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Capturing Newfoundland’s deep history

A scene from the 2016 production of the opera "Ours." Nate Gates photo
A scene from the 2016 production of the opera "Ours." Nate Gates photo

OOTA presents “Ours,” commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the end of the First World War

"Newfoundland and Labrador’s Opera on the Avalon (OOTA) will present “Ours,” an opera by Juno-nominated Canadian composer John Estacio, with  libretto by Governor General Award-winning Newfoundland playwright Robert Chafe.
“Ours” will be presented in two performances, on Nov. 9 and 11 at 7:30 p.m., at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.
OOTA, led by general and artistic director Cheryl Hickman is Atlantic Canada’s only professional opera company.
Hickman, born and raised in St. John’s, said in a news release on Monday that “Ours” resonates far beyond the province’s borders,
“Our vision is to create a work that will be a legacy for all Canadians, to help us honour the memories of the past and to serve as an inspiration for our future,’’ she said in the release.
“Newfoundland and Labrador is steeped in history and OOTA is dedicated to transforming that history into art.” she added.
OOTA commissioned “Ours” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont Hamel, a First World War battle that devastated the ranks of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment on July 1, 1916. This production is being remounted to honour the centennial of the end of World War One.
Internationally acclaimed baritone Andrew Love leads an all-Canadian ensemble of 13, with a full chorus, in the role of Thomas Nangle, chaplain to the Regiment. The singers and orchestra are conducted by Judith Yan, with stage direction by Glynis Leyshon, and set design by Patrick Clark.
In addition to baritone Andrew Love as Thomas Nangle, the cast features tenor Gordon Gietz as Archbishop Roche, head of the church in Newfoundland; soprano Lara Ciekiewicz as May, the fiancée of a troubled soldier who meets a tragic end; and Newfoundland born tenors Aaron Sheppard and Ryan Downey as Charlie and John, two members of the Newfoundland Regiment who lost their lives at the Battle of Beaumont Hamel.
“Ours is an attempt to speak to patriotism and nationhood, faith, and family. I think it has resonance beyond any specific discussion of war,’’ Chafe said in a news release.
“It goes to places that examine our human need for meaning, our need to commemorate, and to make sense of those things that are difficult to remember – but can’t be forgotten,” he added.
“Ours” tracks the social, political, and emotional aftermath of the battle of Beaumont Hamel through the story of Thomas Nangle, whose dedication, sacrifice, and renewal are the human embodiment of Newfoundland’s journey through the war, its horrific aftermath, and its re-emergence as a province of Canada. Nangle was posted as chaplain to the Newfoundland Regiment shortly after Beaumont Hamel and served out the rest of the war with “Ours.”
Following the war, he led efforts to exhume, identify, and properly bury the remains of much of the lost regiment across Europe, then almost single-handedly established the existing five war memorial sites across Europe, as well as the Newfoundland National War Memorial in St. John’s.
His hard work didn’t come without personal cost, however, and Nangle, disillusioned, left the priesthood and Newfoundland. Though his legacy stands in stone on two continents, his name – of unparalleled importance in the history of Newfoundland – has all but been lost to popular knowledge.

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