Thursday, October 21, 2010

Giving You More Access

When you come to Lillian Alling, you may notice a sign in the theatre lobby with 4 QR codes. You may also come across these codes while at your seat, flipping through the house program.

So what's behind these 4 QR codes?

Once scanned with a Smartphone, theatre patrons would be directed to personal video messages from General Director James W. Wright, Lillian Alling librettist John Murrell, composer John Estacio, Director of Production Terry Harper and soprano Frédérique Vézina.

For those who don't have Smartphones, here are the videos:

Kinda like easter eggs in a DVD, but not quite so hidden, we hope these small features help enhance your experience at the opera.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Lillian Alling Set Up In Time Lapse

Here's a neat little time-lapse video of the technical set up for Lillian Alling.

Video credit: Tom Wright, Director of Artistic Planning

Shot during tech week down at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, you can see the staging of props, the different visual projections, the blocking of lights and all the general craziness involved in bringing an opera to the stage.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Lillian Alling: Final Thoughts

From left: Miranda Lievers, Frances Sprout, Stacey Robinsmith, Nik Belonio

A big thank you to our Bloggers who joined us for the Lillian Alling Blogger Night at the Opera. We were delighted to have you at our world premiere. Thank you for helping us to kick-start the 2010-2011 season in a big way.

So did our bloggers have a good time at Lillian Alling?

This opera, more than any other opera, perhaps because it is the world premiere, but this opera, had me literally on the edge of my seat right until the curtain dropped for the final time. - Stacey Robinsmith

To read more on Stacey's thoughts, click here and here.

All the singers were great. They sung to the top of their game. The highest highs and the lowest lows. Judith Forst is an older woman with a voice as strong as a young woman's. Her character, Irene's, story is achingly told through her eyes. And Frederique Vezina is a young woman from Montreal. She gave me chills with her high on pitch voice. Aaron St. Clair Nicholson did a wonderful job as Scotty. He was believable and touching. And Irene's son, Jimmy, played by Roger Honeywell, was a good counterpart to irene. A loud and barreling voice. - Nik Belonio

To read more on Nik's thoughts, click here.

Lillian Alling is a true Canadian production – commissioned by the Vancouver Opera and produced in conjunction with the Banff Centre, Lillian Alling is a show that takes place across North America. Not to be shy with their world premiere, the Vancouver Opera has pulled all stops to produce a contemporary opera that is both artistically and technically breathtaking. - Miranda Lievers

Wow! That was so stirring, not only the opera with its powerful music or the encompassing scenery, the huge visuals, the love stories and the mysteries revealed, but simply the notion that an opera can be made with the place names I know so well. I love imagining this opera being performed in other cities worldwide -- and Stanley Park and Telegraph Creek, the Skeena River and the Vancouver lights sung into that larger panorama. - Frances Sprout

To read more on Frances' thoughts, click here and here.

What a great start to the brand new season! We look forward to welcoming back our bloggers for the upcoming Lucia di Lammermoor. Stay tuned!

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Have You Checked Our QR Code Today?

Scan our QR code with your Smartphone for a Lillian Alling surprise.

You may need to download a reader for your Smartphone, so click to get your free app from Neo or Mobio.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

An Ambitious World Premiere At Vancouver Opera

Frédérique Vézina infuses the title role with an intriguing restlessness and confidently follows its varied emotional contours. She has the stamina needed for the sudden upswell of dramatic soprano writing in Lillian’s climactic act-two confession. Aaron St. Clair Nicholson’s mellifluous baritone blends bluster, tenderness, and devotion in his moving portrayal of Scotty, the link between the two stories. Among the other principals, tenor Colin Ainsworth stands out in his memorable cameo as the young Norwegian Kristian who is fired by Lillian’s adventurous example.

The most memorable performance comes from the venerable Judith Forst as the spirited but pained Irene. Hers is a tour de force of dramatic singing, finding nuance in the most offbeat phrase. As her son, Roger Honeywell is given far less musical characterization and is mostly a reactive character, but he invests the stirring quartet of disclosure in the final act with throbbing emotional honesty.

To read more from Crosscut, click here.

Introducing the Lillian Alling Avatar

When I was approached by Vancouver Opera to write a series of travel blogs in the voice of Lillian Alling, my first task was to learn as much as I could about the “Mystery Woman” of the Telegraph Trail. Like many before me, I was intrigued by the enigma of this legendary young woman who – for reasons that continue to mystify – traveled across North America from Manhattan to Dawson City largely on foot, by some reports reaching Siberia.

It turns out that very little, in fact, is known about Lillian. What is known is full of hearsay and contradictions. I read Cassandra Pybus’ book, The Woman Who Walked to Russia, an account of the author’s pilgrimage retracing Lillian’s steps through the British Columbian wilderness. I enjoyed the creative license Amy Bloom took with Lillian’s story in her novel, Away. But my assignment was to get inside the head of one particular Lillian, the Lillian imagined by John Estacio and John Murrell in creating the music and libretto for their opera, Lillian Alling.

