Stage Door News

Toronto: Obsidian Theatre and Tapestry Opera present “Of the Sea” March 25-April 1

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Following previous announcements that Obsidian Theatre and Tapestry Opera have come together to commission a new Black Canadian opera - and the first ever in Obsidian’s history - to be presented by TO Live in March of 2023, the companies are thrilled to share complete details of their upcoming collaboration, OF THE SEA.

A powerful work of operatic storytelling flowing with hope and heartbreak, this ground-breaking World Premiere production is brought to life by an incredibly talented and diverse team of creatives. The work is written by Black playwright Kanika Ambrose (our place / Anansi and the Great Light, Curtis School of Music), composed by Métis and French-Canadian musician Ian Cusson (Fantasma, Canadian Opera Company), directed by the deeply respected and award-winning Black cultural leader, director, and actor Philip Akin (Pass Over / Gould's Wall), and music directed by Chinese Canadian conductor Jennifer Tung (Gould's Wall).

Additionally, in a medium in which Black performers remain vastly under-represented, OF THE SEA will feature - for the first time ever in a large-scale Canadian opera - an all-Black ensemble of performers led by Jorell Williams, Chantale Nurse, Suzanne Taffot, Justin Welsh, and Paul Williamson, and also featuring an ensemble of international singers and the Orchestra of the Canadian Opera Company. Additional cast and creative team members will be announced in the weeks to come.

“In all honesty, I don’t know how many Black folk traditionally go to the opera and I believe that is because we so rarely see ourselves or our stories represented in this medium,” comments Obsidian Theatre Artistic Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu. “This groundbreaking opera written by Kanika Ambrose is therefore a game changer for our audiences. OF THE SEA takes the origin story of how many members of our communities came to be on this side of the Atlantic and mythologizes it. And it does so with profound heart and pathos. It is truly exciting for us to be able to partner with Tapestry Opera to bring this new thrilling work to life.”

Tapestry Opera Artistic Director Michael Mori adds, “Toronto is home to the most diverse public of any city in the world and this historic world premiere is a testament to its potential to foster great new collaborations to drive a dynamic present for opera, for the art form and for audiences who see themselves invested in it. Opera has for too long relied on traditional European works to represent the genre, and as a result many people don’t see themselves reflected in the stories, artists, and audiences. The creative team of Kanika Ambrose, Ian Cusson and Philip Akin have conceived of a visionary work, as the first large-scale Canadian all-Black cast opera, but also as a work that contributes to making our shared histories and mythologies better represent Toronto and Canada’s multicultural truth. When Ambrose and Cusson met in Tapestry’s 2018 creative intensive, sparks flew and the idea for OF THE SEA was born. The bold idea of expanding the source mythology for opera has resulted in a magical and incredibly human score and production.”

OF THE SEA follows the story of Maduka (Jorell Williams), his daughter Binyelum, and fellow Africans thrown overboard during the Middle Passage who now populate mythical underwater kingdoms that span the ocean floor. Amidst the waves, fiery plans for revenge are made, a parent is blinded by love for their child, and a fight against fate begins. In the cold, murky waters, everyone dreams to see the sun again.

This exciting addition to the Canadian opera canon arrives as slow progress is made in increasing Black representation and leadership on stage and behind the scenes in the opera sphere. New York’s Metropolitan Opera only just premiered an opera from a Black composer for the first time in September of 2021, 138 years after their founding, with Terence Blanchard’s FIRE UP IN MY BONES. In Canada, OF THE SEA follows in the footsteps of Nicole Brooks’ OBEAH OPERA, and precedes the upcoming Canadian adaptation of Scott Joplin’s TREEMONISHA, in making critical strides in Black representation within the form.

The lead creative team is joined by set and costume designer Rachel Forbes.

OF THE SEA runs from March 25 to April 1 with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at the Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front Street, East Toronto. Tickets start at $39 and are available now online.

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