Manitoba Underground Opera takes to the high seas to close out their 2023 Odyssey season.
Set during the golden age of piracy, Verdi’s Il corsaro (The Corsair) will be performed on board the Nonsuch – the replica 17th century trading vessel – at the Manitoba Museum.
“This is definitely one of those bucket list shows I’ve been wanting to do for years,” says MUO Executive Director Brendan McKeen.
Enamored by the ship since childhood, McKeen thought it would make an ideal and captivating production location. The trouble was finding a seaworthy opera.
“(It was) maybe a year and a half of just Googling ‘operas on boats,’” says McKeen, with a laugh.
Discovering the 1848 Verdi opera proved to be a treasure worth keeping – though, not without a bit of fool’s gold.
“As with a lot of older, European high art, it was based in a different place and had some unpleasant parts that we wanted to get rid of,” explains McKeen.
Realized by director Sawyer Craig, the production, sung in Italian with projected English surtitles, is inspired by the lives of historical female pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read, and takes a near all-female twist.
“This is a lady-pirate brigade,” notes McKeen, of the show which stars Simran Claire as Corrado, Janice Marple as Gulnara, Ashley Boychuk as Medora, and an all-female chorus, alongside Stephen Haiko-Pena as Skelton.
A piano trio, directed by Maria Fuller, serves as the orchestra for this dramatic early Verdi work.
“It’s shotgun, blood, romantic melodrama,” says Fuller of the music. “The cool thing about Verdi is he wrote what audiences wanted to hear at the time, he was a sort of pop-star artist.”
Appearing as part of Tapestry Opera’s Women in Musical Leadership Program which has her working with orchestras and opera companies across the country, Fuller is a conducting star on the rise.
“I think the way that Tapestry has helped me is they’ve really enabled me to make a lot of connections, they’ve put me on a lot of doorsteps of Canada’s industry leaders in orchestra stuff and opera stuff,” explains Fuller – who has future engagements in Calgary and in Kamloops. She also has earned a coveted spot in the upcoming Fitelberg International Conducting Competition, with the Silesian Philharmonic, in Katowice, Poland, this November.
“It's truly apparent there are not enough women conducting orchestras – and it is not on them,” says McKeen, who was eager to engage Tapestry for this production. “I'm really such a fan of this program trying to increase gender parity across the board.”
Running from September 20-23, each night sold out a week ahead of opening, marking an exciting close to the MUO 2023 Odyssey season.
“People are ready to see stories,” says McKeen, when asked about what the sellout says about audiences and opera in Winnipeg. “Just to be taken somewhere else, and Odyssey did that. Odyssey took them everywhere and anywhere.”