This Lillian is feisty, obsessive and fiercely independent, driven by a purpose that at first seems girlishly romantic, but is gradually revealed to be anything but. This Lillian is multi-layered and full of secrets, unsophisticated in some respects, but astute, intelligent and fearless as she encounters individuals and challenges along her route that both help and hinder her quest. This Lillian’s personality and perspective are informed equally by the traumas she left behind in Europe and the surprises, good and bad, in store for her in the New World.

In writing Lillian’s travel blogs, it was my turn to imagine what she experienced journeying from New York City to Telegraph Creek, from the United States into Canada, from the suffocating crush of steerage as she crossed the Atlantic, to the startling ruggedness of the BC wilderness – and every point in between.

Nowhere are those experiences more compelling – and better documented – than along British Columbia’s Telegraph Trail. I was fascinated to learn the history of the trail and about the linemen stationed in nine cabins along the telegraph line, between Hazelton and Telegraph Creek. It was these linemen who first brought the real Lillian Alling’s story to light as she stumbled out of the woods one day, exhausted and her clothing in tatters, at Cabin One. In real life, the linemen assisted Lillian on her northward path, telegraphing ahead to alert the next man to watch out for her, and sometimes even escorting her on part of her journey. This is where the legend of Lillian was born.

However obscure the reasons for real Lillian’s trek might be, our Lillian’s reasons are as dramatic and gripping as they come. Putting myself in our Lillian’s well-worn shoes, I tried to feel her blisters and her weariness, to experience her fear and urgency, to imagine her exhilarating rush of freedom as a young woman walking, hitch-hiking and hopping boxcars across a continent, and to share her wonder at the breadth and variety of the landscapes she travels through.

I look forward with great pleasure to experiencing Lillian’s odyssey once again, on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

~ Elizabeth Stewart

Lillian Alling: The Real Lillian (part 6)

Excerpted with permission from:

Wild West Women: Travellers, Adventurers and Rebels
Written by Rosemary Neering
Published by Whitecap Books Ltd.

Part 6 (final)

What happened to her after that is a matter of conjecture, based on flimsy pieces of conflicting hearsay evidence. Lillian Alling's story quickly became a northern legend, with different versions of the end of her story sworn to by those who said they had met her along the way, or had met someone who had met her, or seen her, or heard of her fate.

One version suggested that she had not gone north at all. A policeman who had met her on her journey said he had received a letter from her, saying she had gone to Telegraph Creek to find her Russian sweetheart. On finding he had departed, she married another man. But there is too much evidence that she did indeed go north; the policeman must have confused her with someone else. Some versions report that she had the stuffed hide of the dog that had been poisoned with her all the way, perhaps at the top of her backpack, perhaps in the cart she was said at one point to have trundled behind her. But her ability to preserve a decaying hide while persisting on her way north must be doubted. Some say that an Inuit man saw her footprints at the edge of a river near the Bering Sea and that she must undoubtedly have drowned there. Others say she found someone to take her across the Bering Sea by boat, then disappeared into Siberia.

We want a happy ending for Lillian Alling. A California man, who visited Siberia in 1965, wrote to a magazine to say he thought he had found one. While in Siberia, he had spoken with a friend there. The friend said that, as a boy of fourteen or fifteen, he lived on the Siberian shore of the Bering Strait. He saw a woman and three Inuit men whom he recognized as being from the Diomede Islands in the strait arrive on the waterfront. The woman said she had come from America, where she had been unable to find friends or make a living. She had decided to walk home to Russia and had done so. On her route, she said, no one had lifted as much as a finger to help her in any way. If this was indeed Lillian Alling, her comments would surely have come as a great disappointment to the many people who had helped her on her journey.

The letter writer said his friend told him all this had happened in the fall of 1930. But neither he nor anyone else living knows for certain how Lillian Alling's odyssey ended.
Monday, October 18, 2010

In The Dark Of The Theatre

The things people do in the dark of a theatre.

Some people sit riveted and try to taking in everything that is happening on stage. Others glance upwards and down as they read the surtitles. And others may close their eyes and simply let the music and singing overtake them.

Not artist Val Nelson.

Val draws the opera when the lights go down. Ever so discretely and imperceptibly that her fellow seatmates do not even know this was happening. Val first came to our attention when she drew at Madama Butterfly last season.

On opening night, she was once again armed with her drawing pen to help us record the world premiere of Lillian Alling.

Act I

Act II

If you were at opening night, you may even recognize in the drawings the scenes depicted in each act. If you're coming tomorrow, Thursday or Saturday, we won't ruin it for you.

Thanks Val for sharing your wonderful drawings!

