Sharon Singer has always been fascinated by ancient Egypt. That’s part of the reason she wrote Isis and Osiris, God of Egypt, an opera about the timeless Egyptian myth and love story.
Singer, who’s a Toronto-based writer, poet, spoken word artist and now librettist, has worked for a number of years to put Isis and Osiris on stage and in the hands of a talented group of singers. Now, her two-hour-long opera will finally have its world premiere on April 1 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts.
“This opera is my baby so this is giving birth,” she says of the long process.
While she took care of the words, renowned Canadian composer Peter-Anthony Togni wrote all of the music. Singer describes their relationship as a collaborative one; they often work together, both in person and via Skype because Togni lives in Halifax.
Singer, however, penned the entire opera before Togni even added the music. Although, she would often sing her libretto (script) aloud to make sure it sounded melodic.
“Peter never heard what I sang, luckily,” says Singer with a laugh. “And I had no idea what he was going to do with it. But he said that it was the libretto that inspired the music because he was very charmed by it.”
Togni’s score is quite contemporary. And that’s intentional, Singer says. She says the opera itself conveys modern day themes, despite the fact that it’s rooted in a story from millenniums ago.
“One of the things you realize in watching this is that human beings have not changed,” she says. In the Isis and Osiris myth, Osiris (sung by Michael Barrett) is the king of Egypt who rules along with his wife Isis (sung by Lucia Cesaroni). Osiris’ brother Seth (sung by
Michael Nyby) murders him out of jealousy and Isis goes on a journey to bring him back to life.
The opera explores timeless themes of love, hate and sibling rivalry. “There’s a line in the opera when Isis says to Osiris, ‘thousands cannot die for one man’s lust for power,’” says Singer. “And we read this in the newspaper every day.”
There’s clearly more to this opera than just beautiful music. Dignitaries from Egypt, for instance, will be attending the world premiere as Singer hopes to inspire cross-cultural understanding.
Part of the reason why ancient Egypt captivated her in the first place, she says, is because of the Jewish people’s biblical history there, especially during the time of Joseph.
As she brings that passion to life, she’s also accomplishing another goal. Singer’s never written an opera before, but back in the mid-1990s, she started putting music behind her spoken word pieces. One time, she heard soprano Doreen Taylor-Claxton sing her poetry. She was hooked. “I was so thrilled that I just wanted to do a bigger project,” she says.
And now after years of putting the two together, her love of music, words and of course, ancient Egypt will finally take centre stage.
Voicebox: Opera in Concert presents Isis and Osiris, Gods of Egypt from April 1 to 3 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. For tickets, click here.