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    By Public Relations
    Read the PDF version here.

    World premiere presentation will include a free, livestreamed broadcast on June 15

    Toronto – Nova Scotian contralto Portia White was the first Black Canadian concert performer to achieve international fame in the mid-20th century and was hailed as the best classical voice of her generation. Yet, despite her accomplishments, her story has been largely erased from Canadians’ collective memory. Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White is a bold, new Black opera from Canadian director and librettist HAUI and Toronto and New York-based composer Sean Mayes that sets out to reclaim Portia White’s story.

    The world premiere presentation takes place June 14, 15, and 16, 2024 at the Canadian Opera Company Theatre at 227 Front St. E., with a special Q&A with the opera’s creators following each performance. In celebration of Portia White, opening night audiences are encouraged to wear white, honouring the Canadian artist’s name, life, and incredible legacy.

    “What a poetic justice to share Portia’s story in the art form that rejected her in her lifetime,” says HAUI. “And, in sharing this, to be presented by the largest opera company in Canada…talk about justice!” The award-winning multidisciplinary, mixed media artist has previously incorporated theatre, dance, film, and visual arts to bridge the gap between art and activism through the exploration of themes of race, gender, and sexual orientation.

    “One thing that’s important for audiences to know is that this opera is not a biopic,” adds HAUI. “The story begins at the end of Portia’s life, as she's immediately thrust into the spirit realm where she's fractured into her body, her soul, and her spirit. And it ends up being a navigation of the intermediate realm, and how Portia must learn to let go of her earthly bonds in the hopes of ascension.”


    Sean Mayes enjoys an active career as a composer, conductor, orchestrator, author, and educator across North America and Europe with work that spans opera, Broadway, classical, and pop.  In composing Aportia Chryptych, he says the creative team sought to create a score that would break down musical silos and unite artistic and cultural communities. “The sound world is incredibly diverse,” says Mayes. “You’ll hear spoken word, rap, hip-hop, and R&B. But it also crosses into what most of us associate with quote-unquote ‘opera’ and takes place at the intersection where these seemingly divergent worlds collide.” Sound designer Wayne Hawthorne helps merge the opera’s vocals with a diverse range of musical components, creating a harmonious space that aptly mirrors Portia’s inner self and delivers a powerful and disruptive impact.

    Set and projection designer Laura Warren has designed a dark, reflective space meant to represent the bardo which, in Buddhist belief, is the state of existence between death and rebirth. Projections act as fragments of memory, moving the audience through the people and places of Portia’s past, enhanced by evocative lighting from Bonnie Beecher, whose work to date includes lighting design for over 400 theatre, opera, and dance productions.

    Costumes from Diséiye Thompson range from the period of Portia White’s life right up to the present, mixing African, mid-20th century, and modern day styles to capture the opera’s storyline. Aria Evans joins the creative team as choreographer and intimacy director.


    Canadian soprano Neema Bickersteth brings her “commanding stage presence” (The Globe and Mail) to the role of Portia Body; Bickersteth recently wowed audiences in the title role of the award-winning 2023 Toronto production of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha and also serves as dramaturg for this world premiere of Aportia Chryptych. Midwest Emmy-winning American soprano Adrienne Danrich, whose “supple voice” has been called “meltingly tender” by Opera News, takes on the role of Portia Spirit. Danrich is joined by SATE, a Canadian contralto whose sound is rooted in blues but who Exclaim! magazine recently wrote has been known to push at musical limits; SATE performs the role of Portia Soul. Young Toronto-based treble Henos Girma is currently studying at St. Michael’s Choir School and completes the cast as Portia’s son, Jimmie.

    “It’s so important for us to uplift Canadian figures,” says HAUI. “In the opera, we say Portia’s name over 100 times—and I’ve done that deliberately, so that we don’t forget her. I hope that people take away from this that we never forget her again.”

    Adds Mayes, “As artists, and especially as people who create, as people who are tasked with demonstrating our humanity as human beings, we have an obligation to make sure that our stories are reflective of what we truly are and the direction that our world is truly going in.”

    Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White is performed in English, Creole, and Joual with English SURTITLESTM.


    Due to popular demand and, in order to share the world premiere of Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White with as many audiences as possible, the Canadian Opera Company will be sharing a one-time, livestreamed presentation of the opera on Saturday, June 15 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

    Register for free at


    Portia Body

    Neema Bickersteth

    Portia Spirit

    Adrienne Danrich

    Portia Soul



    Henos Girma




    Sean Mayes with HAUI

    Librettist and Director


    Assistant Director

    Sheree Spencer


    Neema Bickersteth


    Sean Mayes

    Set & Projection Designer

    Laura Warren

    Lighting Designer

    Bonnie Beecher

    Costume Designer

    Diséiye Thompson

    Sound Designer

    Wayne Hawthorne

    Choreographer and Intimacy Director

    Aria Evans

    Stage Manager

    Kat Chin

    Assistant Stage Manager

    Jessica Severin



    With the COC Orchestra


    Single tickets for Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White are $75. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling the Canadian Opera Company Box Office ats 416-363-8231. For more information, please visit


    Season Sponsor: BMO Financial Group

    Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White is produced by the Canadian Opera Company, in association with the National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund, Canada Council for the Arts, and Ontario Arts Council.

    Associate Producer: Sheree Spencer

    Presenting Sponsor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiatives: TD Bank Group

    Major Cultural Event 2024: Pride Toronto

    The COC Orchestra is generously sponsored, in part, by W. Bruce C. Bailey, in honour of Christie Darville, COC Deputy General Director, and Johannes Debus, COC Music Director, and in part by The Schulich Foundation

    Thank you to the entire COC community, including our COC Board of Directors, our Corporate Sponsors and Foundation Supportersgenerous public fundersunion partners, and — most critically — our audience. Your inspiring support ensures that opera flourishes, uniting global audiences and paving the way for a vibrant future.

    Based in Toronto, the Canadian Opera Company is the largest producer of opera in Canada and one of the largest in North America. General Director Perryn Leech joined the company in 2021, forming a leadership team with Music Director Johannes Debus and Deputy General Director Christie Darville. The COC enjoys a loyal audience, including a dedicated base of subscribers, and has an international reputation for artistic excellence and creative innovation. Its diverse repertoire includes new commissions and productions, local and international collaborations with leading opera companies and festivals, and attracts the world’s foremost Canadian and international artists. The company is an incubator for the future of the art form, nurturing Canada’s new wave of opera performers and creators with customized training and support. The COC’s purpose-built opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, is hailed internationally as one of the finest in the world. For more information, visit

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    For more information, please contact: 
    Avril Sequeira, Director of Public Relations, email: [email protected]
    Davin Leivonen-Fok, Communications Coordinator, email: [email protected]

    Posted In Press Releases


Phone: 416-363-8231

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