Edmonton Opera Blog

Message from Lilies composer Kevin March

Wednesday, October 18. 2017

The story of the serendipitous and odds-defying creation of Lilies (Les Feluettes) began in March 2002, when I saw Lilies. Minutes into the film, I had an overwhelming sense that I was watching an opera. The words were lyrical; the characters, compelling; their stories, absorbing. It was easy to imagine the lines being sung. As I left the cinema, I was already making plans to adapt the film into an opera. By the end of that year, I was discussing the adaption with Michel Marc Bouchard.

In March 2011, Michel Beaulac, Artistic Director of the Opéra de Montréal, contacted Michel Marc to discuss commissioning an opera based on one of his plays. Although we did not know it, the play he had in mind was Les Feluettes.. Imagine our delight in being able to show Michel Beaulac that we had already started work on just such an opera. As these events unfolded in Montreal, over in Victoria, Patrick Coorigan, Ian Rye, and Timothy Vernon were also imagining an opera based on Les Feluettes. When they heard of Montréal’s plan, they joined Opéra de Montréal as co-procuder to bring Les Feluettes to the opera stage.

Over the course of the next 5 years, Michel Marc adapted his play into a libretto and I wrote the music for Les Feluettes. A series of four developmental workshops were held during which every scene, aria, duet, chorus, quite literally every word and measure of the opera was tested. Cuts were made, scenes revised, new arias added. During rehearsals, leading up to the premiere, a chorus section was added, a whole scene change was added and an entirely new aria was composed for Etienne Dupuis and added with only one week to go before opening.

I’m often asked how one approaches the task of writing an opera. In this case it all began with the words, which were rich with musical implications. The play’s stage directions call for the use of Debussy’s incidental music to D’Annunzio’s infamous Le Martyre de St. Sebastien which frames Vallier and Simon’s love for one another; the 1912 settings recall the music of the Belle Epoch and American ragtime; and La musique traditionnelle québécoise would have been commonplace. In creating the sound of Les Feluettes, it seemed necessary that all of these musical references be respected and represented.

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Purchase your tickets to this powerful and provocative new Canadian opera, playing October 21, 24 and 27 at the Jubilee Auditorium!

Meet Les Feluettes (Lilies) librettist Michel Marc Bouchard

Thursday, May 18. 2017

Arguably one of the biggest names in Canadian theatre today, playwright Michel Marc Bouchard has written over 25 plays that have been translated into several languages, performed internationally, and have even seen award-winning cinematic adaptations.

A recipient of the Order of Canada and Order of Quebec, Bouchard has also been recognized with a National Arts Centre Award, Chalmers Award, Vancouver’s Jessie Richardson Awards and Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards. Some of his notable works are Les Feluettes (1987), The Orphan Muses (1988), and more recently Tom at the Farm (2011), which was turned into a film by Canadian directing prodigy Xavier Dolan.

The themes of Bouchard’s plays are varied, but are often immersed in myth and allegory, with inherent lyricism and larger-than-life characters. Many of his works explore queer identity against the backdrop of strict socio-cultural norms, as is the case in Les Feluettes.

When asked what interests him in opera, Bouchard replies it is “the sheer magnitude of the emotions, which – through singing and music – touches the most intimate aspects of our being” (Opéra de Montréal program, 2016). This grandeur of storytelling is intrinsic to Bouchard’s play Les Feluettes, lending itself quite naturally to his first operatic commission by Opéra de Montréal and Pacific Opera Victoria.

Les Feluettes received widespread acclaim at its Montreal premiere in 2016, validating Bouchard’s highly anticipated foray into opera. He is already working on his next project, a commission of Christine, la reine-garçon (The Girl King) by the Canadian Opera Company with composer Ana Sokolovic.


Experience the Alberta premiere of Les Feluettes (Lilies) at the Jubilee Auditorium October 21, 24 and 27, 2017. Season tickets to all three operas are now available from just $99!

Photo by Damián Siqueiros

A beautiful mother-son bond in Les Feluettes (Lilies)

Friday, May 12. 2017

Our season opening production Les Feluettes (Lilies) tells the story of two young men in love in early 1900s Quebec. As they struggle to find acceptance in a world where being openly gay is not even within the realm of possibility, Simon and Vallier have only each other to rely on. When Simon’s father suspects his son is getting too close to his male classmates, he beats Simon ruthlessly and drives him to find a woman to marry.

