What is the story?
This theatrical operatic opus follows the journey of Nova Scotian Contralto, Portia White, "the daughter of destiny", most commonly noted as the first Black Canadian concert singer to achieve international fame.
Through a diverse collage of song, spoken word, design, and video, this opera explores the displacement and distortion of being "first" and then relegated to obscurity.
The opera depicts Portia’s journey through death, fractured into three forms within herself: Portia Body, Portia Spirit and Portia Soul. As Portia relives moments in her life, she navigates the secrets of her past, both cryptic and coded.
The opera explores the theme of assimilation and questions the trope of what it means to be "the first" black trailblazer in a society that centralizes whiteness as the pinnacle of success. Despite racial and gender barriers, Portia White's life was about overcoming obstacles. Ultimately, the opera celebrates her triumphs.
Together our core team possesses a unique alchemy of shared but distinct skills. we are mixed, Black, Canadian, American, Caribbean, African artists of the Diaspora. Each bring a trinity of lived experience in women’s, men’s and queer bodies; and it is this intersection that gives our perspective range and complement. Additional members of the team include: Emmy Award-Winner Adrienne Danrich (performer), and Sheree Spencer (associate producer + assistant director).
CURRENTLY IN DEVELOPMENT
"The show uses song, spoken word, design, and video in a collage of inspiration and influence. However, it is the music that connects, contains, and holds its diversity as one. This work reimagines the score as musical scripture in a story of experience and appropriation, reclamation, and proclamation, drawing from the past to make it fresh and new.
Through a bold aesthetic synthesized of many art forms, we unpack the siloed nature of popularized music and "european" operatic forms to bridge unity between artistic and musical communities. Through spoken word, rap, existing repertoire, folk songs, and rhythm & blues, we seek to expound the boundaries of what Black Opera can be, reexamining innovative ways to decentralize opera from its colonized roots.
This will be the first time a Black director, librettist, composer, and team graces the stage of the Canadian Opera Company. However, Portia was no stranger to the idea of being the first. We recognize how we walk the trail that Portia carved for us.
We are incredibly excited to be premiering this show in 2024, 80 years after Portia shared her gifts with the world at new york's town hall. Being given one of the largest platforms in Opera, this is our chance to give back to Portia what she could not have in her lifetime: a show that centralizes her story in an artform that often relegates blackness to the peripheries. However; this time, we are here to ensure she is never forgotten."
FIG. 2. PHOTO OF PORTIA WHITE PROVIDED BY BILL AND VIVIAN WHITE ESTATE.
director + librettist: haui
composer + conductor: sean mayes
dramaturge + performer: neema bickersteth
performer: adrienne danrich
associate producer/assistant director: sheree spencer
costume + hair designer: diseiye thompson
lighting designer: bonnie beecher
set + projection designer: laura warren
sound designer: wayne hawthorne
intimacy + choreography: aria evans
stage manager: kat chin
artistic mentor: peter hinton
consulting production manager: daniel bennett
coc production manager: michael freeman + murphy diggon
coc technical director: mike ledermueller
international associate producer: clive mathibe
we acknowledge the current support of
to date this piece has been supported through the support of