The Dora winners were announced last night. I don’t think there were any big surprises in the opera category. The COC’s Rusalka scooped most awards with four including Outstanding Production. The other three were Outstanding Direction (David McVicar), Outstanding Musical Direction (Johannes Debus) and Outstanding Achievement in Design (Lighting) (David Finn). It was probably the best thing overall the COC has done in a long time so not shocked.
Yvette Nolan and Dean Burry won the Outstanding New Opera category for Shanawdithit. I’m delighted about this one as I had rather more personal emotional investment in this project than most things I see and it was an important project in so many ways. Marnie Breckenridge received the Dora for Outstanding Performance by an Individual for her performance in Jacqueline. Also well deserved and a wee but surprising as there was every reason to give this one to Sondra Radvanovsky and usually that kind of name recognition wins out. In any event two big wins for Tapestry (and a nod to Opera on the Avalon for being a smaller regional company prepared to invest in something relevant).
Finally, Soundstreams presentation of Two Odysseys: Pimooteewin / Gállábártnit won Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble. In this case Nicole Joy-Fraser, Karen
Weigold, Vania Chan, Deantha Edmunds, Jennifer Taverner, Rebecca Cuddy, Bó Bárdos, Michelle Lafferty, Jonathan MacArthur, Mitchell Pady, Evan Korbut, Bryan Martin and Neil Aronof. This was another fascinating show that deserved some recognition.
So, yes, the eight hundred pound gorilla came out on top but hardly by a knock out.
Last night marked the last performance I plan on seeing before the holidays so it’s time for the annual “best of” posting. So what did your scribe enjoy or admire the most in 2019? Let’s look at it by categories.
Fully staged opera with orchestra
The COC had a decent year but two of their shows stood out for me. David McVicar’s production of Rusalka in October was perhaps all round the best thing the COC have done in years. The production was clever in that interrogated the material enough to ask lots of questions for those willing to think about them without doing anything to upset those not so interested. Musically one really can’t imagine hearing Rusalka sung or played better anywhere in the world. The other winner was Elektra in January. The orchestra and the singing was the winner here, especially Christine Goerke, but the production was better than average and we don’t see enough of the great modern classics in the Four Seasons stage.
The latest concert in the Confluence series featured Marion Newman and friends addressing the question “What is Indigenous classical music?” through a carefully curated programme of works; all of which featured words by Indigenous women. We began with Marion singing Barbara Kroall’s Zasakwaa (There is a Heavy Frost) with words in Odawa describing the earth going to sleep for the winter with flute accompaniment by Stephen Tam. It was followed by Rebecca Cuddy singing three of the Five Songs on Poems by Marilyn Dumont by Ian Cusson. These are really fine settings of interesting, pithy, angry texts that have a wicked humour to them. I particularly like Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald which I’ve written about before.
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:
This year’s Canadian Art Song Project commission is a setting of poems by EJ Pratt by Dean Burry entitled Sea Variations. It was given its first performance yesterday in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre by Michael Colvin and Stephen Philcox. The texts all deal with the moods of the sea and seem curiously archaic for the 1920s when they were written. They are much more reminiscent of, say, Matthew Arnold than Yeats, let alone Eliot. They have a certain power though and anybody who knows the North Atlantic will easily appreciate why they might appeal to fellow Newfoundlander Burry.
The header is a line from Yvette Nolan’s libretto for Shanawdithit; the work she is creating with composer Dean Burry for Tapestry Opera and Opera on the Avalon, which tells the story of the last survivor of the Beothuk people. I sat down with them on Friday to talk about how the work has progressed since I saw an incomplete version in workshop last October. The line really does get to the heart of the creative process that addresses the issues I raised in my review of the workshop (i.e. how we remember and tell stories) and this line, and it’s accompanying music, have become a kind of leitmotiv for the emerging work.
So May Day greetings and hello again. And here are some things you might care to see this month during your eight hours for “what you will”. It’s a bit belated for reasons previously announced but it’s here and I’m back.
Tonight at Lula Lounge at 7pm Tongue in Cheek productions have Democracy in Action. Several noted singers (Krisztina Szabo, Julie Nesrallah, Natalya Gennadi, Teiya Kasahara, Asitha Tennekoon, Romulo Delgado, Alexander Hajek and Stephen Hegedus) will perform pieces based on audience voting.
How, collectively, we remember is a cultural act defined by both choices and the general milieu in which the remembering takes place(*). Sometimes this results in stories being distorted and “misremembered”. The story of Shanawdithit, the last survivor of the Beothuk people is, perhaps, one such story. Her life and death, the final act in the campaign of genocide against her people is still “remembered” in Newfoundland culture but how much do we really know? The “evidence” boils down to a handful of sketches by Shanawdithit, annotated by one William Cormack; pretty much the only white person to show her any kindness or to display any interest in her people. Dean Burry and Yvette Nolan’s new opera; a co-production of Tapestry Opera and Opera on the Avalon asks what we know and how we know it. I attended a workshop presentation of the incomplete work yesterday.
Tapestry’s 2018/19 season has been announced. There are two new operas plus Tapestry Briefs and Songbook IX. So here’s the lineup:
Tapestry Briefs: Tasting Shorts runs September 13th to 16th 2018. Four singers perform short works plus drinks and tapas.
Hook Up, which runs January 29th to February 10th 2019 at Theatre Passe Muraille is a partnership with that company. The libretto is by Julie Teppermann with music by Chris Thornborrow. It looks like a sort of “coming of age” piece about starting university. The singers are Alicia Ault, Nathan Carroll, and Jeff Lillico. None of them are known to me but a quick Google suggests actors-who-sing/musical theatre rather than opera.
Songbook IX is scheduled for March 2019. No further details at this stage.
Finally, and of most interest to me, is a new work co-produced with Opera on the Avalon. It’s called Shanawdithit and tells the story of the last recorded surviving member of the Beothuk Nation in Newfoundland, and the extinction and erasure of her people. The libretto is by Yvette Nolan with music by Dean Burry and it will be performed by an indigenous cast headed by Marion Newman. This will run on yet to be announced dates in May 2019. I’m excited about this one.