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The Old Fools

The Canadian Opera Company (COC) has announced a new mainstage commission: The Old Fools by celebrated Montreal-based composer Ana Sokolović and seasoned British librettist Paul Bentley. This opera in two acts was inspired by The Old Fools by renowned English poet Philip Larkin. The poem concerns Larkin's fear of aging and death and composer Ana Sokolović says the following lines, in particular, were deeply touching:

Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
Inside your head, and people in them, acting
People you know, yet can't quite name; each looms
Like a deep loss restored ...

'I have created the central role in the opera for an old man, negotiating the end of his life', says Sokolović. 'He can't live at home anymore because he is no longer physically independent. The subject matter is universal and poignant, as we're seeing a growing phenomenon of more and more old people spending their last days outside of their homes. In spite of his frail physical appearance, the old man escapes his surroundings by climbing into the lighted rooms in his head. In these rooms, he recollects intense emotional moments of his life when he experienced overwhelming joy, friendship, and love.'

Sokolović's repertoire is expansive, consisting of works for soloists and orchestra, operas, and several pieces of chamber music. Her many awards include the Prix Opus Prize given to composer of the year by Quebec Music Council (2007), the Jan Matejcek SOCAN Prize in 2008 for concert music, and the Serge-Garant prize by the Foundation Émile-Nelligan (2015). Her 2011 opera Svadba-Wedding for Queen of Puddings Music Theatre received six nominations for Dora Mavor Moore Awards and took home the prize for Outstanding New Musical/Opera before going on to tour across the country and internationally.

'One of the things I enjoy most about Ana's work is that they are stories that tap into a shared human experience while simultaneously challenging our perceptions of what that is', says COC General Director Alexander Neef. 'Paired with Paul Bentley as librettist, the two have created something very special and unique for the COC stage; The Old Fools takes what we assume to be one person's reality and opens our eyes to a whole other world within.'

British writer and actor Paul Bentley has written librettos for five other operas that include Poul Ruders' The Handmaid's Tale (performed at the COC in 2004), Poul Ruders' Kafka's Trial, and The Midnight Court with Ana Sokolović.

'Paul is a great librettist', says Sokolović. 'After working together once before, he understands me very well.'

When approached about The Old Fools, Bentley says he was thrilled at the chance to reunite with Sokolović. 'It's always good fun working with Ana, but I knew this was going to be very different for us', he says. 'Whereas creating the libretto for The Midnight Court had been simply a question of adapting an existing poem for the operatic stage, Ana's imagination is the source here.'

'Meeting the demands of Ana's imagination is, I would say, a challenge to my imagination!' adds Bentley. 'But I rather enjoy being challenged.'

Bentley brings a wealth of theatrical experience to his role as librettist. His stage career spans more than three decades and includes appearances at Gielgud Theatre, The Old Vic, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, and the Royal Festival Hall. His television work includes roles on BBC's Doctor Who and HBO's Game of Thrones.

The Old Fools will be sung in English and French and is expected to premiere in 2021. Additional information regarding the opera's creative team, as well as casting and design, will be released as details become available.


Posted: 14 December 2018

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