Opera on the Avalon commissions work on Beaumont Hamel

Tara
Tara Bradbury
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It’s a heavy subject to read about, let alone re-enact, with much sorrow, 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 Regimet 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.

Casting Newfoundlanders a priority

Tenor David Pomeroy, from Newfoundland, 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 12-14 and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” June 19-21.

Next week, the company will present “Opera’s Greatest Hits” at Cochrane Street United Church.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: The Telegram, Cochrane Street United

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, France

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  • Ellen Bennett
    May 22, 2014 - 18:43

    In the July/August, 2010 edition of Costco Connection, they ran an article entitled "Born to Rant" about Rick Mercer, which had a sidebar written by Rick called "Memorial Day in Newfoundland, July 1, 2005." It spoke about why Memorial Day is so significant to Newfoundlanders, and why July 1st is, as Rick said, 'a muddled holiday' for us. As the granddaughter of one who fought in the infamous Battle of Beaumont Hamel, I certainly understood the profound impact that event had on our province. I had grown up with the story. However, for the first time in my 50+ years, when reading that article I had an aha moment. Had not my grandfather been one of the few who survived that tragedy, I would not have been reading this close to 100 years after the event. Well done Cheryl and Opera on the Avalon. I hope I am able to attend the premiere performance of "Ours" in 2016.