Shanawdithit is a new opera project, centred on the story of Shanawdithit, the last recorded surviving Beothuk (1801-1829). The libretto will be co-written and curated by Yvette Nolan and the score will be composed by Dean Burry. Co-creators and contributors will include 10 Indigenous artists from across Canada. Tapestry Opera will undertake the commissioning and coordination of development (workshops and dramaturgy) with the support of the core artists, a coalition of artists, and a co-producer, Opera on the Avalon (St. John’s, NL). With the success of their first commission and world premiere of OURS, Opera on the Avalon has joined Tapestry Opera as an emerging champion of new Canadian works.
Shanawdithit is an opportunity to tell a story that both celebrates and brings to light the little-told story of the extinction and erasure of the Beothuk. Key to the power of this work is the exploration of the colonial/post-colonial perspective in history and its impact on our understanding of Canada’s First Nations. In the European tradition of opera, it would be normal to write an epic tale that exoticises and romanticises the ‘noble savage,’ as in Madama Butterfly or Turandot, completely losing the voice of the Beothuk, the voice of Shanawdithit. This bold new work proposes to provide both a Canadian post-colonial perspective, as well as a Canadian First Nations perspective, challenging the ubiquitous one-sided account of history through providing multiple First Nations insights into the Beothuk and Shanawdithit’s story.
Although there is no written text attributed to Shanawdithit, she created ten sketches/drawings on a map of Newfoundland that represent significant places and events to the Beothuk. These drawings will be the starting place for each artist’s contribution to the story, and will be the basis for Yvette and Dean’s overarching work.