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Vol 38  No 15
June 8, 2006


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Ann and Seamus opera premieres at Memorial

By Ivan Muzychka

A scene from Ann and Seamus. (Photo by Justin Hall)

The morning after Ann and Seamus premiered at the Reid Theatre on the St. John’s campus, musical director Susan Knight was enthusiastic but reflective about the success of the Newfoundland and Labrador-based opera, inspired by the Kevin Major novel of the same name.

The opera, written by Stephen Hatfield, tells the true story of Ann Harvey, the courageous heroine who, with her family, is credited with saving the lives of over 168 Irish immigrants near Isle aux Morts on the province’s west coast after their ship ran aground in a storm in 1828. It is an amazing tale, but according to Mrs. Knight, this newly minted Newfoundland opera is relevant beyond the inspiring narrative details it relates.

“It is also our story, the story of our place, but the opera operates on many levels and I think we have also produced a work of great worth that will be sung around the English speaking world,” Mrs. Knight said after the June 1 premiere. “It will raise awareness of our culture and of the musical nature and courageous character of this place.”

The premiere of the opera ­ which was attended by descendants of those rescued in 1828, as well as direct descendants of Ann Harvey ­ was performed by singers from Shallaway, Newfoundland and Labrador Youth in Chorus (previously called the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir). Shallaway is a community-based cultural organization that includes 220 young artists between the ages of eight and 18 from the urban and rural environs of St. John’s.

When Memorial University president Dr. Axel Meisen read the novel he thought the story, as presented in the book, would be a good topic for an opera. He pitched the idea to Mrs. Knight.

Lt.-Gov. Edward Roberts attended the premiere and had high praise for the performers who are bringing this story to life. “Shallaway has dedicated itself to the preservation of our past and the celebration of our culture. The young singers who perform in Shallaway have been instrumental in enhancing that culture; their experiences will help them become active and innovative contributors to tomorrow’s Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Premier Danny Williams noted that the opera “brings together choral music, opera, theatre and literature to tell important stories that need to be told and retold, in new formats and genres, to ensure that new generations never forget the achievements of those who have gone before.”

Memorial University is a major sponsor of the opera, as are the provincial government, Voisey’s Bay Nickel, Scotiabank, the City of St. John’s, the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council and the Canadian Council for the Arts. Ben Heppner, the famous Canadian tenor, was named the opera’s honorary patron.

For more information please see www.annandseamus.com, www.shallaway.ca.

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