Archives: Opera

John Beckwith honoured on his 90th birthday

John Beckwith honoured on his 90th birthday

February 23, 2017 — The University of Toronto Opera Division honoured composer John Beckwith with an evening of music from four of his operas — The Shivaree, Night Blooming Cereus, Crazy to Kill, and Taptoo! — all with librettos by James Reaney. The concert was held at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto.

On March 8, the University of Toronto Faculty of Music held a 90th birthday celebration for former dean John Beckwith, and he presented a lecture on Canadian music since 1967. Congratulations on your 90th, John!

More concerts featuring John Beckwith’s music are planned:

♦ On March 23 his Fractions for microtonal piano and string quartet (2006) will be performed at Schulich Hall, McGill University.

♦ On April 28, New Music Concerts in Toronto will present a program he is curating, featuring his Avowals (1985) and the premières of two mixed instrumentation chamber works: Quintet (2015) and Calling (2016).

((( ♦ ))) Archived recordings of John Beckwith’s music, including several Beckwith-Reaney works, are available for streaming at the Canadian Music Centre’s Composer Showcase.

((( ♦ ))) John Beckwith on James Reaney and Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7I7cIjO4hA

Composer John Beckwith speaks on “James Reaney and Music” at Words Fest in London, Ontario, November 5, 2016

John Beckwith at Words Fest in London, Ontario, November 5, 2016

Composer John Beckwith: https://www.musiccentre.ca/node/37279/biography

John Beckwith on “James Reaney and Music” at Words Festival

John Beckwith on “James Reaney and Music” at Words Festival

Words Festival fo the litereary Arts, London, Ontario November 4-, 2016.

Words Festival, London, Ontario November 4-6, 2016.

Thank you all for coming to Museum London for the Seventh Annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture to hear composer John Beckwith speak on “James Reaney and Music” and their collaborations together.

NOvember 5, 2016 -- November 5, 2016: James Stewart Reaney introduces composer John Beckwith (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Reaney).

November 5, 2016 — James Stewart Reaney introduces composer John Beckwith. (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Reaney)

John Beckwith was the first composer to set James Reaney’s poetry to music. Thank you, John, for sharing your memories and your music with us.

November 5, 2016: journalist James Stewart Reaney and composer John Beckwith at Museum London. Photo courtesy Cameron Paton.

November 5, 2016 — James Stewart Reaney and composer John Beckwith at Museum London. (Photo courtesy Cameron Paton)

Our thanks also to our hosts Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support in organizing this event. A video of John Beckwith’s lecture is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7I7cIjO4hA

November 5, 2016 -- Western Archives display of James Reaney's writing prepared by archivist Amanda Jamieson. (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Reaney)

November 5, 2016 — Western Archives display of James Reaney’s writing prepared by archivist Amanda Jamieson. (Photo courtesy Elizabeth Reaney)

We hope to see you all again next year when author and curator Tom Smart will give a talk on James Reaney’s visual art.

James Reaney's watercolur painting "David Willson Forest", 1962 (Photo courtesy Linda morita, McMichael canadian Art Collection)

James Reaney’s 1962 watercolour painting “David Willson’s Vision // David Willson Meets an Angel in the Forest”. (Photo courtesy Linda Morita, Archivist, McMichael Canadian Art Collection)

For more about composer John Beckwith, see his 2012 autobiography Unheard of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer, available from Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.

Butterfly decoration by James Reaney, September 1947 (ink on yellow paper)

Butterfly decoration by James Reaney, September 1947 (ink on yellow paper)

James Reaney Memorial Lecture November 5 at Museum London

James Reaney Memorial Lecture November 5 at Museum London

Join us on Saturday November 5 at 4:30 pm at Museum London to hear composer John Beckwith speak about his 40-year collaboration with poet and dramatist James Reaney.

James Reaney and John Beckwith, Summer 2003, in London, Ontario. Photo by Colleen Reaney.

James Reaney and John Beckwith, Summer 2003, in London, Ontario. Photo by Colleen Reaney.

