Black opera OF THE SEA, a game changer for audiences

OF THE SEA is powerful work of operatic storytelling flowing with hope and heartbreak, this ground-breaking is brought to life by an incredibly talented and diverse team of creatives. The work is written by Black playwright Kanika Ambrose (Our Place / Anansi and the Great Light, Curtis School of Music), composed by Métis and French-Canadian musician Ian Cusson (Fantasma, Canadian Opera Company), directed by the deeply respected and award-winning Black cultural leader, director, and actor Philip Akin (Pass Over / Gould’s Wall), and music directed by Chinese Canadian conductor Jennifer Tung (Gould’s Wall).

Additionally, in a medium in which Black performers remain vastly under-represented, OF THE SEA features – for the first time ever in a large-scale Canadian opera – an all-Black ensemble of performers led by Jorell Williams, Chantale Nurse, Suzanne Taffot, Justin Welsh, and Paul Williamson, and also featuring an ensemble of international singers and the Orchestra of the Canadian Opera Company.

“In all honesty, I don’t know how many Black folk traditionally go to the opera and I believe that is because we so rarely see ourselves or our stories represented in this medium,” comments Obsidian Theatre Artistic Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu.

Kanika Ambrose

“This groundbreaking opera written by Kanika Ambrose is therefore a game changer for our audiences. OF THE SEA takes the origin story of how many members of our communities came to be on this side of the Atlantic and mythologizes it. And it does so with profound heart and pathos. It is truly exciting for us to be able to partner with Tapestry Opera to bring this new thrilling work to life.”

Tapestry Opera Artistic Director Michael Mori adds, “Toronto is home to the most diverse public of any city in the world and this historic world premiere is a testament to its potential to foster great new collaborations to drive a dynamic present for opera, for the art form and for audiences who see themselves invested in it. Opera has for too long relied on traditional European works to represent the genre, and as a result many people don’t see themselves reflected in the stories, artists, and audiences. This visionary work, as the first large-scale Canadian all-Black cast opera, but also as a work that contributes to making our shared histories and mythologies better represent Toronto and Canada’s multicultural truth.”

OF THE SEA follows the story of Maduka (Jorell Williams), his daughter Binyelum, and fellow Africans thrown overboard

Ian Cusson

during the Middle Passage who now populate mythical underwater kingdoms that span the ocean floor. Amidst the waves, fiery plans for revenge are made, a parent is blinded by love for their child, and a fight against fate begins. In the cold, murky waters, everyone dreams to see the sun again.

This exciting addition to the Canadian opera cannon arrives as slow progress is made in increasing Black representation and leadership on stage and behind the scenes in the opera sphere. OF THE SEA follows in the footsteps of Nicole Brooks’ OBEAH OPERA, and precedes the upcoming Canadian adaptation of Scott Joplin’s TREEMONISHA, in making critical strides in Black representation within the form.

The lead creative team is joined by set and costume designer Rachel Forbes.

OF THE SEA runs from March 25 to April 1 with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at the Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front Street, East Toronto.