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.
Coming up later this month…
On October 14th at 7.30pm in the MacMillan Theatre, the UoT Symphony, UoT Opera and the MacMillan singers are joining forces for a programme of opera ensemble numbers.
October 20th at 8pm in the Ernest Balmer Studio sees the first show in the new Confluence series; Sovereignty Voiced. Actor Cole Alvis, mezzo soprano Marion Newman, composer/pianist Ian Cusson, poet/filmmaker Armand Garnet Ruffo and singer/songwiter Aqua Nibii Waawaaskone and others share poems, songs and stories in an intimate cabaret.
I Call myself Princess is a new “play with opera music” written by Métis playwright and actor Jani Lauzon which will première at the Aki Studio in Toronto in September in a production directed by Marjorie Chan. I heard about this project a while ago from Marion Newman who will headline the new production and was intrigued. I knew it was going to be about American composer Charles Wakefield Cadman and his Creek/Cherokee collaborator Tsianina Redfeather. I knew they did a touring show including Cadman’s song cycle From Wigwam to Tepee and that’s about it. It sounded like the worst kind of late Victorian cultural appropriation and “Redsploitation” so why would serious and intelligent Indigenous artists like Lauzon and Newman be interested? Today I spoke with Jani in an attempt to find out.
Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony were in town last night for a one night stand at Roy Thomson Hall. My reason for going was primarily to see Marion Newman sing Ancestral Voices; a work composed for her by Tovey. It’s the composer’s contribution to the sesqui and it deals with the Dominion of Canada’s troubled relationship with the original peoples of this land. The four movements trace an arc from an imagined pre colonial “Arkady” cleverly using a Keats text that deals with a clearly not Canadian imagined state of nature through to Charles Mair’s The Last Bison; a very early warning of what happens when Man and Nature get out of balance. Then comes the most chilling part; an excerpt from a letter in the government archives about residential schools”…separate, isolate, educate; dominate, assimilate; Sow the seeds and forcibly, effectively; Kill the Indian in the child.” It concludes with fragments of letters from Harper and Trudeau cut with parts of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.
So it looks like January is finally over and that means we can look ahead to next month. Things are definitely winding down. There’s the last Opera Pub of the season on the 3rd at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. The Vancouver Symphony is appearing with Bramwell Tovey at Roy Thomson Hall on the 26th with the highlight being Marion Newman singing Ancestral Voices; a piece Tovey wrote for her. Also that evening the Canadian Children’s Opera opens a two performance run of Alice Ping Yee Ho’s new piece The Monkiest King. That’s at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
Victor Davies’ The Ecstasy of Rita Joe opened last night in a production by Guillermo Silva-Marin at the Jane Mallett Theatre. It’s based on the play by George Ryga that caused a stir when it opened in Vancouver in 1967. The play was described as indirect and allusive with no clear narrative thread by the critics back then and was praised perhaps more for tackling the subject than for its intrinsic merits which were far from universally appreciated. Interestingly, as is so often the case in Canada, although rarely performed it has attained “classic” status. One word Victor Davies uses to describe the play is “expressionistic” but curiously rather than taking that as a jumping off point for the music (as Strauss and Berg did) he decides it’s an inappropriate idiom for “the lyric approach needed for the melody to unfold”. Why one needs “melody to unfold” in a disturbing tale of a young native woman’s descent into a hell of sexual abuse, alcohol, drugs, prison and, ultimately, her murder and why that melody should be couched in 1940s jazz/swing terms wasn’t obvious to me.
Yesterday’s free concert in the RBA featured mezzo Marion Newman with pianist Adam Sherkin and violinist Kathleen Kajioka in a programme of contemporary Canadian works (all the composers were in the room!) mostly connected in some way with Canada’s First Nations and Inuit peoples. First up was Ian Cusson’s setting of E. Pauline Johnson‘s A Cry from an Indian Wife. It’s a long, highly emotional but not, I think, especially well crafted, text about an Indian woman sending her husband off to war (the language reflects the usage of its day) and the words are not easy to set or sing. Cusson’s setting is appropriately intense with a blistering piano part and a tough vocal line. It’s deeply affecting but hardly comfortable especially when sung in a manner that clearly (and rightly) privileged text and emotion over beauty of sound.