John Beckwith and James Reaney became friends during their student days at the University of Toronto in 1946, and a shared love of music drew them to collaborate on several operas, plays, and musical collages. Four operas Night Blooming Cereus (1959), The Shivaree (1982), Crazy to Kill (1988), and Taptoo! (1994) are among the most notable.

Composer John Beckwith: https://www.musiccentre.ca/node/37279/biography

Composer John Beckwith: https://www.musiccentre.ca/node/37279/biography

Archived recordings of several Beckwith-Reaney works are available for streaming at the Canadian Music Centre‘s Composer Showcase.

When: Saturday November 5 at 4:30 pm

Where: Museum London, 421 Ridout Street North, London, Ontario

Admission is free; James Stewart Reaney, James Reaney’s son, will introduce the speaker.

Our thanks to Wordsfest and the London Public Library for their support of this event. The annual lecture series celebrates the life and work of Southwestern Ontario poet James Reaney, who was born on a farm near Stratford, Ontario.

Museum London is located at 421 Ridout St North, London, Ontario.

Museum London is located at 421 Ridout St North, London, Ontario.

 

nbclibretto01

From John Beckwith’s 1997 book, Music Papers: Articles and Talks by a Canadian Composer (page 219): Page from James Reaney’s draft of the libretto for Night Blooming Cereus, with notes on the central character, Mrs. Brown (Faculty of Music Library, University of Toronto).

 

 

Night Blooming Cereus (1959)

Night Blooming Cereus (1959)

NIght Blooming Cereus: An opera in one act. Libretto by James Reaney and music by John Beckwith. (First broadcast 1959; first stage production 1960)

“Night Blooming Cereus” image by designer Louis de Niverville and adapted by William Toye for the program for the first stage production (April 5 and 6, 1960 in Toronto).

Night Blooming Cereus, a chamber opera in one act, is one of several musical collaborations between poet and playwright James Reaney, who wrote the libretto, and composer John Beckwith. In his autobiography Unheard of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer, John Beckwith had this to say about his first opera:

“Furthering my ambition to compose an opera, I had the great good luck to find a librettist — a writer who understood music. James Reaney shared my love of opera, and early in our friendship in student days we spoke of perhaps collaborating on an original work. In early 1953 I received from him a draft of Night Blooming Cereus. The one-act opera he imagined taking shape as a sort of southern Ontario miracle play. It turned out to be the first of four operatic works we produced together over succeeding decades…” [Unheard Of, page 246]

Night Blooming Cereus calls for eight singers and an instrumental ensemble of fourteen players, and lasts about sixty minutes.[…] The image of a flower that blooms once a year — or by poetic licence once a century — stands for human hope and renewal…” [Unheard Of, page 247]

John Beckwith completed the music and orchestration in the summer of 1958, and CBC Radio commissioned a broadcast for the “Wednesday Night” program in April 1959 and again in 1960. The first stage production of Night Blooming Cereus was at the Hart House Theatre in Toronto on April 5, 1960 with the following cast:

ALICE: Anne Stephenson
FIRST GIRL: Shelia Piercey
SECOND GIRL: Ruth Ann Morse
MRS. BROWN: Patricia Rideout
MRS. WOOL: Irene Byatt
BEN: Alexander Gray
BARBARA: Patricia Snell
MR. ORCHARD: Bernard Johnson

Settings and costumes were by Louis de Niverville, musical direction by Ettore Mazzoleni and stage direction by Pamela Terry.

Program for Night Blooming Cereus designed by William Toye, 1960. SCENE: A street in a small town; later Mrs. Brown's cottage. TIME: An evening in late march.

Program for Night Blooming Cereus designed by William Toye, 1960. SCENE: A street in a small town; later Mrs. Brown’s cottage. TIME: An evening in late March.

To listen to archived sound recordings of music by John Beckwith, see the complete catalogue holdings at the Canadian Music Centre.

Page from James Reaney's draft of the libretto for Night Bloomiing Cereus, with notes on the central character, Mrs. Brown. (Faculty of Music Library, University of Toronto).

Page from James Reaney’s draft of the libretto for Night Bloomiing Cereus, with notes on the central character, Mrs. Brown. (Faculty of Music Library, University of Toronto).

© 2017 James Reaney