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:
My review of Dean Burry and Yvette Nolan’s Shanawdithit is up now on Opera Canada.
TL:DR – Go see it.
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz
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.
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.