Robert Dziekanski's life told in opera
Composer John Plant and librettist J.A. Wainwright debut new work in Halifax
Repeatedly seeing video of Robert Dziekanski being stunned with a Taser by RCMP officers on national television inspired J.A. Wainwright to write an opera about the tragedy.
"Quite frankly, I got tired of seeing Robert Dziekanski die," said Wainwright, a poet and author. "I wanted to see him live."
The opera I Will Fly Like a Bird, set to premiere at the Scotia Festival of Music on Thursday in Halifax, tells the story of Dziekanski, an immigrant from Poland who died in 2007 after being repeatedly stunned by Mounties at the Vancouver airport. His death attracted international attention when it was captured on video by a traveller.
'To give Robert a voice and to give his mother a voice, opera can do that very powerfully'— composer John Plant
Wainwright, who wrote the opera's libretto, said he felt Dziekanski became part of a "media circus where we saw him die over and over again.
"I wanted to deal with him as a human being rather than an image on the screen," Wainwright said in a telephone interview from his home in Halifax.
The story is told through the imagined voices of Dziekanski and his mother, Zofia Cisowski. It begins in Poland on the eve of Dziekanski's departure, where he is celebrating with friends and discussing his aspirations after arriving in Canada, said John Plant, the opera's composer.
The opera then moves into the flight itself, followed by the incident at the airport and finishes with a elegy of sorts from Dziekanski's mother, said Plant.
Opera does not portray Taser incident
But the piece does not directly portray when he was shot with the Taser, nor does it evoke any of the political backlash felt by the RCMP after the incident, said Wainwright.
"It doesn't focus in any direct way on the Taser, although it's alluded to metaphorically and very powerfully in the music."
Plant said the human emotion involved in Dziekanski's story was easily translated into a musical piece.
"This was such a trauma ... not just for the people involved, but for Canadians as well, to know that this sort of thing could happen," said Plant, who has been writing the music for the opera for more than two years.
"To give Robert a voice and to give his mother a voice, opera can do that very powerfully."
Wainwright said he spoke to people about Dziekanski's life and why he was coming to Canada before penning the libretto.
"He was a man filled with hopes and aspirations, coming to a new country to live with his mother, and they were destroyed," he said.
Mother to attend premiere
Plant said Cisowski is planning on attending the premiere of the opera.
"She's very pleased that her son is being honoured in this way and, of course, we're very honoured that she's coming to hear it," said Plant, who will also be playing the piano on Thursday.
The performance will be a concert opera, meaning the vocalists will not be in costume or acting. It's currently the only planned performance, but Plant said he's hoping to take the show across the country.
The 33rd annual Scotia Festival of Music runs from May 27 to June 8.