Montreal symphony orchestra launches Nunavik tour
“It’s a message to say: our language is very important"
KUUJJUAQ—If the newly opened Anglican church here needed to test its capacity, it had a good opportunity on Monday night.
St. Stephen’s church hosted the first stop on the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s northern tour on Sept. 10 to showcase its new chamber opera Chaakapesh: The Trickster’s Quest.
The story was written by Cree librettist Tomson Highway, composed by Matthew Ricketts and performed in Cree, Innu, French, English and, this week, in Inuktitut, with narration by Akinisie Sivuarapik.
“It was full,” Sivuarapik said, smiling, looking out at the filled pews after the show. The performance was standing room and sitting room only, with children seated crossed-legged up the centre aisle.
“I was nervous because it’s my region, and this was our first show,” said Sivuarapik, a throat singer from Puvirnituq. “But people were really excited to see it.”
Maestro Kent Nagano and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, or OSM, set their sights on the opera and northern tour with the help of a Canada Council for the Arts grant.
Nagano called the project a “cultural exchange” and an important way for Quebec’s arts industry to approach reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.
Chaakapesh: The Trickster’s Quest is the tale of an Innu man out paddling his canoe when he hears the voice of God, or Mantoo.
Mantoo needs Chaakepesh’s help to show the Europeans how to laugh, so he sends a beluga whale to swallow Chaakapesh whole and swim him to Machaskeek (Newfoundland) to teach the Europeans about laughter and love.
Chaakapesh’s two singers, baritone Geoffroy Salvas and tenor Owen McCausland, both learned to sing in Cree for the performance.
Not a great angle, but… Chaakapesh is a new opera written by Cree librettist Tomson Highway and performed entirely in Cree (and tonight with Inuktitut narration.) pic.twitter.com/4TtH7wBRLz
— Sarah Rogers (@sarah0rogers) September 11, 2018
The OSM scaled back its orchestra for the tour, but Nagano and his 15-piece group filled the rafters of the new church with the sounds of Mozart and Bizet before and after the Chaakapesh performance.
During the show, Sivuarapik performed a drum dance and throat song with Ann-Marie Aitchison.
“I’m very honoured to be a part of this, because they’re working with the Aboriginal community to preserve our culture and our language,” Sivuarapik said. “It’s a message to say: our language is very important.”
Next, the orchestra heads to Salluit for a Sept. 12 performance of Chaakapesh and then onto Kuujjuaraapik on Sept. 14. The OSM will visit Cree and Innu communities for its last three performances next week.
This isn’t the first time the OSM has toured the North; the orchestra performed in Kuujjuaq, Kangiqsujuaq and Inukjuak in 2008, accompanied by throat singers.