Aportia Chryptych banner

Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White

HAUI x Sean Mayes
To

JUNE 14, 15, AND 16, 2024


Canadian Opera Company Theatre
227 Front St. E., Toronto, Ontario

WORLD PREMIERE


Select a date to purchase tickets


FRIDAY, JUNE 14 SATURDAY, JUNE 15SUNDAY, JUNE 16

Nova Scotian contralto Portia White was the first Black Canadian concert performer to achieve international fame in the mid- 20th century, touring North America and performing in Europe while being hailed as the best classical voice of her generation. Yet despite such artistic accomplishments, her story has been erased from Canadians’ collective memory.

Working against this history, Aportia Chryptych is a bold, new Black opera that sets out to reclaim Portia White’s story, evoking memories of the past as a form of political resistance. Spoken word, rap, folk songs, hip-hop, R&B, and classic opera repertoire collide in an explosive score that seeks to break down musical silos and unite artistic and cultural communities.

Credits
Sung in English, Creole, and Joual



CAST AND CREATIVE TEAMS


Composer: Sean Mayes with HAUI
Director and Librettist: HAUI
Assistant Director: Sheree Spencer
Dramaturg: Neema Bickersteth
Conductor: Sean Mayes
Set & Projection Design: Laura Warren
Lighting Design: Bonnie Beecher
Costume Design: Diseiye Thompson
Sound Design: Wayne Hawthorne
Stage Manager: Kat Chin
Choreography & Intimacy Director: Aria Evans

Portia Body: Neema Bickersteth
Portia Spirit: Adrienne Danrich
Portia Soul: SATE

Associate Producer: Sheree Spencer

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

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

Presenting Sponsor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives:

The Story

SYNOPSIS IN A MINUTE

It is February 13th, 1968, the night of Portia White's death. Portia lifts the veil, stepping over into the spirit realm, where she is fractured into her Body, Soul, and Spirit. Within the Bardo (the crossroads between life and death), memories compound as Portia revisits pivotal moments in her past. A figure from her former life begets a maelstrom of memories, fragments of her family, and echoes of her earthly existence, which Portia must decode and decipher. As Portia contends with letting go, she must learn to reconcile in the hopes of ascension. Is it better to be remembered; or is it how we live that truly matters?


FULL SYNOPSIS

 

ACT I

The ancestors enter to offer a LAND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT, recognizing the history of genocide and slavery shared upon these lands and waterways.

It is February 13th, 1968. Portia White is on her deathbed, tended by her mother and sister at her VIGIL. Her family sings her favourite song I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU USED TO BE. Suddenly, Portia is visited by the apparition of a young boy. Portia passes over into the BARDO, the crossroads between life and death where she is no longer Portia White but the black women inside of her: Portia's Spirit, Portia Body, and Portia Soul (The Portia Triptych). The young boy returns and gifts Portia the will to relive her life once more.

Portia WONDERS AS SHE WANDERS into her first memory in Truro, Nova Scotia, while her father, ANDREW WHITE, is overseas wiring the lines on the western fronts of World War One. Then, as massacre consumes him in Europe, the murmurs of the Halifax explosion erupt.

Grief befalls the White family when Portia's youngest brother Romney falls off the back of a wagon, breaking his neck (CASSE LUI LE COU) and scarring her mother for life.

The family moves to Halifax and fills their lives with music at Church to dull the pain of losing Romney. Portia spreads bitter tears (SPARGI D'AMARO PIANTO), grasping the extent and weight of grief her mother had to endure in losing her son.

Portia's sorrows beget a pivotal decision where she is forced to choose between a life of music versus motherhood at the age of 24. Like the Coucou bird (LE COUCOU), Portia must leave her son Gerald/Jimmie to fend for himself. The figure of the boy returns, who Portia now understands is the lost soul of her son. In her defense, she imparts knowledge MOTHER TO SON, justifying that life is not easy and that her child must keep on climbin'. Thinking she has made amends, Portia sends her son on his way to fend for himself, enduring the secrets of his past and never to say a MUMBALIN' WORD.

