Pulling on heart strings: Puppet opera delves into plight of homeless

When Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias was learning classical composition on the University of Ottawa’s music division within the 1980s, he moved into an condo throughout the road from the Ottawa Mission in Sandy Hill.

“I got to know them,” Ellias says of the homeless males who had been his neighbours. “I saw that some had regular, average lives at some point. … Sometimes something went wrong.”

Around the identical time, Ellias was struck by a subject that had come up in his ethnomusicology course — the traditions of puppet theatre in such far-flung locales as Japan and Bali. “I was really taken by that — the power, the quality of the puppets,” Ellias says.

Jumping ahead three a long time, Ellias has pulled collectively an formidable and distinctive new work that mixes these two points from his scholar days. He’s tapped his concern for the homeless to supply the subject material for a puppet opera referred to as Sleeping Rough, which debuts Tuesday, July 10 on the Arts Court Theatre as half of Music and Beyond, and which is able to play there the next two nights.

For Ellias, an eclectic kind who has labored as a performer, composer and educator within the jazz and classical worlds, the undertaking represents an enormous artistic leap that’s required untold hours — he cancelled a half-dozen jazz gigs final month to finish the opera’s ending touches — and fairly just a few to carry to the stage.

The work entails 4 acclaimed singers — people singer-songwriter Ian Tamblyn, jazz star Kellylee Evans, classical soprano Hélène Brunet and Toronto-based indie-jazz singer Felicity Williams — supported by 12 musicians. Tamblyn performs Ted, a homeless man, Williams performs a younger girl who meets him, Brunet performs the lady’s mom, and Evans is a chorus-like determine commenting on the proceedings. All are embodied by puppets created by Almonte puppeteer Noreen Young, founder of the long-running Puppets Up! International Puppet Festival.

“I think it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” says Ellias. He provides that whereas he’s written loads of music for voice, this undertaking was his first crack at writing a full-fledged opera.

Ellias was lucky to have a discovered a champion in Music and Beyond’s inventive and government director, Julian Armour, even when Armour children: “Anytime someone uses the word ‘opera’ to me, I’m ready to walk the other way, it’s just so expensive. … Ticket sales won’t even come close to covering the costs.”

Still, Armour says he was prepared early on to assist Ellias’s undertaking.

“It’s a pretty bold leap to be writing an opera, but he’s taken to it with a long-term vision. Roddy approached in in exactly the right way.”

Last yr, Music and Beyond introduced a scaled-down efficiency of two arias from Sleeping Rough, and Ellias was in a position to make use of movies from that live performance to use for grants to fund the total undertaking. He’s acquired a complete of $75,000 from the City of Ottawa, Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts.

Before Ellias composed a observe, there wanted to be phrases — and certainly, a narrative — that he would set to music. The process of writing the libretto (the opera’s textual content) fell to Ottawa poet and writer Sandra Nicholls — who simply occurs to be Ellias’s spouse.

“I was intimidated,” Nicholls says, calling the libretto “a totally different animal” from her previous inventive writing. “It’s got to work musically, but it’s got to work to tell the story at the same time,” she says.

In the top, she was in a position to write the 35-page libretto at a two-day silent retreat.


Sleeping Rough, an unique made-in-Ottawa puppet opera to be carried out on the 2018 Music and Beyond Festival

OTTwp

Then, it was Ellias’s flip to set his spouse’s phrases to music. For step one, he wrote nothing however melodies for “70 to 75 minutes of solid music,” he says. Then he harmonized his materials, and eventually he orchestrated what he had written for his chosen devices, preserving the music “as transparent and simple as possible. I didn’t want the orchestration to muddy the voices.”

The music, he says, “is not strictly classical, it’s not jazz.” It does, nevertheless, contain musicians and singers from each genres, and there’s a bit of improvising constructed into the music.

During the writing of the music, generally there wanted to be tweaks of Nicholls’s textual content to make phrases line up together with her husband’s melodies. Both say the collaborations went easily. “We work great together. We always have,” says Ellias, stating that Nicholls had beforehand written lyrics for some of his compositions. “We’re both flexible. I don’t think we have an ego.”

It may detract from the affect of Sleeping Rough to say something additional about its plot or characters, besides to notice that it’s a tragedy. “I’d hoped for a note of positive optimism in the end, but Roddy insisted this was opera and that was that,” Nicholls says.

Although the opera has but to debut, Ellias is casting forward to ponder different efficiency alternatives, maybe at chamber music festivals or puppet festivals.

Indeed, despite the fact that Sleeping Rough isn’t but behind him, Ellias is looking forward to writing one other puppet opera.

“I want to do another one. There’s so much potential,” he says.

Sleeping Rough
Music and Beyond
When: July 10, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Arts Court Theatre
Tickets: beginning at $10 (basic admission, with pageant cross) at musicandbeyond.ca

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