Magazine article Opera Canada

Campbellford, Ont

Magazine article Opera Canada

Campbellford, Ont

Article excerpt

The Westben Festival launched its 13th season with the Jun. 30 premiere of its first opera commission, The Auction. by composer John Burge and librettist Eugene Benson. Billed as a "Canadian folk opera," it's based on the Jan Andrews children's book of the same title. Thematically, however, this story about the sale of a family farm, told mainly from the perspective of a young boy, deals with loss and regret across three generations, and the opera makes more of the adults' experience. It unfolds rather like a ballad opera, with time shifts between past and present creating a nice dramatic layering.

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Written for voices and a small chamber orchestra--string trio, piano, guitar/banjo, percussion and musical saw--Burge's score is varied and colorful, providing the right soundscape and scale for a rural story that here premiered in a barn theatre. This must be the first Canadian opera to feature a musical saw in the plot and score, skillfully played by percussionist Beverley Johnston. Conducted by Philip Headlam, the staging benefited from the experience of a cast including baritone Bruce Kelly as the widowed Granddad, whose farm is for sale, mezzo Kimberly Barber as his wife (in the flashbacks) and soprano Donna Bennett as Alberta, their daughter. …

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