Kopernikus: Canada’s most famous unknown opera

By February 5, 2019 Press No Comments
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TORONTO — The turbulent life of Montréalais composer Claude Vivier (1948-1983) came to end at the age of 35 when he was murdered in his Parisian hotel room. Against the Grain’s mission of pushing the boundaries of opera returns with Vivier’s Kopernikus: A Ritual Opera of Death, a culmination of the composer’s unconventional career and rejection of many traditional ideas of life, music and opera. Its Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity workshop premiere in 2017 earned praise from The National Post as an opera “made for some supreme theatre” and was hailed by Opera Going Toronto as “utterly extraordinary.”

Set in two acts for seven singers and instrumentalists, Kopernikus challenges the norms of classical opera with its innovative use of compositional and technical devices to create a vivid meditation on self-transcendence with a series of music-theatre tableaux. “I think this is Canada’s greatest opera ever written. Vivier was unique, he was an innovator and a true artist,” says stage director Joel Ivany of what is perhaps one of the most staged Canadian operas outside of Canada.

Canadian mezzo-soprano Danielle MacMillan revives her role as Agni, the central character who travels to an unknown space suspended in time wherein she meets the fragmented embodiment of many eclectic characters, the likes of Tristan and Isolde, Copernicus, Lewis Caroll and Mozart. Filling in the roles on this list are mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó; bass Alain Coulombe; baritone Dion Mazerolle; sopranos Nathalie Paulin and Jonelle Sills and baritone Bruno Roy. Joining this outstanding ensemble on stage are dancers Anisa Tejpar and William Yong as they bring strong and supple expression to choreographer Matjash Mrozewski’s vision. In the boisterously irreverent spirit of seeking out new and engaging interpretations of the operatic experience, AtG has taken an innovative twist on orchestration by incorporating members of the orchestra into on-stage roles of the ensemble as part of the production concept. The orchestra ensemble includes violinist Brenna Hardy-Kavanagh; clarinetists Brad CherwinMarc Blouin and Peter StollMichael Fedyshyn on trumpet; Paul Tarussov on trombone and Carly Gordon on oboe.

AtG’s resident lighting designer Jason Hand is both set and lighting designer for this project, creating an environment that hearkens back to the original usage of Theatre Passe Muraille’s unique space. Leela Gildayacts as dramaturge alongside Marissa Kochanski’s original costume design. Musical director Topher Mokrzewski takes on the challenge of conducting a dispersed ensemble through Vivier’s cosmic and ethereal orchestration.

It’s been nearly 40 years since the premiere of Kopernikus’ epic journey of fire, life, death and ultimately, hope. A profound and spiritual experience invented by a composer who, despite his intrigue as a grand-eccentric, was a profoundly spiritual man. “Find the soul of the human race” Viver said “and place it there in front of the human race, make the individuals face up to themselves again…”

Join us for AtG’s Kopernikus, an adventure into Canada’s most famous unknown opera. The production will be presented at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue) on April 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13, 2019 with all performances at 8pm and doors open at 7:30pm. Tickets range from $25 – $85 and are available now from Against the Grain TheatreArts Box Office