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Risky Business

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

"...Lillian Alling is an exciting, brave production deserving a wide audience and international exposure; as with Nixon in China, this is a modern opera which connects us with people we know, who have lived extraordinary lives. Both its story and its world premiere production make history, and this is one opera not to be missed."

To read more from Coastline Journal, click here.

The World Premiere Of John Estacio And John Murrell’s Lillian Alling

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Some of the evening's most exciting singing came from baritone Aaron St.Clair Nicholson as the infatuated suitor, Scotty. Blessed with such a handsome voice, Nicholson was outstanding in every way, conveying the impulsion of a man in pursuit of a cause in his solo aria (in the Stanley Park scene) As one, Lillian Alling, as one.

To read more from Review Vancouver, click here.

The Reviews Are In. Lillian Alling Is A Triumph!

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

"There is something inherently optimistic about this music”… "Engaging, accessible, touching and well crafted" – Elissa Poole, Globe and Mail

Read the review

"An enchanting show"… "a visual delight”… "The conspicuous success of Lillian Alling — beyond its intrinsic musical and theatrical worth — is to demonstrate that contemporary opera is alive and thriving at Vancouver Opera." – David Gordon Duke, Vancouver Sun

Read the review

“[Frédérique Vézina has] a voice as rich and warm as the smell of freshly cut cedar”... “[Judith] Forst is... a fiery standout”...

“Vancouver Opera and the Banff Centre (VO’s co-producer on the project) have spared no expense on the production design, which looks consistently handsome.” – Janet Smith, The Georgia Straight

Read the review


Experience the thrill and beauty of this WORLD PREMIERE opera. There are good seats available for all remaining shows.

Call the VO Ticket Centre at 604.683.0222 or click here to purchase tickets online.
Sunday, October 17, 2010

Vancouver Opera's Lillian Alling A Conspicuous Success

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Composer Estacio has crafted a solid, sturdy score of unusual tightness: there isn’t a false step in nearly three hours of music. In the first act, the “road opera” conceit tracing Lillian’s cross-continent trek gives a rich complement of charming segments such as a New York street scene (complete with references to '20s pop idioms), a lovely aria for tenor Colin Ainsworth (a male equivalent of Carlisle Floyd’s “Ain’t it A Pretty Night” perhaps?), and a nice “meet cute” for Lillian and her would-be suitor, Scotty MacDonald, sung with easy assurance by baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson.

To read more from Vancouver Sun's David Gordon Duke, click here.

Vancouver Opera's Lillian Alling Takes The Art Form To Rugged New Realms

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

With a voice as rich and warm as the smell of freshly cut cedar, soprano soprano Frédérique Véniza successfully makes the journey from wide-eyed new immigrant to strong woman on a mission. She really hits her stride in Act 2, with some deeply shaded, anguished solos.

Forst is also a fiery standout as Irene, the old woman who recounts Alling’s story as her son Jimmy (Roger Honeywell) drives her from her beloved cabin in the Interior into Vancouver to a rest home—“a cage in the city”, as she laments. Elsewhere, tenor Colin Ainsworth has a charming solo as a farm boy longing to leave his small town; Aaron St. Clair Nicholson is a charismatic Scotty, the telegraph man who falls for Lillian later in the opera; and tenor Honeywell brings humour and warmth to Jimmy.

For more from the Georgia Straight, click here.

Reimagined Journey Of An Enigmatic Woman Makes For Engaging Opera

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

There is something inherently optimistic about this music, especially in the confident reach of Estacio’s vocal writing: big intervals anchored on triads, an old-fashioned, romantic rhetoric, echoes that range from Tchaikovsky to Bernstein, and mellifluous lines that flatter the singers.

In return, the singers flatter Lillian Alling. Soprano Frédérique Vézina was superb in the title role, projecting both strength and mystique in her singing (though somewhat more coquettish in gesture than the character suggests).

Mezzo-soprano Judith Forst was, as ever, emotionally arresting, her performance one long, gradual deepening of Irene’s character.

Click here to read more from the Globe & Mail.

Video: Vancouver Opera Presents Lillian Alling

A preview of Vancouver Opera's presentation of Lilian Alling,

Click here to see the Vancouver Sun video in full size.

Lillian Alling: The Real Lillian (part 5)

Excerpted with permission from:

Wild West Women: Travellers, Adventurers and Rebels
Written by Rosemary Neering
Published by Whitecap Books Ltd.

Part 5

The knowledge that death came easily in the north had no more impact on Alling than all the warnings of those who had tried to dissuade her. She was walking to Russia. She would continue unless her own death intervened. Her determination – and her refusal to understand the possible problems – so impressed one of the linesmen that he gave her his black and white husky dog, Bruno, to provide company and to carry her pack. But, insisted the linesman, she must not let Bruno run free near the Iskut River, where poison traps were set for wolverine. It is thought that the dog must have eluded her, for another linesman saw it die near the river.

