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Lisa Moore's novel February to make opera world premiere

Campus and Community |

By Joshua Goudie

Next week, the curtain will ascend, cuing the world premiere of February, a new stage production from Opera on the Avalon.

Katherine Pracht, a white woman in her early 40s, in Opera on the Avalon's production of 'February'.
Katherine Pracht in Opera on the Avalon’s production of February.
Photo: Submitted

The show is based on Lisa Moore’s award-winning novel of the same name.

“Sitting in the audience, it feels as though the music physically touches you, thrums against your bones,” said Ms. Moore, who serves as co-librettist for the production and is an associate professor in the Department of English’s Diploma of Creative Writing program. “Often in rehearsal, I found myself overwhelmed by emotion.”

A familiar story

Published in 2009, February the novel captured the hearts of readers and was the victor of Canada Reads 2013.

Like the novel, February the opera is a gripping narrative that draws inspiration from a real-life tragedy: the devastating sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland on Feb. 14, 1982.

None of the 84 men on board survived.

“There is a coming together to tell a story, there is community.” — Lisa Moore

The story revolves around Helen O’Mara, a woman shattered by the loss of her husband, Cal, one of the rig’s crew members.

February offers a poignant portrayal of grief and the arduous journey of moving forward, intertwining Helen’s life with critical moments spanning from her initial meeting with Cal in the 1970s to the day of the disaster and her present-day role as a grandmother of two.

“In an opera there are moments of harmony, moments when every voice rises together or falls together like waves. There is a coming together to tell a story, there is community,” said Ms. Moore.

Social urgency

Investigations into the sinking of the Ocean Ranger revealed a complex web of factors contributing to the disaster.

They included inadequate crew training and safety protocols, and a management more concerned with financial considerations than the welfare of the workers aboard the oil rig.

Also brought into focus through this production is the ongoing impact of the oil industry as the world grapples with the pressing issue of climate change.

By shining a light on the Newfoundland and Labrador’s past and present challenges, the team behind February hopes this new adaptation will serve as a poignant and relevant reflection, reminding audiences of the fragility of human life and the life of the planet.

Lisa Moore, a white woman in her mid-50s, leans against a brick wall in the sunshine and smiling at the camera.
Lisa Moore is a co-librettist of February.
Photo: Ritche Perez

“I think the story of oil production and resource extraction has become more urgent,” said Ms. Moore. “The deeper we go, the farther out we go, the more dangerous drilling becomes. The story is still very much about the men who died on the Ocean Ranger and it is about remembering that disaster, and honouring those men. But it is also about mistakes we keep making and the irreversible damage we are creating.”

A new partnership

Bringing her own distinctive musical language to February is Ms. Moore’s co-librettist, Laura Kaminsky, cited by The Washington Post as “one of the top 35 female composers in classical music.”

A native New Yorker, Ms. Kaminsky’s work often delves into social and political issues, making her the ideal collaborator for this production.

Her sixth string quartet, Rising Tide, was a multidisciplinary performance merging science with the arts to address environmental sustainability.

Additionally, her first opera, As One, is the most-produced contemporary opera in North America.

“She is incredibly talented,” said Ms. Moore. “It has been an incredible honour to work with her, and learn from her.”

Music by Memorial

The production’s many connections to Memorial also include several faculty members from the university’s School of Music.

Represented are Christine Carter (clarinet), Michelle Cheramy (flute), Nathan Cook (cello), Annie Corrigan (oboe), Heather Kao (concert master, first violin) and Rob Power (percussion).

Orchestra members practice in a classroom setting.
The orchestra, including School of Music cellist Nathan Cook, prepares for the world premiere of February.
Photo: Submitted

“There is nothing like working with living artists, especially exceptional artists like Lisa and Laura, bringing a new work to life,” said Christine Carter, associate professor of single reeds in the School of Music and clarinetist for February. “And it is always a treat to get to perform alongside my Memorial colleagues and current and former music students from the School of Music.”

Tickets on sale now

Opera on the Avalon’s world premiere of February will take place on Friday, Oct. 13, and Saturday, October 14, at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

Tickets, including special student, senior, and under-30 pricing, are available from the Arts and Culture Centre box office.

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