news | Friday October 1, 2010

Penning Down History with John Murrell


John Murrell has a penchant for penning down history and reanimating it before our very eyes and ears, including a visit with the enigmatic artist Georgia Keeffe in The Faraway Nearby:

There’s one in a museum back East, of red hills, like an old fence or a wrinkled skirt around the sharp black mesa. Except it’s not really red. I don’t know what you call that color. And there’s one I saw hanging on somebody’s wall in California. Jimson weed. Big white flowers with long white whiskers curled back from the mouth, and a green flame, like the flame off some strange chemical, down in the throat. Like a cold flame. But you want to be in there with it anyway. That’s a truly strange one. I looked at it and thought, “She must be a strange one, O’Keeffe.”

In Waiting for the Parade, the audience is invited to share in the lives of five women in Calgary as they gather to work during the Second World War while their men are away. This is a story about how each of the women survives, in her own unique way:

I always said politicians are a little lower than one-celled parasites in the natural order of things. But I never thought the Prime Minister of Canada would renege on a promise made to his people. No matter how many stupid people wanted him to! Now they can call up whomever they like, whenever they like!

In Democracy, Murrell revisits the theme of war. On a sweltering day in 1863, while the American Civil War rages, Walt Whitman is passionately discussing the nature of man Ralph Waldo Emerson:

The calves swell and search upward to embrace rude presumptuous knees, which have never bent unless it is to join a lover on the grass or to lift a fallen comrade or to kneel suddenly and push fingers down into the demanding heat of the brown earth. Then, his thighs and hips, of which the cello-maker must have dreamt when he shaped a slender rounded womb of music. And now the crowing stretching secret nest of cords, pleats and deep folds, of fragile scooped and fluted and pendulant miracles for which this entire cradle of flesh was created and out of which it can be re-created.

John Murrell‘s latest work is a libretto based upon a real historical character, Lillian Alling, who journeys from New York to a Norwegian farming community in North Dakota, across the Canadian prairie and into the wilds of northwestern British Columbia. Along the way, Lillian spends time in Vancouver, is jailed in Oakalla Prison Farm, in Burnaby, and walks the famous “Telegraph Trail” to the banks of the Skeena River.

The opera Lillian Alling will have its world premiere with Vancouver Opera from October 16 to 23. Not to be missed!

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