For the first time, opera students at Memorial’s School of Music will venture into Labrador as part of their annual RoadShow, which sees them perform around the province for primary and elementary school audiences.
Dr. Caroline Schiller, director of opera at the School of Music, created the Opera RoadShow to give music students a professional touring experience, while introducing youngsters to the pageantry, drama and music of opera. The touring company consists of seven students and alumnus Calvin Powell, who returns from Toronto to lend his baritone to the production.
This is the third year for the tour, but the first time the operatic entourage has been able to fly performers and sets in and out of Labrador communities, thanks to a commitment from Air Labrador to cover the cost of those flights – a gift of about $50,000.
“Our initial goal was that within three years we would be able to have offered this tour to every school district in the province – and now we have,” Dr. Schiller says. While not every school has been able to accommodate the opera, the RoadShow has performed for over 10,000 children, some in very remote areas.
The provincial government and the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council are also supporting the endeavour.
“It amazes adults that 200 children would be interested in sitting and listening to opera, but the kids really become engaged,” Dr. Schiller says, noting that in years past, cards, emails and drawings have attested to how much the kids enjoyed the show.
The Air Labrador Opera RoadShow Tour 2006 will perform The Vinland Traveler, created by Dean Burry. Burry was raised in Gander and now lives in Toronto.
“People often ask me how I became an opera composer coming from Newfoundland. While it’s true I couldn't exactly pop down to the Gander Grand Opera House on a Friday night, there was always access to a great deal of theatre and music,” Mr. Burry says. “Story-telling through music and drama? I think that's the core of the Newfoundland spirit.”
Mr. Burry also wrote Isis and the Seven Scorpions, which the Canadian Opera Company is touring in Southern Ontario, and The Brothers Grimm, which will hit its 200th performance in a production by the Saskatoon Opera Association.
“I am thrilled to be bringing this opera to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. In Ontario, I have seen the effect that this kind of work can have on a young audience, all the while thinking, ‘How can I get this home?’”
Memorial commissioned The Vinland Traveler based on the Vinland sagas, to give young audiences insight into their province’s heritage. As Burry notes, there’s even a puffin singing a traditional jig and reel.
The Air Labrador Opera RoadShow Tour takes off with an invitation-only launch in Petro-Canada Hall on May 6. Some public performances will be scheduled in St. John’s in May.