Shanawdithit: A Libretto of Remembrance

Pictured above: The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario

Shanawdithit is a landmark Canadian-Indigenous world premiere opera, opening at the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre this May. Following three seasons of award-winning world premieres, Tapestry is collaborating with, and raising an artistic platform for, Indigenous artists to tell this vital Beothuk story.

The opera centres on the story of Shanawdithit (1801-1829), thought at the time of her death to be the last known member of the Beothuk Nation in what is now called Newfoundland. In 1829, Shanawdithit was taken to St. John’s by William Cormack, where she created a series of ten drawings that spoke of the life of her people, their encounters with the European settlers, and loneliness of survival. These detailed drawings are the foundation of the opera. 

Still of Marion from the Shanawdithit trailer.

As nearly all of the Beothuk’s published history was written by Europeans and non-Indigenous historians, this collaboration sheds a new light on a story and people misrepresented by deeply flawed documentation. The story and libretto is written and curated by celebrated Cree playwright Yvette Nolan, with a score composed by Newfoundlander Dean Burry. 

The opera brings Indigenous artistic collaborators together from Nations across the country to give voice to Shanawdithit and her people, responding to the ten drawings that are the only first-person account of the life of the Beothuk. Collaborators, performers, and Indigenous community members have been instrumental in the shaping of the work from the beginning of development, through a collaborative and workshop-driven creation process influenced by oral and visual histories passed down to them. The collaborators have studied each drawing and determined how to communicate the essence of Shanawdithit’s account, using dance, language, costume, photography, projections, sculpture and set design to bring her drawings to life on stage.

Imperial Oil Opera Theatre
May 16-25, 2019