John Burge – a Queen’s University music professor and Juno award-winning composer – has unveiled his first opera “The Auction“, based on a children’s story by author Jan Andrews.
Set on the prairie, The Auction recounts the tale of a grandfather who is tasked with the tough decision to sell his family farm.
The role of the grandfather was written for Dr. Burge’s favourite singer and longtime Queen’s vocal teacher, Bruce Kelly.
Mr. Kelly in turn recommended his former student and Queen’s alumnus, Matthew Zadow, to appear in flashback scenes where he portrays the grandfather in his younger years. Another Queen’s University grad, Tim Stiff, also appears in a comic role in the production.
“On a basic level, composing a successful opera is primarily about creating believable characters for the stage and generating empathy with the audience,” said John Burge. “As this is my first opera attempt, it was of great benefit to have very familiar singers and their acting strengths in mind from the very beginning.”
In a University release, it was revealed that Burge had been formulating the opera for 10 years but it only began to come together in the past two years ago, when he began working with librettist Eugene Benson.
The Auction is described as a folk opera that draws its musical influence from folk and country music. Its accompanying orchestra includes a banjo, a guitar, and rustic instruments, such as a musical saw and a washboard.
“When people love opera they love opera passionately, because they can see a story unfold and they can hear the emotions – that’s the challenge for the composer, to give them that full experience,” said Dr. Burge.
Photo (Queen’s News Centre): Queen’s alumni Matthew Zadow and Tim Stiff in The Auction