New Work Development
Under the artistic leadership of General Director & CEO W.R. (Bob) McPhee, Calgary Opera has shown a strong commitment to developing new works, building new productions, and developing the next generation of Canadian artists. Over the past nine seasons, Calgary Opera has presented six world premieres, six Canadian premieres, and many company premieres.
NEW WORK - The Cipher Clerk
Calgary Opera has recently embarked on a new work commission, from composer John Estacio and librettist Clem Martini, tentatively titled The Cipher Clerk. The story is based on Canadian historical events involving Igor Gouzenko, a Russian working in Ottawa at the Soviet Embassy in the 1940s who defected to the Canadian authorities. Gouzenko provided documentation that demonstrated that an organized, worldwide, Russian undercover operation had been gathering military secrets from its former allies – Canada, America, Britain, and France. The information provided by Gouzenko, which listed the names and locations of hundreds of the Russian agents involved, blew apart all former notions of an alliance with the Soviet Union. It completely changed international alignments in the post-war world and many historians credit this Canadian event with igniting the Cold War.
Calgary Opera plans to hold workshops over the course of the next 2 years as the libretto and score are written and developed. Special thanks to Jackie Flanagan for the support of this important new work commission. Calgary Opera is currently looking for co-presenters on this project and welcomes any inquiries about it. Please contact Taras Kulish at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Description of Project – THE CIPHER CLERK
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, Igor Gouzenko, working in Ottawa at the Soviet Embassy, defected to the Canadian authorities. He was sweating. This was partially because he was nervous, but it was also because he had stuffed his shirt with dozens of secret documents. These papers demonstrated that there was an organized worldwide Russian undercover operation that was busy gathering military secrets from its former allies - Canada, America, Britain and France. These documents provided the names and locations of hundreds of the agents involved.
The information provided by Gouzenko, once translated, proved explosive. It caused a scandal on Parliament Hill, and blew apart all former notions of an alliance with the Soviet Union. It completely changed international alignments in the Post War world. Some historians credit this Canadian event with igniting the Cold War.
This story holds tremendous resonance today. Since Edward Snowden’s recent disclosure of the extensive information collection performed by America’s National Security Agency, international surveillance has become an immense, and immensely troubling, issue. It has become crystal clear that America routinely spies on its allies, as well as its enemies. Nor is it alone. China habitually employs teams of skilled internet hackers to pilfer industrial secrets from nearly everyone. Even Canada, it would seem plays the game, spying on Brazil, among others, to gain industrial advantages.
If we have learned one thing from the Gouzenko affair, it is that everybody is spying on everybody, 24-7, regardless of alliances or formal agreements. Nothing is secret, nothing is secure, and everybody’s loyalty is questionable. The Gouzenko affair was in its own way, the beginning of a new world order – a world of constant surveillance.
Clem Martini, Librettist. Professor Martini is an award-winning playwright, novelist, and screenwriter with over thirty plays, and ten books of fiction and nonfiction to his credit, including the Calgary Book Award-winning Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness and his most recent anthology, Martini With A Twist. His texts on playwriting, The Blunt Playwright, and The Greek Playwright, are employed in universities and colleges across the country. He is currently the Chair of the Division of Drama in the School of Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Calgary.
John Estacio, Composer. JUNO nominated composer John Estacio has composed music for several musicians and ensembles and his works are frequently recorded, performed and broadcast on international radio and television. In addition to Filumena, he has composed three other operas, most recently Ours which received its premiere in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He has also written a full-length orchestral score for the ballet King Arthur's Camelot which is being remounted by the Cincinnati Ballet in February 2017. His music has been performed at Carnegie Hall by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Edmonton Symphony. He is the recipient of the NAC Award for Composers and his music was performed by Pinchas Zukerman and the National Arts Centre Orchestra during their tours of China and the UK. In 2017, the NACO will tour across Canada with his orchestral work I Lost My Talk, inspired by Rita Joe’s poem and commissioned for the Right Honourable Joe Clark on the occasion of his 75th birthday. His latest composition, Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, will be performed by twenty orchestras across Canada in 2017/18.
