Lab City local writing opera about Red Bay


Published on April 18, 2017

A selfie Aiden Hartery took while on the Boney Shore trail in Red Bay. Throughout the beach you can walk up to various whale bones that have been laying there for about almost 500 years.

©Submitted

A graduate student from Labrador City has won a $2,000 scholarship to further his work composing an opera about Red Bay and the Basque whalers of the 16th Century.

Aiden Hartery has a bachelor of music degree from Memorial University and a master’s of music composition from the University of Toronto.

The emerging composer and freelance musician is currently enrolled in the PhD music composition program at Western University in London, Ontario and is writing the opera for his PhD dissertation.

During his junior high and high school years, Hartery was a member of the Carol Players Theatre Company in Labrador West.

He also enjoyed taking private piano lessons and playing the trombone.

According to a news release about the scholarship, Hartery’s opera will draw on elements from some of Canada’s oldest legal documents, earliest interactions between European and Labrador’s indigenous people, the story of the wreck of the “San Juan,” and the comparison of the dangers and consequences of the Basque pursuit of whales in North America.

Hartery is partnering with award winning NL playwright, theatre director, and novelist Megan Coles, who is crafting the words of opera.

He is centering the opera around the story of Juan Martínez de Larrume from Orio, Spain and his crew, who were forced to overwinter in Red Bay in 1577.

“He died in Red Bay and at the time (his Will) was discovered it was the oldest legal document in North America,” Hartery said during a recent phone interview.

The man left behind a wife and daughter, he said, whose story could also make it into the opera.

Hartery said additional elements of Basque culture that may be incorporated into the opera include traditional Basque instruments, such as txalaparta (a percussion instrument where two players strike boards of wood that are different length and wood type), the txistu (a small pipe instrument sounds similar to flute music that is played with one hand while playing a small side drum called a danbolin) and an alboka (a wind instrument that sounds similar to a mix between a clarinet and an oboe).

Thanks to the research done on Red Bay and Basque whaling over the past three decades, Hartery said, the story can be based on true events taken from preserved documents and evidence.

“I’m still researching and reading and I hope to start writing the piece within the next few months. That will give me over a year to write it.”

Hartery visited Red Bay National Historic Site in November 2016.

He spent time with the site’s coordinator, Cindy Gibbons, and took time to walk along the beach’s trail where whale bones are still present.

“I’ve been successful in finding what I believe is going to be a very successful story,” he said.

The estimated premiere for the opera is 2018-2019, which is expected to coincide with the arrival of the “San Juan” replica in this province. The ship is currently being built at Basque Maritime Heritage Association, known as Albaola, in Pasaia, Spain.

The Amina Anthropological Resources Association (AARA) awarded Hartery the scholarship.

“There is no limit to the creativity of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians - this is an extremely original way to combine music, and culture while educating a broader Canadian audience about the history of Red Bay,” AARA president Latonia Hartery said in a release about the award.

Hartery said he would like to thank AARA for the award and Western University’s School of Music for its continued support.

He’d like to have the opera premiered in St. John’s before taking it to schools throughout the province.

A performance at the Red Bay site to coincide with the arrival of the “San Juan” is also in his future plans.

After completing his PhD requirements, Hartery is interested in creating an educational package to accompany the opera. The package would present facts and research to be given to schools so they can learn about Red Bay and its history. Hopefully, he said, the opera can be filmed so that schools have a visual to accompany the educational package.

“I believe this will be really beneficial for students as it focuses on multiple curriculum areas (music, geography, history, interactions between early Europeans and indigenous Labradorians),” Hartery said.

danette@nl.rogers.com