Portia is thrust into the memory of her FATHER, which culminates in his sound words, advice, and untimely death. Grief once again overtakes when Portia must encounter the memory of her SISTER Evelyn. Portia curses her fatal gift (O DON FATALE) and her sister's unjust death.

A blur of memories, including her first encounters with Ernesto VINCI and Edith Read, guide Portia to her PREMIERE night, where she sings for all of Toronto at the Eaton Auditorium. However, this time, Portia decides to explain what truly transpired that night, BACKSTAGE reclaiming her own history and autonomy over her voice.

Portia finds herself once again at the crossroads between life and death, where she encounters her "rival," MARIAN ANDERSON. Portia must wrestle with understanding the history and future of racial barriers, the heartaches of a promised land uncharted, and a rebirth for black equality while contending with her overwhelming desire to find inner cohesion in her fractured state. She can finally BREAK BREAD with Marian; however, she is once again faced with the form of her son.

ACT II

Amidst the Bardo, Portia Spirit and Portia Body urge Portia Soul to RIDE ON and continue through the intermediate realm to deal with her unfinished business. Portia encounters the echoes of World War Two and the effects on women in the workforce. These memories parallel her recollection and climb to international success as she prepares for her NEW YORK PREMIERE amidst the growing racism from the American South.

Portia becomes a cosmopolitan lady moving to New York. Purchasing her first coat of FUR stirs a maelstrom of controversy around the history of animal skin and black-skinned people's fight against racism. Yousuf KARSH famously photographs Portia adorned in fur as they recollect their shared history of Halifax. As Portia finds newfound strength, her inner WILD CHILD embarks on an existential exploration of self, expounding her beliefs and ideology.

"The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself as accepted in spite of being unacceptable."

Portia finds herself with VIOLA Desmond, her dearest comrade, and they discuss the legacy of blackness. They find strength together through their sisterhood and feminine power, unknowingly conjuring the spirit of a lost lover. Portia must once again THINK ON Murray Bonneycastle, who tragically took his own life.

Now touring the world, Portia must appease a rift with her accompanist GORDON Kushner. At the same time, she also contends with her battles with her surgery and the secrets of her illness.

Portia decides to flex new creative muscles, giving a shot at ACTING. Playing Tituba in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, she works alongside and forms an attachment to Canadian actor Douglas Rain. Portia wonders if this string of male adorers might have been the answer to feeling less alone, TIRED & WEARY.

Portia is faced with the pressures of her performing for QUEEN Elizabeth I of England. Yet, unbeknownst to those around her, she continues to battle the pains of her illness. Portia wonders if royalty is all it is cracked up to be. Rather than conforming to history's pressures, Portia bends time to redefine what might have happened had she been able to step into her fullest blackness as "the Daughter of Destiny."

As she shakes time, her father reappears to her. She spends one last moment with THE WHOLE WORLD IN HER HANDS. Portia realizes her past actions do not define who she was; instead, it is how we live that truly matters.

Portia atones on her relationship between SON TO MOTHER, bequeathing that he carry her memory forward. Portia leaves a meditative PENCEROSA for her son to live by and espouse. Portia Body, Portia Soul, and Portia Spirit can finally find cohesion, closure, and clarity to move on. Portia's closing wish is for her son to remember who she is (THINK ON ME).

COMPOSER BIO
Sean Mayes

Born in Toronto and based out of New York City, Sean Mayes enjoys an active and varied career internationally as a conductor, music director, orchestrator, arranger, composer, author, and educator across North America and Europe, with his work spanning numerous musical styles and performed in some of the world’s largest theatres and concert halls, moving between Broadway, theatre, opera, classical and pops.

