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we’re introduced to the icon of Alberta cowboyography, Ian Tyson. A transplanted easterner, Tyson is now pure Alberta rancher. He proudly boasts that his daughter is studying barrel racing in Texas—no doubt evoking puzzling pictures in the minds of Ontarians more accustomed to images of barrels plunging over Niagara Falls with reckless passengers aboard.

Crowned in shining white Stetson, Tyson delivers an impeccable set, his

warm baritone a perfect medium for Four Strong Winds, the song voted Canada’s number one composition in a recent national poll:
 

Think I’ll go out to Alberta, the weather’s good there in the fall,

Got some friends that I can go to workin’ for.
 

The song completes a picture of Alberta as windswept land of promise and opportunity, a place that belongs to all Canadians, as this lavish gala attests. But in an evening designed around all

that is archetypically western, narrator MacLean is quick to separate fact from fancy. He concludes his colourful yarn of posses and stagecoaches with a reminder that the Hollywood that gave birth to the evening’s orchestral classics has also been the greatest purveyor of the myth of the West.

The Hollywood stereotype obscures the richness of variety of life in modern-day Alberta. The thought is not lost on the programmers of this extravaganza, either. The evening’s playful western motif aside, the Alberta Scene lineup is stacked with productions that share more with the world’s cultural capitals than they do with the province’s frontier history. As John Mahon, the executive director of the Edmonton Arts Council says, “The arts are an incredible way to help us get past those stereotypes, which is good for everyone.”

Theatre at Alberta Scene goes from the harsh realities portrayed by Calgary’s Crazy Horse Theatre in Time Stands Stillto the poignant and funny imaginary

journey that unfolds in Edmonton’s Teatro la Quindicina’s Pith! The paintings and sculptures that are part of the Scene include wide-ranging works by artists from across Alberta—Simon Black, Faye Heavyshield, Liz Ingram, David Hoffos, Mary Joyce, and Chris Cran, to name just a few. For every cowboy poet and country singer in Alberta Scene, there is a cellist, an urban hip-hop artist, and, in the case of one of the event’s most celebrated offerings, an operatic ensemble. On the morning before the opening performance of the opera Filumena, we wake up to Alberta Scene patter on CBC radio’s Ottawa Morning. Host Anthony Germain is asked to name a previous Canadian opera—any previous Canadian opera—and draws a blank, despite managing to successfully identify German, Italian, and British titles. The scores of virtually all of the 80 Canadian operas previously produced are now gathering dust, but we’re told that is about to change with the arrival of the stunning production from Banff
Centre/Calgary Opera Company. The historical tale of bootleg, murder, and deceit in Alberta by composer John Estacio and librettist John Murrell does indeed take the city by storm. The opera’s tragic heroine Filumena Lassandro (soprano Fréderique Vézina) graces the cover of the local arts magazine, Xpress, a youth-oriented weekly more prone to showcasing hip-hop and indie rock. The Ottawa Citizen celebrates the “melodies worthy of Puccini” and digs deep into its thesaurus of superlatives to label the production “sophisticated …sensational…a masterpiece.”

Filumena’s story is set in the sparsely populated 1920s Crowsnest Pass, but the ensemble art form is downtown all the way, and the National Arts Centre (NAC), home to culture with a capital C, is an ideal venue for it. Tickets are scarce for most of the Alberta Scene productions woven into the NAC’s subscription series, including the Gala Alberta Celebration (Ian Tyson, Tommy Banks, Corb Lund, the Calgary Fiddlers).

An Alberta Scene staging of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, relocated to Depression-era northern Alberta, has been snuck into our own subscription to the NAC’s English language theatre season.

As we flip through the Alberta Scene program, we come across the accumulated accomplishments of many other familiar and now accomplished Alberta artists.

Alberta , at the start of the eighties, a province booming with oil and opportunity, gave birth to the Banff Television Festival (1979), The Alberta Motion Picture Development Corpor-ation (1980), Edmonton Jazz City Festival (1980), the Writer’s Guild of Alberta (1980), The Works Visual Arts Festival (1981), and The Fringe Theatre Festival (1981). A dazzling selection of creative initiatives, now matured and expanded but still accessible. Despite Alberta’s galloping growth, it’s still a place where you can literally get to know the arts community, both by name recognition and personal connection, in

a way that seems remote here in Canada’s most populous province. Our program turns up friends and neighbours from our former community of Riverdale, including musicians’ agent Kirby (¡Bomba!) and filmmaker Lorna Thomas, whose documentary about CKUA radio, Radio Worth Fighting For, was sold to PBS south of the border.

We run into Thomas at the artists’ warren that is the Holiday Inn, a stone’s throw from the Rideau Canal in downtown Ottawa. For two weeks, the hotel is host to the Alberta entourage, a place for performers to gather at the end of a day of frenetic venue hopping. Every night the party continues long into the morning with jam sessions in the hotel’s makeshift pub. It’s here we find Alberta Scene music programmer Peter North. “I haven’t had this much fun in years!” he announces from a comfortable armchair, taking in a scorching instrumental by Edmonton’s McDades. North is ecstatic about the attention being showered on Alberta’s musicians by the more than 80

Ian Tyson
Friend, Christ MIllar, acrylic on canvas, 2003-04
Filumena
Brian Webb
P.J. Perry

Ian Tyson

Friend, Christ MIllar, acrylic on canvas,

2003-04

Filumena

Brian Webb

P.J. Perry

LEGACY   Fall 2005
LEGACY   Fall 2005

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