Vallier, on the other hand, has a special bond with his mother, Countess Marie-Laure de Tilly. The two of them were abandoned by Vallier’s father and had to move to Quebec from Paris and start a new life on their own. As a result, Vallier and his mother are very close. Marie-Laure accepts her son for who he is and doesn’t bat an eye when he tells her he’s in love with Simon. She even convinces Vallier to crash Simon’s engagement party and profess his love!

The relationship between Vallier and his mother doesn’t have the happiest ending, however. As the opera progresses, Marie-Laure’s grief at being abandoned by her husband grows to an unbearable level. In the ultimate moment of understanding between mother and son, Vallier knows he must end his mother’s suffering. He kills her.

Now because Les Feluettes (Lilies) is presented as a play within a play, the role of Marie-Laure is actually performed by a male prisoner in women’s clothing. This creates a very interesting, but no less loving, dynamic on stage.

On behalf of the mother-son duo in Les Feluettes, we wish you a Happy Mother's Day!!! Bring your mom to Les Feluettes (Lilies) at the Jubilee Auditorium October 21, 24 and 27. Season tickets to all three operas are now available starting from $99. 


Photos by David Cooper from Pacific Opera Victoria's production of Les Feluettes in April 2017 starring Jean-Michel Richer (Vallier) and Aaron St. Clair Nicholson (Countess Marie-Laure de Tilly). 

Ignite your passion this opera season!

Wednesday, April 19. 2017

This 2017/18 opera season, we are pleased to bring three compelling new productions to the Jubilee stage. Ignite your passion for opera with Les Feluettes (Lilies), HMS Pinafore, and Don Giovanni!

A lush, romantic bouquet of Lilies

We begin our season with Les Feluettes, a new Canadian opera based on the play Lilies by acclaimed Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard. The narrative of Les Feluettes unfolds around a moment in 1912, when a group of college boys in Quebec rehearse Gabriele D’Annunzio’s sensual play The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. As a love triangle develops, the young men struggle through their feelings with tragic consequences. Years later, one of the boys (who is now a bishop), is forced to look back at that devastating moment in a reenactment by prisoners.

Les Feluettes stages two different time periods and locations simultaneously — the story is set in 1952 (at a Quebec prison) and 1912 (in the small town of Roberval, Quebec). To achieve this dual narrative, the production uses lots of spectacle and theatrical tricks. You’ll see skillful projection design, a large all-male cast and chorus of prisoners playing multiple characters, and thrilling pyrotechnics on stage.

At its Montreal premiere in 2016, Les Feluettes earned tremendous praise, establishing itself as a “rare case of a full-size and full-length contemporary opera that holds the stage while remaining artistically true to itself” (Montreal Gazette). Kevin March’s lush and romantic score, featuring musical excerpts from Debussy, was hailed as “a pure masterpiece” (Boucle Magazine), invoking “the feel of 19th century French opera composers Gounod and Massenet” (Times Argus). 

Les Feluettes was originally co-commissioned by Opéra de Montréal and Pacific Opera Victoria, and is currently playing in Victoria. Edmonton Opera’s production will be only the third run of Les Feluettes ever, and the very first in Alberta.

HMS Pinafore gets jazzed up!

In the winter, we bring you a delightful new production of a beloved Gilbert & Sullivan operetta — sail the high seas with the crazy crew of HMS Pinafore! This musical comedy adds a nautical spin to the classic ‘boy meets girl, boy can’t get girl because of her higher social station’ narrative. When young Josephine, daughter of the Captain, falls in love with a lower-class sailor Ralph Rackstraw, mayhem ensues as the two lovers try to elope… while at sea!

The Cinderella dream team of director Rob Herriot, conductor Peter Dala, and designer Deanna Finnman reimagines this worldwide favourite in the Jazz Age, giving you an extravagant taste of the roaring twenties. Not only that, we are adding new orchestrations by Ed Windels to make HMS Pinafore jazzier than ever!

A stylish and seductive Don Giovanni

To conclude our season of passion and drama, opera’s most notorious bad boy takes the stage in a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. In the never-ending quest to inflate his own ego, this promiscuous, rule-bending, handsome vagabond leaves a trail of broken hearts. But what happens when Don Giovanni faces a mysterious force he cannot charm, outsmart, or conquer?

Don Giovanni is widely considered the biggest accomplishment of Mozart’s Italian repertoire and seamlessly blends elements of comedy, tragedy, and the supernatural. Yes, there is a ghost in this opera!!

