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Music, Theatre

Coal Choir's Folk Opera Pays Tribute to a Life Not Forgotten

Posted by Amelia / November 25, 2009

2009-1126coalchoir.jpgThe first time I saw the Coal Choir was a rather mysterious experience. The show was at Eastern Bloc, and when it was about to begin the audience was led from the main space along a winding hallway into a small back room, where the members of the choir stood, framed by candlelight, branches, and various found objects. The whole moment was otherworldly. Yesterday, I relived some of that experience when I went to see a rehearsal of Olivia: A Folk Opera, Coal Choir's latest, and last, production.

Olivia is the story of Maria Olivia Ramirez Rabiela, a woman who died alone in her home in Montreal in 2007. She had lived in the city, away from her family in Mexico, for 30 years, and was trying, unsuccessfully, to return to them. Rabiela was also a friend of Katherine Peacock, a musician and the director of the Coal Choir. Inspired by a packet of documents that Rabiela had given to her before she died, Peacock began to write songs about Rabiela's life. These songs eventually became Olivia.

Peacock describes the show's genesis as an organic process. "I had these songs inspired by Olivia," she told me. "They very much captured certain moods I felt ... after she died. I really wanted a big group of people to sing them with me, and people really liked doing that..."

The songs that Peacock wrote about Rabiela say much about the role she played in Peacock's life. Peacock describes her as a mentor, but the songs convey something bigger. They are incredibly beautiful and powerful, and as sung by the 25-person strong choir, they are almost overwhelmingly so. Listening to the words being sung, it's hard not to meditate on the circumstances surrounding Rabiela's death, and the injustice of the situation.

Olivia is also Coal Choir's last ever show. When asked about this decision, Peacock thought for a moment. "I tend to build things to a point and then - " she makes an explosion-like hand motion, and smiles.


Olivia: A Folk Opera is playing at St. James United Church's Dawson Hall (463 Rue Ste. Catherine) tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday at 8 p.m. UPDATE: all the shows are, as of a few minutes ago, sold out.

Photo courtesy of Coal Choir.



Greg / November 25, 2009 at 11:39 pm
This was so good. Sooooo good. So so so so good. Wow.

There's my review.
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