Magazine article Opera Canada

Dairine Ni Mheadhra

Magazine article Opera Canada

Dairine Ni Mheadhra

Article excerpt

I'm sitting across the table from Dairine Ni Mheadhra (the name is pronounced Doyrina Knee Vara) in the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre office in Toronto's Distillery District and she suddenly looks a bit--to use a lovely term she likes herself--gobsmacked. All I did was ask whether the QofP Artistic Director considered herself to be in the long but distinctive line of musician-impresarios in opera--people trained first and primarily as musicians but who end up leading producing companies. She certainly fits the musician part (as does her husband, co-QofP Artistic Director John Hess). Born in Cork, southern Ireland, she started music lessons at age four, and by age 17 was sufficiently proficient as a cellist to win an audition with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.

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She stayed with the orchestra for 17 years, though she sold the cello when she moved to Canada ("for love"). Shortly after their marriage in 1993, Hess asked her what she really wanted to do, and her answer was to establish a music-theatre company (not completely out of the blue, because they had already worked at the Banff Centre).

QofP was the result, launched in 1995 and subsequently responsible for a string of productions including James Rolfe's Beatrice Chancy (1998) and Ines (2009), Ana Sokolovic's The Midnight Court (2005) and a half dozen more boundary-pushing commissions, some involving multiple composers and languages. Last year's Beauty Dissolves in a Brief Hour was a triptych of works by three composers for two singers and accordion, sung in Mandarin, English and Medieval French. You'd think QofP's 15-year commissioning and producing history would justify the "impresario" label, but Ni Mheadhra still bridles. "I think of an impresario as someone who is not female, is larger than life and has their arms extended all the time, but that's not me and it's not us. We come at it from a different point of view. Creation, for both of us, starts at the level of feeling, of intuition."

It's not a passive process, since she and Hess formulate the ideas for new works rather than waiting for them. What she's referring to is the way most projects have grown out of ideas and impressions from things they've seen or heard over the years. …

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