Opera on the Avalon commissions work on Beaumont Hamel

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Tara Bradbury
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'Ours' to premiere during 2014 season

It’s a heavy subject to read about, let alone reenact, with much sorrow, much passion and history — and that’s exactly why the story of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel will make the perfect opera, says Cheryl Hickman.

Cheryl Hickman, artistic director of Opera on the Avalon, today released details of the company's first commision, Ours, based on the history of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment with a focus on the Battle of Beaumont Hamel. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Hickman, artistic director of Opera on the Avalon, announced the opera company’s newest commission this morning: “Ours,” the first full-length opera ever to be set in Atlantic Canada, based on the story of the Regiment and centred around its chaplain, Padre Thomas Nagle. To premiere in June 2016 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Beaumont Hamel, “Ours” is being composed by Juno Award-winning Canadian composer John Estacio and written by local playwright Robert Chafe.

“We wanted a story that would really talk about who Newfoundlanders are and the sacrifices they made which would speak not only to our own province, but others,” Hickman told The Telegram last week. “With the commission, it was what had the biggest impact on Newfoundland and Labrador in the last 100 years, and we think it was Beaumont Hamel, because of the generation of people that were killed. It was not only what happened in that event but how it really affected the province as a whole afterwards.”

The regiment was all but decimated at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916. Of the 801 men who had charged the German lines, only 68 made roll call the next day, the rest having been killed or wounded.

Opera on the Avalon hopes “Ours” will act as a living memorial for the regiment in a way statues can’t: by bringing the story to people no matter where they are. Hickman said the opera company will not only include the piece in its 2016 summer season, but will tour it in France and possibly across Canada the following year.

Newfoundland native tenor David Pomeroy will be cast in “Ours”, as will other local professional singers. Newfoundlanders will be a priority when it comes to casting, though Hickman acknowledged many performers will be well-established artists from outside the province.

Hickman is hoping “Ours” will engage new audiences and attract younger art lovers to contemporary opera.

“Some people, while they may not relate to Mozart, they will relate to their own stories being shown,” she said. “I think for regular Newfoundlanders who maybe don’t know what opera is about, they would be exposed to it by seeing themselves on stage, and that’s what we want.”

Opera on the Avalon has just begun its summer 2014 season, and will present “La Boheme” June 12 to 14 and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” June 19 to 21. Next week, the company will present “Opera’s Greatest Hits” at Cochrane Street United Church. Visit www.operaontheavalon.com for more information.

Organizations: The Telegram, Cochrane Street United Church

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, France

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