I love theatre and I appreciate opera. So when I was introduced to the creators of this new opera by a business colleague in the LGBTQ community, right away I was intrigued. A lesbian opera I was told, to be staged at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, during Pride celebrations. Indeed, that sounds like something I would want to find out more about.

Pomegranate is a circular story about the endurance of love over time. Suli and Cassia fall in love during their initiation into the Dionysian Mysteries in the Villa of Mysteries in ancient Pompeii, 79 AD, where they meet the Temple Priestess and her handmaiden Julia. When Vesuvius erupts, they are held in time until we meet the couple again in 1984 at the Fly by Night, a downtown Toronto lesbian bar. As Cass & Suzie face the challenge of Suzie’s coming out to her conservative refugee family, the lovers are once more separated and the story circles back to Pompeii, now in ruins. But, the power of memory endures and evokes a final duet as they measure out the years of their love in pomegranate seeds.

I had the pleasure of chatting briefly with the creators. Kye Marshall (composer) and Amanda Hale (librettist).

Amanda Hale

Hello both, and what an exciting production. Why don’t we start with some introductions, I would love to hear a little bit about your backgrounds first?

Amanda: Hi Antoine, lovely to meet you, and thanks for the interview! I was an immigrant to Montreal in 1968 where I took art classes at the Montréal Musée de Beaux-Arts, and later studied playwriting at Concordia University. It was during this time that I left my marriage and came out. I moved to Toronto in 1980 and became involved with the lesbian feminist community, writing for Broadside, doing theatre with Nightwood, and the Company of Sirens, and became involved in solidarity work with various Latin American groups such as Canadian Action for Nicaragua, and the Guatemalan refugee community. Now I live in BC on a small Gulf Island, but spend several months each year in Toronto, writing novels and short fiction, and collaborating on Pomegranate as librettist. This is a big year for me with the premiere of Pomegranate in June, and the launch of my novel, Mad Hatter, with Guernica Editions in the Fall.

Kye: I am an eclectic musician, performing and composing jazz, classical and free improv music with many ensembles including the New Chamber Orchestra and O’Keefe Centre Orchestra as principal cellist, the National Ballet Orchestra as assistant principal cellist, the Epic String Quartet and the Kye Marshall Jazz Quartet. I have six jazz CDs of original music available commercially, the latest having been nominated Best CD of the Year by TIMA.
My compositions have been performed in Italy, the United States and Austria and in numerous Canadian venues including TVO. I have written a Concerto for Bass Trombone, and compositions for full orchestra, string orchestra, and for different combinations of instruments including string quartet, brass quintet, choir and numerous published piano works. I have also written four film scores, and have written for theatre and dance. This eclectic background has allowed me to write a unique musical score for Pomegranate which includes many styles and genres of music. I draw on Classical, Jazz , Latin, Avant Garde and Balladic music traditions to cover the two millennia span in our story. Unlike some modern operas, in Pomegranate I embrace melody, believing that music should be accessible and enjoyable.

Kye Marshall 

Amanda you have an interesting story behind the story of the opera, would you share that with us please?

Amanda: Sure Antoine. In the early 2000s I visited Pompeii with my niece Sarah. She’s a visual artist too, and we both were intrigued with the frescoes in the Villa of Mysteries. The scenes depicted there stayed with me, working on my imagination and, a couple of years later I wrote a series of poems about two young girls in the Villa – which I took to be something like a Roman girls’ boarding school – being prepared for initiation into the Dyonisian Mysteries. I self-published the poems under the title Pomegranate and began selling, and distributing to friends.

And Kye how did you get involved with this piece?

Kye: My good friend Amanda had written a beautiful set of poems called Pomegranate and I was inspired to set some of the poems to music, with two singers and Harp.

How did it all then develop from an idea into this production we will be seeing in June?

