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.
More info here.
The Canadian Children’s Opera Company have announced their 50th anniversary season. The big news is that the main production will be a new piece by Alice Ping Yee Ho and Marjorie Chan (the team behind The Lesson of Da Ji). The new piece is called The Monkiest King and is based on the legendary (and comic book) character the Monkey King. Like the earlier work it will fuse western opera and traditional Chinese music techniques and instruments. It will play at the Lyric Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts May 25-27 2018.
There is also going to be a celebratory concert hosted by Ben Heppner on October 26 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre. Besides performances by the current CCOC there will be appearances from Richard Margison, Krisztina Szabó, Simone Osborne and Andrew Haji and a choir of CCOC alumni.
All families, they say, have secrets. Few perhaps are as lurid as what came to light at 29 Kintyre Avenue, Toronto (about 2km from here) in the summer of 2007 when a contractor renovating the house discovered the mummified body of an infant wrapped in a 1925 newspaper. Incredibly, the CBC was able to track down the last surviving member of the household from that era, a 92 year old woman living in a retirement home in up-state New York. Her recollections, which formed the subject of a short two part radio documentary, provided a lot of context and background but few hard facts. Who the baby was and how it came to be under the floorboards remains very much a mystery.
A vocalist accompanying himself on the guitar (or one of it’s predecessors) is one of the oldest and most prevalent tropes in western music. From Blondel to Billy Bragg it’s always been with us but it’s quite rare in the world of modern art music where the roles of singer and accompanist are trades as rigidly delineated as anything in a Clydeside shipyard. Doug MacNaughton breaks the rules by playing a variety of kinds of guitar and singing in a range of styles. For that question of style is vital too. The mechanics of doing two jobs simultaneously affect singing style and centuries of performance history offer a bewildering range of stylistic choices. It’s an issue I examined once before when reviewing a Bud Roach CD for Opera Canada.
Not so much on this week. Tuesday COC chorus member and guitarist Doug MacNaughton, currently appearing as Antonio in Marriage of Figaro, has a noon hour concert on Tuesday in the RBA featuring a new piece by Dean Burry and other works ranging from John Rutter to Donald Swann. Then on Friday CASP have an evening recital at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse featuring Philip Addis and Emily Hamper.
Siegfried and Marriage of Figaro continue at the COC. The last performance of the former is today at 2pm while the latter plays Wednesday and Friday at 7.30pm.
Most people in the Toronto opera world know Dean Burry principally as a composer of operas for children. He’s written several and a couple have been mainstays of COC school tours. It’s perhaps understandable then if his music is seen as approachable and maybe, even (sotto voce), a little unsophisticated. Last night, a recital of Dean’s works in Victoria College Chapel; part of his DMA program at UoT, provided a chance to hear a number of works in a much broader range of styles.
The concert kicked off with Tussah Heera playing InPerfections for solo piano. It’s a fully serial piece with the tone rows based on the DNA sequences of various hereditary diseases. It’s quite striking and way more than a just a theory exercise. The same could be said for Three Caprices for solo violin played by Dean’s partner Julia McFarlane. These used a range of extended violin techniques to good effect.