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This article was published 12/4/2017 (1694 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In Manitoba, someone commits suicide every other day. So if you are the Manitoba Opera Company and you want to put on a performance that romanticizes suicide, what do you do?
You use it as an educational opportunity — that’s what.
This month the company is performing Werther, the 18th century story of a young poet who falls in love with a beautiful woman who is engaged to another man. Unable to give her up, he finds peace by taking his own life.
The story, first published as a novel by Goethe in 1774, was turned into an opera by Jules Massenet in 1887. The publication of the story reportedly led to the so-called "Werther effect" — copy-cat suicides.
With this in mind — and aware of the epidemic of suicides in some Manitoba communities — Manitoba Opera decided to team up with Mood Disorders of Manitoba to promote discussion about the issue at a panel on Wednesday at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Titled Mental Illness, Suicide and the Media, the discussion featured panelists Dr. James Bolton of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Manitoba; Tara Brousseau Snider, executive director of Mood Disorders of Manitoba; and guest speakers Corinna Voth and Chelsea Hertzog, speaking about the power of music in healing and recovery.
"We want to use opera as an art form to have a conversation about issues of concern in the community," director of marketing, Darlene Ronald, said.
In addition to the panel discussion, students attending dress rehearsals will hear a presentation from Mood Disorders about healthy perspectives on love and relationships and there will be two pages in the program about suicide, prepared by the organization.
For Ronald, educational events such as the panel discussion are a way for Manitoba Opera to engage the community.
"We want to be part of the lives of people in the community and find ways to connect more strongly with people," she said.
Of course, she also said she hopes that some who attend the panel discussion — who may never have been to the opera before — might also come to hear a performance.
But even if they don’t, "we hope they will still be touched by it and what we are trying to do," she said.
Offering events such as this is also a recognition that arts groups can’t just keep operating "in the traditional way," Ronald said.
"The arts are changing, and also how people view them," she added, noting that arts groups need to find new ways to connect with audiences.
This isn’t the first time Manitoba Opera has reached out in this way. Last year, for the production Of Mice and Men, which features an intellectually disabled character, the Opera teamed up with groups that work with people with intellectual disabilities.
In 2014, when the Opera performed Fidelio — the story of a woman seeking to free her husband, a political prisoner, from jail — they used the production to celebrate the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and also to highlight the plight of political prisoners around the world. Refugees from other countries living in Manitoba were invited to be involved as extras.
The two productions were "a great experience for us and for our patrons, a great way to talk about these issues and the things we have in common," Ronald said.
Their efforts have been noticed by others, including Opera America — the association for almost 150 opera companies in North America — and Opera Anchorage, which used Manitoba Opera’s model to honour veterans.
"It was great to see something we did recognized in this way, and rippling through to others," Ronald said.
While glad to offer these extras, she said that it isn’t easy — Manitoba Opera’s staff is small and resources are tight.
"But it’s important to do," she shared. "We hope we can add to the conversation in the community. That’s our aim."
Werther will be performed April 29, May 2 and May 5 at Centennial Concert Hall. Tickets are available at http://www.manitobaopera.mb.ca or by calling 957-7842.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.