In the late nineteenth century nothing captured the public imagination more than the enchanting voice of a young female singer. Ever since P. T. Barnum brought The Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind, to public attention in 1850, the appearance of the next singing sensation was sufficient to create an absolute public frenzy. No jurisdiction, not even Newfoundland, could escape the craze to be witness to the next operatic superstar. But in the case of the Newfoundland Nightingale, Georgina Stirling, the story transcends clever marketing or second-guessing the next big thing. The life story of one of the greatest North-American-born operatic singers of the nineteenth century is the stuff of epic tragedy. Stirling was born in Twillingate, Newfoundland in 1866, youngest daughter of Ann Peyton and William Stirling. In 1888 she went to Paris to begin professional music studies under the famed mentor Mathilde Marchesi. From 1890 and for a little over a decade her star rose as a prima donna on the international opera stage under the professional name of Marie Toulinget (a french form of her home town). During the seasons of 1895 to 1898 she gave numerous sensational concerts in St. John’s during annual visits to Newfoundland. But her career ended as quickly as it began, the result of vocal strain and emotional collapse. She died in obscurity in 1935 in Twilingate where she was born. The project has entailed research and the creation of two collaborative pieces: a lecture recital of operatic arias and parlour songs from Stirling’s sung repertoire, interlaced with stories from her life and her correspondence. This recital has been performed on several occasions by soprano Jane Leibel and pianist Tom Gordon and was recorded by CBC Radio. Based on family documents and contemporary accounts, including Georgina Stirling’s own correspondence, a theatrical representation was developed to bring the voice of this most famous of musicians to have been born in this province back to life. Written by Robert Chafe and produced by Jillian Kielley, Nightingale premiered at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in St. John’s in June 2006. While using the Stirling’s biography as a touchstone, Nightingale probed the intriguing questions that define every artist’s struggle can find vivid statement here: ambition vs. failure; disciplined hard-work vs. the inexplicable gift of talent. At the same time, broadly human notions come to play: pride in place and community, simple goodness. All this overridden by an inescapable hand of fate. The central character is portrayed by two actors: one who plays Georgina Stirling, the other her professional alter-ego Marie Toulinget. The roles were introduced by Nicole Rousseau as Georgina and Jane Leibel as Mme Toulinget. Both the lecture recital and the theatrical work contribute to an enhanced sense of the cultural history of Newfoundland and Labrador, through the vivid retelling of the story of one of its earliest great artists. They also contribute to the literature on the challenges of creation and artistic practice. As a performance which is centred on the concert repertoire of the late nineteenth century, both pieces serve to offer a glimpse into the performance practice of that period.
01 Jan 2005
31 Dec 2016
School of Music
Heritage institutions Performing arts, spectator sports and related industries
NLAC, City Of St. John's, Artistic & Creative Grants (MUN)
Strategic Research Theme
Creative Arts, Culture and Heritage