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The Flight of the Hummingbird (Goulet, Yahgulanaas, Gilson; 2020 video release)

Matt Cooksey, Aug. 11, 2020


[…] The music in this opera is perhaps its finest feature, and I have to say that composer Maxime Goulet will be someone that I follow with strong interest. Goulet’s score doesn’t always shift seamlessly from one number to the next, but his music has a depth of feeling that is sometimes not present in children’s operas. There are some moments that are more grim than Hänsel & Gretel, as goofy as Barab’s Little Red Riding Hood, and complex and lyric as pieces like Lori Laitmain’s The Three Feathers. The fact that there were echoes of tribal drums in the beginning seems like the right amount of musical homage to the source material without drifting into inauthentic territory. Goulet simply does a wonderful job of capturing the energy of a character and giving them very indicative, emotive music without the libretto having to spell it out. This cast of singers – particularly van der Hooft and Schabas – does a great job of rendering this inventive score with personality and strong singing that doesn’t lean on childish or funny voices.


[…] The visual presentation of the opera led by the creative designs of Yahgulanaas and Gilson along with the stage direction of Glynis Leyshon is very sophisticated and is about as richly conceived as a touring children’s opera should be. The costumes make the animal qualities of each character bold and obvious, while also adhering to Yahgulanaas’ original ‘Haida-manga’ illustration style. The headpiece for Bunny was especially impressive in the group of costume pieces. The stage is made up of a forest of trees – which later have burned versions – and a central water source which later doubles as the globe map where characters make their entrances and exits throughout. During Bunny’s long chore aria, there is a colorful line of clothes that stretch from tree to tree that undoubtedly had to wow any children in attendance. For any designer that has a touring children’s opera on their docket, there are a lot of great strategies to borrow from this execution.


I hope that The Flight of the Hummingbird is able to resume touring performances in the next year or two, because it is founded on great tendencies in children’s opera literature and is paired with excellent music in a diverse group of styles. The cast size and makeup is perfectly traditional (SATB quartet) and the length is just about right. Whether performed in the United States or Canada, the message – even though it’s stated a little too plainly at times – would carry far with young audiences.

The Flight of the Hummingbird, An Opera For Children

Broadway World, May 13, 2020


The Flight of the Hummingbird, an extraordinary opera for young audience composed by Maxime Goulet, on a libretto by Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas and Barry Gilson, will be broadcasted online by the Pacific Opera Victoria and the Vancouver Opera, starting on May 19, 2020, at 10 A.M. PT, 1 P.M. ET. The Flight of the Hummingbird is a 45-minute chamber opera composed by Maxime Goulet. It was an instant success and many presentations were scheduled, starting with 120 concerts across British Columbia. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only half of the tour was completed. However, composer Maxime Goulet and producers Pacific Opera Victoria and Vancouver Opera don’t think this should keep children from enjoying the piece.


Based on the book Flight of the Hummingbird – A Parable for the Environment, written and illustrated by Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, the Opera is a call to action positioned in the context of climate change. In it, the animals of the forest are inspired to come together by Dukdukdiya, the Hummingbird, to save their beautiful home from a raging fire.

Vital People: Flight of the Hummingbird a message of moral courage

Times Colonist, Pedro Arrais, Mar. 29, 2020


On the surface, The Flight of the Hummingbird is a story of how the smallest bird in the world unites his fellow forest animals to help save their home from a wildfire. But audiences soon realize that the moral of the story is a call to action and how any individual, regardless how small, can be a changemaker to inspire the whole community to act. “Imagine the image of a hummingbird flying with a tiny drop of water to fight a forest fire,” said Ian Rye, CEO of Pacific Opera. “It is a story of how the forest animals, by coming together, could overcome overwhelming odds. It is a metaphor on climate change and selfempowerment that we find resonates with both children and adults.” The parable originated in South America and was brought to the Pacific Northwest through pre-colonial trade routes, it is believed.


With a message of environmentalism and moral courage, The Flight of the Hummingbird is the first opera for young audiences co-produced and co-commissioned by Pacific Opera Victoria and Vancouver Opera. The interpretation of the parable at the centre of the opera was made by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, an Indigenous artist, in collaboration with other Indigenous artists and advisers. The creation of the opera not only creates a forum for underrepresented Canadian voices, but also an opportunity for emerging artists.


