Photo credit: Michael Kuhn





Orchestre classique de Montréal (OCM) will present the world premiere of Unruly Sun, a theatrical song cycle inspired by the work of filmmaker and queer activist Derek Jarman, to commemorate World AIDS Day. Jointly commissioned by the OCM, Brott Opera (Hamilton) and the 21C Music Festival (Toronto), the piece will be performed in Montréal on one night only: Thursday, December 1, 2022, at 7:30 p.m., at the Cirque Éloize. The concert will also be presented in Hamilton on January 26, 2023, as part of the Brott Opera season, and in Toronto on January 29, 2023, during the 21C Music Festival at Koerner Hall.

This new cycle of 18 songs, sung in English by Lebanese‑American tenor Karim Sulayman and accompanied by six musicians, was inspired by Jarman’s memoir, Modern Nature. In 1986, shortly after being diagnosed with AIDS, Jarman moved to Prospect Cottage, a small fisherman’s hut in Dungeness on the southern coast of England. From 1989 to 1990, Jarman kept a memoir of his experiences in this house: creating a garden in a harsh environment, living with AIDS, and looking back on his relationships, his art and his activism. These writings were later published under the title Modern Nature. English and French subtitles will be projected throughout the performance.

A graduate of McGill’s Schulich School of Music, NYC-based Canadian composer Matthew Ricketts, has written the music for the song cycle. In 2018, he composed the opera Chaakapesh: The Trickster’s Quest in collaboration with Cree author Tomson Highway, which opened the 85th season of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal to great acclaim.

Unruly Sun is a dream project,” says Matthew Ricketts. “Mark’s text—by turns poetic, political, lyrical, pastoral, surreal—presents myriad opportunities for musical illumination and enchantment. Drawing on the dramatic vocabulary of opera, musical theatre and song, Unruly Sun pulls together influences from all aspects of my musical life, from Baroque opera to Bernstein, Schubert to Joanna Newsom. Working on this project with Mark over the last two years has taken my music to new, surprising and sometimes exhilarating places, and is one of my proudest projects.”

Mark Campbell, the Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award‑winning librettist of several successful operas (Silent Night, The Shining, As One), has conceived and written the libretto for Unruly Sun.

I’m thrilled that OCM, the vibrant company that presented my opera As One so impeccably, is producing the world premiere of Unruly Sun,” saysMark Campbell. “It’s important to note that this song cycle is not biographical but impressionistic. Our protagonist discovers Jarman’s art, activism and life at Prospect Cottage through his exquisite memoir Modern Nature until he becomes subsumed by it—and his perspective switches from third to first person. In this way, I hope that the work will help create a bridge between generations of gay men; between those we lost to AIDS and those who are alive today.”

In honour of World AIDS Day, the OCM is holding a fundraising reception following the concert in partnership with Maison Plein Cœur, a non-profit organization that supports Montrealers living with HIV-AIDS. Concert and cocktail tickets may be purchased for $200, providing admission to both the performance and the reception. A donation receipt of $125 will be issued.

The 70‑minute concert will be followed by a discussion led by Denis‑Martin Chabot, Development Coordinator at Maison Plein Cœur. Mark Campbell (librettist), Matthew Ricketts (composer), Karim Sulayman (tenor) and an HIV expert will discuss the work and issues related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Unruly Sun

Tuesday, December 1 at 7:30 p.m. – Cirque Éloize (417, rue Berri)

Karim Sulayman, tenor

Michel‑Maxime Legault, director

Anne‑Catherine Simard‑Desrape, lighting

Matthew Ricketts, music

Mark Campbell, text

OCM string quintet and piano

Sung In English, with French and English surtitles

Tickets: $75 – $200

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