for the Marco Polo - Sept. 26/02 Gordon Bok, left, from Camden, Me., talks with
composer-producer Jim Stewart on the set of the M<arco Polo opera during a
rehearsal at the Imperial Theatre on Wednesday.
Photo by David Nickerson/Telegraph-Journal
is based on the famous Saint John built 19th century sailing vessel. Mr.
Stewart wrote and released the Marco Polo Suite on cassette in 1992. The Opera
Neww brunswick production will have its world premiere in Saint John at the
Imperial Theatre on Friday. It will run until Sunday. The opera will also be
performed in Moscow in 2004.
Marco Polo sets course
for hearts of Russians
MUSIC: Folk opera's world premiere
goes next month at Imperial Theatre
BY GRANT KERR
AIthough the Marco
Polo story is deeply embedded in the minds of Saint Johners, its universal
themes will carry the story into the hearts of Russians.
That's the hope of Opera New Brunswick, anyway.
Opera New Brunswick past president Eileen Travis was buzzing with anticipation
of the grass-roots operation going international in 2004 when it brings The
Marco Polo opera to the stage in Moscow.
librarian used an analogy from a well-known children's book to hammer her point
home at a Thursday press conference in the New Brunswick Museum.
"You know the story of The Little Engine That Could? This
is the story of the little opera company that did," she said, forcefully
emphasizing that last word.
The trip to Russia is a joint
effort between Opera New Brunswick and the MusicaRussia Canada Foundation, a
non-profit organization dedicated to supporting artistic collaborations between
Russia and Canada.
MARCO: Father-son team to translate
The chairman of the latter organization is
Saint John native Fawn Wilson White who has international connections in the
classical music world. Mrs. White is also president of the MusicaRussia
Foundation, based in Moscow and New York.
international MusicaRussia Foundation was founded in 1995 as Kirov Opera
International in New York and has ties to the famous Bolshoi Theatre. Its
honorary chairman is Sir Peter Ustinov.
Mrs. White is
also on Opera New Brunswick's board of directors. The Moscow staging of The
Marco Polo folk opera is the two-year-old Canada-Russia foundation's first
initiative. The Marco Polo opera, Opera New Brunswick's first folk opera, will
have its world premiere next, month at the Imperial Theatre.
"Music is universal. Russia, like Canada, is a huge
country with 11 times zones and a strong maritime tradition," Mrs. White said.
"We think it will speak to the Russian people. We wouldn't be interested unless
we were sure it would be successful."
The Marco Polo,
after all, isn't just the story of a ship but the many, people who travelled on
her from 1851 to 1883, says its composer Jim Stewart.
"Essentially it's not only a story about a ship but a
drama about human beings facing unknown destinations," he said.
Dennis Furlong, the minister of Education responsible for
Culture and Sport, sent a letter congratulating Opera N.B. on its
"extraordinary project. "This is a first for New Brunswick," he
Details of how the folk opera will be mounted in
Russia are sketchy, however. Dates have not been set, nor has a theatre been
chosen. A Russian production company will be handling those details, Mrs. White
Although the opera's folk songs will remain in
English for its Moscow stint, its narrative will be translated into Russian by
a respected father-son team, Arkadi and Vasiliy Arkanov. The former is a
prominent author and commentator and his son, Vasiliy, is the North American
bureau chief for the Russian national television station, NTV.
The Arkanovs translation of the musical hit 42nd Street
opens in Moscow this fall.
Opera N. B. president Erminie Cohen said it's
too soon to tell how much the Russian production will cost.
"It's much too soon. I can't even guess," she said.
The next big step is to go to the business community for
sponsorship and the provincial and federal government for grants. The local
production will cost nearly $100,000 to mount at the Imperial Theatre from
Sept. 27 to 29. Jim Stewart, the Rothesay composer who wrote The Marco Polo
Suite in 1992 on which the opera is based, is producing the spectacle, along
with musician Gary Chase.
Award-winning actor R. H.
Thomson will narrate the Saint John production, although a Russian narrator
will be employed for the Moscow version. Mr. Thomson has won Genie, Gemini and
Dora awards for his work on Canadian movies, television and stage,
respectively. Best known for his work on The Road to Avonlea television series,
Mr. Thomson has appeared in dozens of TV shows, movies and stage productions
over 25 years.
The celebrated Saint John String Quartet
will perform in the Canadian version of The Marco Polo with a Russian group
employed for the Moscow version. Otherwise, the cast of 20 singers and
musicians will be the same in both productions and will consist largely of new
Tickets for next month's Marco Polo opera
are on sale at the Imperial Theatre and regular outlets. Award-winning actor
R.H. Thomson, best known for his work on the Road to Avonlea TV series, will
narrate the Saint John production.
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