• 5 Things to Know about APORTIA CHRYPTYCH

    By COC Staff

    The first Black Canadian concert singer to achieve international fame, Portia White had a voice described by one critic as “a gift from heaven.” This past June, a bold new opera from HAUI and Sean Mayes reclaimed her remarkable life story in a production blending spoken word, rap, folk songs, R&B, soul, jazz, and classical opera.

    Read on for 5 Things to Know About Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White to learn more about this “sweeping and ambitious” and “gorgeously rendered” (Toronto Star) world premiere.

    Who was Portia White?

    Born in Truro, Nova Scotia in 1911, the third of 13 children, Portia White grew up singing in the church where her mother was musical director as well as on her father’s weekly radio show. Music offered a balm to the family’s grief over the death of Portia’s youngest brother, Romney—but it also forced her into a pivotal decision at the age of 24, when she was compelled to choose between motherhood and a singing career. After training at the Halifax Conservatory of Music, she made her Toronto debut in 1941. Concert appearances across the United States, Central and South America, France, and Switzerland soon followed. Health challenges forced Portia White to cease public performances in 1952, although in 1964 she came out of retirement to sing for Queen Elizabeth II in Charlottetown, at what would be one of her last concerts. She died in 1968 at the age of 56.

    Welcome to the Bardo

    Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White is a dramatisation of the final moment between life and death—what creator HAUI has described as “a safe space in which to explore evocative, provocative, and dangerous ideas.” Here, in the Bardo (the liminal state between death and rebirth), the woman known as Portia White divides into body, soul, and spirit. These three aspects of herself sometimes work in harmony and at other points come into conflict, shaping the arc of the opera’s narrative. A centrally positioned barber’s chair becomes both a throne and an altar, while the stage is structured as a crossroads with a 6-metre oculus suspended overhead, serving both as a portal and as a surface for projections that call up the people and events of White’s life.

    Multiple roles

    The three singers portraying Portia White also take turns assuming the roles of individuals who played a significant part in her journey. These include family members, leading voice teacher Ernesto Vinci, “rival” contralto Marian Anderson, civil rights activist Viola Desmond, lover Murray Bonneycastle, and Queen Elizabeth II.

    Metaphors of colour

    From African kaftans to shimmering white premiere dresses, colour and texture serve as powerful metaphors for the intersections of Portia White’s life. Whether quite literally lifting the veil between this realm and the next, or creating a sartorial bridge in a meeting between two queens, clothing in this production acts as a powerful signifier of identity, relationships, and history. A powerful moment occurs when Portia purchases her first fur coat, stirring controversy around the wearing of animal skin and the fight against racism. Celebrated Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh famously photographed Portia White adorned in fur, inspiring a scene in which the two artists discuss shared memories of Halifax.

    The cost of atonement

    As a woman of her time who was forced to give up her child when she chose a life dedicated to music, Portia White emerges here as a character seeking resolution. In the final moment of her ascent to the afterlife, this opera asks: who gets left behind? Ultimately, although Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White leaves us with no easy answers, there is consolation to be found in the redemptive power of song—and the power of art to heal..

    Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White appears June 14, 15 and 16, 2024 at the Canadian Opera Company Theatre.
    Posted in 23/24 Season


Phone: 416-363-8231

Toll Free: 1-800-250-4653

Contact Page

Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube