Parlando: The COC Blog


The School Tour goes to Nunavik, Day 2

[This is a guest post by Katherine Semcesen, the COC’s senior manager of education and outreach. Katherine is accompanying the Cinderella cast and crew to the Xstrata Raglan nickel mine in northern Quebec this week as part of the Ensemble Studio School Tour. This post was written the evening of Nov. 16]

Weather permitting, we can ______________ (fill in the blank).

This is an expression we've used a lot today. We experienced first hand the challenges faced by the workers at the Xstrata mine and those living in the north, after our plans to travel were diverted by a force greater than anything on earth: Mother Nature herself.

The day started off by the cast meeting in the cafeteria for a nice hearty breakfast and multiple cups of coffee awaiting our departure to Donaldson Airport. The Ensemble Studio singers were well rested after their long journey to the Mine Complex the day before and were eager to fly out to Salluit and perform for the students at Pigiurvik and Ikusik schools. Knowing that the weather was the key element that could really jeopardize our plans, we kept one eye on our coffees and another eye on the increasing snow drifts. But the weather did look promising at the start of our day.

Yannick, my fantastic counterpart at Xstrata who's been co-ordinating the logistics of our travel and accommodation, found me sitting enjoying my cup of coffee and gave me the "everything-will-be-fine-but-can-we-chat?" smile. I was informed that the visibility at Donaldson Airport was poor and that snow drifts and ice accumulation would delay us for at least an hour. The snow here is like powder and if we were at Pearson Airport in Toronto, there would be several ploughs trying to clear the runways as quickly as possible. But here in the great white north, if a runway was cleared, one would find it completely covered with snow again two seconds later as snow drifts across the land quite consistently. And so began the rescheduling of our itinerary: "Weather permitting, we'll depart for Salluit at 10 a.m." Lo and behold, the skies over the Raglan Mine Complex cleared as if Mother Nature was giving us the sign that we were to begin our journey to Salluit.

Our trip to Salluit began at 9:15 a.m. We hopped on the school bus and headed towards the Donaldson Airport. After a few tries, the Air Inuit pilots (Jim and Aaron) got all of our props, costumes and sets onto the plane and we were ready for take off. Personally, I've never been in such a small plane before. The inside of the cabin was about five to six feet wide. Fortunately, we all seem to be getting along, so the tight quarters didn't bother us all too much. There was no division between the cargo, passenger section and cockpit—we were all in one space together. We got off the ground and surprisingly the ascent was very smooth. Several seconds (not minutes) into the trip, it became clear that our visibility was diminishing. Once over Salluit, about 30 minutes after our departure from Donaldson Airport, pilots Jim and Aaron informed us that they would attempt to land (attempt?) and if they felt that they were going to overshoot the landing strip when close to the ground, they'd pull up again. And pull up we did—back into the heavens and back to Donaldson Airport. 


(l to r) Ambur Braid, Ian Pearce, Michael Barrett, Katherine Semcesen, Michael Uloth, Heather Jewson, Rihab Chaieb, Andrea Grant, Michael Lewandowski, and Mike Welch

While waiting for the school bus to come pick us up from Donaldson Airport to take us back to the Mine Complex, we were fortunate enough to have some time to get to know our pilots. Jim lives in Iqaluit and is of an Inuit background, and Aaron just recently moved up north from Ottawa, looking to gain more experience as a pilot. Both Jim and Aaron gave us their perspectives and a taste of what it's like living in the north. (One thing I've learned is that when referring to places like Toronto, Ottawa, Sudbury, Montreal, etc. the people here call it "the south." When I think of "the south" I think about Louisiana or Florida!) Jim told us of the hunting traditions, stories about his community, and that out of all the food he's ever tried, "country food" (traditional Inuit food) is the best. Though we didn't make it to Salluit, we felt grateful that Jim and Aaron were willing to share their stories with us and educate us from "the south" on what it truly means to live in the north.