Alling continued on from Iskut, arriving in Atlin in August, where she bought a pair of shoes so she could walk ever farther northward. At Tagish, in the Yukon, a local resident took her across the river in a boat. At Carcross, she had a meal in a hotel. North of Carcross, a local couple overtook her on the road, and offered her a ride in their car. She rode with them as far as they were going, then resumed her lonely travels. On the last day of August, the Whitehorse Star announced that "a woman giving the name of Lillian Alling walked into town Monday evening and registered at the Regina Hotel. Lillian was not given much to speaking but as near as can be gathered from information she gave at different places she had walked from Hazelton to Whitehorse."

The newspaper named her the Mystery Woman, and tracked her further progress. She had, said one of the stories, left Whitehorse carrying a loaf of bread as her only food. As she journeyed on, various locals ferried her across the rivers that barred her way. On one occasion, she stayed through a bad storm with a survey party, then continued on down the Yukon River in a small boat. On October 5, she reached Dawson City, some 5,000 miles (8000 kilometres) from her starting point a year and a half earlier in New York. She stayed there for the winter, working as a waitress and repairing the boat she had bought for her continued journey down the Yukon. When the ice broke up in the spring, she followed the river towards the Bering Sea, steering her small craft through the last remaining floating ice.

Photo: Lillian Alling with Bruno, 1928. Courtesy of the Atlin Historical Society
Saturday, October 16, 2010

Forst In The Wilderness

The renowned mezzo-soprano was a regular at New York's Metropolitan Opera, received the Order of Canada and Order of British Columbia and appeared in dozens of operatic productions worldwide.

At 67, she shows no signs of slowing.

Forst is starring in the Vancouver Opera’s world premiere of Lillian Alling, the opening production for the company’s 51st season.

“It’s a new production, new music, new words – everything,” she said. “It’s very exciting when you start from scratch. There are no footprints ahead of us.”

To read the interview with Judith Forst in 24hrs, click here.

A Journey Of Operatic Proportions

The production itself promises to be just as grand. Featuring some of Canada’s top opera talent – including mezzo-soprano Judith Forst, Quebec soprano Frédérique Vézina, and Toronto tenor Roger Honeywell – as well as the 60-piece Vancouver Opera Orchestra and a 40-person chorus, the piece not only travels great distances thematically, it also touches on the myriad musical styles that Ms. Alling would have encountered on her journey.

To read more from the Globe and Mail, click here.
Friday, October 15, 2010

Lillian Alling: The Trailer

Your first look at the world premiere of Lillian Alling!

Press play or double-click the video to see it directly on VO's Youtube channel.

Video credit: Bombshelter Productions

Eight principal singers, 60 orchestra members, 40 chorus members, 175 costumes and stunning visual projections.

Get your tickets today! Call 604.683.0222 or puchase online!

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Lillian Alling: Dress Rehearsal

For your viewing pleasure, here's some fab shots of last night's dress rehearsal of Lillian Alling.

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

More pics to come!

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Lillian Alling: Vancouver Opera’s Mystery Woman

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Only bits and pieces about the real Lillian Alling are known: She arrived at New York’s Ellis Island from Eastern Europe; she was reported to be searching for someone; she crossed the continent on foot alone. She was imprisoned for a time in B.C. for vagrancy; some said it was for her own protection. She ultimately disappeared into the north.

For Murrell and Estacio, the unanswered questions were part of the story’s attraction. “We spent a lot of time not just digging for research, but digging into our imaginations, trying to come up with a cohesive storyline that preserved her heroism and her mystery and her determination, but also in some ways solved the mystery,” says Murrell.

To read more from the Globe & Mail, click here.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Vancouver Opera lands the cover of this week's Georgia Straight! Check inside for interviews with Lillian Alling's Frédérique Vézina, librettist John Murrell and director Kelly Robinson.

Pick up your copy today!

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Lillian Rehearsal in Banff

The Lillian Alling cast and crew spent weeks rehearsing at the Banff Centre before moving into the Queen Elizabeth Theatre last week.

Our Communications Manager, Selina Rajani, flew to Banff to photograph the rehearsal process with singers Judith Forst, Roger Honeywell, Frédérique Vézina, composer John Estacio and director Kelly Robinson.

Press play on the slideshow or click here for our Flickr.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Pin Me, Tuck Me, Shape Me, Fit Me

Here's some video clips of hands-on designer Sue Lepage from the Lillian Alling wardrobe fitting a couple of weeks ago. She sketches, she designs and she was present for all the fittings.

Oh, and Sue designed the Lillian Alling set and props too. She's creative and multi-talented and we're thankful to have her with us for Lillian Alling.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Climb Every Mountain

Here's a video of Frédérique Vézina and the production crew in Banff filming the montage sequence that will appear in Act 2 of Lillian Alling. In the sequence, Lillian hikes mountain ridges, scales down a rockface and crosses a bridge over the Skeena River, all in search of Jozef.

