By Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte

The forgotten story of Canada you have to know presented through two made in Hamilton creations that bring Canada’s history to life through theatre and opera. If you want to end Canada’s 150th birthday year by experiencing one of Canada’s most unique stories, you won’t want to miss this.

SHOT: The story of D’Arcy McGee, is a brand new chamber opera by HPO Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte and Librettist Anna Chatterton. SHOT was commissioned by the HPO and will be presented in partnership with the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy, COSI, on December 7th. The project is generously supported by Ontario 150, the City of Hamiltion as well as by the Incite Foundation for the Arts.

By Abigail Richardson-Schulte, HPO Composer-in-Residence and winner of a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Opera

This story of D’Arcy McGee is one of the most dramatic stories to come out of Canadian history but how many of us know about it? Many people have heard the name McGee but don’t know why. Well on December 7th, we’re not just going to tell you the story, we’re going to act it out in the first half and sing it for you in the second!


The story happened back in April of 1868, just months after the Dominion of Canada was formed. McGee was a key founding father of Canada but those early days were filled with uncertainty and possible collapse. McGee was a Catholic Irishman who earlier in his life hated British rule of Ireland but changed his views upon moving to Canada and became a supporter of a British backed nation. McGee was openly critical of the Irish Fenians (who saw him as a turncoat) that sought to upset the new Canada backed by the Brits. After a late night speech at the House of Commons, McGee walked home to his Ottawa boarding house at 2am but only made it as far as the door. His assassination was a big deal in the day, with a funeral procession of 15 000 plus 80 000 people lining the streets of Montreal. Sir John A. MacDonald attended the murder trial. The man found guilty, Patrick James Whelan, always maintained his innocence. His was one of the last public hangings in Canadian history. Ironically, McGee’s murder solidified the nation.

A Double Bill

The story is gripping, filled with intrigue and perfectly suited to opera. Hamilton veteran librettist Anna Chatterton skillfully brings history to life with her poetic text, filled with historical quotes and rhythmic prose. Her words jumped off the page at me, instantly telling me what sort of musical character they needed. As a composer, my goal is to help the listener feel what the characters are feeling, understand their personalities through their musical lines and heighten the drama of unfolding events. This opera is a wild ride.

The HPO is partnering with the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy (known as COSI) directed by Darryl Edwards. Ten fantastic opera singers will team up with our HPO chamber ensemble led by Concertmaster Steven Sitarski. The opera will be conducted by Kimberley-Ann Bartczak, Resident Conductor for Calgary Opera and directed by Anna Theodosakis, who recently assistant directed the COC’s production of Arabelle.

We wouldn’t have thought of McGee as an opera subject if Dermot Nolan hadn’t written a play about McGee, entitled “It’s Morning Now”. From here, the idea of the opera was born. The two works are independent but are both historically based on writings and transcripts from the day. Due to this strong connection, we decided to present the two works back to back as a double bill. The night will start with Nolan’s theatre version of McGee’s story, presented by the Players Guild and directed by Brad Rudy.

This joined presentation of theatre and music on the same subject actually goes right back to the origins of opera. Large celebrations in court from 1530-1600 often alternated acts of a play with musical selections on the same subject. This multi-disciplinary presentation led to the first opera in the year 1600.

The world premiere of SHOT will end the night. And prepare to hear gunshots. We’ll also have speeches from the House of Commons in 1868, a chorus of Fenians, a murder and its discovery, a trial with paid off witnesses, a possibly innocent man, a ghost and a hanging. What more could you want for a Thursday night? Have church choir practice? Skip it, this is worth it!