History is being made right now at the Bluma Appel Theatre with Of the Sea, a Black Opera written by Kanika Ambrose and directed by Philip Akin. A co-production between Obsidian Theatre and Tapestry Opera, in association with TO Live, Of the Sea tells a mythical story of middle passage that makes it feel at once part of an ancient mythos and immediately part of the Opera canon. Brilliant design, stunning voices, and a fascinating story come together to make Of the Sea a not-to-be-missed experience.

The design aspects of Of the Sea are magnificent; from the moment we enter the theatre the story is already taking place via projections designed by Laura Warren. As Rachel Forbes’ set comes to life, accompanied by Steve Lucas’ lighting, there is no question as to where our hero has ended up; with the seaweed towering far above his head. I also loved how Dzifa’s costume had the hoop in it so that it gave the swaying feel of being underwater. The design gives Of the Sea the same feelings of opulence and grandeur while being something totally unique on its own.

Of the Sea boasts an illustrious cast with some of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard. Jorell Williams stars as Maduka, a father who has been cast overboard of a slaving ship along with his infant daughter. Williams’ voice seems to reverberate off of every corner of the theatre; his crisp, clear notes carrying with ease. Suzanne Taffot plays Dzifa, one of the queens who rules the land of undersea castaways. The grace and elegance of Taffot’s voice befits her regal position. The opposing queen, Serwa, is played by Chantale Nurse. Her powerful voice had the audience in uproarious applause after her aria. Justin Welsh and Paul Williamson play Izunna and Yaakaar respoectively, two men of the kingdom who try to help and guide Maduka on his journey. They are both spectacular in their roles, and complimented Williams’ voice perfectly. Ruthie Nkut plays Maduka’s daughter Binyelum, her soprano voice a delightful match for her character’s joy and wonder. The ensemble is comprised of Ineza Mugisha, Cheryl-Ann Lilieth, Karen Weigold, Joema Frith, Gavin Hope and Brian McQueen. The awesome power of these voices gave me goosebumps several times throughout the performance and they breathe such beautiful life into this story.

While the world of Opera does not traditionally hold a lot of space for people of colour, I’m hoping that more productions like Of the Sea will make that a thing of the past. There is something grounding about this story, something that makes you feel it in every fibre of your being. I am thankful to have witnessed this incredible story and you absolutely need to as well. Of the Sea runs until April 1st at the Bluma Appel Theatre. For more information and tickets, visit: https://www.obsidiantheatre.com/season/of-the-sea/

Of The Sea featuring Suzanne Taffot, Jorell Williams & Chantale Nurse. Set & Costume Design by Rachel Forbes. Lighting Design by Steve Lucas. Photo by Dahlia Katz.


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