Who says opera singers just sing nowadays?

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Lillian Alling -- Road Opera Heroine

Handout, Photo courtesy of the Atlin Historical Society

"Something in the one 1928 image of her in the wild Northwest of B.C. just grabbed me," says John Murrell. "She has this look about her that just says 'prepared for adventure,' as though she was bred for this kind of thing."

Click here to read more from The Province.

Lillian's Alling's Epic Trek

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Vancouver Opera has upped the spectacle of the production by layering images—both photographic and video-based—over a jaggedy-stepped set. The projections depict everything from rocky rivers seemingly gushing over the stage to the narrow brick streets of old Brooklyn. The score flows with sweeping, multilayered orchestrations and choral crescendos that almost cinematically evoke the old West. “There’s a lot of emotion to the music and a lot of the landscape,” Frédérique Vézina says.

The result will be a multisensory feast, with 60 orchestra members and 40 chorus singers. Opera companies in this country frequently experiment with smaller-scale chamber operas, but few dare to mount something this ambitious.

To read more from The Georgia Straight, click here.
Thursday, October 14, 2010

How Lillian Alling's Wild Terrain Comes To Multimedia Life

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

“We’re trying to capture the sense of the emotional weight, rather than merely a specific place,” Robinson explains of the multilayered landscape images that evoke the journey from Ellis Island through the North Dakota grasslands and into the Pacific wilderness. “It really has a sense of impressionism and, in some cases, even expressionism.…It’s not just a matter of just selecting photography, it’s really about designing an image and layering imagery.” - Director Kelly Robinson

To read more from The Georgia Straight, click here.

Mystery Surrounds The Real Lillian Alling

Handout, Photo courtesy of the Atlin Historical Society

John Murrell’s Lillian Alling is a poetic and theatrical creation suggested by the life of a remarkable woman. But who was the real Lillian?

Mollie Rolston (Mollie Owens back then) is one of the very few left who know something first hand about this shadowy figure. When she was six she met Lillian on her family’s ranch in Evelyn, just outside Smithers.

To read more of Vancouver Sun's David Gordon Duke interview with Mollie Rolston, click here.

Focus On The Composer: Lillian Alling’s John Estacio

From left: Librettist John Murrell, Composer John Estacio

This is very much a road opera, so I could hardly ignore the various cultures and musics and communities Lillian encountered as she travelled across North America."

For example, the Scandinavians in North Dakota. And the Ellis Island scene when she arrives from Russia is a fun cacophony of sound and languages.
- John Estacio

Composer John Estacio talks to Vancouver Sun's David Gordon Duke. To read more, click here.

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Vancouver Opera World Premiere Depicts An Immigrant's Cross-Continental Odyssey

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

"I am excited to be presenting a world premier to both open our 2010-2011 season and close our Golden Anniversary celebrations,” says James Wright, with considerable justification.

“I am especially proud of this VO-commissioned work, created by a team with a proven track record of audience-pleasing new operas. Lillian Alling is filled with tuneful arias, big chorus numbers, and lush orchestration, all in the service of a literate and fascinating libretto based on the true-life experiences of a very mysterious woman.”

To read more from Vancouver Sun's David Gordon Duke, click here.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A World Premiere Blogger Night

A new season, a world premiere and Blogger Night at the Opera!

We are beyond thrilled that Stacey Robinsmith, Nik Belonio, Miranda Lievers and Frances Sprout will be joining us on Saturday, October 16 for all the excitement.

The quartet will be sharing their thoughts on the entire experience: from hobnobbing with other opera patrons, seeing the set with its wonderful visual projections and hearing the exquisite music and singing for the very first time.

Follow along the sidebar to the right for their weblinks as they blog pre-show and during the intermission. They may even report from the afterparty too.

Clockwise from top left: Stacey Robinsmith, Nik Belonio, Miranda Lievers and Frances Sprout

Don't be shy! Stop by and say hello to our friendly bloggers on opening night in the main lobby of the QET. They can't wait to meet you!
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hotfooting It After Lillian Alling

Photo credit: I Am The Game

Opera Ninja Kimli is back! This Thursday, October 14, Kimli Welsh will be hot on the heels of Lillian Alling as she traverses the continent in search of the mysterious Jozéf.

Her assignment will be to track Lillian from the tenements of Brooklyn, hop the same trains that will take them both cross-country and follow her into the wilderness of British Columbia. All the while, the Opera Ninja is to remain hidden and observing from afar.

But what will happen when Lillian finds Jozéf? Will the Opera Ninja make herself known?

Follow along Thursday night's dress rehearsal at our Twitter: @Operaninja or along the right side-bar of this blog.

