Entertainment·Video

The end is nigh: Apocalypsis production to 'blow people's minds'

R. Murray Schafer's monumental music drama at Toronto's Luminato could be the biggest musical or theatrical show ever staged in Canada, say festival organizers.

Massive stage show runs through Sunday as part of Toronto's Luminato Festival

Bringing Apocalypsis to life

6 years ago
2:10
Toronto composer David Fallis describes the many forces bringing R. Murray Schafer's Apocalypsis to life at Luminato. 2:10

It's the end of the world as he wrote it.

Apocalypsis is a monumental music drama by R. Murray Schafer, arguably Canada's greatest composer, about no less a heady subject than Earth's demise, and what comes next.

The piece was written in the late 1970s and only staged once before, in 1980 in London, Ont., due to its epic scale.

For this new production, part of Toronto's Luminato Festival this weekend, almost half of the 3,191 seats at the Sony Centre had to be taken out to accommodate some of the 1,000 performers involved in the production.

Massive scale

The stage was expanded beyond its usual size and the entire balcony was occupied by choir members. The production also spills out into the aisles and seating areas of the  venue.

A choir rehearses for Apocalypsis in the balcony of Sony Centre. More dozen local community choirs are a part of the production, which involves 20 conductors and 12 string quartets. (David Leyes for Luminato Festival)
As well as the hundreds of singers from more than a dozen local community choirs, the production involves 20 conductors, 12 string quartets, dancers, actors including Tony award winner Brent Carver, and other performers such as Polaris prize winning Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq and performance artist Nina Arsenault.

Apart from one-off events like the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games this could be the biggest musical or theatrical show ever staged in Canada, according to festival organizers.

Luminato's artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt tells CBC News that the enormous size of the show was part of the reason he worked for three years to make the production a reality. 

"I was just blown away by the scale of the piece and the beauty of the music," he says, "and really also the intellectual scale, because it really asked sort of the two most important questions that art asks, which is how do we end and how do we begin?"

Kelly Galbraith, who is a CBC music producer by day but conducts the all-female Cantores Celestes choir in her spare time, has found being part of the show a life-altering experience for performers, just as she believes it will be for audiences. 

Apocalypsis is a monumental music drama by R. Murray Schafer. (Handout/Luminato Festival)
"The reaction I'd like to see is just one of wonder," she says. "A sense of being still and letting it wash over them, because every rehearsal as a performer you hear something new and you are just amazed at the genius of Schafer."

Weisbrodt downplays the financial risk to the festival of this epic undertaking, pointing out that the $1.5 million budget is far less than many large-scale ballet or Broadway-style productions. He says the ratio of cost per performer is actually a bargain.

"To me, the main reason for why I do what I do is to blow people's minds," he says. "So for me, if you see sort of this transformative aspect of people's faces, that they see something and experience something that they've never experienced before, that is sort of what's important to me."

Apocalypsis runs June 26-28 at the Sony Centre.

The show will be broadcast live on CBC Radio 2 and streamed on CBCMusic.ca on Sunday, June 28 at 2 p.m. ET (3 p.m. AT/ 3:30 NT).

Toronto conductor David Fallis describes the many forces at work in Apocalypsis, in the video above.

Some of the 1,000 performers involved in the massive music drama Apocalypsis, running at Toronto's Luminato Festival. (Doug Husby/CBC)

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