Amanda: When Kye approached me about setting the Pomegranate poems to music I was thrilled, because I have always admired her skills as a cellist and composer. We are both members of the Heliconian Club (a women’s arts club in Yorkville), and we took the opportunity, working with two young singers, and a harpist from the Glenn Gould school, to present ten minutes of the Pomegranate songs at the Heliconian for International Women’s Day in 2014. Well – the audience absolutely loved the presentation! We had never thought in terms of opera, but when people encouraged us to develop our short piece operatically the idea took hold and we began meeting regularly over tapas at Mezzeta’s on St. Clair to discuss the possibilities.

How long does it take to develop and stage something like this?

Amanda: We were told from the outset that an original opera usually has a five to six-year developmental arc. As it turns out, that is exactly right! We had no idea as we set out on this journey what a huge amount of work it would be, but our growing passion for the project has spurred us on. Frankly we are both amazed to have reached this stage, realizing that we have created and are about to produce a queer opera at Canada’s longest running queer theatre, giving voice and visibility to lesbian opera singers telling a poignant story of love between two women enduring almost 2000 years!

And Buddies and Pride involvement, how has that been?

Amanda: Excellent! Evalyn Parry, artistic director of Buddies, has been very supportive, both creatively and logistically, providing space for us to present Pomegranate at a very strategic time – the beginning of PRIDE month. Sadhisha Ambagamawira of the GLCC put us in touch with you, Antoine, and we must say you have been amazingly generous in helping us with promotion. Just last night I attended the Pride Toronto 2019 programming announcements and felt the warmth and inclusivity of the gathering of our community in advance of PRIDE month, with a magnificent array of events, and we are proud that Pomegranate is part of this. A key person in bringing Pomegranate to the public is Michael Mori of Tapestry Opera. He and Marjorie Chan mentored us through the early days, and now we are thrilled to have Michael as director of the production. We have had important input from some very talented singers during two workshops in 2016 and 2017.

What makes Pomegranate unique and a must see for anyone looking for something cultural around Pride?

Amanda: Pomegranate is a ground-breaking event in the opera world – for queer audiences to see queer singers giving voice to queer love stories on stage in Canada’s major city is really something! To say that we have lacked role models in the opera world is an understatement! Contemporary opera companies are springing up everywhere now, with new fresh voices, but we have taken opera a step further, adding our voices to what we hope will be a growing cannon of Queer Opera. Pomegranate is structured in two acts – Act 1 in ancient Pompeii; Act 2 in 1980s Toronto. In spanning almost two centuries we are able to highlight both the universal experiences of women, and the differences wrought by social change. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose! The conflicts faced by Suli and Cassia in ancient Pompeii are echoed, though in a different context, in their lives as Suzie and Cass in 1980s Toronto.

Why don’t we give the readers some details about tickets, social media pages, and how to keep up with your news?

Amanda: We would love to see everyone come and experience this. You can book by phone 416-975-8555 or book online on the Buddies website buddiesinbadtimes.com/show/pomegranate all Tickets are $30
Preview Performance June 5 @ 7:30 pm

OPENING NIGHT GALA June 6 @7:30 pm with a reception to follow! All Tickets $50 Evening Performances June 7 & 8 @ 7:30 pm
$50 VIP Reserved Seating, $40 General Admission, $30 Students

Weekend Matinees* June 8 & 9 @ 2:00 pm
$50 VIP Reserved Seating, $40 General Admission, $30 Students

*Limited number of PWYC tickets available at the door for Saturday, June 8.

And for more info everyone can visit www.pomegranateopera.com
and follow us on: twitter.com/pomopera facebook.com/pomegranateopera

Good luck, it sound fantastic Amanda and Kye and thank you for your time. 

About the Author

Antoine has on numerous occasions said that everything he does is "a love letter to the LGBTQ community". and he truly loves this community. A 29 years' media and marketing leader, Antoine is the publisher of theBUZZ, The Pink Pages Directory, PinkPlayMags, and a magazine for Durham Region families The Local Biz Magazine, and is the host of talk show "On the Couch". On his off time he is usually involved in community organizations and causes.