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Volume 28 Issue 5 | April & May 2023

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April and May is Canary Time in the world of WholeNote -- the time when choirs in larger than usual numbers refresh the info in our online "Who's Who" to inform prospective choristers and audiences what they have to offer. Also inside: There's a new New Wave to catch at Esprit; Toronto Bach Festival no 6 includes a Kafeehaus; another new small venue on the "Soft Seat Beat" (we assume the seats are soft!); an ever-so Musically Theatrical spring. And more.


MUSIC THEATRE BUSTIN’ OUT ALL OVER JENNIFER PARR I have been feeling a very strong sense of déjà vu this penultimate week of March, as I go back into rehearsal (as fight director with Opera Atelier) for Handel’s Resurrection which was shut down mid-rehearsal almost exactly three years ago when the pandemic began. Of course, this is a rather nice feeling as, fingers crossed, all will be well for the show to be performed live, at Koerner Hall this April, with the female dancers of the Atelier Ballet at last being given the chance to wield swords along with their male counterparts! OF THE SEA Another show igniting my memory, although in an entirely different way, is Tapestry Opera and Obsidian Theatre’s world premiere Of the Sea, opening on March 25 and playing through April 1 at the Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto. As readers of my column know, I am a great champion of Tapestry’s constantly courageous pushing of the opera envelope, via their decades-old, hugely productive LibLab Chantale Nurse development program and Opera Briefs, their showcases of new works. Of the Sea began as a LibLab (composer-librettist laboratory) experiment in creating an immersive virtual reality experience anchored in the mythology of the Caribbean and the tragic history of the slave trade. It was then showcased in the 2018 Tasting Shorts. Now a large-scale opera with a groundbreaking all-Black cast and full orchestral accompaniment by the COC orchestra, this new work is creating waves of excitement in the performance community. For me, this excitement is enhanced by the presence in the cast of Chantale Nurse, a talented soprano who just happened to play the leading role of Fiordiligi (in one of the two casts) in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte which I directed for the Glenn Gould School/Royal Conservatory of Music back in 2009. Even though the run will be well under way by the time this magazine comes out, reaching out to Director Philip Akin (right) in rehearsal with Jorell Williams as Maduka, who refuses to eat a bowl of gruel infested with weevils. Suzanne Taffot, as Dfiza, looks on. Chantale to catch up and ask about her experience being part of this premiere was an opportunity too good to miss. “I had heard even before I auditioned for it that Ian Cusson was composing the score and was intrigued by the combination of this proudly French-Canadian and Métis composer with (new to me) Black Canadian librettist Kanika Ambrose,” she told me. “I thought ‘wow, this is probably going to be something really interesting’, especially during the pandemic when I had a growing desire to be able to do something or say something through my art.” She had recently created a recital program of all Black Canadian composers, for example, and when this new opportunity came up, she told me, “I felt I needed to be part of it. Once I got the score and libretto, and then did the workshop (last fall) I was blown away. It was beyond what I could have imagined and very very exciting.” In an inspired amalgam of history and imagined mythology, Of the Sea follows the story of Maduka, his daughter Binyelum, and fellow Africans thrown overboard during the Middle Passage of the infamous Atlantic slave trade route, and who now populate underwater kingdoms that span the ocean floor. While some of the kingdoms make fiery plans for revenge, one man, Maduka, is blindly focused only on finding a way to give his daughter life once more. With the opera world finally opening doors to new and non-Eurocentric creators, this premiere feels almost political in its storytelling ambitions, but as Chantale made clear to me, what is much more important is the humanity of the story. “At the heart of it, it is people dealing with being in a situation born out of trauma, and what they are willing to do to either live in a different better way, or to get revenge, or to try and save their children. While it is culturally specific, it is also universal and audiences will be drawn to sympathize and empathize with their story.” With a career that has ranged from classical opera and concert repertoire to burlesque, experimental techno opera, and even rock, Chantale has always enjoyed using her classical training and art form in different ways, and is “beyond overjoyed” to be playing the role of Serwa, the Queen of the Enweghi people who are plotting revenge on the slave ships. The music of Of the Sea, she says, is more classical than experimental, but “easy to listen to, and very beautiful. We are also telling a different story that hasn’t been told in this form before,” she continued, “I think people who come to the show will see something of themselves reflected in the story, and it will speak to them in a way that a Mozart opera might not.” DAHLIA KATZ 10 | April & May, 2023

JOHN JONES/SHERIDAN COLLEGE MAGGIE It seems this spring that in whatever direction I turn there is a new opera or musical opening or, to paraphrase the lyric from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, “new musicals are busting out all over.” In Hamilton, for example, Theatre Aquarius is presenting the world premiere of Maggie, a new musical inspired by the life of the composer’s grandmother, a Scottish single mother who raised three boys in a small mining town between 1954 and 1976. Award-winning Canadian country music star Johnny Reid has joined forces with well-known librettist Matt Murray to write the book and lyrics and, with Murray and music director Bob Foster, also to create the score. Maggie began its development process at Sheridan College’s Canadian Musical Theatre Project under the aegis of Michael Rubinoff who is also associate producer of this new production. Like Rubinoff’s most famous hit from the CMTP crucible, Come From Away, Maggie aims to celebrate the joy and healing power of community, including, as quoted in the press release, “not just (Johnny Reid’s) Gran but also an entire generation of women who Dharma Bizier (Maggie) and Wlliam Lincoln (Tommy) fought through some tough times by keeping faith, hope, love, family friendship and humour close to heart.” Aquarius Artistic Director Mary Acclaimed director, and former artistic director of Obsidian, Philip Francis Moore is both dramaturg and director with Maggie playing Akin, directs, and Jennifer Tung (who conducted Of the Sea as a in Hamilton from April 9 to May 6, then in Charlottetown from short in 2018) is the music director. See for June 21 to September 2. more information. La Traviata G. VERDI Love me, Alfredo! Love me as I love you! May 13 2023 - 7:30pm The beauty and elegance of this timeless masterpiece has forever captured the hearts of music lovers everywhere. Southern Ontario Lyric Opera presents this fully staged opera with Chorus and Orchestra Conducted by, Sabatino Vacca Burlington Performing Arts Centre 905 681 6000 April & May, 2023 | 11

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