Highlands Opera Theatre commissions original production

By Jenn Watt

Published May 16 2017

Three First Nations singers three opera singers and one collaborative pianist will join forces with local community choirs to present an original production in the Haliburton Highlands.

Wiikondiwin meaning feast is being composed by Barbara Croall for this partnership between Highlands Opera Theatre (HOT) and L’Atelier Lyrique de L’Opera de Montreal and will include English Metis French and Odawa.

The undertaking is a first for HOT which took the lead on the project with the Montreal company and involves a sizeable budget.

Canadian Heritage has given $50000 and the Canada Council for the Arts: New Chapter announced at the end of April a $94000 grant.

“That is for the creation and presentation of the newly commissioned opera” said Valerie Kuinka general director of Highlands Opera Theatre.

Kuinka said the group is “extremely excited” that Wiikondiwin is going to be performed this year and sees it as an opportunity not only for the theatre company but also for the region.

Through the partnership with L’Opera de Montreal a public workshop performance will be held in Haliburton in the summer as well as in Montreal. Then in December a fully staged event will be held in both places.

“It will bring the region of Haliburton County and the Ontario Highlands to focus amongst people who didn’t know where we were or what we were” Kuinka said.

Barbara Croall is an Odawa composer trained in Western composition styles with work that combines both traditions. Wiikondiwin will tell a story about the environment – how it was 150 years ago how it is now and imagining it in another 150 years.

Woodland creatures are living happily in the forest until they realize that human influence is destroying their habitat. Led by a wolf they hold a feast to discuss how to return the Earth to its healthy state. They decide the best way to do this is for the animals to transform into human shapes.

Kuinka said the full production in December will be performed in the round; the singers will be in the middle surrounded by the audience. Behind the audience the choirs will provide the sounds of the forest.

She’s expecting in Haliburton to have at least 500 people attend which means they’re in the midst of figuring out exactly how to put on the show. If they use the high school gymnasium a lighting grid and portable seating will need to be brought in which is logistically and financially challenging.

They need another $20000 in order to cover everything comfortably.

“Opera is expensive” Kuinka said listing accommodations for the singers per diems commissioning the piece equipment charges etc.

“It’s enough [money] to go ahead but it’s lean” she said.

“With a bit of private donation we can take the edge off that and be able to provide the artists involved with the proper fee and living accommodations.”

The first public workshop will be held in Haliburton on Aug. 19. That will include the professional core performers only. A date has not yet been set for the wider performance but Kuinka estimates it will land sometime in the Christmas season.

“[It’s] a real collaboration of cultures and styles of music and I think it should prove to be … an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience” she said.

Go to highlandsoperastudio.com for tickets and more information.