In New York, Mayes shares his time as conductor for two Tony Award-winning Broadway productions, the new MJ: The Musical and Hadestown. At home in Canada, Mayes was Music Director and Conductor of the all-Canadian premiere of The Color Purple in 2019, for which he was awarded the Merritt Award for Outstanding Musical Direction.

Internationally, he served as Musical Supervisor of the Finnish premiere of Come From Away last year. This past fall, Mayes served as Music Director and Conductor of the new musical Mandela, inspired by the life of Nelson Mandela and co-produced by the Mandela family for production at the Young Vic Theatre in London, UK.

As an orchestrator and arranger, Mayes’ work has been performed by ensembles ranging in style from pops to classical to opera across North America and Europe. Mayes was Music Director, Orchestrator and Arranger for An Evening With André De Shields with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2021.

Outside of musical theatre, Mayes is currently Composer & Musical Supervisor of Fall On Your Knees, the stage adaptation of the best-selling Canadian novel, currently touring Canada’s largest theatres through Canadian Stage (Toronto), Neptune Theatre (Halifax), National Arts Centre (Ottawa), and the Grand Theatre (London). He is also Composer for the Stratford Festival’s mainstage production of King Lear during their 2022/2023 season, and Music Supervisor of Black HERSTORY; an all immersive two-day joint event with AFROPUNK at Lincoln Center featuring an immense line of Black musical talent including India Arie, Umi, Celisse, and many others.

As an author, Mayes’ leading writing and scholarship is uniquely attuned to the ongoing conversation of unpacking systemic issues surrounding representation in theatre and arts. He is a published author on the role of Black music directors and disproportionately represented artists on Broadway (Reframing the Musical), and on the retracing of Black practitioners through British musical theatre history in An Inconvenient Black History of British Musical Theatre, which was celebrated for release in concert at Wigmore Hall, London, in 2021. His anticipated text, Conversations in Color: Exploring North American Musical Theatre, will be published in late 2023 through Methuen Drama, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Mayes holds degrees in music, education, and music direction from McGill University and the University of Surrey.
LIBRETTIST BIO
HAUI

Haui is an award-winning mixed-media artist who defies categorization. Haui's work explores themes of race, gender, and orientation, shedding light on stories often relegated to the peripheries of history while blurring lines between theatrical mediums. To date, Haui has worked as a director, designer, and deviser of new work for theatre, film, opera, and visual arts working for Canada's leading arts organizations, including the Canadian Opera Company, Stratford Festival, National Arts Centre, Shaw Festival, Canadian Stage, Luminato Festival, Black Theatre Workshop, and more.


Career highlights include directing his award-winning film Mixed↑ (MixedUp), produced by trans filmmaker Jack Fox and in association with outtv. eTalk Canada praised the film saying, "mixedup is going to allow a lot of people to begin healing."

Recently Haui was associate director on the Toronto production of "Choir Boy" by Tarell Alvin McCraney. In 2023, Haui will direct "Private Flowers," an exploration of queer history produced by Toronto History Museums, supported by the National Ballet of Canada's open residency program and the Ontario Arts Council. Later this year, Playwright's Canada Press will also publish his writing/poetry as part of an anthology of works exploring black history.

Previously Haui was assistant director to Estelle Shook for the NAC sesquicentennial production of Harry Somer's opera Louis Riel. In addition, Haui has directed in the Stratford Festival Meighen Forum and Stratford Lab and was invited by the late Martha Henry to participate in the inaugural bud's program as part of the Michael Langham Directors program for classical theatre. Haui was also a recipient of Theatre Ontario's Professional Theatre Training program. Haui directed and composed his award-winning film "C'est Moi," an acclaimed film that explores the history of slavery in 18th-century New France and has since screened globally. In addition, Haui was the assistant producer to Métis/Déne filmmaker Marie Clements on her feature film debut, Red Snow, produced by CBC, Telefilm, and APTN.
  • Sung in English, Creole, and Joual