Baritone Philip Addis (an audience favourite in 2014’s The Barber of Seville) takes on the title role, promising a stellar and seductive performance. The scenic design for this productionwill be created by internationally renowned designer Bretta Gerecke (2015’s The Magic Flute, resident designer of Catalyst Theatre) with costumes by Deanna Finnman. Our Don Giovanni is going to be bold, edgy, and stylish — just like the opera’s devious protagonist!


We hope you’ll join us for this incredible lineup during the 2017/18 season. Season tickets to all three operas start at just $99! Special pricing is available for patrons under 40 and under 30. Single tickets to each production will go on sale in the summer. 

Les Feluettes photos by Yves Renaud, Opéra de Montréal 2016.

Message from Elektra conductor Alex Prior

Thursday, March 9. 2017

Ready? There's no experience quite like Richard Strauss's Elektra! You will be pinned to your seat, overwhelmed, disgusted, delighted, feel like head banging, be blown away by the sheer power of the orchestra's sounds, taken aback by the lush melodies, and amazed at what the human voice can do... all in under two hours. 

Elektra represents both the absolute climax of the Romantic operatic tradition and the beginning of dark clouds smouldering in the horizon – clouds of a bleaker time for the world, and a time of music that is rougher and more visceral. Strauss wrote Elektra in the early 20th century, when Europe's gentlemanly heyday was giving way to forces of evil and society was falling apart all around him. This ancient Greek tragedy of decay and the danger of an obsession with revenge thus touched him very personally.

Elektra is in many ways the hardest opera in the repertoire to pull off for everyone involved, and tonight’s Alberta premiere is an epic testament to Edmonton Opera's ambition, vision, and strength.

The powerful score of Elektra is certainly a tough listen, but one with amazing rewards to be had. I invite you to let the music completely envelop you, to be entirely absorbed by the drama and become part of it.  Forget everything around you and let the opening orchestral scream of the "AGAMEMNON!" theme usher you straight into this brutal world. 

I believe you'll find that in spite of the extreme distortions this opera presents on various fronts, you will recognize and identify with many elements in a very personal way. Have we not all at times wanted family drama to be trumped by forgiveness and love? Have we not all yearned to go back to some non-existent good old day of childhood nostalgia? And, in addition to all of that, I know that this unique, extraordinary music that lies somewhere between German folk tunes and hardcore heavy metal, will leave an unforgettable impression on you and touch you to your very depths – perhaps in a way most music doesn't.


Elektra plays March 11, 14 and 16. Get your tickets from $40!

Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs is Elektra

Monday, March 6. 2017

Internationally acclaimed dramatic soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs is an unstoppable force of nature. Widely known for her powerful portrayals of opera’s ‘madwomen’, Elizabeth previously took on the immensely demanding role of Elektra at Teatro Comunale di Bologna in 2015, earning rave reviews for her performance:

Elektra could be defined as a "one woman show", and Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs truly succeeds in drawing the spectator to her with a charisma that makes one want her monologues and scenes to never end. Her interpretation is breath-takingly fascinating, based on a declamation and use of text that would make a Shakespearian actor jealous. Her lirico-spinto voice, warm and convincing, fits the role perfectly, and the great professional knows how to keep her sound bright and smooth in the center of her voice, and in the beautiful high register, and then to obtain the maximum dramatic effect to darken the low, and medium low parts without taking away the musicality in this difficult role rich in quasi spoken, whispered, and loud passages, heading almost to screams. (Liricamente).

Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs is an Elektra who is well suited in every way to take on the difficulties of the part: the voice has the proper volume, the color shows a beautiful old style darkness appropriate for the role, the high notes are solid and brilliant, and the character is vividly and intricately drawn in its lucid madness cloaked by a fury that is more interior than exterior. (Teatro)

Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs was superb in the title role. Her Elektra was expressively strong, thanks also to her voice which leaned toward the dark, but was well projected; her performance was sublime, perfectly illustrating the character, knowing how to show her tragic and mad side, and also her passionate and romantic one. (Opera World)

Elizabeth has also had various stints with strong characters like Lady Macbeth and Tosca (both at the Metropolitan Opera), Turandot, and Strauss's other tormented heroine Salome. Edmonton audiences will be treated to this remarkable soprano's undeniable talent in the performance of a lifetime as Elektra. This complex role requires exceptional vocal agility because Elektra never leaves the stage and rarely does she stop singing. Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs is more than up to the challenge, bringing incredible vocals, strong acting instincts, and world stage experience for her Edmonton Opera debut. She will arrest you with her presence.


See Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs as Elektra March 11, 14 & 16. Tickets start from $40 and are selling fast! Get yours today.  

Director Michael Cavanagh on Elektra

Monday, March 6. 2017

It's been said that every relationship and, especially, every family is dysfunctional; it's just the degree that differs. Even the healthiest inter-personal dynamics have tensions and issues that get in the way. When your father is butchered with an axe in the bathtub, by your mother and her new lover no less, the emotional challenges for your family relations become rather amplified. And what art form does amplified emotions better than opera?

This incredible score, which Richard Strauss has imbued with a darkness and intensity like almost no other, along with a libretto by one of the towering poetic talents of the Romantic period, Hugo Von Hofmannsthal, embraces the horror of this ancient myth of gods and mortals bent on revenge in a way that allows an audience a wonderful and rare experience: catharsis.

From the Greek for "purification", it denotes a release of emotions through any extreme change that results in renewal and restoration. The genius of Elektra is that the catharsis that's anticipated for the whole story, that of vengeance through bloodshed, is not that which is actually experienced. The revenge Elektra lusts for all night comes to pass, all right, yet she enjoys no release. Rather, she is brought down – as we must all surely be – by this darkest of desires. Instead, the catharsis comes through a dual epiphany: the only way to break the cycle of death is to embrace life; the only way to get past a wrong is to forgive. Elektra realizes this too late. The other witnesses, on stage and in the audience, realize it through her horrific ordeal and (we hope) learn to apply it to their own lives.

The big, loud lives of queens, princesses, gods, and heroes echo through the ages and resonate with our own, smaller, quieter lives. No art form makes this point more powerfully than opera. No opera makes a stronger statement of it than Elektra. This week, I invite you to embrace and enjoy the catharsis.


Elektra storms the Jubilee stage March 11, 14 & 16. Tickets are selling fast, so get yours today from $40! 

The dystopian fashions of Elektra

Tuesday, February 28. 2017

Edmonton Opera’s upcoming production of Elektra takes you on a thrilling 100-minute journey into the mind of a woman possessed by hatred. Based on the Greek tragedy by Sophocles, this opera delves into the psychological dysfunction of its protagonist both through music and staging. While the story is set in ancient Greece, our new production goes far into the future with post-apocalyptic designs to reflect a crumbling, dystopian world.

Costume designer Deanna Finnman was inspired by the decaying nature of Elektra’s family, rocked by murder and betrayal. The glory of the house of Atreus ended when Elektra’s mother Klytämnestra killed Elektra’s father Agamemnon. Now, their mansion lies in ruins and Elektra spends her days in anguish.

The only person who retains a sense of royalty is Klytämnestra, since she and her lover Aegisth have taken over the kingdom after murdering Agamemnon. Klytämnestra is the queen bee of this post-apocalyptic world, and her costume is easily the most glamorous and colourful. Her maids are also better dressed than the other servants.

Elektra’s brother Orest has travelled back home after spending time in exile, and his costume is more desert-inspired. Elektra herself perhaps looks the most disheveled in the entire cast, considering that she no longer has any sense of self. Having spent her time dwelling outside the palace, her clothes are frayed and she appears completely neglected.

Even the scenic design presents a dark, shattered world. The set is based on a real-life house of horrors – Gonjiam Hospital in South Korea, an abandoned psychiatric facility where patients were apparently kept in abhorrent conditions leading to their deaths. The building has earned iconic status as one of the creepiest places on earth, with many reports of supernatural activity and unexplained screams.

The set invokes feelings of abandonment, despair, and rotting foundations to reflect Elektra’s own trapped world. Much like the deserted hospital, Elektra’s family home is no longer a place of humanity.


Experience the dysfunction and dystopia in our post-apocalyptic production of Strauss's Elektra! Tickets are selling fast, get yours today from $40.

Elektra: 100 minutes of operatic genius

Friday, February 24. 2017

At its 1909 premiere in Dresden, Germany, Elektra left the audience shocked by its sheer brilliance. The New York Times review pictured here is one of many reactions that established this piece’s insane magnificence.

When you consider that “beads of actual perspiration stood out upon many a forehead” in Elektra’s opening night audience, and the reviewer declared “such demoniacal orchestral and vocal effects have never before been set to music”, then Strauss’s status as “a genius and a wizard” is gloriously justified.

