Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday Feature: Joel Ivany on the the new opera Marilyn Forever

That Rare Thing
Approaching a new Canadian opera
by Joel Ivany

I have never enjoyed researching an opera as much as I have for this project.

Aventa Ensemble, run by Bill Linwood, approached me in early 2010 about a new opera that was being commissioned for their group.  Aventa (based in Victoria BC) is one of the top five leading contemporary, classical music groups in the world.  It was a piece to be written by English composer Gavin Bryars, libretto coming from Canadian Marilyn Bowering, based on the American actress Marilyn Monroe, to be played by Eivør Pálsdóttir, from the Faroe Islands.   

Sign me up.

We were able to workshop two scenes at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2010 and through this process; we were able to find the heartbeat of this piece.  We are dealing with a voice (Marilyn Monroe), an artist who is craving to be loved and to be remembered.    

Three years later, I find myself in Victoria BC.  

The project has grown.  

We’ve added a baritone from Denmark, two local choristers and scope of the project has grown to a prologue and eight scenes in length.  Aventa has rented out the MacPherson Playhouse for its two show run with hopes of a future for touring. 

Let me tell you…this project has been unlike any operatic experience I have encountered.  I am so thankful to experience such unique artists and music.  Aventa has created a culture of inclusion and accountability.  In less than a week, there is a strong sense of family, despite drawing people from all over the world.

Marilyn Monroe.  As a subject for a new opera, research has revealed a woman who had quite simple roots, was married three times, three times divorced, defied all odds by going on to have a skyrocketing career, and grew exponentially after each success.

Marilyn represented woman.  She represented what men desired and fantasized about.  It was not something she desired, rather she was resourceful in the gifts and passions she was given.  

She had a great body. 

She was in the first edition of Playboy.  She was a sex symbol and cast in roles for this purpose.  Most people assumed that she was both blond and dumb.  Though behind this persona, was an American girl, Norma Jean, who was screaming to be remembered and hoping not to be forgotten.

Our focus for this 2013 full-length opera has been to showcase the unheard voice of Marilyn Monroe.  As any work of art, our piece is subjective and interpretive.  It is our duty and right to present something that is both new and engaging.  By no means are we trying to recreate any aspect of her life, rather we are presented with who Marilyn was and are trying to say something about what she means to us now.  

This music is accessible, in English and runs for an hour and thirty minutes…perfect.

I must say that for someone who works regularly in opera, this project has been refreshing. 

 It is called, Marilyn Forever. An Opera

Aventa has engaged skilled professionals who know their craft.  Camellia Koo is engaged as the set and costume designer and through her design has evoked something both equally specific and timeless.  Kevin Lamotte, our lighting designer, has the challenge of creating an atmosphere that is evocative of the period, but also transcends who she became.  He has found period lighting instruments, (through Ebay) that have arrived from Hollywood, which may have lit Marilyn herself.

New Canadian opera is a rare gift.  Rarely do we see such investment in people and artists that are carving their respective paths in our world today.  It is important to produce and see shows like La Bohème, Carmen and Madama Butterfly, but equally it is important to create new works by living artists and risk success.  

Praise has to be lauded to Aventa, who has, in a time of fiscal responsibility, dared to invest in a new project, an opera, and believes that this story must be told and told now.    

Marilyn Forever opens this coming Friday the 13th and will make its debut much like many shows before it.  At one time, La Traviata, Die Zauberflöte, and Albert Herring all opened to audiences without knowing their fates.  

Marilyn Forever…why not, and why not now.

Marilyn runs September 13 and 14

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