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Opera in the Times of COVID-19

Opera in the Times of COVID-19

What is opera in the time of COVID-19? Check in every Wednesday for an inspiring story on how opera companies are innovating to deliver ARTISTIC and CIVIC IMPACT during these times of isolation.

 

The Flight of the Hummingbird 

 

If there is one positive thing that has come out of this pandemic, it has been seeing so many Canadians joining together to take care of one another. There has been time to pause and reflect, and to recognize that when we all come together, we can overcome hardship and come out all the stronger for it. This message of caring for one another also rings clear in The Flight of the Hummingbird, an opera with music by Maxime Goulet and libretto by Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas and Barry Gilson. In this opera co-commissioned and co-produced by Pacific Opera Victoria and Vancouver Opera, “the animals of the forest are inspired to come together by Dukdukdiya, the Hummingbird, to save their beautiful home from a raging fire.” This opera for young audiences is based on an indigenous parable from the Quechuan people of South America, and influenced by the graphic novel written by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, whose artistic influence can be seen in all the beautifully bold visual elements in this production.
 
 
The Flight of the Hummingbird was midway through the first leg of its school tour across when COVID19 forced the companies to cancel all remaining shows. While the live tour is not set to resume until 2021, audiences all across Canada can now stream the production online, all summer long. According to Colleen Maybin, Vancouver Opera Director of Education and Community Engagement, the decision to go virtual came as a direct response to the pandemic. Fortunately, an archival recording had already been produced to share the work with other opera companies interested in producing the work. Once the equity agreements were sorted, the decision to stream the production was made right away.
 
In addition to the opera itself, there are a number of resources for children, parents, and teachers to interact with after viewing the opera, which can all be found online. “The whole intention was that we would devise programming that could be accessible by parents at home; programming that was simple, and aligned with indigenous ways of knowing,” says Maybin. The supplementary materials were created by opera teaching artists, who typically deliver live  in-person workshops to young people, to help students engage with the work more deeply in an interactive way. As none of the teaching artists were indigenous themselves, the artists felt it was important that they weave indigenous ways of being into the virtual activties. In each video, every artist begins with a land acknowledgement in their home where they are filming. All of the filming was done outdoors, and as much as possible, the activities are meant to be done outdoors as well. “We really tied it into the idea of doing this wherever you live and where ever your place is based,” adds Maybin.
 
 
The overall response to the work being available to stream online has been incredibly positive. For teachers, the ability to share an opera simply by forwarding a link has been a much welcomed resource during this time of virtual schooling. But The Flight of the Hummingbird has reached far beyond the original intended school audience. “Its become almost a gift that people are passing on as they learn about it,” says Maybin. “We ended up with multiple audiences in the end - which was a really nice surprise because everyone said, ‘how do we make it happen, let’s just get it out there.”
 
The Flight of the Hummingbird can be viewed online here. A post-show Q&A, as well as corresponding activities in Language Arts, Music  Movement, and Visual Arts, are also available on both Vancouver Opera and Pacific Opera Victoria’s websites.
 
Story by Sarah Forestieri
 
 
CAST
In order of vocal appearance
Evan Korbut as Owl
Sara Schabas as Dukdukdiya (Hummingbird)
Jan van der Hooft as Bear / Crow 2
Rebecca Cuddy as Bunny / Crow 1
 
Photography by Tim Matheson