The action begins at 7pm.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

The Sunday Edition With Michael Enright

Were you listening to CBC's Sunday Edition this past holiday weekend? If you were, you would've heard librettist John Murrell talk about Lillian Alling with host Michael Enright.

If you missed it (being Thanksgiving weekend and all), here's your chance to listen again. Click here to go to The Sunday Edition's website. Under hour three, press play and fast forward to the 26 minute mark for soprano Frédérique Vézina singing The Land is Large and the interview with John Murrell.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager
Friday, October 8, 2010

Life in Oakalla Prison

When Judith Forst, performing the role of Irene in our new opera Lillian Alling, sings “God, the tales they used to tell. Oakalla near Vancouver, but much closer to Hell!” we are transported back to the 1920s by the passion in her powerful, compelling voice and the images of Oakalla prison displayed by video designer Tim Matheson.

What would it have been like to be a woman imprisoned in Oakalla Prison Farm?

From the time of Oakalla’s opening in 1912 to its closure seventy-nine years later, the Lower Mainland Regional Correctional Centre (as it was renamed in 1970), served three main functions. First, it was a provincial gaol for men and women serving sentences of less than two years; second, it was a remand centre for those awaiting trial on serious charges or appeal federal convictions; and third, up until the final hanging of Leo Mantha in 1959, Oakalla carried out all death sentences in the province.

Oakalla Prison Farm was built to replace the New Westminster Provincial Gaol which had to serve the entire Lower Mainland with only 77 cells. Burnaby’s District Lot 84, Group 1 – a wooded 185 acre site – was chosen since the prison was to be run as a farm so that all inmate labour could be conducted within the perimeter of the prison property eliminating the need for chain gangs which had proven high escape risks.

The smaller south wing was built for women and had accommodation for just 54 prisoners. All cells, save those for punishment, contained a cold water basin, a toilet, a metal-framed bed hinged to the side wall and an inspection slot in the rear wall.

Oakalla reflected the American ‘Auburn’ model of penology: inmates would be subjected to harsh discipline and strenuous work during the day and segregated in individual cells at night.

To give you a sense of the day-to-day world: silence was strictly enforced, inmates were sentenced to hard labour, and gaolers had complete control over their charges. Those sentenced to hard labour left for work by 7:30am (8:00am during the winter months) and would not return from the fields or workshops until 5:30pm. Dressed in grey denim trousers, tunic and cap, inmates would walk in unison to and from the fields. Clearly marked across the back of their jackets and along one side of their pants were the letters P G (Provincial Gaol). Their uniforms were easily distinguishable to the ever-present armed guards. The prisoners were locked in their cells at 7:00pm and lights-out was at 9:00pm.

It was believed that these controls, strictly enforced, would bring about the reform of every offender. Oakalla was to bring penal practices in BC into a new era. “In 1912, the provincial government saw Oakalla as a godsend to corrections. In the years that followed, it was more often considered the devil’s work.”

I don’t know about you, but being incarcerated in a country where I don’t have a passport nor speak the language would be frightening enough, but once I realized that death sentences were being carried out around me, it would truly become a place of nightmares.

~ Jennifer Lord, Special Projects Manager

Reference material from “Hard Place to do Time: The Story of Oakalla Prison, 1912 – 1991” by Earl Andersen

Heads Up! Parking Advisory!

Please note that the downtown core will be busier than usual on Tuesday, October 19, due to a concert at Rogers Arena. Don't let the crowds of Justin Bieber fans make you late for Lillian Alling! Give yourself plenty of time to get downtown and park.

Remember: doors open at 6:15 pm, free preview talks in the theatre begin at 6:30 pm, and all productions start at 7:30 pm sharp. Latecomers will not be seated until an appropriate break in the performance.

Where to Park

Reduced Capacity in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Lot
With the exception of a limited number of spaces for disabled patrons, there is VERY LIMITED PARKING ON OPERA PERFORMANCE NIGHTS. Please explore other options.Disabled parking reservations - please call 604.665.2193

Parking Meters
City of Vancouver parking meters are now in effect until 10:00 pm. Our performances rarely end by 10:00 pm. Therefore you risk getting a ticket and being towed! You can 'top up' your parking meter by phone - click here to learn about Pay-by-Phone parking.

VO Patrons Park for Only $6 at the BC Hydro Building!
VO has made a special arrangement with Impark to use its 300-stall lot under the BC Hydro Building, just 1 block from the theatre complex. The lot is located at the corner of Homer and Dunsmuir Streets (enter from Homer Street). Park for only $6 for the entire evening.

Other Parking Options Near the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

775 Hamilton Street – Vancouver Public Library – 712 spaces. Entrance from Hamilton just north of Robson.
*Prices have recently gone up substantially at this lot.

520 West Georgia Street – 337 spaces
Southwest corner of West Georgia and Richards with entrances from both West Georgia and Richards.

