[7/19/2006] - Opera about Pierre Elliott Trudeau to have comedy, drama, sorrow
TORONTO (CP) - Pierre Elliott Trudeau has been the subject of biographies, essays and TV specials - and coming soon, an opera.
"He has a life full of incidents, not to mention a prime ministership that was full of events and surprises," said Canadian author George Elliott Clarke, who's putting the finishing touches on a five-act opera about the late prime minister.
An opera needs larger-than-life stories and characters, and Trudeau fits that perfectly, Clarke said, explaining how he came up with the idea for the work titled Trudeau: Long March/Shining Path.
"He captured the imagination of millions of Canadians, including those who opposed him."
Clarke, a Governor General's Award-winning poet and professor of literature at University of Toronto, is writing the opera's libretto, or text, and jazz composer D.D. Jackson is producing the score.
The opera, Clarke's third, will focus on the prime minister as a player on the international stage.
"I decided to focus on the ... Trudeau who is about travel and who is about discourse with other cultures," he said.
"(In the past) I think we've overlooked it a lot. It's important that we start to understand him with an international context."
The opera will include prominent figures including Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong, as well a journalist character that illustrates Trudeau's "love/hate" relationship with the media, Clarke said.
"There's comedy, there's drama, there's sorrow ... it's got all that stuff in it, so it's not a political science project," Clarke said.
In the exchanges between the prime minister and the journalist, Trudeau is "witty, he's also flippant, he's also nasty, depending on the type of question and the way it's asked."
The opera was funded through the Fresh Ground program at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. In June 2005, the program granted five projects $20,000 each.
Bill Boyle, CEO for Harboufront, said the proposal by Clarke and Jackson "enthralled" program officials.
"Turning one of our great statesmen into sort of an operatic character is something Canadians don't do very often," Boyle said.
According to the Harbourfront website, the Fresh Ground program "was established to solicit national interest and stimulate new collaborations between different art forms, disciplines and generations."
The website describes Clarke's opera has having "a mixing of elements of Cuban, Chinese, contemporary classical and jazz music."
Clarke remembers seeing Trudeau up close during a school trip to Ottawa in 1975.
"We were walking past 24 Sussex when the gates opened and his limo appeared ... Trudeau slid his head out into the sunshine and welcomed us all to Ottawa," he said.
"It was a 30-second exchange between him and, I guess, a dozen or so bright-eyed, bushy-tailed school kids from Halifax."
Even though he considers him a hero, Clarke says he maintains a critical view, and that he personally never voted for Trudeau. "I don't think he did enough, I don't think his government was progressive enough," he said.
Clarke, 46, was born and raised in Nova Scotia, but moved to Toronto seven years ago. His first opera, Beatrice Chancy (1999), is a story about black slaves in Nova Scotia. His second, Quebecite (2003), looks at interracial lovers.
Trudeau: Long March/Shining Path will have a reading, without music, at the AfriCanadian Playwrights Festival in Stratford, Ont., on Aug. 26. The opera is set to premiere at the Harbourfront Centre in late spring or early summer 2007.
- Carlye Malchuk, Maclean's magazine, July 18, 2006