Music professor unveils first opera
Queen’s music professor and Juno award-winning composer John Burge draws on the strengths of the Queen’s artistic community to present his first opera, The Auction, based on a poignant children’s story by Jan Andrews.
The Auction is set on the prairie and it tells the story of a grandfather who must make the hard decision to sell the family farm. Dr. Burge wrote the part of the grandfather for his favourite singer and longtime Queen’s vocal teacher Bruce Kelly. Mr. Kelly suggested his former student and Queen’s alumnus Matthew Zadow for the role of the young grandfather, who appears in flashback scenes. Another Queen’s grad, Tim Stiff, plays a comic role in the production.
“On a basic level, composing a successful opera is primarily about creating believable characters for the stage and generating empathy with the audience,” says Dr. Burge. “As this is my first opera attempt, it was of great benefit to have very familiar singers and their acting strengths in mind from the very beginning.”
Dr. Burge has been thinking about this opera for 10 years but it was only two years ago, when he began working with librettist Eugene Benson, that the work began to take shape. The Auction is described as a folk opera that draws its musical influence from folk and country music and includes a banjo, a guitar, and rustic instruments, such as a musical saw and a washboard, in its orchestra.
Dr. Burge is well-known for his choral music and setting poetic texts to music, but he welcomed the challenge of composing an opera.
“When people love opera they love opera passionately, because they can see a story unfold and they can hear the emotions – that’s the challenge for the composer, to give them that full experience,” he says.
The Auction premieres June 30 in Campbellford, Ontario at the Westben Arts Festival Theatre.