150 West Pender Street
Southeast corner of West Pender and Cambie. Pay-and-display facility, one block from the theatre complex.

88 Richards Street – 99 spaces
Northeast corner of Richards and Robson with entrance from southbound Richards.

These lots are operated by EasyPark. Please call 604-682-6744 to confirm rates on event nights.

Reserved Parking for Opera Round Table Members
Reserved QET parking is available for Opera Round Table members. Please call Carmen Murphy, Development Manager, Individual Giving at 604-682-2871, Ext 4832 for more information.

Behind VO's QR Code

So you're walking down the streets of Vancouver, minding your own, when you come across a strange-looking poster that asks "Where is Lillian?"

Upon closer inspection, you realize that this is a QR code. So you whip out your Smartphone to read the QR code and presto, it leads you to a video about our world premiere, Lillian Alling.

The video sets the scene for what it was like for immigrants, like Lillian Alling, coming to America in the 1920s. The video, accompanied by 2 musical pieces from the opera, also illustrates Lillian's journey across North America by foot to return to Siberia. She was briefly incarcerated at Oakalla Prison in British Columbia and after her release, continued travelling north to Alaska. She was never seen or heard from again.

Some of you might be trying to read the above picture with your Smartphone but are not having any success. (picture are funny like that)

So, here is the actual QR code. A brand new Lillian Alling video has been posted up today. You may need to download a reader for your Smartphone, so click to get your free app from Neo or Mobio.

Learn more about Lillian Alling! We'll be posting fresh content (almost daily!) so check back often for your behind-the-scenes look at Lillian Alling.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Lillian Alling Montage Music

Another preview of the dramatic music you will hear at Lillian Alling. This clip is from Act 2, Scene 4.

From Composer John Estacio: “This excerpt comes from a montage sequence depicting the perils of Lillian's final adventure. It was recorded with a hand-held device during rehearsal. There is still rehearsing to do."

We can't wait to hear it on opening night!
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lillian Alling: Props

Head of Props Valerie Moffat has been sourcing props for Lillian Alling these past few months, while Production Assistant Gregg Steffansen has been building or customizing them.

Working with props, an attention to detail is a must. Everything has to look authentic to the time period being portrayed.

For example, labels on tin cans will be ripped off and photocopies of vintage labels glued on in Lillian Alling. There'll be no Chef Boyardee labels here.

As a goodly portion of the opera takes place in the great outdoors, you'll see pick-axes, canteens, picnic baskets and rucksacks.

What you won't see, however, is Valerie's dog on stage. Rupert, who was visiting that morning, was too adorable for me to pass up on taking a picture. Although the real Lillian Alling may have travelled with a dog, our stage production will not include such a travelling companion.

I am not a prop

To take a look at some more of the Lillian Alling props, press play or click here for our Flickr.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When Enright Met Murrell

From left: Michael Enright, John Murrell

Tune in this Sunday to CBC’s The Sunday Edition October 10th!

John Murrell will talk to Michael Enright about the process of writing an opera on CBC’s The Sunday Edition on Radio One. Check airtimes in your area here.

Opera Speaks Tonight @ VPL!

Alone in a New Land: The Immigrant Experience in Canada

Wednesday, October 6th, 7:00-9:00PM
Alice Mackay Room, Vancouver Public Library Central Branch
Moderated by CBC Radio One’s Mark Forsythe

The title character in Lillian Alling arrives in North America through Ellis Island, in New York, in 1927. Central to her story - a single-minded quest that takes her across the continent by foot and boxcar - is her experience as an immigrant. Alien, ostracized, exposed to danger and taking immense risk, her immigrant experience is a deeply moving undercurrent throughout the opera.

Join esteemed historian Jean Barman, "Canadian Immigrant" magazine's business development manager Alla Gordeeva, and historian John Belshaw, Dean of Social Sciences and Management at Langara College, as they portray the stories of individuals and families, from many lands, who have arrived on our shores.

Lillian Travel Blog, Entry #8

Photo credit: Lee Russell/Library of Congress

On the Telegraph Trail
May, 1928

I tell Scotty that I have extra shifts at the restaurant and that I can not see him for a few days, hoping this white lie will give me the head start I need to reach Jozéf. For I know Scotty, and I know that he will try to follow me. Everything must be settled before he finds me.

I have money enough to buy a ticket for the train to Hazelton. Riding in comfort, I chide myself that I think I have become a fine lady. I remember back to my ragamuffin self last summer, hopping boxcars across the country, trekking long miles with holes in my boots and my clothing in tatters. I worry that I have become soft since then, unused to long hauls on rugged tracks all the day long. Last year I made it only as far as Scotty’s cabin, Cabin Two along the Telegraph Trail. There are nine linemen’s cabins before Telegraph Creek, before Jozéf – hundreds of miles more to travel through unknown mountains and wilderness. But there is no point in my asking myself whether I am up to the task. I have no choice in the matter. Finding Jozéf is my duty, and my destiny.

