Canadian Children’s Opera Company to premiere Armenian-Canadian opera

‘The Nightingale of a Thousand Songs’ is written by Juno award-winning composer Serouj Kradjian and Dora award-winning librettist Marjorie Chan; Toronto-Armenian soprano and CCOC alumna Lynn Isnar will sing the role of the Nightingale

On Wednesday, the Canadian Children’s Opera Company (CCOC) announced the return of its annual main stage production with its newest and 14th opera commission, “The Nightingale of a Thousand Songs,” by Juno award-winning composer Serouj Kradjian and Dora award-winning librettist Marjorie Chan. The opera is based on an Armenian fairy tale, “Hazaran Blbul.” 

The world premiere of “The Nightingale of a Thousand Songs” will be performed by and for young people and audiences of all ages from June 9 to 11, 2023, at the Lyric Theatre at North York’s Meridian Arts Centre.

“The story follows the journey of two siblings, Leah and Ari, as they emerge from a tragedy in their homeland. They embark on an adventure to find the nightingale of a thousand songs to bring back life and joy to their world. Along the way, the children remember their lost friends and family and face many challenges and obstacles,” the CCOC said in a published statement.  

According to the 55-year-old opera company, the opera’s story is one of healing, hope, and exploring what it means to be able to move on from a terrible event; “to honour those who are no longer with us and celebrate what is still to come.” 

The opera will be performed by 70 young people aged seven to 18 in English, Armenian, and Arabic. Toronto-Armenian soprano and CCOC alumna Lynn Isnar will sing in the role of the Nightingale. CCOC Music Director Teri Dunn, will lead a professional chamber orchestra, including the duduk. “[This] ancient Armenian double-reed wind instrument has been compared to the human voice in its expressiveness and ability to convey deep emotion. The duduk will add an extra layer of depth and meaning to the performance with its hauntingly warm tone, evoking the rich cultural heritage of Armenia and immersing audiences in an unforgettable musical experience that will reflect both Armenian and Western sonorities and musical traditions,” a part of the statement read. 

Canadian pianist and composer Serouj Kradjian was inspired to create a work representing the rich culture and music that unites the Caucasus & the Middle East. As the lead characters travel from the plains of Mount Ararat, through the region to Lebanon, the music changes to reflect a more distinct Arabic style, incorporating traditional instruments and texts, and throughout, the relationship between the two siblings—navigating different needs and wants, but nonetheless rich in connection, love, and support—lends universal resonance. 

While he has composed for children’s voices in the past, “The Nightingale of a Thousand Songs” is Toronto-Armenian composer Serouj Kradjian’s first full opera. Librettist Marjorie Chan, who co-created the CCOC’s “The Monkiest King” commission (2018), was excited to work on the new project. She was inspired by the hope and resilience of the children in the story and how they cope with tragedy. 

“Serouj presented me with this tremendous fairy tale filled with survival, hope, and healing. It was so incredibly rich, filled with prophecy, magic, and humanity. I was struck by the resiliency of the child characters. I could not stop thinking of the children who survive war and genocide. What happens to them? How do they find their way out of darkness and towards light,” Chan said about the production,. 

The production team features director Julie McIsaac, designer Jung-Hye Kim, lighting designer Mikael Kangas, and Armenian-Canadian visual artist Amy Kazandjian as creative and cultural director, to create a unique expression and celebration of Armenian and Arabic culture, accessible and intended for young people and families to enjoy. 

“Opera offers a dynamic medium in which young people can explore their emotions, shared experiences, and how they connect with the world,” said CCOC executive director Katherine Semcesen. “In addition to growing the Canadian operatic canon, commissioning new operatic works allows young people to welcome new stories, experience new musical aesthetics and traditions, and connect with and learn from new artists and communities. ‘The Nightingale of a Thousand Songs’ is rooted in Armenian culture and history, but its themes of loss, courage, hope, and healing are themes to which we can all relate. Opera reminds us all that we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves.” 

Creative and cultural director, Amy Kazandjian, believes that though ‘The Nightingale of a Thousand Songs’ speaks to the Armenian experience, one can easily draw parallels to other recent and past atrocities and significant events. “Our aim is to engage in meaningful conversations with the CCOC choristers and audiences about genocide, while making an important connection to our Canadian roots. Canada was ‘built’ on the (stolen) ancestral lands of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and as non-indigenous Canadians, we hold an important role in the ongoing recognition of Indigenous history and its active reparation. Through this production, we hope to facilitate a deeper understanding of cultural exchange and the complexities of our shared (human) history and create a compelling experience for audiences of all ages.”

Performance and ticket information are available here