    CAST AND CREATIVE TEAMS


    Composer: Sean Mayes with HAUI
    Director and Librettist: HAUI
    Assistant Director: Sheree Spencer
    Dramaturg: Neema Bickersteth
    Conductor: Sean Mayes
    Set & Projection Design: Laura Warren
    Lighting Design: Bonnie Beecher
    Costume Design: Diseiye Thompson
    Sound Design: Wayne Hawthorne
    Stage Manager: Kat Chin
    Choreography & Intimacy Director: Aria Evans

    Portia Body: Neema Bickersteth
    Portia Spirit: Adrienne Danrich
    Portia Soul: SATE

    Associate Producer: Sheree Spencer

    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

    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

    Presenting Sponsor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives:

  • SYNOPSIS IN A MINUTE

    It is February 13th, 1968, the night of Portia White's death. Portia lifts the veil, stepping over into the spirit realm, where she is fractured into her Body, Soul, and Spirit. Within the Bardo (the crossroads between life and death), memories compound as Portia revisits pivotal moments in her past. A figure from her former life begets a maelstrom of memories, fragments of her family, and echoes of her earthly existence, which Portia must decode and decipher. As Portia contends with letting go, she must learn to reconcile in the hopes of ascension. Is it better to be remembered; or is it how we live that truly matters?


    FULL SYNOPSIS

     

    ACT I

    The ancestors enter to offer a LAND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT, recognizing the history of genocide and slavery shared upon these lands and waterways.

    It is February 13th, 1968. Portia White is on her deathbed, tended by her mother and sister at her VIGIL. Her family sings her favourite song I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU USED TO BE. Suddenly, Portia is visited by the apparition of a young boy. Portia passes over into the BARDO, the crossroads between life and death where she is no longer Portia White but the black women inside of her: Portia's Spirit, Portia Body, and Portia Soul (The Portia Triptych). The young boy returns and gifts Portia the will to relive her life once more.

    Portia WONDERS AS SHE WANDERS into her first memory in Truro, Nova Scotia, while her father, ANDREW WHITE, is overseas wiring the lines on the western fronts of World War One. Then, as massacre consumes him in Europe, the murmurs of the Halifax explosion erupt.

    Grief befalls the White family when Portia's youngest brother Romney falls off the back of a wagon, breaking his neck (CASSE LUI LE COU) and scarring her mother for life.

    The family moves to Halifax and fills their lives with music at Church to dull the pain of losing Romney. Portia spreads bitter tears (SPARGI D'AMARO PIANTO), grasping the extent and weight of grief her mother had to endure in losing her son.

    Portia's sorrows beget a pivotal decision where she is forced to choose between a life of music versus motherhood at the age of 24. Like the Coucou bird (LE COUCOU), Portia must leave her son Gerald/Jimmie to fend for himself. The figure of the boy returns, who Portia now understands is the lost soul of her son. In her defense, she imparts knowledge MOTHER TO SON, justifying that life is not easy and that her child must keep on climbin'. Thinking she has made amends, Portia sends her son on his way to fend for himself, enduring the secrets of his past and never to say a MUMBALIN' WORD.

    Portia is thrust into the memory of her FATHER, which culminates in his sound words, advice, and untimely death. Grief once again overtakes when Portia must encounter the memory of her SISTER Evelyn. Portia curses her fatal gift (O DON FATALE) and her sister's unjust death.

    A blur of memories, including her first encounters with Ernesto VINCI and Edith Read, guide Portia to her PREMIERE night, where she sings for all of Toronto at the Eaton Auditorium. However, this time, Portia decides to explain what truly transpired that night, BACKSTAGE reclaiming her own history and autonomy over her voice.

    Portia finds herself once again at the crossroads between life and death, where she encounters her "rival," MARIAN ANDERSON. Portia must wrestle with understanding the history and future of racial barriers, the heartaches of a promised land uncharted, and a rebirth for black equality while contending with her overwhelming desire to find inner cohesion in her fractured state. She can finally BREAK BREAD with Marian; however, she is once again faced with the form of her son.