I set out from Hazelton, wishing I had more time to prepare for my journey, but time is of the essence. I follow the telegraph line again, this time skirting around the linemen’s cabins, knowing that – should one of the linemen spy me – the telegraph lines will be abuzz with news that the “Mystery Woman” has returned.

I keep walking, through the tall forest, scrambling down into crevasses and struggling up steep slopes, scraping my hands and shins on sharp rocks. Past the spot where the bear ate my food. Past Cabin Two, where fleetingly I think of Scotty, and the happiness we could have shared.

I am in unfamiliar territory now. The telegraph line leads me to a rickety bridge spanning a deep chasm, the waters of the Skeena River crashing below with spring runoff. I take a step or two, and discover that many of the planks are impossibly rotten. But there is no way back for me. I force myself across the bridge, testing each board as I go. I learn something I did not know about myself before. I am afraid of heights!

It is still cold in the night time. I build a fire, taking the chance that if Scotty is following me, he will not see the smoke. As I warm my hands, I hear something in the bushes – something large. Then I see cat eyes glowing in the dark, and hear the cougar snarl. I have grown fearless. I take a burning log from the fire and thrash it wildly, shouting. After a few minutes, all is silent. I stay awake most of that night, feeding the fire.

Then disaster! I am making my way down a steep narrow path, hugging the mountainside, when suddenly from above comes a roar and deluge of tumbling rocks. I flatten myself against the mountain, but a rock strikes my hand – the hand holding my bag. The bag is gone down into the gorge, and with it my food. All I have left is the clothes on my back. But I must press on.

At last I pass the ninth lineman’s cabin. I must be near now, to Telegraph Creek. I come upon a small stream. And at this stream I see the back of a man. He holds a pan in his hand, with which he scoops mud from the creek bed. “Jozéf?” I say to him. “Jozéf Nikitich Lazinsky?” Jozéf turns to me. At long last, I have found you.

Project Unto Me III

Here are some more visual projection awesomeness from video designer Tim Matheson.

These photos, taken in a couple of weeks ago when the production crew were in Banff, are the first life-sized shots of the projections. Previously, we only had available photos of the projections on model sets, as seen here and here.

Click to see each photo-set.

If you think the projections look good here, just wait until you see it in the theatre!

To see each photo individually, click here for our Flickr.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Lillian Alling: The Look

VO's Wardrobe Superviser Parvin Mirhady and her team of 6 have been busy these past few months. The wardrobe department has been cutting and sewing up a storm in order to create 200 the outfits needed for Lillian Alling. Half of the outfits were custom made, while the other half were purchased from second hand stores such as Value Village and then customized for that 1920s era look.

Parvin Mirhady and designer Sue Lepage going over some costume drawings

When asked which was harder, creating costumes for Nixon in China or Lillian Alling, Parvin said Lillian was definitely more challenging. Not only does Lillian have more costumes, but each piece has more individual styling, whereas the uniforms in Nixon were very much identical repeats.

Nixon in China costumes

Lillian Alling costumes

Fittings were held a couple of weeks ago when designer Sue Lepage was in town. Within just 4 days, 40 principals & chorus members, 8 supernumeraries and 4 children were seen for their one-time fitting. That's some heavy traffic going in and out of the wardrobe department.

And if you love vintage-style hats, you're in for a treat as everyone on Lillian Alling will be outfitted in cloche hats, straw hats, homburg hats and flat caps. A profusion of hats everywhere.

From leisure wear, to rugged outdoor clothing and immigrant clothing of that era, Lillian Alling will give you a glimpse of the very diverse styles of the late 1920s.

But if you can't wait until opening night, press play on the slideshow or click here to go to our Flickr.

~ Ling Chan, Social Media Manager
Friday, October 1, 2010

Opera Speaks: Alone In A New Land

Wednesday, October 6
Opera Speaks @ VPL: Alone in a New Land: The Immigrant Experience in Canada
Alice Mackay Room, Vancouver Public Library Central Branch
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Free admission. Seating is limited; arrive early!

The title character in Lillian Alling arrives in North America through Ellis Island, in New York, in 1927. Central to her story - a single-minded quest that takes her across the continent by foot and boxcar - is her experience as an immigrant. Alien, ostracized, exposed to danger and taking immense risk, her immigrant experience is a deeply moving undercurrent throughout the opera.

Canada's character has been built with the emotional and spiritual fibre of immigrants such as Lillian. Join a panel of experts and historians as they portray the stories of individuals and families, from many lands, who have arrived on our shores. Panelists include esteemed historian Jean Barman, and eminent historian John Belshaw, Dean of Social Sciences and Management at Langara College.

Moderated by CBC Radio One's Mark Forsythe.