Opera News

October 26, 2006

Manitoba Opera to Stage World Premiere of New Opera
Based on the Internationally Acclaimed Play, Transit of Venus
in Celebration of 35th Season, 2007/08

Manitoba Opera announced today that the company will stage the world premiere of a new opera based on the internationally acclaimed play Transit of Venus by Maureen Hunter in November 2007 in celebration of its 35th season, 2007/08. 

This full-length, three-act opera with full orchestra will be the first opera commissioned for main-stage production in the history of the company. It will be sung in English with surtitles.  There are three performances at the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall scheduled for Saturday, November 24, Tuesday, November 27 and Friday, November 30.

“Opera is the most challenging art form to create and perform at a high standard. For this reason it’s not often that a new opera is created anywhere in the world, so it’s extremely significant that Manitoba Opera is producing a new opera. It’s a testament to this community’s commitment to culture, to arts and to innovation. And it’s a testament to the creative abilities of the people of Manitoba,” said Peter George, President of the Manitoba Opera (MO) Board of Directors.

“Presenting new operas is an important way to explore new ground in a traditional art form and invite new audiences to discover what opera has to offer. Manitoba Opera is committed to producing and presenting quality opera that balances traditional with innovative productions and we believe Transit of Venus will help us continue to meet this mandate.”

Nearly half of the funding for the $1.2 million budget has already been secured through the private sector and a $200,000 grant from the Winnipeg Arts Council’s New Creations Fund, the largest grant ever awarded by the Council. The remainder will be generated through additional private and corporate donations, sponsorship, and box-office revenue.

The opera will boast strong Manitoba connections. Internationally renowned, Winnipeg-born composer Victor Davies has been commissioned to compose the music for the new opera. Manitoba-based playwright Hunter is the librettist. Larry Desrochers, General Director and CEO of Manitoba Opera, has served as the dramaturge and will direct the production.

”I'm delighted to be composing the music to the wonderful libretto which Maureen Hunter has adapted from her brilliant play Transit of Venus. The characters and their language cry out for passionate melodic music, soaring lyrical moments, and deep emotional colours. The story and the five powerfully drawn major characters of the play are ideally suited to opera. I am excited by the challenge of making these beloved characters of the play come alive with memorable melodies, the lush orchestral sounds which I hear in the story and with the added dimension of the excellent Manitoba Opera Chorus,” said Davies.

“Working on the libretto with Maureen has been immensely enjoyable, only having known her by reputation as one of Canada's major playwrights. I have previously worked with director Larry Desrochers on the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Pan American Games in 1999 and have great trust that he will bring the opera to life on the stage in a brilliant way and successfully guide Maureen and I through the fire of creating it. Opera for me is the greatest performing art, and being commissioned by the MO will be the highlight of my career.”

Transit of Venus is based on the real-life expeditions of the 18th-century French astronomer, Guillaume le Gentil de la Galaisière, who twice tried, unsuccessfully, to chart the transit of the planet Venus across the sun. As early as the 17th century, the transit was believed to be a way of determining accurately the distance between the earth and the sun.

The opera explores the question of achieving your potential or being with the people you love. It follows the play’s storyline and tells of Le Gentil’s passion for what he believes is his destiny (astronomy) and Celeste’s unconsummated love for him. He and Celeste are engaged, but  his quest to chart the transit of Venus takes him far from home, first for six years and then for another five years. Believing Le Gentil to be dead, Celeste turns to his assistant, Demarais for comfort and ultimately the love she so longs for. When Le Gentil finally returns, he tries to explain that he realizes his destiny to be with her, but she has moved on with her life. In the end, Le Gentil has failed in both tracking his heavenly love (Venus) and his love here on Earth.

“When I started to think about developing a new work for Manitoba Opera, I wanted a work that would pay homage to the great operas of the world; to be respectful of those in our audience who have supported us for many years, but are reticent about new work; and to have Manitoban artists play key roles in the creative process,” said Desrochers. “I think we will meet all these objectives with Transit of Venus. As a story, it has all the elements of great opera – huge, sweeping romantic themes and characters caught in larger-than-life situations; its 18th-century setting has the feel of traditional opera; and in Victor Davies we have a composer whom I know can create music which is accessible, beautiful, and moving.”

The critically acclaimed play, Transit of Venus was premiered by the Manitoba Theatre Centre in 1992. It has been performed by virtually every major theatre company in Canada and is the first Canadian play to have ever been staged by England’s renowned Royal Shakespeare Company.

“It’s easy to see why theatre companies like this play. It’s an intelligent, compelling script that deals with big ideas and intense human emotions, a grandly, tragic romance and a comment on several deeply human issues.” Globe and Mail

“I can't tell you how exciting it is to know that my play Transit of Venus will reincarnate as an opera, 15 years to the day (almost) since its premiere at Manitoba Theatre Centre.  It's been wonderful to revisit the story as librettist, and to rediscover the characters and realize how much I still like them and how compelling the story remains,” commented Hunter.

 “The reincarnation -- from play to libretto -- has been an exciting, challenging process.  I'm very fortunate to have a composer of the calibre of Victor Davies to collaborate with on this project. He's not only a wonderful composer, but has a real nose for story, which has helped immensely in the writing of the libretto. It's also been great to work again with Larry Desrochers, who dramaturged and directed the premiere of the play and knows it so well. And I'm delighted to be able to make a contribution to opera, a genre I've grown to love almost as passionately as theatre. I'm grateful to everyone who has made this possible.”

Manitoba Opera moves towards its 35th season from a high note. It has enjoyed six consecutive seasons with a balanced budget, one of only two Canadian opera companies to do so, and last season (2005/06) had its highest subscription numbers in 13 years and near-capacity houses for all performances.

The 2006/07 season which begins Saturday, November 25, will feature two full-scale productions and a mid-season concert event. Strauss’ sparkling, madcap operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat) kicks off the season November 25, 28 and December 1, with Belle Voci (Beautiful Voices), a concert celebrating the beauty of the voice in opera, Saturday, February 24, 2007. The season will close with Shakespeare’s tragedy and Verdi’s crown jewel, Otello, a co-production with Opera Lyra Ottawa. Subscriptions are available by calling 957-7842; casual tickets are available through Ticketmaster, 253-ARTS (2787) or at ticketmaster.ca


DARLENE RONALD  (204)255-0508  dronald84@shaw.ca

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