World Premieres to Date
Calgary Opera's most recent world premiere, What Brought US Here: A New Community Opera, was based on the true-life stories of three new immigrants to Calgary. The opera achieved great acclaim for its unconventional and powerful subject matter, rich original music and inclusive presentation. Members of the contributing cultural communities were invited to perform in the production, as well as in the lobby prior to, during and post-show.
Calgary Opera’s first commission was Turtle Wakes, a one-act opera for young audiences by Allan Gordon Bell and Rick McNair, which had its world premiere in Calgary in February 2001. The production of Turtle Wakes was revived in February 2005 for a public performance and a subsequent four-week tour of Calgary and southern Alberta schools and communities.
Filumena was Calgary Opera’s second commission and first full-length mainstage opera. Co-commissioned by Calgary Opera and The Banff Centre, Filumena featured an all-Canadian cast and production team. The opera received its world premiere in Calgary in January 2003, followed by a remount at the 2003 Banff Summer Arts Festival. Since then Filumena has been staged at Alberta Scene at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa (2005), The Banff Centre (2005), and Edmonton Opera (2005) as the opening production of the newly renovated Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. The Calgary Opera production was broadcast twice on CBC Radio Two's Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and the Edmonton Opera production was broadcast on CBC television’s Opening Night. Calgary Opera again remounted Filumena in 2017 in honour of Canada's 150th Birthday.
During the 2006-2007 season, Calgary Opera presented the world premiere of another full-length opera by John Estacio and John Murrell: Frobisher, which was co-commissioned and co-produced by Calgary Opera and The Banff Centre. Frobisher had its world premiere on January 27, 31 and February 2 as the centerpiece of the Calgary Opera 2006-2007 season.
Calgary Opera’s fourth commission and second one-act opera for young audiences is Hannaraptor. Set against the backdrop of the Alberta Badlands, it tells the story of a girl whose determination to protect a beloved dinosaur skeleton propels her into a life-and-death struggle. Hannaraptor received its world premiere on April 5, 2008, performed by the singers in the Emerging Artist Development Program followed by four weeks of school performances in Calgary and southern Alberta.
During Calgary Opera's 2010-11 season, the company presented the world premiere of The Inventor. Calgary Opera's fifth commission and third full-length opera, The Inventor, tells the story of Sandy Keith, the black sheep nephew of the famous Nova Scotian brewer Alexander Keith. Sandy Keith lived many lives, that of a brewer, politician, good Samaritan, conman, husband to two different women, and… a terrorist? The Inventor explores these mysteries of Sandy Keith’s life, relating the story of a quintessential conman in words and music as lively and intriguing as Keith and the times in which he lived.
Calgary Opera is also a partner with The Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, and San Francisco Opera in the new co-commission and co-production of a brand new work based on a landmark of the 19th century American fiction: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer. Moby-Dick had its world premiere in Dallas on April 30, 2010 in the Inaugural Season in the much-anticipated Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts. Calgary Opera presented the Canadian premiere in January 2012.
In 2014, Calgary Opera presented the Canadian première of Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night. This heart-wrenching opera is based on the the true story of WWI troops from all three sides (German, French and Scottish) agreeing to a temporary Christmas Eve truce.
Calgary Opera recently presented another Canadian première in its 2015-16 season, Die Tote Stadt. It was conducted by Grammy and JUNO award-winning composer Bramwell Tovey, follows a man's fight for his sanity as he's tormented by desire of a seductress who bears striking resemblance to his ghostly love. This opera was written by Erich Korngold who was lured to Hollywood soon after the success of Die Tote Stadt to conduct the Oscar winning score of Robin Hood.
With the company setting its sights on presenting its seventh commission over the next four seasons, Calgary Opera is taking a leadership role in commissioning and producing new works. No major Canadian opera company has produced as many new commissions in so short a time period. The presentation and creation of new repertoire is vital to the future of opera and it is equally important to keep looking for the next Verdi or Puccini of our time.