    ACT II

    Amidst the Bardo, Portia Spirit and Portia Body urge Portia Soul to RIDE ON and continue through the intermediate realm to deal with her unfinished business. Portia encounters the echoes of World War Two and the effects on women in the workforce. These memories parallel her recollection and climb to international success as she prepares for her NEW YORK PREMIERE amidst the growing racism from the American South.

    Portia becomes a cosmopolitan lady moving to New York. Purchasing her first coat of FUR stirs a maelstrom of controversy around the history of animal skin and black-skinned people's fight against racism. Yousuf KARSH famously photographs Portia adorned in fur as they recollect their shared history of Halifax. As Portia finds newfound strength, her inner WILD CHILD embarks on an existential exploration of self, expounding her beliefs and ideology.

    "The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself as accepted in spite of being unacceptable."

    Portia finds herself with VIOLA Desmond, her dearest comrade, and they discuss the legacy of blackness. They find strength together through their sisterhood and feminine power, unknowingly conjuring the spirit of a lost lover. Portia must once again THINK ON Murray Bonneycastle, who tragically took his own life.

    Now touring the world, Portia must appease a rift with her accompanist GORDON Kushner. At the same time, she also contends with her battles with her surgery and the secrets of her illness.

    Portia decides to flex new creative muscles, giving a shot at ACTING. Playing Tituba in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, she works alongside and forms an attachment to Canadian actor Douglas Rain. Portia wonders if this string of male adorers might have been the answer to feeling less alone, TIRED & WEARY.

    Portia is faced with the pressures of her performing for QUEEN Elizabeth I of England. Yet, unbeknownst to those around her, she continues to battle the pains of her illness. Portia wonders if royalty is all it is cracked up to be. Rather than conforming to history's pressures, Portia bends time to redefine what might have happened had she been able to step into her fullest blackness as "the Daughter of Destiny."

    As she shakes time, her father reappears to her. She spends one last moment with THE WHOLE WORLD IN HER HANDS. Portia realizes her past actions do not define who she was; instead, it is how we live that truly matters.

    Portia atones on her relationship between SON TO MOTHER, bequeathing that he carry her memory forward. Portia leaves a meditative PENCEROSA for her son to live by and espouse. Portia Body, Portia Soul, and Portia Spirit can finally find cohesion, closure, and clarity to move on. Portia's closing wish is for her son to remember who she is (THINK ON ME).

  • Sean Mayes

    Born in Toronto and based out of New York City, Sean Mayes enjoys an active and varied career internationally as a conductor, music director, orchestrator, arranger, composer, author, and educator across North America and Europe, with his work spanning numerous musical styles and performed in some of the world’s largest theatres and concert halls, moving between Broadway, theatre, opera, classical and pops.

    In New York, Mayes shares his time as conductor for two Tony Award-winning Broadway productions, the new MJ: The Musical and Hadestown. At home in Canada, Mayes was Music Director and Conductor of the all-Canadian premiere of The Color Purple in 2019, for which he was awarded the Merritt Award for Outstanding Musical Direction.

    Internationally, he served as Musical Supervisor of the Finnish premiere of Come From Away last year. This past fall, Mayes served as Music Director and Conductor of the new musical Mandela, inspired by the life of Nelson Mandela and co-produced by the Mandela family for production at the Young Vic Theatre in London, UK.

    As an orchestrator and arranger, Mayes’ work has been performed by ensembles ranging in style from pops to classical to opera across North America and Europe. Mayes was Music Director, Orchestrator and Arranger for An Evening With André De Shields with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2021.

    Outside of musical theatre, Mayes is currently Composer & Musical Supervisor of Fall On Your Knees, the stage adaptation of the best-selling Canadian novel, currently touring Canada’s largest theatres through Canadian Stage (Toronto), Neptune Theatre (Halifax), National Arts Centre (Ottawa), and the Grand Theatre (London). He is also Composer for the Stratford Festival’s mainstage production of King Lear during their 2022/2023 season, and Music Supervisor of Black HERSTORY; an all immersive two-day joint event with AFROPUNK at Lincoln Center featuring an immense line of Black musical talent including India Arie, Umi, Celisse, and many others.

