World Premiere of One Act Folk Opera ARCTIC EXPLORATIONS to Premiere at Theater at St. Jean

Arctic Explorations touches on themes as varied as exploration, discovery, spirituality, and our relationship to the natural world.

By: Feb. 09, 2024
World Premiere of One Act Folk Opera ARCTIC EXPLORATIONS to Premiere at Theater at St. Jean

Arctic Explorations, with music and words by Michael Dellaira, and additional music by Inuit performer Nuka Alice, will be given its world premiere on Saturday, March 9 at 7:30pm; with a second performance on Sunday, March 10 at 4pm at Theater at St. Jean located at 150 East 76th Street in New York City.  This one-act folk opera is a co-production with the New Amsterdam Singers and Nancy Manocherian’s the cell theatre with the Harlem Chamber Players, conducted by Clara Longstreth and directed by Kira Simring.  The cast includes Nuka Alice (in the role of shaman, Siarnaq), Erin Brittain as Lady Jane Franklin, David Gordon as President Zachary Taylor, Nicole Haslett as Maggie Fox and Colin Levin as Elisha Kent Kane.

About Arctic Explorations

Arctic Explorations, based on the American explorer Elisha Kent Kane’s best-selling 1856 book of the same name, touches on themes as varied as exploration, discovery, spirituality, and our relationship to the natural world.  It is a story about the human desire to explore the unknown, which often comes at a cost.

The opera tells how the Arctic explorer and British commander Sir John Franklin, in 1845 sailed from England in search of the Northwest Passage.  By 1850, he had not returned home, and Franklin’s wife asks President Zacharay Taylor for help.  Wasn’t the great United States as capable of laying claim to the Northwest Passage as England; and if so, couldn’t it rescue her husband at the same time?  Moved and savvy, President Taylor asked Congress to commission U.S. Navy surgeon Elisha Kent Kane, a well-connected Philadelphian, to lead an expedition to the Arctic.

In pursuit of Franklin and the Northwest Passage, Kane and his crew were trapped in the ice off the coast of Greenland for two years.  But they survived, not because they brought with them the technology of the modern world (though they did do that), but because they turned to and learned from the Inuit.  This set Kane apart from other Arctic explorers – Franklin included – who, always at their peril, considered themselves superior to the Inuit.  When Kane returned to America, he began writing a detailed account of his expedition, which was so popular that by 1900 most households owned at least two books, Kane’s Arctic Explorations, and the Bible.

Arctic Explorations, then, registers the human desire to discover what lies beyond the boundaries of our experience.  Explorers, all of us, our success often comes at a cost, and nowhere can this cost be witnessed more than in the Arctic, one of the most beautiful – and endangered – places on earth.  Today, because of global warming, the Inuit, who have lived in the Arctic for centuries, are watching their land disappear.  Over 300 billion tons of ice melted from the Humboldt Glacier on a single day last June.

In addition to Kane’s book, the story is also based on period documents, including letters between President Taylor and Franklin’s wife, and love letters between Kane and the world-famous medium Maggie Fox.

Arctic Explorations is inspired by 19th-century American popular songs, hymns, sea shanties and Inuit drum dances.   It is scored for a full chorus, five soloists and an ensemble of clarinet, banjo, violin, viola, double bass, and percussion.

Dellaira collaborated with Nuka Alice and the Inuit played a significant role in the opera. The libretto contains several passages in the Inuit language Kalaallisut (now called Greenlandic since Greenland’s independence from Denmark.)  Nuka Alice helped Dellaira with pronunciation and translation.  She has also vetted the libretto to be sure that the nineteenth-century Inuit characters are as true to life as possible.

Arctic Explorations is a fiscally sponsored project of the New York Foundation of the Arts and is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.  Additional thanks to Artic Sounds, Sisimiut, Greenland.

Ticket and Venue Information

The Theater at St. Jean is located at 150 East 76th Street, in New York City.  Tickets are available at the button below.