Milk Bar uses comedy as social commentary.
The world première of Milk Bar, a brand new Canadian contemporary opera, will take place at Mount Allison University at the end of this month. The opera is composed by Prince Edward Island resident Jim O’Leary, and directed by Helen Pridmore and Paul del Motte, with orchestra conducted by James Mark. By mixing the conventional with the avant-garde, and the humorous with the serious, Milk Bar explores the culture of Polish milk bar cafeterias during the country’s communist regime. The opera will be performed for the music department’s Opera Workshop on March 31 in Brunton Auditorium at 8 pm.
Milk Bar is a comedic opera that uses familiar operatic tropes, like love triangles and magical intrigue, to transmit a slightly political commentary on the rise of capitalist corporations in post-communist society. The opera transports viewers to a contemporary Polish milk bar in danger of being sold to a large American corporation. Now almost obsolete, milk bars were prominent fixtures in Poland during the communist regime. The small cafeterias were created to provide accessible and affordable meals to citizens. Masked in a veil of comedy and romantic entanglement, Milk Bar subtly comments on the place of milk bars (and small businesses in general) in an era increasingly dominated by wealthy corporations.
The opera was written specifically for the Opera Workshop, giving both the student performers and the directors a rare opportunity to work with an oeuvre as it comes into being. As Pridmore notes, learning to perform a newly composed piece of music is both exciting and challenging for students. One obstacle performers were met with was the daunting task of interpreting a piece of music without having any prior references.
“Typically, one way that people learn their role in an opera is to listen to recordings of their pieces, particularly on Youtube,” Pridmore said, “but there is no recording of this show, it hasn’t been performed before.”
She continued to tell her students that “[they] will be making the definitive recordings [themselves]. This is what other people will listen to if it is performed again.”
The debut performance of Milk Bar has been a long time coming at Mt. A. The students and directors involved in the production have been working on bringing the show to life since the beginning of the academic year. The strike delayed the initial performance date by over a month. However, as is the custom in the theatre, “the show will go on,” and viewers can look forward to seeing the opera this Monday night.