Inuit opera backers sing the blues this week

For Canadian government officials, and opera called Inuk isn’t Inuk enough for Canadians.


MONTREAL — Inuit may never see an opera called Inuk, because there’s no money for its Canadian tour.

Promoters of this Canadian-written opera about an Inuit boy’s quest for the sun has already lined up funding to pay for a tour through Europe.

But last week they learned the Canada Council won’t be giving them any money for a new production of the opera in Canada.

The $50,000 grant would have helped pay for Canadian artists’ participation in the opera, and underwritten performances in Ottawa and in Iqaluit.

The loss of this expected support puts the future of entire $1 million production at risk.

“It’s something that I wanted people to see,” said a disapppointed Robbie Watt, head of the Kataq Music Theatre Group.

Kataq, a recently-formed association of southern-based Inuit, have backed the opera’s fundraising efforts.

Watt, also president of Nunavik’s Avataq Cultural Institute, supports Inuk as a way of introducing Inuit to an unfamilar musical tradition.

The opera, first performed in Canada in 1973, has already been translated into at least 15 languages. Unlike most operas, which rely on action and music to present conflicts between people, Inuk pits man against nature.

In the opera, a young boy wants to find the sun. Guided by the wind and the moon, he finally finds the sun under the sea and brings it back. Only two performers are human. The others are animals, or inanimate forces of nature.

Adams, president of Ottawa’s Tungasuvinngat Inuit centre, feels that Inukis a “good story” that would benefit from more Inuit involvement.

She was asked to design authentic costumes for the production, and Inuit drum dancers were to open the opera. Soprano Deantha Edmunds, an Inuk singer from Labrador, would play the roles of the Sun and the Wind.

But there was still concern in bureaucratic circles that the opera was not “Inuk” enough to qualify as an aboriginal production.

Opera is not one of the traditional artistic expressions that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development supports, either.

“Then, how do you open up opera for our kids?” Adams said. “Not every kid is going to be a carver or a drum dancer.”

Adams, also a member of the Canada Council’s First People Advisory Committee, added that it’s very difficult for any new group, such as Kataq, to receive money from the Council because it won’t fund a group without a proven track record.

“But if how can you get established if you don’t get funding?” Adams said. “It makes it so hard for First Nations and Inuit to apply.”

In her opinion, the Council also favours “colonial institutions” over struggling aboriginal groups.

The opera’s promoters still intend to ask Canada’s Millenium Partnership Program for money.

Inuit organizations have also been approached, but none have responded positively yet, but it’s a hard sell to them, too, admitted Adams.

That’s because the Inuit involved in this opera represent the “forgotten race” of Inuit.

They’re from every region of Nunavut, Nunavik and Labrador — but now all living in the South.

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