The Auction is a beautiful and melodic opera

By Alwyn Horscroft, Special to QMI Agency


It could have been very sad. It could also have been quite discordant. To my ears, modern opera often sounds discordant, at least until you get to know it. The Auction was neither of these. The composer (John Burge) and librettist (Eugene Benson) managed to stay away from both of these difficulties, and came out with a quite beautiful and melodic opera. The story was based on a book by Jan Andrews. All three of these people were at the world preview of The Auction on Friday afternoon, June 29.

The story, in as small a nutshell as I can make it, is about Granddad (Bruce Kelly) who is selling off his farm because his wife has died and he can no longer manage the farm on his own. Grandson Todd (Olivia Rapos) doesn’t want him to sell the farm. Grandmother (Kimberly Barber) had married Granddad after he proved that he could play the musical saw. He had been in competition with Mike Fedak (Tim Stiff). The story also contains flashbacks to when Granddad and Grandmother and Mike were courting. Tim Stiff somehow manages to play both Mike (as a young man) and Mike (as an old man), and does it very well.

Various artistic groups had made beautiful scarecrows which were placed around the grounds, and which you could see before entering the barn. Grandmother has taught Todd how to make a scarecrow, and told him that scarecrows can grant wishes. He wishes for the farm not to be sold.

He changes his mind later and wishes to learn the musical saw. Todd’s mom, Alberta, is played by Donna Bennett, and young Granddad is played by Matthew Zadow. The Auctioneer and The Preacher are both played by Keith Klassen, and the conductor was Philip Headlam. It’s an excellent cast.

The orchestra was just a small group who, under Philip Headlam, were very well under control and very seldom competed with the vocalists. For special mention I would select Beverley Johnston, the percussionist who was exceedingly busy throughout the performance, and she played the saw.

You would imagine that with the switches from long ago to the present day and back again, this would be very confusing, but somehow the time periods were totally understandable, and seemed to be managed mostly with the use of a see-through drape. You always knew ‘when’ you were, which is something I find many directors of opera tend to be trying to confuse these days. Even the ballet, when three scarecrow come to life whilst Granddad and Todd are sleeping, seems to be totally in context, and was delightfully arranged and danced. The dancers were Isaac Wright, Hannah Feltham and Carson McDougall. The Director and Choreographer was Allison Grant.

There is really nothing to complain about in the performance by any of the principals, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how good Olivia Rapos is. She has a beautiful strong voice and doesn’t seem at all scared by being on stage with all those adults, and she is only in Grade 5.

My one criticism stems from the opening number sung by The Auctioneer, which I found just a smidgen too fast for me to hear all the words. Keith Klassen however seemed perfectly capable of fitting them all in.

Regrettably you won’t be able to see The Auction in its present run, which ended on July 1. However, I would keep an eye open in case you get another chance at a later date. The Westben season does continue until Aug. 5, so I would recommend that you take a look at the Westben website (www.westben.ca ) to see what is on. The box office number is 705-653-5508 or 1-877-883-5777.


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