The 45-minute performance is performed mainly for school audiences by a touring company. To date, the piece has been performed in more than 100 schools in British Columbia. The cast is made up of all Canadian performers and artists. School performances of The Flight of the Hummingbird also come with an educational resource, to best engage youth on dialogues on environmental, social and cultural themes. “We have included a study guide, so that youth can engage in conversations to explore the theme,” said Rye. Apart from operatic music, the production includes sophisticated visuals that capture the attention of youth.

From book to opera: B.C. artist’s call to action

Times Colonist, Mike Devlin, Mar. 12, 2020


By the time Flight of the Hummingbird finishes its tour of B.C. in May, the chamber opera is expected to have played to more than 40,000 people in theatres, schools and community centres across the province. That’s quite an audience for relative newcomer Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, a celebrated visual artist and author whose operatic adaptation of his 2008 book for young audiences is set for eight performances at the Baumann Centre beginning Tuesday.


The co-production between Pacific Opera Victoria and Vancouver Opera gave Yahgulanaas, who admits to having very little theatre, opera or music experience, a blank canvas on which to re-write his story — and he did so with the wide-open approach of a librettist taking his first steps in the opera world. “I’m not a well-educated person — no degrees here,” he said with a laugh. “I never did finish my first year of art school, and there’s some question as to whether or not I even properly graduated from Grade 12. So I walked into it pretty naively. I was poorly informed about the genre. This allowed me a vast horizon of possibilities because I didn’t know what the reference rules or regulations were.” Yahgulanaas is incredibly well-respected in the art world, thanks to his Haida-manga illustrations, which have been shown in galleries worldwide. The book version of Flight of the Hummingbird — which fuses traditional First Nations art and Japanese animé — is based on an Indigenous parable with roots in both South America and Haida Gwaii, where Yahgulanaas was born and raised. He adapted with Barry Gilson the story of a hummingbird fighting a fire one drop of water at a time so that it would be suitable for students through Grade 9, and includes for school performances a study guide written with help from an advisory council of Indigenous artists and educators.


The production, directed by Glynis Leyshon, premièred last year in Vancouver, and is currently enjoying a run that includes performances in more than 100 B.C. schools. Companies in Saskatchewan are showing interest, according to Yahgulanaas, along with outfits in Australia and Germany. The international appeal of Flight of the Hummingbird can be traced back to Japan, where the book was first published. It became an Amazon bestseller in 2008, and has since been translated into French and Spanish, among other languages. For such a small book — 64 pages in all — the tale about a hummingbird and its friends attempting to save the environment has made a big impact. “It’s a story for the time, a call to action,” Yahgulanaas said. “What we have in the story is a hummingbird moving into action, but we actually never know [how it ends]. It’s of secondary importance. The primary importance is this state of engagement.”


Jan van der Hooft (Bear), Evan Korbut (Owl), Sara Adèle Schabas (Dukdukdiya/Hummingbird) and Simran Claire (Bunny) star in the opera, which was designed to appeal not just to younger audiences. Montreal-based Maxime Goulet wrote the music to include a mixture of blues and jazz, so it would have a more contemporary feel. “This is not opera from the 18th century,” Yahgulanaas said. “That’s probably why people are responding to it in the way they are. It feels of the moment.”


While his opera career advances, Yahgulanaas’ art career continues to speed along. His murals have been shown in New York, Denver and Boston, while one he recently created for the Seattle Art Museum will be unveiled on May 9. Though his work is finding a wide audience, he has retained his maverick streak. He delights in contesting the way in which most patrons expect to view their art: An upcoming show in Vancouver, which will feature his costume-design and set-design sketches for Flight of the Hummingbird on a mural, will ask those in attendance to destroy the mural, in hopes of creating something new. He has pulled a similar move at book readings in the past, and loves what comes of the experience. “It’s about designing artwork that welcomes them to participate, either by cutting up the books and having them make their own mural or even just looking at opera and seeing that as a call for engagement. When you step forward, as the artist, and say: ‘Here, participate,’ it gives them permission to engage. That’s why the opera is working so well.”

