Stage Door News
Toronto: The Canadian Opera Company presents the world premiere of “Pomegranate” June 2-4
Monday, April 3, 2023
Making its world premiere this June, Kye Marshall and Amanda Hale’s Pomegranate transports audiences between ancient Pompeii and 1980s Toronto, revealing a transcendent love for the ages. This groundbreaking love story follows two women seeking to express their love for each other freely in the face of impossible odds.
Read on to learn the 10 things you should know about Pomegranate!
World Premiere at the Canadian Opera Company Theatre
Pomegranate is the latest in a series of boundary-breaking works showcasing new voices and expanding the palette of operatic storytelling! Following last season’s successes of Ian Cusson and Colleen Murphy’s Fantasma and Teiya Kasahara 笠原 貞野’s The Queen In Me, this new work makes its world premiere in our freshly rebranded venue.
A spark of inspiration
The first foray into the opera world for librettist Amanda Hale, Pomegranate was born out of the novelist and poet’s trip to visit the ruins of Pompeii. Inspired by the setting and the fresco images housed inside the Villa of Mysteries—telling tales of rituals passed through by young women—Hale wrote and published the poetry collection Pomegranate: A Tale of Remembering in 2007.
From stanzas to songs
Eclectic composer and musician Kye Marshall similarly adds Pomegranate to her list of career accomplishments as her first full-length opera. Marshall originally set five of Hale’s poems to music, capturing the arc of the central love affair, presenting it as a 10-minute cycle at Toronto’s Heliconian Club in 2014. An encouraging audience response saw the duo develop the production further, showcasing a version at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and eventually leading to the development of this work, with orchestra arrangements and an expanded storytelling palette.
A local reunion
Much of Pomegranate’s Toronto-based second act arises from the lived experiences of its librettist and composer, Hale and Marshall. The duo first met in the lesbian-feminist community of 1980s Toronto, and have worked together since 2014 to recapture that setting within this deeply personal work, in consultation and collaboration with fellow community members.
Not just any bar
Tapping into the historical setting of 1980s Toronto, Hale and Marshall chose one lesbian bar in particular as their inspiration—the Fly By Night. Located in the heart of Toronto’s downtown core, the bar was run by Pat Murphy, a local feminist and activist, who was famously one of the Brunswick Four, a group of women arrested for singing “I enjoy being a dyke” in the Brunswick House pub. The production even honours Pat herself, with the characters of Jules the Bartender in Act II, inspired in part by Pat.
Widely considered to be the Canadian equivalent to the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, “Operation Soap” was the codename for a series of Toronto Police raids on gay bathhouses in 1981. Nearly 300 men were arrested in these raids, sparking mass outrage, protests, and rallies denouncing police violence. This public protest empowered Toronto's growing LGBTQ movement, and it serves as a key moment of historical background depicted in Pomegranate.
A queer love story for the ages
The show’s first act sees Cass, recounting the moment she and Suzie fell in love, being transported from the Fly By Night bar to Pompeii 79 AD. There, the Priestess vows to protect the two lovers—now named Suli and Cassia—against the “coming devastation” of both the Roman Centurion and his Legion, and the threatening eruption of Vesuvius. Act 2 sees this historic explosion devastate in new ways, as the couple’s reunion is forced to contend with the immediate homophobia of Suzie’s uncle when he bursts into the supposedly safe space confines of the Fly By Night.
The sounds of Pomegranate
Pomegranate features an eclectic score—incorporating styles such as classical, blues, ballads, bossa nova, and avant garde music—that expresses the opera’s two disparate settings. At the original Buddies in Bad Times performance, audiences praised the music for its strong evocation of the ancient world through harp, flute, oboe, and cellos, pairing well with the more modern, urban sounds of keyboard and saxophone. In our production, that same stellar music enjoys the added enrichment of a six-member chorus and expanded, full orchestral palette. In being a women-led, Lesbian opera, Pomegranate represents an important milestone in an industry where the presence of female creators and composers has been historically absent from view.
Rising opera stars
The show’s exciting cast features two rising opera stars singing its central lovers: Adanya Dunn and Danielle Buonaiuto, each making their COC debuts. Edmonton-based mezzo-soprano Catherine Daniel sings Livia and Suzie's Mother, opposite Ensemble Studio alumnus Peter Barrett, who returns to sing two imposing baritone figures, Marcus the Roman Centurion and Suzie’s homophobic uncle Salvatore. After their sell-out performances of The Queen In Me, interdisciplinary artist Teiya Kasahara 笠原貞野 sings Jules and The Priestess.
The Future of Pomegranate
Pomegranate’s world premiere hits the COCT stage for three performances on June 2, 3, and 4, but this is far from the end of its journey! The production will tour to Vancouver in August 2024 for a production by Vancouver Opera in celebration of Pride Week. Starting as a series of poems written over 15 years ago, our world premiere offers the latest installment in the work’s ever-inspiring evolution.
For tickets visit www.coc.ca.