- discussion and fostering change is something the arts do best.
Challenging people’s ideas and perception of the opera is Opera on the Avalon’s forte.
With its newest production, “As One,” the local opera company covered all of the above, at a time when it was particularly relevant in this province.
In partnership with the arts and culture centres and For the Love of Learning, Opera on the Avalon presented a tour of “As One,” a coming-of-age story with two voices: Hannah before and Hannah after, sharing the story of a young transgender woman, alternately and sometimes simultaneously.
“It’s really a story of self-acceptance. Of accepting who we are, no matter who we are,” explains Cheryl Hickman, Opera on the Avalon’s general and artistic director.
With music and concept by Laura Kaminsky and libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed,“As One” featured 15 songs performed by baritone Andrew Love (Hannah before) and mezzo-soprano Tara Curtis (Hannah after) with accompaniment by musicians Georgia Vogeli, Carole Bestvater, Chantelle Jubenville and Benjamin Louwersheimer.
Hickman describes the story as beautiful, but not without its difficult moments.
There’s a poignant scene in which Hannah pens a Christmas letter to her parents, making excuses for why she won’t be home for Christmas, which Hickman said had special impact.
“Every one of us has had that moment where we really can’t express something to a loved one,” Hickman says of the scene’s relatability, regardless of gender.
There’s also a difficult but powerful scene where Hannah is threatened and attacked, portraying a very real and frightening moment for many transgender people. The scene includes a reading of the names of transgender people from around the world who were killed, along with their cause of death.
For the Love of Learning executive director Gemma Hickey co-produced “As One,” and says they were delighted and proud to have a hand in such a meaningful and powerful production.
“Hannah’s story is relatable, relevant and the timing of such a piece is needed now more than ever in this province because of what is happening in Springdale and Middle Arm,” says Hickey.
The central Newfoundland town of Springdale recently made headlines after its council voted to reject a request from the local high school’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance group for a rainbow crosswalk in recognition of the LGBTQ+ community.
Middle Arm, a town on the Baie Verte Peninsula, also made national headlines when a number of parents took to Facebook to criticize a presentation about LGBTQ+ inclusion offered to their children at school.
Hickey, who identifies as nonbinary and whose court challenge of the provincial policy sparked changes to the Vital Statistic Act so people have the option of having a non-binary birth certificate, praised “As One” for its reflection of youth.
“It means a great deal to young people to have issues that are of importance to them highlighted onstage, especially youth who are marginalized within society because of their sexuality or gender.
“We are joining a choir of voices to sing the praises of LGBTQ2 youth so they know they are not alone, even if it may seem that way sometimes.”
Along with the show was a black and white photo exhibit by local photographer Dave Howells, featuring portraits of local transgender people whose experiences reflect the theme of “As One.
Opera on the Avalon wrapped up its “As One” tour in St. John’s Tuesday night, after shows in Grand Falls-Windsor, Stephenville and Gander, most of them sold out.
Hickman hopes the production has inspired conversations, acceptance and change.
“Art can enlighten in a way that social media and news articles may not,” she said. “There’s something powerful about watching truth onstage.”