Oliver has written two operas to date, Guacamayo’s Oid Song and Dance for the Canadian Opera Company, and Alternate Visions for Chants Libres (Montreal).

Alternate Visions2007 Opera in 7 scenes 1h20mins

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an augmented opera
Music by JohnOliver
Libretto by Genni Gunn

A brief history of Alternate Visions

The first idea and development was the initiative of the Vancouver Opera, in the fall of 1991, following on the success of *Guacamayo* at the Canadian Opera Company.

I was Composer-in-Residence from the fall of 1991 until at least the summer of 1995. The opera was actively pursued for several years, culminating in a workshop presentation of excerpts at the *Con'temp'aria Festival* hosted by Pacific Opera in Victoria, June 2,1995.

On October 16, 1995, Sue Bennett, then director of operations, contacted me to ask for details on the ensemble and other requirements to produce the opera. This appeared to be a good sign. However, nothing came of the subsequent exchange and, by early 1996, I was beginning to wonder what was happening. With Vancouver Opera not answering my calls, I decided to finish the opera and delivered the final score to the VOA offices on May 24, 1996. Later in the year, when I inquired about the production, General Director Robert Hallam met me in his office to inform me that he was leaving the company and that the project was essentially dead.

Dissatisfied with having completed an opera that was now in limbo, I decided in 1999 to present excerpts from my opera at the *NewOp 8* conference which was being hosted by Chants Libres in Montreal. After presenting the excerpts, Chants Libres artistic director Pauline Vaillancourt approached me to request that Chants Libres present the premiere of the work.

This was the beginning of a new phase in the *Alternate Visions* story, as the work was transformed into a bilingual opera that delved even more deeply into notions of personal and cultural identity, self-doubt, delusion, fear and anxiety. The embrace of Chants Libres and the new audio-visual concepts transformed the work. Pairing the great American tenor and storyteller Rinde Eckert as the hero with the rising Quebecoise soprano Jacinthe Thibault secured the central tension of the story.

*Alternate Visions* ran for three nights in May 2007 to full houses. Learn more about the production, visit the Chants Libres web site

  • “Vaillancourt is known for tackling works that are contemporary, not just in their musical language. She delights in commentary on current pop culture. The Usine C space for instance, is configured as a techno dance club, complete with bar, suspended TV monitors and some nifty robotic devices. She has also assembled an ideal team to make this vehicle sing […] the company assembled a solid roster of singers. What does follow, though, are some very beautifully sung duets and a really powerful ensemble leading to the show’s climax.”
    Alan Conter, The Globe and Mail (Canada), May 3, 2007
  • “Étrange Alternate Visions […] mais plus dense que bien d’autres spectacles multi-médias.”
    Odile Québec, Le Devoir (Canada), May 5, 2007
  • “… bluesy arias are delivered with warmth […] a mock-romantic duet for the supporting characters had an agreeable air of Broadway.”
    Arthur Kaptainis, The Gazette (Canada), May 3, 2007

Guacamayo's Old Song and Dance(a.k.a. “Guacamayo”) 1991 Opera in One Act 1h45mins

The Canadian Opera Company production (1991)

Guacamayo's Old Song and Dance

commissioned by the Canadian Opera Company (Toronto)

Words by Melissa Cameron (aka Thelma Oliver)
Music by John Oliver

5 voices, brass, winds, synthesizers, samplers and percussion.
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Noreen Burgess and Gary Rideout

The Story

The story of GUACAMAYO'S OLD SONG AND DANCE, a one-act opera for five singers and twelve instrumentalists performing on acoustic and electronic instruments, is drawn from the Popul Vuh, an ancient book of the Maya peoples, who still live in Guatemala and sounthern Mexico. In the opera, five contemporary Mayas (two grandparents, two grandchildren and a storyteller) give us a glimpse of their oral tradition by telling and enacting the story of Seven Macaw, and his two sons Zipacna and Cabracan--false gods pretending to be the creators of Light, the Mountains, and the Flatlands, respectively.

The story takes place in a time when people were made of wood. The (true) Creator-Gods, collectively referred to as "Hurikan" (from which we derive the word "hurricane"), had failed for the third time in their attempt to create the human race. They were just conceiving the sun and moon, and contriving a big flood to flush out the wooden people to make way for another try at the creation of mankind when they noticed these False Gods on the earth. Our story begins as the two boy-warrior-gods, Hunahpu and Ixbalanque (Eesh-ba-lan-kay) are on their way, sent by Hurikan, to trick the three False Gods into their own deaths.

The subsequent missions of trickery, recounted by these five people of today, take on increasingly contemporary significance as the storytellers reinforce the ancient Maya belief in eternal recurrence: events will come again, though differing in detail.

The Commission and First Production

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To see sheet music, scroll down…
Long Ago in the Early Dawn
Seven Macaw's Song
I am Zipacna, fisherman
Cabracan's Song

The Canadian Opera Company commissioned GUACAMAYO'S OLD SONG AND DANCE in 1989. The work was completed and produced in collaboration with The Banff Centre for the Arts in 1991, the first full-length opera to be produced by the Canadian Opera Company's Composer-in-Residence program, and the first commission by the Canadian Opera Company of a full-length opera since Louis Riel in 1967.
The opera played on five nights only: on February 26, 28 & March 2, 1991 at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre, The Joey and Toby Tannenbaum Opera Centre, Toronto, Canada, and on March 8 & 10, 1991 at the Margaret Greenham Theatre, The Banff Centre for the Arts, Banff, Canada. Here is the original cast:


Lighting Designer: HARRY FREHNER

Oliver at development workshop, summer 1990

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Oliver was Composer-in-Residence at the Canadian Opera Company from 1989 to 1991.

Hunahpu, Guacamayo, Ixbalanque

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played by Valerie Gonzalez, Gary Rideout, Noreen Burgess, "Guacamayo’s Old Song and Dance”, Canadian Opera Company production 1991

Ixmucane played by Wendy Nielsen

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"Guacamayo’s Old Song and Dance”, Canadian Opera Company production 1991

Ixpyacoc played by Robert Milne

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"Guacamayo’s Old Song and Dance”, Canadian Opera Company production 1991
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Canadian Opera Company 1990/91 season magazine

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Opera Canada Winter 1990 issue

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SOCAN Composer magazine, feature article, winter 1991

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Canadian Opera Company Magazine, January 1991

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Canadian Opera Company Magazine, January 1991, page 2

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Canadian Opera Company Magazine, January 1991, page 3

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Canadian Opera Company Magazine, January 1991, page 4

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The Globe and Mail, November 9, 1990

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Site updated 2023-09-09