The Flight of the Hummingbird: l’opéra-jeunesse du Québécois Maxime Goulet présenté plus de 100 fois

Ludwing Van Montreal, Caroline Rodgers, Mar. 3, 2020


Le compositeur québécois Maxime Goulet a de quoi être fier : son opéra-jeunesse, The Flight of the Hummingbird, est présentement en tournée en Colombie-Britannique avec plus de 100 représentations dans les écoles et centres culturels de la province.


Basé sur un conte de l’artiste haïda Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, l’opéra, d’une durée de 45 minutes porte un message d’espoir et de persévérance alors qu’un oiseau-mouche, personnage principal de l’histoire, tente d’éteindre un feu de forêt, goutte par goutte. Il s’agit d’une parabole à saveur environnementale, dont le message veut que chaque personne, même la plus petite, peut faire sa part d’efforts pour sauver la nature, et que chaque geste compte, si petit soit-il. Le livret de l’opéra, destiné aux 5 à 15 ans, a été co-écrit par Barry Gilson. Quant au conte de Nicoll Yahgulanaas, il est lui-même inspiré d’une histoire du peuple Quechuan d’Amérique du Sud.


La composition a été écrite pour quatre voix, piano et violoncelle. Comme il arrive que deux représentations soient données le même jour, la petite production doit être en mesure de plier bagage facilement et loge dans un camion!


Au cours des derniers mois, Maxime Goulet a effectué plusieurs séjours en Colombie-Britannique pour l’élaboration du projet. « Nous avons testé le spectacle dans une école pour procéder à des ajustements, et je suis revenu à Montréal, mais je vais retourner à Victoria et à Vancouver pour des représentations au grand public dans les théâtres. »


Le spectacle suscite déjà de l’intérêt en dehors du Canada. « Il y a beaucoup d’aspects de l’opéra qui font qu’il est d’actualité et intéresse des diffuseurs, notamment le message environnemental face aux changements climatiques, sans être moralisateur. Le fait qu’il soit aussi basé sur une histoire écrite par un membre des Premières Nations attire l’attention, car il y a beaucoup de gens qui sont intéressés à partager des éléments de cette culture. C’est également lui qui a créé les décors et les costumes. » Il s’agit d’une commande et d’une co-production du Pacific Opera Victoria et de l’Opéra de Vancouver. Comme en témoignent les photos, les costumes sont magnifiques et font sûrement la joie des grands et petits.

Le colibri, symbole de courage et de sagesse, dans l’opéra Flight of the Hummingbird

Radio Canada, Yolaine Mottet, Mar. 2, 2020


Le Vancouver Opera et le Pacific Opera ont demandé à l’artiste haïda Michael Yahgulanaas d’écrire un opéra pour un jeune public à partir de son livre Flight of the Hummingbird dont il avait aussi fait les illustrations. Cette fable raconte l’histoire du brave colibri qui fait ce qu’il peut pour sauver une forêt des flammes destructrices. Le compositeur de l’opéra est le Montréalais Maxime Goulet avec qui Yolaine Mottet s’est entretenue.

Un opéra en Colombie-Britannique

Ludwing Van Montreal, Caroline Rodgers, Nov. 19, 2018


Parmi les projets importants à venir, il y a la création de Flight of the Hummingbird, un opéra pour jeune public commandé par le Vancouver Opera et le Pacific Opera Victoria. Basé sur un livre de l’artiste visuel très reconnu de la Première nation Haida, Michael Nicholl Yahgulanaas. Cette fable écologique a connu un immense succès et a été traduite en plusieurs langues. « C’est l’histoire très courte d’un feu de forêt que tous les animaux fuient, sauf le colibri, dit-il. Cet oiseau-mouche vole du lac à la forêt et essaie d’éteindre le feu, goutte par goutte. Les animaux lui disent qu’il va se brûler, mais le colibri répond qu’il fait ce qu’il peut, même s’il ne sait pas s’il va réussir, car l’important, c’est de faire quelque chose. » Michael Nicholl Yahgulanaas, en collaboration avec Barry Gilson, a donc écrit un livret à partir de son propre conte pour un opéra de 45 minutes. « Il me donne aussi des idées pour la musique, c’est un travail collaboratif très intéressant. Il fera lui-même la conception des costumes. »