got a pulsing energy and a building of tension that reminds me of John Adams.  I noticed the instrumentation more too. The use of harp and tuned percussion is really quite subtle and effective.
  • I remain puzzled by reviews that described it as not emotionally engaging.  I was choking a few times.

Bottom line this is a very skilful piece from all angles.  Will it get a life beyond the initial run?  I hope so but few new operas do.

Photo: Dahlia Katz


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