Last night I went to the premiere of a new opera, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, based on the eponymous play (1967) by George Riga. Prolific composer and librettist, Victor Davies, a former colleague, adapted the play and created a beautiful new work of art. We did an epic musical, Beowulf, (1975) together long before anyone else thought of it. (Being ahead of one's time is not always a good thing.) I was the librettist, basing the script on my own translations of the Old English poem. I had a lot of reactions to Vic's newest work and had to sort them out before I could report.
First off: I liked it.
MUCH LATER. The trouble with doing too many things is that the doing takes a lot of time and the catching up and writing falls behind. So - Rita Joe, briefly now:
The choral material was outstanding - so nice to have a generously-sized chorus and the songs they sang were melodic and lovely. Vic is an accessible composer and the audience likes it. So do I. I also liked the “indigenous” chanting (or whatever you call it) - very effective. I loved his signature items and (tiny) bits of self-plus- other-quoting. Composers do this but unless you know their quirks you may not notice. The verve and energy of the reservation stomping songs reminded me of Come From Away, not in a bad sense. There's something of the old music hall about these outbursts and they are very welcome, especially in a dark story like Rita Joe's
Vic did his own libretto and realigned the play, not, to my mind, always successfully. I'd have to compare the two dramatic structures. It seemed to me there were a few too many one-shot scenes at the top of the second act without much of a contributing emotional arc to them. But hey, this was a rehearsed, staged reading, not a full producction. As such it was a great achievement and a moving, enjoyable experience.
I' still very proud to know Victor Davies. Prouder.