From its Inception...
Nearly two hundred years ago, an act of extraordinary courage and contribution was enacted by young Ann Harvey and her family on our southwest coast. The story of that heroic rescue remained alive in local and marine lore, but took many generations to be re-birthed to the wider world. The christening of a Canadian Coast Guard vessel in Ann's honor in 1987 followed by the publication of the celebrated narrative poem "Ann and Seamus" by Kevin Major in 2003, launched a renewed interest in this amazing tale. The embrace of this story as the foundation of our opera was the result of a suggestion made to me by Axel Meisen, who himself was reared in a family of opera musicians, and who has an abiding care and interest in the culture and future of our place.
Justin Hall Photo
This story and subsequent opera are a perfect fit for Shallaway on every level. It is first of all ours - a story of Newfoundland and Labrador, and a marvelous model of commitment, courage and contribution. On returning home, many of us feel a catch in our throat when the plane banks to land, and we get that first sight of our cliffs again. It was just such a feeling that overwhelmed me when I read Kevin Major's poem back in 2003. I instantly knew that we had an opera which would portray our spirit, character and resolve in this challenging magical place Just as Shallaway is inseparable from this place in its philosophy and process, I realized that our choristers should be inseparable from the place in our opera. They must, in fact, "be the place" in its realization - no props, but their actual presence as our metaphorical rocks, ocean, hills. Luckily, right here in the place, we had a Jillian Keiley, brilliant and globally-heralded, who could create such a drama with 110 young people! We also had a long and close association with the musical genius, Stephen Hatfield, whom we had commissioned on many previous occasions. That experience had taught me that Stephen could create the libretto from Kevin's poem, and also write the music needed here - beautiful music whose embodiment would honor our own indigenous musical idiom and yet realize operatic proportion and weight. These creative souls accepted our challenge and became Shallaway's partners in this immense and demanding project, and have more than confirmed our confidence in them. Kevin Major has been an insightful and encouraging consultant to us all throughout the development of the musical version of "Ann and Seamus".
Kevin Redmond Photo
Our production enfolds children from the age of 7 through to youth aged 18. There are two complete youth casts, with a similar diversity of age and experience in each, affording optimal opportunity for engagement in major roles. Shallaway's focus on mentorship has been a core element in the preparation of this work, and has greatly enriched our musical community. The support of each person by the other/s throughout the process has been an inspiring and affirming experience in which to be involved.. Five choristers self-selected at the outset to "shadow" the development of the opera from every angle - creative, pedagogical, cultural, strategic, etc. We have learned a great deal from their insights.
Justin Hall Photo
It is thoroughly intentional that "Ann and Séamus" be a vehicle to carry awareness of Newfoundland and Labrador into the world. The theme of shipwreck and rescue is universal, and this work will likely be sung widely in the English-speaking world, as Stephen Hatfield's work is in global demand. The concept of treble voices singing a serious chamber opera is not new - Henry Purcell did it with "Dido and Aeneas" at a Girl's School in Chelsea in 1689. Yet, there is little repertoire currently available of this stature and accessibility. Hopefully, our initiative may spark other similar creations.
Kevin Redmond Photo
In addition to our stellar staff and board, a marvelous crew of volunteers from our organization have given unstintingly of their time and gift in many forms to help Shallaway realize this production, and we acknowledge and appreciate their generosity with much gratitude. Our guest artists, musicians and production team have been a splendid group of collaborators who have been critical to the success of our opera, and we thank them warmly. And finally, to our cherished choristers, who have indeed "become the place" in your "Ann and Séamus" opera. Your skill, hard work, commitment and caring for each other have been central in the transformation of a score and stage directions into the living entity of Ann's sung story. We celebrate, salute and thank you for your extraordinary contribution, and ask you always to keep Ann Harvey as a model in your lives.
-- Susan Knight
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