[7/12/2006] - Trudeau perfect subject for new opera, Clarke says
A new Canadian opera will focus on an iconic figure in Canadian politics and history — Pierre Elliott Trudeau. George Elliott Clarke says Pierre Trudeau's life is full of rich material for an opera. Trudeau: Long March/Shining Path is being written by librettist George Elliott Clarke and jazz composer D.D. Jackson.
Clarke, a poet acclaimed for his Whylah Falls and author of the novel George and Rue, has written two earlier operas: Beatrice Chancy, about slaves in Nova Scotia, and Québécité, which is the story of interracial lovers.
Juno nominee Jackson, a Canadian-born pianist based in New York, worked with Clarke on Québécité. Trudeau is the perfect subject for an opera, Clarke told CBC Radio. "He was a Shakespearean character — there's no doubt about it. I mean this was a guy who lived a great romantic adventure. He appeals to me because he is partly an artist. He's someone who was a writer, an intellectual. He was an active academic. He was also a traveller, an explorer in a sense of wanting to venture off into the unknown," Clarke said. Trudeau is a much-studied subject, with TV biopics, several biographies and the 1980 play Maggie and Pierre chronicling his life. But Clarke believes opera can capture the exuberance and passion of Canada during the Trudeau years, as well as some of the many changes that were happening in society. And he's keen to portray some of the contradictions of Trudeau the man. "He's a figure about whom it is almost impossible to say anything definitive, because he is …encompassed by so many contradictions, but that's what makes him interesting," Clarke said.
In Trudeau: Long March/Shining Path, Clarke intends to stage the multicultural Trudeau, as he puts it, the one who appealed to what Clarke has called a "third force" in Canadian life, the ethnocultural and "visible" Canadians. The opera will focus on Trudeau's experiences on the international stage: Historical characters including Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela and Mao Zedong have been written into the piece. But there will also be duets with his wife Margaret Trudeau and with members of the press corps, with whom he had such an uncomfortable relationship. Clarke says he wants to explore Trudeau's personality, not his policies."Our job in the opera is not to replay the political debate, which would probably be very stultifying and boring, but to try to show the human dimensions behind him and the motivation, the character motivation, for Trudeau, for Castro, for the people that we want to put him in the dialogue with — that he was in dialogue with," he said. "But that's the emphasis here, to show them as people, not just as exponents of ideas, but as people who have come to hold particular points of view because of their personal experiences and because of the historical moment in which they find themselves," Clarke said.
Clarke and Jackson went ahead with project after winning a competition for new works at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. They were awarded a miniscule budget — $20,000 — and plan a three-day run of the opera, possibly as early as next spring. The opera has been workshopped in Halifax, and a reading is planned for August at Stratford. The work is being scored for five vocalists — some playing multiple roles — and a small group of musicians. "Trudeau is a hero of mine," Clarke said. "I never voted for him, but at the same time I did appreciate him a symbol of a more inclusive Canada."
- CBC Arts