Hundreds and Thousands
Chamber opera for mezzo-soprano solo (2001)
by Ron Hannah

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Duration: about 1 hour

     Emily Carr was a remarkable artist who defied convention and years of rebuffs and being ignored, to finally emerge as one of Canada's finest painters. Her journals, after which this opera is named, are full of her endless disappointment with her society and her family, and her quest to express what she found in nature: a grand sweeping motion upward toward an ecstatic union with her conception of God. "Hundreds and thousands", by the way, is the name given to small pieces of confectionary used to decorate birthday cakes and such. In her usual self-deprecating way, this is how she refers to her own thoughts in her journals.

     This will be a tour de force for whoever takes it on. Somehow the soloist must convince the audience, with a minimum of staging, that she is Emily Carr, visionary, dreamer, artist, grouch, fed up with society's fluffy and pointless

 
 
conventions and seeking something deeper, something always out of reach. The only accompaniment is a slideshow of paintings by Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, which serve to set a mood, or show images which Carr mentions specifically in her journal.

     Emily Carr's journal is full of passages of penetrating observation and often blinding beauty. She was at least as good a writer as she was a painter. I have taken entire sections and set them verbatim, letting the prose dictate the music.

     When she finally travelled East from parochial Victoria and met the Group of Seven, she at last found peers who in turn recognized her, and this electrifying moment is the opening point of the opera. Lawren Harris's laconic statement, "You are one of us", shocked her as deeply as did his paintings and made her realize finally that she was not alone. What a revelation it was!

     I too have lived in Victoria and felt artistically isolated - though not just by Victoria but by all of Canada, which is why I am living elsewhere. Perhaps one day I will have a street named after me just like Emily - a gesture at which she would have snorted with derision.

     The initial impetus for this work was a performance by Cari Burdett in the summer of 2000. Her powerful recital, on which she performed a fragment of a one-woman opera, caused the idea of a similar work based on Emily Carr to coalesce in my mind. She has also made some very useful staging suggestions and my work is dedicated to her.

     If you are interested in this piece, please send me an message (below) containing both your email and your postal addresses. I will then prepare a disk of all materials, score, staging suggestions, and pictures in the form of both .jpg images and a Powerpoint presentation. This work took a lot of effort!


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