KHAOS: a Podcast Interview with Don Macdonald and Nicola Harwood

KHAOS opera is continuing its heroic journey from Nelson, B.C., and ancient Greece into uncharted territory.

Two Nelson artists, writer Nicola Harwood and composer Don Macdonald, have been commissioned by the Amy Ferguson Institute to write a full-length opera. Its world premiere will take place in Nelson in the spring of 2012. They’ve been working in it for over a year.

Don Macdonald (Photo courtesy of Don Macdonald)

Greek Myth Meets Global Warning

KHAOS re-imagines the myth of Persephone and Demeter in a modern world faced with global warming. It will feature the voices of two central female characters and a central male character and be supported by a large chorus and orchestra.

You can read my earlier post from September, 2010, here for more background details of this fascinating project.

Listen to an Interview

Click here to listen to my interview with Don and Nicola broadcast on Kootenay Co-op Radio  in February, 2011.

The discussions in the interview will appeal to anyone who loves music of any kind. It contains a recording of Allison Girvan singing an early version of one of the arias.

Nicola Harwood (Photo courtesy of Nicola Harwood)

The interview took place just after Don and Nicola had held a special weekend in February to choose singers for a workshop in June. That workshop will be a rehearsal, a final audition for the singers, and a testing ground for the score and the libretto.

In the interview Don and Nicola discuss:

  • The recent auditions and the variety of singers that came out
  • What it was like to hear their heretofore digital music embodied by singers
  • Their plans for the June weekend
  • The current challenges and rewards of writing the opera and what they are learning
  • the style of music in the piece and the roles of modernism and melody
  • the evolving plot and the challenges in putting it to music
  • how they hope to attract outside attention so that the opera has a life elsewhere after its first performance.

Here’s a bit of dialogue from the interview:

Nicola: There are songs you will go away hearing in your head, and I think it is also going to be very energetic, a forceful and energy to it that is going to be very exciting. We are getting some good people on board design-wise, so think it is going to be stunningly beautiful.

And it is really exciting because the whole town has contributed to making this piece— the various artists involved, the Amy Ferguson Institute and the funders, so many people have contributed on so many levels to making it happen, it really is the outcome of a huge group effort.

Don: Marty Horswill, specifically, without him this would not be happening.

Nicola: He has believed in the project…

Don: …right from the beginning…

Nicola: …whole heartedly, in terms of producing it and finding the money and bringing it to the community and bringing the community to the project.

Don: And also feeling confident about the project in such a way that he can talk to people in the Calgary opera and Vancouver opera and say, we’ve got something good here, you’ve got to come and check it out.

What Kind of Myth Would We Create Now?

In the original Greek myth, Persephone is the daughter of Demeter who is the Goddess of the Earth and she gets abducted by her uncle, Hades, who is the God of the Underworld. They strike a deal that she must spend 6 months in the underworld and 6 months above with Demeter and that explains the seasonal changes from winter to summer. When she is below the earth Demeter grieves and we go into winter.

Nicola Harwood’s story line in this new opera is based on that myth but it asks the question: what kind of myth would we create to explain global warming?

Who Are Don Maddonald and Nicola Harwood?

Nicola Harwood is a local writer and theatre entrepreneur known to many in Nelson as the Executive Director of the Oxygen Art Centre. She has won several playwriting awards and writer/artist residencies and worked for major theatres in the San Francisco area before coming to Nelson.

Don Macdonald is a performer, conductor, composer and educator. He is an award-winning composer for film and his commissioned works have been performed by choirs and orchestras internationally. Don is the department head of the Selkirk College Contemporary Music and Technology Program.

Visit the KHAOS website for updates including sound files of the work as it proceeds.

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