For the eighth consecutive year, opera students at Memorials School of Music are taking their show on the road, performing the annual Opera RoadShow for primary and elementary school audiences. However, this year a French-language opera has been specifically commissioned for the purpose.
There is almost nothing in existence out there in French suitable for children, says Dr. Caroline Schiller, director of opera at the School of Music. Using the services of composer Dean Burry (creator of the 2006 Opera RoadShow production of The Vinland Traveler) and award-winning New Brunswick playwright Mélanie Léger, a fable from the Port au Port peninsula was transformed into Le Nez de la Sorcière (The Witchs Nose).
Melanie just ran with it and created a fairy tale that has singing cod, a blue fox (whos also an enchanted prince), a fisherman who annoys a witch and the whole thing takes place on an iceberg, said Dr. Schiller, a self-described puzzle lover who nonetheless describes the process of designing the production as a logistical nightmare.
Dr. Schiller originally created the Opera RoadShow in order to give music students a professional touring experience, and says the program is unique in North America.
Its a win from every standpoint, said Dr. Schiller who notes that the RoadShow has performed for over 40,000 children, including such remote areas as the south coasts Rose Blanche, Griquet on the Northern Peninsula, and Nain on the Labrador coast.
The seven performers, pianist, and backdrop make the trip in two minivans and this year will focus on communities on the Avalon and Central Newfoundland, including a first visit to Fogo Island.
According to student Michael Lee, the practical professional experience is hard to beat.
My aspirations are definitely to stay in the music field and to be able to get this type of hands-on work so early on in my training is invaluable. I get great practice in running rehearsals, in collaborating with other musicians and also feel very rewarded in being able to disseminate classical music to children who might not otherwise be able to have the exposure. It's something that I really wish I could have heard in school in my youth. I believe that musical outreach programs like this are integral to children's education and for me to be able share classical music something that I feel really passionate about is a great privilege, said Mr. Lee, who also acts as the musical director of the company while on the road.
Although the entire opera is in French, Dr. Schiller says that those not fluent in French will definitely be able to follow the action.
We have done an English libretto as well so English students can also perform it as a play. We also give a brief introduction in English at the beginning to introduce and establish the characters, she said, noting that the 45-minute-long production is done in collaboration with LUniversité de Moncton and has one guest singer from that university. Meanwhile, the provincial government and the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council are the financial support for the Opera RoadShow.
Performances have begun in the St. Johns area and the company heads out on the road on May 29.