CanLit icon Margaret Atwood officially adds a new job title to her resume this weekend — librettist — as her first opera debuts in Vancouver.
Pauline has its premiere Friday, performed by City Opera Vancouver. Starring Rose-Ellen Nichols in the title role, the chamber opera delves into the life and final days of the Canadian writer Pauline Johnson.
Of Mohawk and British heritage, Johnson was acclaimed and widely read during her lifetime.
She travelled extensively across Canada, the U.S. and England performing her poetry — both First Nations inspired poems while wearing traditional dress as well as more conventional writing while donning ballgowns — at the turn of the 19th century. She died young: she was just 51 when she died of breast cancer in in 1913 in Vancouver.
Johnson's life was as operatic and captivating as her writing, according to Atwood.
"One of the fine lines that she walked was her reputation," Atwood, who has worked on the opera on and off for about 15 years, told CBC News.
Pauline is the first opera written by Margaret Atwood. However, her dystopian classic The Handmaid's Tale was previously adapted into an opera by the Royal Danish Opera Company in 2000.
"In Victorian times, reputation — for a woman — meant sexual reputation. And that had to be spotless. So that explains why her sister [in the first act] when Pauline was dead, burned all the papers. Because she also did have a double life."
In the attached interview, Atwood talks to CBC News about the new production.
Pauline, featuring music by Tobin Stokes, runs May 23, 25, 27, 29 and 31 at Vancouver's York Theatre.