    As an author, Mayes’ leading writing and scholarship is uniquely attuned to the ongoing conversation of unpacking systemic issues surrounding representation in theatre and arts. He is a published author on the role of Black music directors and disproportionately represented artists on Broadway (Reframing the Musical), and on the retracing of Black practitioners through British musical theatre history in An Inconvenient Black History of British Musical Theatre, which was celebrated for release in concert at Wigmore Hall, London, in 2021. His anticipated text, Conversations in Color: Exploring North American Musical Theatre, will be published in late 2023 through Methuen Drama, Bloomsbury Publishing.

    Mayes holds degrees in music, education, and music direction from McGill University and the University of Surrey.
  • HAUI

    Haui is an award-winning mixed-media artist who defies categorization. Haui's work explores themes of race, gender, and orientation, shedding light on stories often relegated to the peripheries of history while blurring lines between theatrical mediums. To date, Haui has worked as a director, designer, and deviser of new work for theatre, film, opera, and visual arts working for Canada's leading arts organizations, including the Canadian Opera Company, Stratford Festival, National Arts Centre, Shaw Festival, Canadian Stage, Luminato Festival, Black Theatre Workshop, and more.


    Career highlights include directing his award-winning film Mixed↑ (MixedUp), produced by trans filmmaker Jack Fox and in association with outtv. eTalk Canada praised the film saying, "mixedup is going to allow a lot of people to begin healing."

    Recently Haui was associate director on the Toronto production of "Choir Boy" by Tarell Alvin McCraney. In 2023, Haui will direct "Private Flowers," an exploration of queer history produced by Toronto History Museums, supported by the National Ballet of Canada's open residency program and the Ontario Arts Council. Later this year, Playwright's Canada Press will also publish his writing/poetry as part of an anthology of works exploring black history.

    Previously Haui was assistant director to Estelle Shook for the NAC sesquicentennial production of Harry Somer's opera Louis Riel. In addition, Haui has directed in the Stratford Festival Meighen Forum and Stratford Lab and was invited by the late Martha Henry to participate in the inaugural bud's program as part of the Michael Langham Directors program for classical theatre. Haui was also a recipient of Theatre Ontario's Professional Theatre Training program. Haui directed and composed his award-winning film "C'est Moi," an acclaimed film that explores the history of slavery in 18th-century New France and has since screened globally. In addition, Haui was the assistant producer to Métis/Déne filmmaker Marie Clements on her feature film debut, Red Snow, produced by CBC, Telefilm, and APTN.
  • Click here to download Resource Guide PDF

2023/2024 season creative: BT/A

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts capacity: 2,070
Ticket prices do not include service fees, $9 CAD

Aportia Chryptych: A Black Opera for Portia White

HAUI x Sean Mayes
To

JUNE 14, 15, AND 16, 2024


Canadian Opera Company Theatre
227 Front St. E., Toronto, Ontario

WORLD PREMIERE


Select a date to purchase tickets


FRIDAY, JUNE 14 SATURDAY, JUNE 15SUNDAY, JUNE 16

Nova Scotian contralto Portia White was the first Black Canadian concert performer to achieve international fame in the mid- 20th century, touring North America and performing in Europe while being hailed as the best classical voice of her generation. Yet despite such artistic accomplishments, her story has been erased from Canadians’ collective memory.

Working against this history, Aportia Chryptych is a bold, new Black opera that sets out to reclaim Portia White’s story, evoking memories of the past as a form of political resistance. Spoken word, rap, folk songs, hip-hop, R&B, and classic opera repertoire collide in an explosive score that seeks to break down musical silos and unite artistic and cultural communities.

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