The music of Elektra is also particularly inventive because it seeks to both mirror and fuel the protagonist’s emotional states. When the orchestra becomes dissonant, Elektra’s mind descends into chaos; when she runs around the stage frantically, the orchestra keeps up with tremendous pace.

Stylistically, Strauss almost belongs in his own category. Both Elektra and his previous opera Salome (1905) defied the musical conventions of the time, and embodied an expressionism that was not yet mainstream. The orchestra in Elektra is large and produces clashing sounds, which create a dissonant and chromatic landscape for the opera. The music is not always ‘pleasant’, rather it relies on some degree of sensory assault. On the other hand, there are also some moments of lush, lyrical romanticism that reflect Strauss's 19th century influences. 

Elektra runs at a solid 100 minutes with no intermission, taking you along for an intense roller coaster ride through its protagonist’s turbulent emotions. This is definitely not your typical opera, and pushes the boundaries of the art form itself. 

Violence that’s sung, not shown

Often referred to as ‘the bloodiest opera ever’, Elektra goes deeper into the troubled human psyche than any piece before it. In a time when graphic violence on shows like Game of Thrones dominates, Strauss’s opera still has the ability to create hair-raising moments with the sheer force of music.

The horror does not necessarily come from actual depictions of blood and gore, in fact, there is no on stage violence in this opera. Elektra’s words, however, are the true source of terror throughout. She gives the audience vivid descriptions of how her mother will be killed, the rivers of blood that will flow from their house, and how she will stand over her mother’s writhing body to declare her father’s victory. Elektra chillingly illustrates how her father was murdered and ferociously describes the ways Klytämnestra will be butchered by her own son Orest.


Experience Strauss's intense genius with Elektra March 11, 14 & 16 at the Jubilee. Tickets from $40!

Elektra: Richard Strauss's hellish masterpiece

Saturday, February 18. 2017

In just three weeks, Edmonton Opera will present the Alberta premiere of Richard Strauss’s groundbreaking theatrical triumph Elektra. Based on an ancient Greek play by Sophocles, this opera follows the terrifying tragedy of its protagonist as she becomes consumed with lethal revenge.

Devastated by the murder of her beloved father, Elektra takes justice into her own hands and pursues the killer, who happens to be her own mother Klytämnestra. But when calculated revenge turns into overpowering obsession, Elektra can no longer maintain her grasp on reality — in a spine-chilling climax, Elektra’s fragile psyche shatters completely.

Intrigued? Here is more of what you can expect in our new production set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future. You do not want to miss seeing the axe-wielding protagonist of Elektra in action.

There will be blood.

Elektra was born into a family ripped apart by war and chaos. Her father, King Agamemnon, had chosen to sacrifice his oldest daughter Iphigenia as a way to appease the gods before heading to battle. This decision was fiercely opposed by his wife Klytämnestra, and she swore to avenge the spilling of her innocent daughter’s blood.

When Agamemnon returned home victorious after several years at war, Klytämnestra and her lover Aegisth murdered him and took over the kingdom. Elektra and her sister Chrysothemis became prisoners in their own home, while their brother Orest was banished for threatening to ascend the throne that was rightfully his.

All of this happens before Elektra even begins, setting the stage for an opera that could only end in more tragedy.

Honour thy father, not thy mother

Elektra is beyond furious at the killing of her beloved father; the only thing on her mind is revenge. She also misses him with an intensity that affects her physical and mental health, causing her to wander around in grief.

This opera’s greatest aria is Elektra’s 10-minute long soliloquy dedicated to her father. She shouts “Agamemnon, Agamemnon!” almost like an incantation, praying for his return from the dead.

Elektra’s anguish soon transforms into rage — now all she wants is revenge. Her mother Klytämnestra needs to die. Nothing and no one can come in Elektra’s path to slaughtering her nemesis.

Opera’s most dangerous woman

The polar opposite of our recent production Cinderella, Strauss’s tormented heroine is determined to take fate in her own hands and pursue the brutal revenge she spends all her waking hours thinking about. From the moment Elektra appears on stage, you know that terrible things are about to unfold in the next hour and a half. With axe in hand and fire in her step, Elektra charges forward to complete her murderous mission.

There’s more to come! Watch for our next blog post where we explore the origins of this opera in a violent Greek tragedy. And learn more about the hair-raising music of Elektra!


Experience the intense psychological thriller March 11, 14 & 16 at the Jubilee. Tickets from $40!