Opera News

March 12, 2007

Russell Braun Heads Roster of
Internationally Renowned Artists to
Star in Manitoba Opera
World Premiere of Transit of Venus

Manitoba Opera today announced that celebrated Canadian lyric baritone, Russell Braun, will head the all-star cast of artists who will be featured in the world premiere of Transit of Venus, an opera based on the internationally acclaimed play of the same name by Maureen Hunter which has been commissioned by Manitoba Opera for its 35th season and will run November 24, 27, and 30, 2007, at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg.

The other soloists in this star-studded cast are mezzo-soprano, Judith Forst (Madame Sylvie), mezzo-soprano, Jean Stilwell (Margot), soprano, Monica Huisman (Celeste), and tenor, Colin Ainsworth (Demarais). Russell Braun will sing the role of Le Gentil.

“This is the cast that I’ve had in mind since first starting this project,” said Larry Desrochers, Manitoba Opera General Director and CEO. “Not only are these artists exceptional singers, but they are also magnetic actors. This cast line-up would be the envy of any opera company in Canada and also speaks to Manitoba Opera’s growing reputation as a company where great opera productions are created.”

“In the role of Le Gentil, Russell Braun will capture both the passion of the astronomer pursuing his destiny to serve God by unravelling the mysteries of the universe and the pain of a man who loses what is really important in his life,” explained Desrochers. “Judith Forst is one of the world’s great mezzos and has everything it takes to play Le Gentil’s mother, a woman who has a ‘unique’ relationship with God. Jean Stilwell, in the role of Celeste’s mother, is sure to bring a powerful sense of drama to a character who puts everything aside in her own life to protect her daughter.

The role of Celeste is likely the most challenging in the opera, as Celeste grows from a precocious young girl to a young woman who’s been aged too soon by loss, and Monica Huisman is just right for the role. Colin Ainsworth is one of Canada’s best young tenors, and his voice will perfectly suit both the ambitions and ultimately, the disillusionment, of Demarais, Le Gentil’s young assistant.”

The company also announced that the production will be conducted by James Meena, General Director and Principal Conductor of Opera Carolina. Maestro Meena conducted Manitoba Opera’s acclaimed 2006 production of The Marriage of Figaro which starred Russell Braun.

Sets and costumes will be designed by Brian Perchaluk; with lighting by Scott Henderson.

Music is being composed by Victor Davies, with the libretto by the playwright, Maureen Hunter. Larry Desrochers will direct.

Transit of Venus is based on the real-life expeditions of the 18th century French astronomer, Guillaume le Gentil de la Galaisière, who tried twice, unsuccessfully, to chart the transit of the planet Venus across the sun. As early as the 17th century, the transit was believed to be a way of determining accurately the distance between the earth and the sun.

The opera explores the questions of achieving your potential or being with the people you love. It follows the play’s storyline and tells of Le Gentil’s passion for what he believes is his destiny (astronomy) and Celeste’s unconsummated love for him. He and Celeste are engaged, but his quest to chart the transit of Venus takes him far from home, first for six years and then for another five years. Believing Le Gentil to be dead, Celeste turns to his assistant, Demarais for comfort and ultimately the love she so longs for. When Le Gentil finally returns, he tries to explain that he realizes his destiny to be with her, but she has moved on with her life. In the end, Le Gentil has failed in both tracking his heavenly love (Venus) and his love here on Earth.

Russell Braun, Le Gentil
One of the most sought-after lyric baritones on the international stage today, Russell Braun performs regularly at the Met, the Salzburg Festival, San Diego Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, l’Opera de Paris and the COC and debuted at La Scala and Covent Garden last year.

Mr. Braun first appeared with Manitoba Opera last season singing the role of Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro.

Judith Forst, Madame Sylvie
One of Canada’s most revered artists, Judith Forst has been highly acclaimed for her operatic and concert performances throughout North America and Europe in many of the world’s most prestigious theatres. Her versatile repertoire has encompassed all styles and periods, although in recent years she has focused on contemporary works and world premieres.

Judith Forst last appeared with Manitoba Opera at the tribute performance for Irving Guttman in 2002 and prior to that sang the role of the Witch in the 2000 production of Hansel and Gretel.

Jean Stilwell, Margot
Hailed on three continents for her complex portrayal of Carmen, Jean Stilwell is at the forefront of this generation’s mezzo-sopranos. She is internationally renowned for the variety of her repertoire and has appeared at the Buxton Festival, New York City Opera, Welsh National Opera, English National Opera, and with all the opera companies of Canada.

Ms. Stilwell last appeared with Manitoba Opera in the Stories that Sing concert February 2006 and in 2004 as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana.

Monica Huisman, Celeste
Touted as the “next great voice on the Canadian opera scene” Winnipeg Free Press, this lyric soprano who hails from Winnipeg has been wowing critics both locally and  nationally performing with Manitoba Opera, Vancouver Symphony, Pacific Opera Victoria, both Edmonton and Calgary Operas, Opera Hamilton, and Toronto Symphony, to name a few. 

Ms. Huisman last appeared on the mainstage with Manitoba Opera as Musetta in the 2006 production of La Bohème.

Colin Ainsworth, Demarais
This young tenor has been heard on stages across North America as well as in Europe and the United Kingdom in a variety of operatic and concert roles including Tamino (Die Zauberflöte), Youth (The Assassin Tree), Jean (Le Portrait de Manon) and Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni).

Transit of Venus will mark Mr. Ainsworth’s debut with Manitoba Opera.



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