Sadly, we returned back to Donaldson Airport and accepted the fact that the weather would not permit us to get to Salluit today. The staff and students at the Pigiurvik and Ikusik schools were disappointed that the weather worked against us and prevented us from performing for them. But living in the north you become accustomed to accepting the changes in plans, especially when flying. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the culture up here is more relaxed and less frantic than that of a big city—you're at the mercy of the environment. So we regrouped once back at "home" (the Raglan Mine Complex), and made some tentative plans and they all begin with "weather permitting." While the Xstrata team, the COC’s Director of PR and I worked to redo our itinerary for the remaining days here in Nunavik, some of the singers went on a tour of the mill.


(l to r) Michael Barrett, Rihab Chaieb, Michael Uloth, Ambur Braid, Michael Lewandowski

One achievement of the day was performing for the wonderful Xstrata employees this evening. On essentially a whim's notice, Yannick and his team co-ordinated the performance, which was originally scheduled to take place tomorrow evening. Over 200 Xstrata staff attended and were given a stellar performance of opera arias by the singers. The program consisted of "Cruda sorte" from L'Italiana in Algeri (Heather Jewson, mezzo-soprano), "Vainement, ma bien-aimée" from Le Roi d'Ys (Michael Barrett, tenor), "Must the winter come so soon" from Vanessa (Rihab Chaieb, mezzo-soprano), "Isis und Osiris" from The Magic Flute (Michael Uloth, bass) and ending with "The Girl in 14G," a musical theatre piece about a woman complaining about her neighbour who sang opera below her in apartment 13G (Ambur Braid, soprano), all accompanied by pianist Andrea Grant. Xstrata Nickel's CEO, Ian Pearce, welcomed the audience and the singers and so began "La soirée d'opéra" in the gymnasium. The evening was a great hit and offered some of the employees their first encounter with the artform (at a nickel mine of all places). 

Though our original itinerary never came to fruition, our mission was not lost. We were able to offer a bit of insight into opera and take home a greater awareness, appreciation, value, and knowledge of the life in the north and that of the Inuit culture. What great learning opportunities, or "teachable moments" as some educators would call it, we all had today.

As it stands now, at 11:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010, our itinerary calls for us to travel and perform the School Tour production of Cinderella in Salluit at 10 a.m. and Kangiqsujuaq at 2 p.m. tomorrow. This is all weather permitting, of course.

Photos © Michael Cooper 2010

Posted by Katherine Semcesen / in Xstrata Ensemble Studio School Tour / comments (3) / permalink

Jean Arsenault (Raglan) (11/25/2010 9:51:00 PM)
Nakurmik,meaning thank you.I really enjoy your performance.It was a first for me and i will like to see a complete opera.What will you suggest me to see for a first time?
Cecily (11/26/2010 5:00:00 AM)
Jean: Thanks so much for your kind comment! We're very glad to hear that you enjoyed the performance. For a first opera, might I suggest La Bohème? Opéra de Montréal is performing it in May 2011 and there is an excellent DVD available with Teresa Stratas and José Carreras. The Magic Flute, which we are doing in February, is also a good choice. There is a movie version directed by Ingmar Bergman.
Claudine Domingue (11/26/2010 5:00:00 AM)
Nakurmik, to you, Jean, for letting us know how much you enjoyed the short performance of opera arias we did at Xstrata’s Raglan Mine! A complete opera in a real opera house is the best way to experience the art form, so I hope you are able to do that at some point. If you’ve got access to the internet, there are literally thousands of clips from operas and singers on YouTube. If there’s anything you hear that you like, you can probably find video of someone performing it on stage in full costume!

If you are traveling in Quebec, I know l’Opéra de Montréal is performing Puccini’s La bohème in May 2011 ( La bohème is hugely popular, and for good reason! It’s got beautiful music and a heartbreaking story. Opéra de Québec ( also has a great classic later this year called Die Fledermaus (La Chauve Souris) by Johann Strauss which has a lot of hummable tunes and a very funny plot. Of course, if you are ever on Toronto, please visit the Canadian Opera Company ( during our season!

The main thing is to listen to as much as you can and I’m sure you’ll discover what composers and operas you like best. Thank you again for coming to the performance and for writing to us. 

Atsunai (meaning “until next time”)! 

Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001



Subscribe to the COC e-mail newsletter.
Contact Tanner
Have a question? Want to share a link? Submit a comment!