Opera tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador


September 8, 1879

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: VA 35-24.7 The Opera Theatre in the Total Abstinence Hall,St. John’s, 1894.

There was much excitement in St. John’s on (8 September 1879) with the debut performance of Clara Fisher in St. John’s.  Miss Fisher was the American star of the Josie Loane Opera Company; the young soprano was starring in the opera the H.M.S. Pinafore.  The performance marked the emergence of an amateur and semi-professional operatic tradition in St John’s.

Miss Fisher appreciated her reception – she was so impressed that she moved to Newfoundland, staying for over a decade, becoming one of the most popular actresses and singers in St. John’s.

She worked extensively with (Sir) Charles Hutton appearing in several of his adaptations of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

Foremost among these productions were Patience in 1883, The Mikado in 1886, The Sorcerer in 1887, and Trial by Jury and Cox and Box in 1894. Numerous other operettas followed, several directed by the Englishman Peter LeSueur just after the turn of the century, or by Gordon Christian in the 1930s, but the majority was under Hutton’s direction.

The operatic movement almost ended with Hutton’s retirement from public life in 1939, his protégé, Ignatius Rumboldt, sustained the tradition for another decade.

Much of the operatic tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador for the past 40 years has been fostered by the School of Music at Memorial University of Newfoundland. The School produces either one full opera or a series of one act operas, fully staged, annually. The School of Music has also supported undergraduate and graduate training in opera, developing high profile, active careers in the field.

Memorial has also developed the Opera Road Show is a professional touring option for students that has been running for 13 years and has reached thousands of children across the province with its operas specially tailored for young children.

The new incarnation has been ‘Opera on the Avalon’ establishd in 2009. It has become a leader for invigorating the opera scene and increasing a following for it in Newfoundland and Labrador, producing everything from Baroque to modern operas.

Opera first came to Newfoundlandin 1820, when local amateurs in St. John’s performed the “Duenna” by Thomas Liney.

All of the buildings in St. John’s designed for theatre and opera were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1892. In rebuilding public buildings after 1893 consideration was given to opera, the Total Abstinence Hall, The Benevolent Irish Society Hall (BIS) and the Star of the Sea all established theatres.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Provincial Archives Division at The Rooms see MG 343.1 this item consists of an opera “given in aid of the poor by a number of amateur ladies and gentlemen”  at the Star of the Sea Hall, St. John’s, 1883.

Recommended Action:  Enjoy concerts by Memorial University School of Music faculty, visiting artists and students together. http://www.mun.ca/music/

Support the work of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra.  www.nsomusic.ca

We also have “Opera on the Avalon”  http://www.operaontheavalon.com/ 

Take some time to explore these sites.