Orchestre classique de Montréal (OCM) has announced the world premiere of a new theatrical song cycle this December, inspired by the work of filmmaker and queer activist Derek Jarman. The piece, Unruly Sun, is a joint commission from the OCM, Brott Opera (Hamilton) and the 21C Music Festival (Toronto) scheduled to play for one night only in Montreal, on Thursday, December 1, 2022 in commemoration of World AIDS Day. The concert will also be presented in Hamilton on January 26, 2023, as part of the Brott Opera season, and in Toronto on January 29, 2023, during the 21C Music Festival at Koerner Hall.
The new song cycle is inspired by Jarman’s memoir, Modern Nature, and consists of 18 songs sung in English by Grammy Award-winning Lebanese-American tenor Karim Sulayman accompanied by six musicians. The memoir is a chronicle of Jarman’s experiences from 1986 to 1990 after being diagnosed with AIDS, when he sought refuge in Prospect Cottage – a small fisherman’s hut in Dungeness along the southern coast of England. His writings reflect on his experience living with AIDS, creating a garden in a harsh environment, and looking back on past relationships, art and his activism. English and French surtitles will be projected throughout the performance.
Unruly Sun boasts an acclaimed Composer-Librettist team: Canadian composer and McGill’s Schulich School of Music alumnus Matthew Ricketts wrote the music for the piece; Rickets and OCM previously collaborated on Chaakapesh: The Trickster’s Quest (2018), which opened the company’s 85th season off to great acclaim. Pulitzer-Prize and Grammy Award-winning librettist Mark Campbell (Silent Night, The Shining, As One) conceived and wrote the song cycle’s libretto.
Tuesday, December 1 at 7:30 p.m. – Cirque Éloize (417, rue Berri)
Karim Sulayman, tenor
Michel Maxime Legault, director
Anne Catherine Simard Desrape, lighting
Matthew Ricketts, music
Mark Campbell, text
OCM string quintet and piano
Tickets: $75 – $200
On sale at orchestra.ca
“Unruly Sun is a dream project,” said Rickets in a statement. “Mark’s text—by turns poetic, political, lyrical, pastoral, surreal—presents myriad opportunities for musical illumination and enchantment. Drawing on the dramatic vocabulary of opera, musical theatre and song, Unruly Sun pulls together influences from all aspects of my musical life, from Baroque opera to Bernstein, Schubert to Joanna Newsom. Working on this project with Mark over the last two years has taken my music to new, surprising and sometimes exhilarating places, and is one of my proudest projects.”
In honour of World AIDS Day, the OCM is holding a fundraising reception following the concert in partnership with Maison Plein Cœur, a non-profit organization that supports Montrealers living with HIV-AIDS. Concert and cocktail tickets may be purchased for $200, providing admission to both the performance and the reception. The 70‑minute concert will be followed by a discussion led by Denis‑Martin Chabot, Development Coordinator at Maison Plein Cœur, librettist Mark Campbell, composer Matthew Ricketts, tenor Karim Sulayman and an HIV expert will discuss the work and issues related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“It’s important to note that this song cycle is not biographical but impressionistic,” said Campbell. “Our protagonist discovers Jarman’s art, activism and life at Prospect Cottage through his exquisite memoir Modern Nature until he becomes subsumed by it—and his perspective switches from third to first person. In this way, I hope that the work will help create a bridge between generations of gay men; between those we lost to AIDS and those who are alive today.”