Luminato to set Laura Secord's story to music

A new family opera commemorating Laura Secord, a heroine of the War of 1812, will debut as part of Toronto's Luminato arts and cultural festival in June.

Festival to include Massey Hall tribute to Kate and Anna McGarrigle

The Encampment, an art installation by Thom Sokolski and Jenny Anne McCowan, will take shape at Toronto's Fort York. (Luminato)

A new family opera commemorating Laura Secord, a heroine of the War of 1812, will debut as part of Toronto's Luminato arts and cultural festival in June.

The festival's artistic director, Jorn Weisbrodt, unveiled a program on Wednesday that includes a new work by Robert Lepage, an evening dedicated to the music of the McGarrigle Sisters and a Beethoven marathon.

The War of 1812, the war between Canada and the U.S. marking its bicentenary this year, will be one of the major themes of Luminato and is reflected in the festival's literary and music programming.

Laura's Cow is a family opera telling the story of Laura Secord, the heroine of the War of 1812. (Michael Cooper)

Laura’s Cow, for instance, tells one of the war's most famous stories: that of Laura Secord. The historic figure, who had a wounded husband and American officers billeted at her house, overhears an American plan for a surprise attack. She travels through the night to warn the British garrison, herding her cow along the way to cover the intent of her journey.

The musical was commissioned and is being produced by the Canadian Children’s Opera Co. It will feature music by Errol Gay and words by Michael Patrick Albano.

The War of 1812 anniversary will also be commemorated with Overture for 2012, a new work by American composer Philip Glass that will have its debut June 17, performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Weisbrodt tied the focus on history with the role of artists to interpret the world.

Luminato "looks at how art can really change the way we look at reality and how history has changed reality, going back to the 1812 war, how that has shaped the nation of Canada," he said Wednesday after announcing the new season.

Related programming will also include The Encampment, an art installation that will be set up at the Fort York National Historic Site, and The U.S. has Coveted Canada since the War of 1812, a debate between historians Stephen Clarkson and J.L. Granatstein over the course of Canada-U.S. relations in the past 200 years.

Einstein on the Beach

Luminato annually welcomes international stars staging music, theatre, film, dance and visual arts events in Toronto. Guests slated for the upcoming edition include the Batsheva Dance Company of Israel, a Caribbean Summit featuring Jamaican and Trinidadian musicians and Chilean magician Juan Estaban Varela.

Other highlights of the festival include:

  • Robert Wilson and Glass' rarely performed opera Einstein on the Beach, a work Weisbrodt spent five years shepherding to the stage. 
  • La Belle et La Bête, a contemporary retelling of Beauty and the Beast created by Montreal multimedia artists Michael Lemieux and Victor Pilon.
  • Playing Cards 1: Spades, Robert Lepage's exploration of war using the metaphor of playing cards. Luminato will host the North American debut of the four-part work by the Canadian super-producer, which will be staged in the round.  
  • Indonesian performance artist Melati Suryodarmo dancing to 32 Beethoven sonatas, played over the course of a single day at Koerner Hall by Toronto pianist Stewart Goodyear.
  • Concerts by K'naan, Loreena McKennitt and Rufus Wainwright.
  • Alice Munro discussing the short story form and her career with Deborah Treisman, fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine.  

Tribute to McGarrigle Sisters

One of most hotly anticipated events on the Luminato calendar each year is the Massey Hall concert that pays homage to a Canadian recording artist. For the upcoming edition, that concert will honour Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Anna McGarrigle will come out of retirement to sing in memory of her sister, who died of cancer in 2010 at age 63.

Anna McGarrigle is to come out of retirement for a tribute to the music she made with her sister, Kate. (Canadian Press)

The surviving McGarrigle told CBC News she never really liked the spotlight and, with the exception of family parties, has avoided singing since Kate's death. Her nephew, Kate McGarrigle's son Rufus Wainwright, is the main force behind keeping the folk duo's music alive in the world, she added.

"She was his greatest fan and his greatest critic and so I think this is, in a way — Rufus doesn't wants her to be forgotten. I don't think she's going to be forgotten," Anna McGarrigle said. 

Her niece, Rufus's sister Martha Wainwright, as well as Emmylou Harris, Bruce Cockburn, Jane Siberry, Mary Margaret O'Hara and members of Broken Social Scene and Stars have also signed up to reinterpret the duo's music.

Luminato takes place June 8-17 in Toronto.