On one side of the stage are the singers: Allison Girvan (singing the lead role of Jorinda), Roger Ley, Sydney Black, and Bessie Wapp.
In the middle, masked dancers: Hiromoto Ida, Lindsay Clague, Mackenzie Hope, and Carley Brandel. The dancers are the characters in the drama, and their voices come from the singers on the side.
For example, two people, singer Bessie Wapp and dancer Hiromoto Ida, play the signature role of the witch.
On the other side of the stage, a musical sextet: clarinet, violin, cello, bass, keyboard and drums.
Also, the witch has some cronies, who are also the stagehands. And there is a group of 12 dancers between ages 10 and 13 who are birds that have been captured by the witch and then set free. And there are puppets.
Dancer Mackenzie Hope as the hero, Jaren, tries to revive unconscious Jorinda, danced by Carly Brandel. Julie Castonguay photo.
Jorinda, written by Doug Jamieson and produced by the Nelson Community Opera, runs three days next weekend at the Capitol Theatre.
Overseeing the very unusual structure of this opera is stage director Geoff Burns.
“This is more a musical than an opera,” Burns says, “but it walks a fine line between the two. The most unique part is the separation between singer and actor, and working entirely in mask.”
Of Jamieson, who recently moved to Nelson, Burns says, “The mind of this composer is very interesting, very creative and imaginative. In composition, Jorinda sounds operatic but there are pieces that are like blues or other styles, a blues song with an operatic arrangement. There are interesting overlays. He plays with musical styles.”
Why should people come and bring their children?
“It is accessible to anyone because it is based on a Grimm fairly tale,” says Burns. “It is family friendly and you can follow the story easily. And it is visually stunning.”
Doug Scott, a veteran of Nelson stages, designed the sets. Burns refused to talk to the Star about them, not wanting to give away some obviously epic secret.
But Burns couldn’t help mentioning the moonscope, a six-foot moon that will have video projections on it. But that’s all he would say.
Grungella, danced by Lindsay Clague (left), and Blott, danced by Jesse Keczan, force Jorinda, danced by Carly Brandel (centre), back into her cage. Julie Castonguay photo.
Jorinda is the story of a witch who turns innocent girls into birds and then cages them. One of the birds escapes, falls in love, and then returns to rescue the others.
Choreographer Slava Doval says the opera has been a big learning curve for her.
“It is totally out of the realm of what I usually do,” Doval says. “It is a great learning opportunity, and fun. Generally I am with students and I teach a lot of kids.
“It is such a unique blend of dance, movement, mask work and lighting, so many elements being brought together with music that is not classical opera, such diverse styles of music, and if that wasn’t enough incentive, the cast of musicians and the singers are just incredibly talented.”
She says working with masks is new to her, and she has discovered the papier mache masks to some extent determine the movement. For example, she says, you don’t want to crush or damage them. Doval also says a dancer in a mask has to be very concise with gestures and movement because they cannot use facial expression.
“All four principal dancers have acting backgrounds and so as dancers they can totally engage with their faces. But with masks we have to use head tilt, arm movements, other movements. It adds a whole other layer.”
The full Jorinda production team consists of musical director Jamieson, stage director Burns, producer Marty Horswill, choreographer Doval, puppetmaster Simone Varey, set designer Doug Scott, lighting designer Dave Ingraham, graphic designer Bryan Webb, and costumer Kyla Hurst.
The musicians are Wendy Herbison, violin; John Galm, drums; Nicola Everton, clarinet; Jeff Faragher, cello; Rob Fahie, bass; and Susanne Ruberg-Gordon, keyboards.
Jorinda runs at the Capitol Theatre on Nov. 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 14 at 2 p.m.