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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
Tonia Evans Cianciulli says there's something about performing in St. Peter’s Church in Twillingate that’s special.
The Newfoundland born opera singer, the daughter of Joanne Evans (St. John’s) and Fred Dyke (Pools Island), was born in St. John’s. Her father transferred to Toronto for work when she was just a few years old.
She was joined by three brothers (Philip, Trevor and Matthew Evans) after the move, but of the four children, she is the only one born in Newfoundland, something she said she reminds them of all the time.
Her love of singing and opera came early in her life and she pursued it with a passion.
Because of her roots, she was drawn to the story of Marie Toulinquet, the stage name of Twillingate-born Georgina Stirling, who became a world-renowned soprano who performed in opera houses throughout Europe and United States.
She was Newfoundland’s first opera singer and became known as “The Nightingale of the North.”
Evans Cianciulli didn’t know much about Stirling but found the answers she was looking for in a book her grandfather had given her as a teenager.
Like many children do, she put the book on a shelf and forgot about it. Then she made a connection with a cousin on Facebook that piqued her curiosity and she set out to find out everything about Marie Toulinquet that she could.
“I had my husband go to the house, pick up the book and bring it back to me,’’ she said.
“There was so much music she was known for and (she) performed it in the churches throughout Newfoundland,’’ she added.
This led to her co-writing a book with her grandfather, Calvin D. Evans, already a renowned Newfoundland author. In fact, it was Evans who had given her the book “Nightingale of the North” by Amy Louise Peyton.
Their book aims to expand on the life, career, and performances of Georgina Stirling and share some staggering synchronicities from along the journey to bring her into the 21st century.
A tour will be announced in the coming days, once times and places have been finalized. Evans Cianciulli says she is looking forward to performing in the church in Twillingate.
“Something happens to you when you perform in that church,” she said. “This is where Georgina Stirling used to perform. A special sensation comes over me when I perform in that church. It was a big place for sacred music, as are most churches in Newfoundland and Labrador."
1. What is your full name?
“Tonia Cianciulli. I like to add in my maiden name, Evans, so that Newfoundlanders don’t think, ‘Who’s this Italian girl and how do you even pronounce her last name?’ LOL!”
2. Where and when were you born?
“St. John’s, 1976, Grace General Hospital. Many people assume I’m Italian and are surprised when I tell them I’m from Newfoundland.”
3. Where do you live today?
“Half the year in Toronto and winters in Miami.”
4. What is your favourite place in the world?
“Seriously, Newfoundland, hands down! There’s a magic like no other and the best people on the planet!”
5. Who do you follow on social media?
“Family, friends, musical colleagues. I also follow a lot of motivational authors/speakers and all the Newfoundlanders I can find — seeing their photos from around Newfoundland always warms my heart.”
6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
“I’ve been homeschooling my two children, Sophia and Anthony, going on six years now.”
7. What’s been your favourite year and why?
“The year I turned 40, something clicked. I felt more confident in who I was, allowed room for only healthy relationships in my life, and I got laser-focused on my personal goals and dreams. A pivotal year!”
8. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
“The birthing of two babies naturally at home, and writing a book — both of equal fear and pain!”
9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
“When my uncle Brian died of a terminal illness when I was 18. Brian was my whole reason for singing opera in the first place, I refer to this in the book. I promised him I would follow his dream for me and mine.”
9. What is your greatest indulgence?
“Oh my! Dark chocolate, red wine and salt and vinegar chips.”
10. What is your favourite movie or book?
“'Anne of Green Gables’ with Megan Follows, I watch it annually and now my daughter joins me.”
11. How do you like to relax?
“Spending time with my close girlfriends talking about deep things that matter, and watching ‘Friends’ reruns with my kids.”
12. What are you reading or watching right now?
“I’m reading ‘Girl, Wash Your Face’ by Rachel Hollis. I love to read a lot of self-development books.”
13. What is your greatest fear?
“Forgetting my lyrics while performing on stage.”
14. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?
“I love classic styles, I’m not one for trends. I’ve always been attracted to vintage gowns and styles … maybe that’s the opera influence on me.”
15. What is your most treasured possession?
“My collection of self-development books — they’re well-worn and I refer to them when I need a pick-me-up, and a collection of antique green Depression glass my uncle Brian had collected his whole life and left me in his will as my wedding gift.”
16. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
“I’d love to just say, I’m proudly a combination of both my parents’ greatest traits. You should know, though, neither can carry a tune, so I certainly didn’t get my singing voice from them.”
17. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party — dead or alive?
“I’ll go with dead, ha! Georgina Stirling, not only an amazing singer but I can tell she was a cool woman. Maria Callas, the first opera singer I fell in love with, and my uncle Brian! What a time we’d have!”
18. What is your best quality?
“I’ve been told I’m very down to earth and I’m good at caring for others. Oh, and people love my hugs!”
19. What is your worst quality?
“Self-doubt and worrying too much about what others think.”
20. What’s your biggest regret?
“No regrets. I trust that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be and all of my life’s choices (good and not-so-good) have led me here.”