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Premiere: October 10, 2021, Triptyque — Mécénat Musica Prix 3 Femmes, Montréal (Québec)


Isla, a hacker who leaked damning information about her government, has spent the last five years sequestered at an embassy where she has been granted political asylum. One step outside and she’ll be arrested for treason. When an escaped talking parrot lands on her windowsill—Madame Suzuki, a famous mascot for an environmental activist group—Isla traps her, renames her Amnesty, and enlists the bird for her own cause. She trains Amnesty to sing a jingle pleading amnesty for Isla. The bird botches this jingle in front of the paparazzi, who interpret the cryptic word-jumble as a warning from Isla: she knows another government secret, and the public is in grave danger. That night, while Isla is asleep, Amnesty repeats bits of conversation and sounds picked up from the bird’s past: the blazing forest fire from which she was rescued by the environmental activist group, the trainer who taught her forest-related factoids, the group’s decision to keep her caged claiming she won’t survive the wild again. Next morning, Isla wakes up to ample media coverage about her and the parrot, but no mention of possible amnesty. Isla panics. The parrot instructs her to open the window, which is multiple storeys above ground, and fly free. Isla jumps.

Programme note

The librettist, Maria Reva, gave me a unique challenge with this opera. The actual words that are sung are fairly sparse. Parrot is built entirely out of snippets of imitated text and collections of vaguely described sounds designed to create a backstory and a personality for someone who cannot describe her past, directly express emotions or engage in standard dialogue. Designing a musical language for this role was truly a team effort between myself, Maria and the singers workshopping it (Rachel Krehm, Bridget Esler and Jessica Toupin). While the human role more closely resembles a traditional operatic character, the text is still very economical and open to radically different settings. Initially seeing this fading hacker from a purely farcical perspective, I gradually came to feel subtler depths in her attention seeking tendencies and her apparent narcissism. Life in the pandemic helped me connect to this character on a deeply personal level inviting more nuanced settings of the text. Even still, the singers who have workshopped this role (Kristin Hoff and Mollie Lawler) have placed the same music at very different points on the dark-to-comedic spectrum. Developing this opera has been both a grueling and intensely amusing process. I truly couldn’t have done it without the investment of all the artists involved.

Anna Pidgorna [x-21]