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Volume 15 Issue 7 - April 2010

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  • April
  • Toronto
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  • Musical

Giiwedin: Operatic Winds

Giiwedin: Operatic Winds of Changec h r i s t o p h e r h o i l eOver the years April has become themost opera-heavy month of the year.Joining a full slate of old favouritesfrom well-known companies (I’ll say moreabout these later) is a world premiere froman exciting young company.Indie(n) Rights Reserve presents Giiwedin(“The North Wind”), in co-productionwith the Native Earth Performing Arts Centre.The opera, written in the Anishnaabemowin,French and English languages, tellsthe story of Noodin-Kwe and her struggle toprotect her ancestral land in NortheasternOntario. It runs at the Theatre Passe MurailleMainspace April 8-24.Librettist and co-composer Spy Dénommé-Welchand co-composer CatherineMagowan respeonded to questions I askedthem, providing much insight into the operaand its background.How did Giiwedin come about? Where didthe idea come from? How long have youbeen working on it?SDW: I had the idea to write an opera aboutfive or six years ago. I just had this kind ofimage come to me, like a flash. All I knewwas that I was going to write an opera andthat Catherine would be my collaborator. Acouple of years later, we started working. Itbecame clearer to us what the scope of thisproject was going to be, especially as thedepth of the story really unfolded. The storyis linked to the historical research that I hadbeen doing about my family and Timiskaming(on the Ontario side).I grew up with oral knowledge about myancestors and the Timiskaming region. Asan adult I began to piece together this history,and came upon historical documentationthat confirmed a lot of the oral knowledgeI grew up with. I had also come uponsome of my ancestral history through lettersand government documents. I found letterswritten by a great ancestor who was challengingthe government at the turn the centuryover the lands that were being seized withoutany form of fair treaty or compensationnegotiated or exchanged. The lands weresimply being taken away, cleared and settledwithout regard for local Indigenous communitiesand families who were living in thearea over thousands of years. So I wanted todevelop a story about Timiskaming and thesurrounding areas, told from the perspectiveof a strong and operatic Anishnaabe woman.One press release mentions that the centralfigure, Noodin-Kwe, is 150 years old. Couldyou say she is a symbolic figure and thatthe opera is in the mode of magic realism?SDW: Noodin-Kwe’s age is symbolic to thisstory, as she represents seven generationsof historical knowledge. As a girl she witnessedthe French-Indian Seven Years’ War,and the Royal Proclamation of 1763. TheProclamation is an important event, becauseit has really shaped and affected how we relatewith one another and the land that weare standing on, and has impacted Canada’srelationship to its Indigenous people andvice-versa. Although the year 1867 may beviewed as the official birth of Canada, a lotof history precedes this date.Myself, I didn’t write this work as magicrealism, however, I am quite aware thatsome audiences could easily read the workfrom this point of view. This is perfectlyMezzo-soprano Marion Newman appearsas Noodin-Kwe, a native woman fighting forland rights in Giiwedin.fine with me; everyone has their own entrypointinto a work of art. My frame of referenceis traditional Anishnaabe storytellingmethods, but also includes classical and contemporaryforms of theatre to the more experimentalmodes of performance, includingthe more diary-based and poetic forms ofwriting. But this opera is heavily rooted inthe history of Northern Ontario, and wouldnot ask audiences to imagine that it is a paralleluniverse.Certainly some images in the work maycause us to understand a story better becausewe tend to filter and process themfrom our own experience or knowledge.This can be helpful when trying to buildmutual understanding, but to suggest thathistories are universal is a fine line to blur.I wrote this work in line with Anishnaabestorytelling methods because they arepacked with teachings, and I used poeticJeunesses Musicales Ontariopresents two of its star alumniworld-renowned violinistJames Ehnesaward-winning pianistJamie Parkerin an intimate one-hour recital of worksby Beethoven, Bach, Schumann & BrahmsHosted by broadcaster & arts writerEric FriesenThis fundraising event begins with a 7pm cocktail receptionTuesday, May 18Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front Street WestTickets , available atwww.jmontario.ca or 416-536-8649A limited number of patron tickets areavailable at 5 each, which include aninvitation to an exclusive post-eventreception with the artists ($150 tax receipt).For more information:heidi@heidimckenzie.cawww.jmontario.ca10 www.thewholenote.comApril 1 - May 7, 2010

and comedic dynamics interspersed with thetragic elements that we find in Grand Operaforms. This way we can laugh our waythrough tragedy, making some of this realitya bit more bearable.I note that Giiwedin translates as "NorthWind." Why this title?SDW: Giiwedin/The North Wind is symbolicof Northern Ontario, and Noodin-Kwe’sname translates into Wind Woman. Windhas inspired many mythologies and storiesthat easily lend to Grand Opera forms. Wefelt this story was no exception, as it is epicin scope and spans time and space. Windplays a symbolic role in this opera, becauseit has the power to affect the spread ofother elements such as fire and water. Windforces, like the North Wind, have a lot ofimpact on the shaping or reshaping of landforms,like the effect that colonialism hashad on these lands.I see you have collaborated before on shortoperas. Is this your first full-length opera?SDW: I’ve collaborated on short operaworks through the Tapestry LibLab programme,but this is my first full-lengthoperatic work. I’ve trained in violin andplay guitar, and have scored original musicfor experimental shorts, which has been especiallyhelpful when orchestrating musicfor this particular score. I love and grew upwith all kinds of music. My mother reallyguided my musical diversity; she brought allkinds of music into the home, and taught meto appreciate the politics behind the music.This has really influenced how I work as anartist and a scholar.CM: I’ve previously written works for chamberensembles such as bassoon quartets. Thebassoon is my weapon of choice, and I especiallylove bassoon quartets because theycharacteristically have very close harmoniesand voice crossing. It reminds me ofvocal stylings from the swing and jazz era,and local groups like Moxy Früvous. BecauseI play bassoon, I was always lookingfor music from other instruments’ repertoireand making transcriptions and arrangementsfor myself and my friends. Even afterpeople started asking me to do it for theirown use, I didn’t really think of the possibilitiesas a composer. Three years later…You two are listed as "co-composers." Howdoes that work?CM: At first we assigned sections basedon what we perceived to be our musicalstrengths, but that went out the door prettyquickly. Our music was developed entirelyas a team. In some cases, we dividedsections for each to work on, but we alsoworked on passages together. This way wecould give each other feedback, critique andsupport. It’s an interesting process that requiresa well-thought out methodology beforetackling the creative components. Italso helped us stay on track, set and meetesprit o rc h estraA lex Pau kMusic Directorand Conductorno reasonto panicSU N DAY, M AY 1 6, 201 08:00 p.m: Concert7:15 p.m: Pre-concert talkJane Mallett Theatre atthe St. Lawrence Centre for the ArtsAlex Pauk conductorShauna Rolston celloDonna Brown sopranoProgramme:Douglas SchmidtCarbon (concerto for cello andorchestra – world premiere)Louis AndriessenVermeer Pictures(concert suite for orchestra fromthe opera Writing to Vermeer)Mayke NasNo reason to panic(for wind ensemble and six basses)R. Murray SchaferGitanjali (for soprano and orchestra)Tickets:41 6 . 3 6 6. 77231.800.708.6754o r w w w . St l c . c o Mw w w . e S P r i t o r c h e St r A . c o MApril 1 - May 7, 2010 www.thewholenote.com 11

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